Podcasts are very in right now. But they’ve been a long time coming.

Remember when podcasts came out? It was 2004. The same year as Usher’s ‘Yeah’,  Shrek 2, and Jeremy Clarkson punching Piers Morgan at the British Press Awards. It’s only been 14 years, but it feels like forever.

And for some reason we still all use the word ‘podcast’. Even though it’s etymologically linked to the iPod and we’re all listening to them on our phones. But whatever, languages evolves I guess.

Podcasts were different back in those days. They were usually extensions of things that already existed beyond the podcast world. Here’s a typical UK podcast chart from 2009:

  1. Frankie Boyle: Mock The Week Musings
  2. Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4
  3. The Ricky Gervais Podcast
  4. Jimmy Carr’s Video Podcast
  5. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
  6. Best of Chris Moyles Enhanced
  7. Jack Dee
  8. Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know
  9. Stephen Fry’s PODGRAMS (Audio & Visual)
  10. Rhod Gilbert’s Best Bits

So yeah, almost entirely (male) comedians generating extra content around some thing that’s already popular. And one of the Twilight Books for some reason.

That Ricky Gervais one is one of the first ones I remember becoming famous in its own right. Even that was basically just a spin-off of Gervais and Merchant’s radio show on XFM. But it very much set a precedent for how a podcast could be its own ‘thing’ beyond just supporting something else.

And now, podcasts are prolific. Apple Podcasts hosts over 550,000 podcasts alone. And hundreds more are springing up every day.

That’s because there’s a very low barrier to entry for podcasts. To create music, you need to have some talent. To create video, you need some

You can find a podcast for literally any subject you’re interested in. Even Shrek.

But of that 550,000 how many are actually good? The answer is about 50. So 0.01%.

Is that harsh? Not really. The majority of podcasts are soulless productions, made to fill some niche with non-content supported by adverts for a variety of inessential millennial products. They’re usually one of the following:

  • Two friends (usually men) sit behind a mic and ‘just ramble!’ The content is their oddball take on current events and unnecessary opinions on things.
  • Entrepreneur-porn. Anything to do with success in business.
  • Bland technology news reporting. Often laser-focussed on a particular niche like Apple.
  • Storytelling podcasts, which are now 100% of the gruesome ‘true crime’ genre.
  • Boring sports/politics/gaming chat.
  • D&D podcasts that aren’t anywhere near as fun to listen to as D&D is to play.
  • Culturally parasitic podcasts that exist to comment on the most recent episode of a television show.
  • Harry Potter.

I’m not saying that the secrets to success in life can’t be found in a podcast. But no, they can’t be. Podcasts exist to be mildly entertaining distractions from our monotonous lives. They’re something to listen to in order to make your commute feel quicker, to make household chores less painful, or give your brain something to do while you’re having a bath.

Here’s a few of the podcasts I actually like –

The Adam Buxton Podcast

One of the categories I could have mentioned above but didn’t was ‘comedy interview podcasts’ – which I actually like. Other podcasts in this category include Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, Brian Gittins & Friends, and things like Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces.

These podcasts are actually good because there’s no expectations. They don’t have to be funny, or even interesting – though they often are both. They’re typically just two people having a chat about things.

But wait! Didn’t I say in my list that two people having a chat is the worst kind of content possible? Yes, I did! But when the people in it are famous, or more importantly: people I like, it’s ok. Their opinions are actually insightful and I learn things. So it’s a valuable use of my time to listen to them. Or at least, a non-negative value contribution to my life.

Buzzfeed’s Internet Explorer

A really entertaining podcast that takes on internet culture and memes. This should be my dream podcast, but sadly it comes out pretty infrequently

Other internet-y podcasts that are ok are Reply All and Why’d You Push That Button? And a special recommendation for Trends Like These, which recaps the week in Twitter trends and news. Trends Like These is co-hosted by a chap called Travis McElroy, which brings us to…

Any McElroy Brothers podcast

The McElroys are three brothers (Justin, Griffin, & Travis) who primarily make podcasts. Although their podcasts often fit the template for the kind of podcasts I hate, for some reason they are immune to my typical objections. Chalk it up to them being so inherently adorable and glorious.

Central to the McElroy podcast empire is My Brother, My Brother, and Me – which may well be the world’s greatest podcast. It’s an “advice show for the modern era” but is basically a platform for their surreal improv-esque forays into popular culture. And they talk about Shrek a lot. So it’s more than just “three brothers round a mic”.

Likewise, they have the only good D&D podcast – The Adventure Zone. There’s another in which they chronicle their attempts to get cast in Trolls 2. And they have one in which they’re committed to watching the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 every year until they die.

And there’s a variety of good spin-offs that the brothers have with their partners: Sawbones (a podcast about medical history), Schmanners (a manners and etiquette podcast, which I saw live at the London Podcast Festival this year!), and Wonderful – a podcast about lovely things.

The McElroy’s are part of the Maximum Fun podcast network, which also hosts the Judge John Hodgman podcast, that I quite like. In this, comedian John Hodgman plays a judge, passing judgement on everyday arguments between couples. It’s good!

The H3 Podcast

h3h3 is a bit of a controversial figure. The youtuber-turned-podcaster has a devoted cult following online in places like Reddit. But his frank manner and habit of picking fights with other popular youtubers (he has an ongoing feud with Jake and Logan Paul) means it can sometimes be a little toxic.

But I enjoy the podcast, mostly for the ‘goofs’ – his commentaries on stupid youtube videos. It’s what made his YouTube channel popular and is always entertaining, especially when his wife Hila pipes up with a dry comment. She’s the greatest.

No Such Thing As A Fish

Currently the 3rd most popular podcast in the UK on Spotify. NSTAAF is a spin-off podcast from the researchers behind QI. Every week they gather to share and discuss the most interesting facts they’ve found out. And it’s pretty good!

This is exactly the kind of thing that could be very annoying. There’s space for exactly one ‘fun facts’ podcast in the world, so I’m glad this has been the one to break out. It’s become a bit of a brand in itself, perhaps superseding QI itself (they have a book out every year now), but ignore all that and it’s an entertaining listen.

Under the Skin

Russell Brand’s podcast! Wait, where are you going?

No seriously, I like this. People write off Brand as being a figure of ridicule, who just uses big words and does irresponsible things like telling young people not to vote. But listen to the podcast, and you can’t argue that he’s unintelligent.

Under the Skin covers all kinds of big sociological topics. From things he’s written about himself such as politics and addiction, to more abstract things like metaphysics. His interview with Adam Curtis in particular is really fascinating – and it’s kinda adorable how he tries to pierce Curtis’ hard outer shell with boyish charm.

Special shoutouts

Quickfire time. Here’s some more podcasts to check out if you’re hungry for more:

  • 99% Invisible. The design podcast that everyone recommends. I’m no exception.
  • Fintech Insider. Probably only relevant if you work in or know about Fintech. But I’ve been on it twice so I recommend it for that reason!
  • Four Finger Discount. A very solid Simpsons podcast (which I prefer to the more-widely celebrated Everything’s Coming Up Simpsons).
  • Harmontown. Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon melts down on mic in this podcast which is as much a portrait of a man in crisis as it is an entertaining listen.
  • Household Name. A podcast about things we take for granted, but with interesting stories. “Wait, that’s exactly the same premise as 99% invisible!” you say. And yes, you’re right. But they have some interesting content of their own, like their recent episode on the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Check it out.
  • My Dad Wrote A Porno. Everyone’s favourite podcast. Does what it says on the tin. Now a worldwide sensation. I have mixed feelings about it but overall think it’s pretty decent.
  • Worst Idea of All Time Podcast. Australians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt watch the same film every week for a year and talk about it. So far they’ve done Grown Ups 2, Sex and the City 2, and We Are Your Friends. If that sounds familiar, it’s because they also co-host Till Death Do Us Blart, the aforementioned McElroy production, known to its fans as #DEATHBLART.

See, podcasts ain’t all bad. It’s just that about 549,950 of them are.

Got some good podcasts pick of your own? Great! Keep them to yourself. There’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone else’s podcast recommendations.