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‘Gripping escapism’: 17 podcasts to distract you from the coronavirus

·10-min read

Code Switch

Where to start: Let’s Talk About Kamala Harris

Marketed as “fearless conversations about race hosted by two journalists of colour”, this is probably one of the most nuanced and unapologetic podcasts about race I’ve heard. With a rotating roster of hosts, the format is loosely defined: it might be a straight interview, or a narrative episode – so you never quite know what you’ll get. I frequently finish an episode feeling like my thoughts and experiences around race and racism were just articulated better than I ever could. That sounds like a tough listen – but it’s also very entertaining! – Laura Murphy-Oates, presenter/executive producer

You’re Wrong About

Where to start: the first of five episodes about Princess Diana

Two journalists, Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall, explore the myths and misconceptions around famous and sensationalised news stories, moments in history, or influential figures. The format is really simple: in each episode one host explains the story to the other, setting up a witty, well-informed conversation between two friends. My favourite episodes are ones about women who have been shamed and derided by the press (eg Janet Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith); the hosts always re-examine their lives with such humour and empathy. – L M-O

Total Reboot

Where to start: Twilight (2008) with Naomi Higgins & Hum Mahbub {SCREENAGERS}

The Alexei Toliopoulos-verse is ever expanding (Finding Drago/Desperado, The Big Film Buffet) – but hearing the voice of one of Australia’s foremost investigative journalists just makes me feel better every week. Originally premised on reviewing major Hollywood reboots, Total Reboot has recently expanded to focus on coming of age films and films about food. And while the podcast’s ironic logline – “the only podcast on the internet that dares to talk about movies” – doesn’t change the fact of an over-saturated market, hosts Toliopoulos and Cameron James always bring a fresh, uniquely Australian perspective. It’s all a joke, but it also contains some of my favourite film criticism about movies I actually want to watch. – Miles Herbert, audio producer

Ten Things That Scare Me

Where to start: Starlee Kine

I am afraid. I am scared all the time. Even without the virus which shall not be named. And while most of my podcast listening helps me compartmentalise the perilous moment we are in politically, socially and environmentally, this bite-sized podcast from WNYC – which features a variety of writers, comedians and your average public radio listener talking about the things that scare them most in life – asks us to live in our fear for a minute. Name it. Share it. Allow yourself to feel it. I don’t know why it helps. But there is comfort in shared fear, and after listening, I feel less alone. – MH


Where to start: The First Aboriginal Podcast

Texas and Travis DeVries are brothers (bro), Aboriginal (riginals), and host a podcast where they answer user-submitted questions on topics which oscillate between pop culture and land rights through a thick layer of satire. I love Broriginals because it feels Travis and Texas are always pushing the form, and constantly inverting their own carefully curated podcast personalities. With over a hundred episodes, and a generous run time, Broriginals provides hours of exactly the kind of satirical detachment from reality I need when my internal monologue pops up again. – MH

Home Cooking

Where to start: Bean There, Done That (with Josh Malina)

Hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway (creator of the music podcast and Netflix series Song Exploder) and Samin Nosrat (chef and author of Salt, Fat, Acid Heat and New York Times Magazine columnist), this food podcast is like having two great friends over to your place, gleefully rifling through your pantry. They talk about what to cook when you can’t dine out, how to change up your regular cooking habits, and how to make something fabulous from that panic-buy of lentils. Weaving in bad puns, listener requests and cameos from Hrishikesh’s dad, this podcast is joyful and fun. – Camilla Hannan, engineer/sound designer

Field Recordings

Where to start: Backyard Storm Darwin

Recent winner of gold at the British Podcast awards, this podcast has a straightforward premise: recordings from audio-makers standing silently in fields (or places that could be broadly interpreted as fields). Award-winning producer Eleanor McDowell began this podcast during the English lockdown as a way to take her mind beyond her small London apartment. And it does the trick, taking you to the snow trails in Quebec, Sri Lankan rainforests and Tokyo trains. – CH

With Gourley And Rust

Where to start: Jaws

I have been using horror films as an escape for some time now, and the results have been quite promising (I’m never sad. I never think about the coronavirus). Paul Rust (of Netflix’s Love) and Matt Gourley (of Volkswagen’s Tiguana commercial) host this easy-listening about slasher films and horror franchises, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them very much for it.

Related: ‘Half an hour of human goodness’: readers’ favourite podcasts of 2021

Large chunks of my lockdown have involved putting on an Alien movie, or a Friday the 13th film, and afterwards listening to Paul and Matt talk about it, or something entirely unrelated, for hours (episodes run LONG). It’s quite funny, always silly, insightful and unusually kind; one of the best kinds of podcasts, where two friends just talk about something they really love. – Joe Koning, audio producer

Say Podcast And Die!

Where to start: Episode 1 - Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps #1)

Hosted by Andy Crow and Alyssa Greene, Say Podcast And Die! is a show where “two queer horror nerds sit in a closet and revisit the Goosebumps series”. Sometimes I wonder if I would have the same relationship with horror if it wasn’t for these books, and hearing them re-examined has been transporting. Coronavirus, I hear you say? Trapped inside, am I? I couldn’t possibly know what you’re talking about. I’m too busy asking: was the factory gas leak in Dark Falls that turned residents into the undead inspired by the Amoco plastic plant explosion of 1980, or the Formosa plastic plant explosion of 1991? – JK

My 90s Playlist

Where to start: My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion

Unabashed hot takes on 90s bangers are the antidote to the coronavirus blues (or life, really). Each episode, Tracy Clayton (former host of another great podcast, Another Round) and Akoto Offori-Atta pick a song from the 90s and have a super funny, smart and surprising chat about the tune. Their banter makes me smile very enthusiastically and laugh really loudly. Each episode also has a quiz, which is highly competitive and expertly adjudicated by their producer, Quizmaster Eric. Start with Celine but don’t forget Natalie Imbruglia. – Allison Chan, audio project manager and producer

Hey How You Going

Where to start: Food Man

This podcast is about what we’re all doing: having conversations in our own heads. But these ones are always a funny and delightful listen. In an imaginative blend of fact and fiction, Lindsay Green takes us to different relatable situations. These include waiting for a friend, having lunch in the office and debriefing after a disappointing date. It’s also a comforting reminder that we all have conversations in our own heads, even when we eventually get to have human interactions. The episodes are less than three minutes each, so listen to them all. – AC

Soft Voice

Where to start: Episode one – Soft Voice

If you are sick of news and press conferences, escape with a fiction podcast. Soft Voice is a dark comedy thriller that follows Lydia and her “soft voice”, which makes all her decisions for her – down to which yogurt will make her the best real estate agent – and allows her to be her most successful. But when soft voice disappears, Lydia’s life is turned upside down. It’s got a trip to a Berlin nightclub, a missing granny, and a podcast within a podcast … it’s gripping escapism. – Ellen Leabeater, supervising producer

Period Queen

Where to start: Your Blood is Amazing

So you’ve baked some bread and improved your indoor surrounds with plants – but have you harnessed the power of your menstrual cycle yet? Over five episodes, period preacher Lucy Peach and her special guests explain the different phases of your menstrual cycle, and how to make the most of your hormonal superpowers. Song, science and stories combined, it’s a beautiful listening experience. – EL

Ms Represented

Where to start: Clothes maketh the woman

The ABC’s Annabel Crabb and comedian Steph Tisdell host the podcast edition of recent docu-series Ms Represented, about the culture of sexism at Parliament House. Crabb’s sharp political analysis mixed with Tisdell’s honest humour is just a really great combination to distract you from whatever is going on – and being new to Australia, it gives me a lot of background on what women in politics are dealing with here. The podcast is super conversational and takes you on a journey through the highs and lows of women in Australian politics without the doom and gloom of the news cycle. – Karishma Luthria, audio producer

What Would the Aunties Say?

Where to start: She’s fair so she’s beautiful

A South Asian influencer based in the UK, Anchal Seda brings on experts to discuss, break down and challenge a lot of South Asian stereotypes and harmful perceptions within the community. From mental health to skin trends and colourism, every episode unpacks a different aspect of some of South Asian culture’s most problematic thoughts and behaviours. The discussions are much needed in countries where South Asian populations are growing, and where there are significant differences in thinking between the age groups of family members. Importantly it shows that having honest conversations with your aunties, uncles and parents is the only way to make real change within communities. – KL


Where to start: Gregor or Galit

It’s been around for a while, but Heavyweight’s underlying goal – to help their guests right the wrongs of their past – never gets old. Deeply personal stories are told well through the dry humour and sensitive perspectives of narrator Jonathan Goldstein and his team. A heartwarming cure for post-pandemic cynicism that never crosses over into saccharine cliche, it has been known to make this reviewer cry and laugh out loud in public, sometimes at the same time. The show’s on hiatus – Covid-19 has made audio documentaries harder to make – but that just gives you time to catch up on its great back catalogue before the next season starts. – Jane Lee, supervising producer

I’m Not A Monster

Where to start: I Love You, I Miss You

What if you embarked on what you thought was a family holiday, and found yourself a prisoner of Isis? That’s where this investigative series for BBC Panorama and Frontline PBS begins. Journalist Josh Baker pursues all the twists and turns of the mystery of this family around the world for four years, securing enviable access to characters I won’t describe so as not to spoil the show for you. It’s an incredible story and a masterclass in investigative journalism all in one. – JL

Can you recommend other non-Covid-y podcasts? Please share it in the comments

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