Part 2 of my top 10 list of podcasts that I listen to regularly and which I would like to share with you. [Download]
This episode is not about podcasts for learners of English. It’s also not about podcasts made by LEPsters. It’s just some podcasts that I love to listen to and that I’d like to share with you.
They aren’t for learners of English specifically. This could mean they’re hard to understand for you. However – it could be really good for you to at least try listening to one of these podcasts and see if they click with you. It could be really good for your English, especially if there’s one that really grabs your attention.
Click here for part 1 of this episode.
5. The Bugle (UK)
This is a satirical news-based comedy podcast. The show is presented by stand-up comedians Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver. Andy is based in London and is one of the country’s top satirical comedians. He specialises in puns, which are word jokes. Often he goes off on a whole series of puns based on a certain topic. John Oliver is based in The USA (you might have seen him on The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight). With Andy in London and John in NYC they tend to focus on the big political news events of the moment and they generally take the view that many of those world events are ridiculous, especially the hypocrisy of politicians and the questionable actions of world leaders. They also take a pop at smaller events in the news. Mainly they use politics and news as a starting point for comedy. Andy has quite a surreal take on issues and John Oliver has a slightly hysterical approach as an Englishman living in one of the craziest countries in the world, USA. I find their podcast hilarious and it regularly has me laughing out loud on the Paris metro, and then embarrassingly realising that other people are looking at me like a weirdo.
Listen to: Scottish Referendum.
4. The Smartest Man in the World (USA)
Greg Proops is amazing. He’s a stand-up comedian (of course he is!) with an incredible talent for improvisation. In the 90s he became famous for being on a show called “Whose Line is it Anyway?” which was a fantastic improv comedy show. These descriptions don’t really do him justice though, because you might just think, oh another stand-up comedian, great. Well, Greg Proops is also a voraciously intelligent commentator. He’s a scathing satirist. A left-leaning libertarian (if such a thing is possible) with little patience with the agenda of most of our world leaders or heads of corporations. He’s incredibly well-read, has fantastic taste in music, and uses a wickedly articulate and broad range of vocabulary. In fact, he wields words rather like a beat poet, and his podcast is an intoxicating mix of improvised comedy, biting satire, beat poetry, ranting and raving about the state of the world, movie-related banter, anecdotes, drug stories and so many other things. His podcasts are almost always recorded live, in various places around the world. I recently saw him recording a podcast in Paris and it was just amazing to see him there in person, recording an episode of the podcast, responding to questions from the audience, dissecting current events in the newspapers, ranting about the NSA and generally being the awesome and immaculately dressed dude that he is. Greg for me, as well as being a top-class entertainer, is also a raconteur and by that I mean that he is a person who tells anecdotes in such a funny and articulate way that he’s raised it to the level of performance art. He manages to evoke the spirit of America’s greatest writers, actors and poets from some golden age of Hollwood in the 1930s, 40s or 50s. His podcast is one which you should listen to at night, with a glass of something to drink and maybe a pipe a jazz cigarette or something. Typically Greg drinks vodka during recordings of his podcast and yet his mind always stays clear and incisive. Greg Proops is a classy dude and he is definitely worth listening to. However, you might find him hard to follow because he does speak very fast, with quite a strong Californian accent, and he makes lots of specific cultural references you might not be familiar with, and he is also very verbose – he uses lots of big words. If that’s your sort of thing, you should definitely check out his podcast.
Listen to: The beginning of an episode – Reds
America is England’s Fault (talking to an audience in Australia)
3. The Ricky Gervais Podcast (UK)
This was the first really big podcast – when it was regularly being uploaded it was the most downloaded podcast in the world at one point. It came out probably about 10 years ago and it is still available but you now have to purchase the archives on iTunes or maybe on Audiable.com for just a couple of pounds per season. It’s not a lot and it’s worth it. I used to listen to this back in my kitchen in Ealing, West London while I was doing my cooking and it used to make me laugh out loud every time. The Ricky Gervais Show is not really recorded any more but it is still a classic podcast. The set-up is simple really. It’s Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. Ricky and Steve are well known comedians and writers. They won awards for their show “The Office” and they’re generally considered to be top-level comic talent. Karl Pilkington is just a bloke. He’s a really ordinary, average working class bloke from Manchester. He’s not very well educated. He’s not a sophisticated guy, but he is perhaps one of the funniest people I’ve ever heard – but he’s not really trying to be funny. He seems to just be quite serious most of the time, and yet the things he says are brilliantly straight-forward and simple minded while also being incredibly funny. It’s like seeing into the mind of an idiot, but it’s more than that because Karl often has such a simple view on things that he’s quite hard to argue with. His common sense might be ill informed, but it’s got an undeniable sense of simple logic about it. Often he’s completely wrong about things, but you can understand why he has those views. He’s also slightly obsessed by certain topics, like stories of monkeys acting like humans, or insects which he’s discovered in his daily life, or stories of tribes in remote parts of the world. Generally what happens is that Ricky and Steve start talking about something and then they ask Karl what he thinks. Then Karl gives his view and it provokes hysterical responses from Ricky and Steve, who berate him for being an idiot while arguing with his stupid ideas. It sounds a little cruel at times, as if Ricky and Steve are bullying Karl – but really this is just the way male friends in England talk to each other. We often take the piss out of each other and argue, but really we’re close friends. You can see that the relationship between these three is actually very close and that Ricky and Steve really love Karl but they’re also amazed by his thought processes. Karl used to be a technician or producer on Ricky’s radio show but because of the podcast he’s become a successful travel writer and TV presenter in his own right now.
Listen to: The first episode of the Ricky Gervais Show.
2. WTF with Marc Maron (USA)
Surprise Surprise, Marc Maron is a stand-up comedian! His podcast, called WTF is one of the biggest podcasts on the internet. Basically, the show is hosted by Marc in his own garage. Marc is a sort of washed up comedian with all kinds of personal issues, neuroses, addictions and psychological hang-ups. he originally started his podcast about 6 years ago when his career was on the rocks. At that time his marriage had ended in divorce, he was recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, and his anti-social behaviour and neurotic attitude had caused his career to nosedive into the ground. His friends (including Louis CK) were finally achieving the success they’d been working for, but Marc was broke, paranoid and on his own. Then he started the podcast with the aim of trying to work out what the fuck was wrong with him, and what the fuck was going on. He’s remarkably open, sincere and frank on the podcast, talking in great detail about his personal feelings and problems. Sometimes it feels like he’s complaining and moaning in a very self indulgent way, but I have to admit that it’s one of the most engaging podcasts I listen to. It’s really raw, real and gripping and I find that I learn all kinds of things about the human condition from listening to it. No other interview show or podcast goes so deep into feelings, motivations and choices. In each episode he talks about his life for about 15 minutes, including difficult choices, damaged relationships or just anecdotes about social situations he’s found himself in. Then he invites a guest on the show, usually a comedian, actor or musician, and talks to them about their whole career, dealing with their whole life story really. The thing is, Marc is an excellent interviewer and he has a particular talent for engaging with his guests in a very honest and open way. His interviews are really revealing, and he gets under the skin of his guests brilliantly. Sometimes he’s so close to the bone that the interviews are quite uncomfortable and awkward, even confrontational, as Marc attempts to challenge his guests to explain themselves and answer their critics and so on. The result is a really fascinating listening experience, which can be amusing, revealing and touching. It’s also particularly inspiring for me because Marc has rebuilt his career on the back of the success of his podcast. In fact, the podcast has completely revived him as a stand-up and now he has his own TV show, he has successful books published and he regularly sells out theatres for his one man comedy performances. It just proves to me that podcasts are a really valuable and valid form of media communication – just as valid as traditional forms like radio or television.
Listen to: Episode 500 – from 1:16
1. Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Review (UK)
This is my favourite podcast and the one which I have been listening to for the longest time. I first started downloading this podcast back in 2006 but I’ve been listening to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo talk about films on BBC radio for many years. Mark used to be the film reviewer on radio 1 in the 1990s and Simon has been on the radio for even longer than that.
There are several great things about this podcast. One of them is the interplay between Simon and Mark. Mark Kermode is a very well-respected and highly qualified film critic. He’s an academic, he’s written books and made documentaries about films and he really knows what he’s talking about. He can be a bit pretentious and annoying, but really we love him because he has strong beliefs, and a genuine passion for films. In fact, his principles (which are sort of left-wing really) are what guide his approach to movie reviews. He tends to passionately rant about the films he loves and hates, speaking very quickly, using all kinds of imagery, stubbornly arguing against big-budget brainless Hollywood films like Transformers or Sex In The City. He often gets very angry and worked up about films he’s reviewing – going on and on in a very amusing way about exactly what is so awful about a certain film he’s seen. Simon on the other hand is the calm voice of the ordinary man. He is a reasonable guy who doesn’t get so hysterical about films and this provides a really great counterpoint to Mark’s obsessional approach to his film reviews. Mark gets angry, Simon stays calm. Mark passionately hates a film, Simon then says that he quite enjoyed it, and Mark nearly explodes! They argue, they bicker, and they regularly witter on about nothing in particular. In fact, this is is a podcast about films, but it’s not really about films, it’s about everything really, but the subject of movies is what holds the show together. Mark and Simon complement each other perfectly. They have slightly differing world-views, but they also have a lot of things in common – their age, the fact that they have families and so on. Although they argue and pick on each other, they clearly have a lot of affection for each other. Ultimately, this is a heart warming listening experience which also teaches you lots of things about movies. Highlights for me are the running jokes, the emails from listeners, and Mark’s epic rants about films that he hates. The podcast is available on the BBC and is uploaded every week. I highly recommend it – but it’s just my own personal choice. It’s one of the most popular podcasts in the UK. It’s recorded while they do their radio show, then edited and uploaded immediately after the show is broadcast on BBC 5 Live.
Listen to: One of Mark’s epic rants. (Pirates of the Caribbean)