Looking for some sage advice to help you make sense of the madness or simply some ideas for inspired living? Here are our top podcast picks to bring some wisdom to your ears right now.
Under the Skin
Russell Brand has started talking and looking a lot like Jesus lately and, accordingly, his podcasts are much less comedy and more philosophy than people might expect or want from him. But if you’ve been wondering about the purpose of existence lately then Under the Skin is worth a listen as his guests are a range of today’s great thinkers talking shop about point of life and so forth. During these conversations Russell displays his razor sharp mind in a disarming way as he asks complex questions in his casual Cockney fashion.
Except that is, in his recent episode with spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle, where old Rusty was barely able to get a word in edgewise as Eckart kept asking and answering his own questions repeatedly over the course of two hours.
It was some high level talk about consciousness and if you’re not quite ready to embrace that fully awakened state then may I instead recommend the one where he enjoys a two-way chat with Julia Cameron, author of the creative person’s bible The Artist’s Way.
I listened to it during lockdown and came away inspired by all her practical advice for developing creativity. In particular she recommends writing morning pages – streams of consciousness jotted down first thing in the morning before your brain has had a chance to fully wake up and tell you how shit you are. Please don’t ask me how that’s going now.
Ok, I know what y’all are thinking when I go around recommending the Brene Brown podcast. I get it, the Texan approach to analysing and sharing every passing feeling is a lot for us Kiwis to cope with. In any given episode you will hear many breathy sighs, she’ll be asking people to repeat anything vaguely meaningful and yes, there is the occasional ‘Amen’. BUT even if you can’t traditionally cope with this sort of carry on, I do recommend the episode where she talks to grief expert David Kessler.
He is an incredible human who was a master in the subject of coping with grief – working and co-authoring books with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross of ‘seven stages’ fame – even before he suffered his own devastating loss when his son died of an accidental drug overdose aged 21. In this episode he offers good strategies for dealing with difficult times and talks about making meaning from pain even while we may still long for an alternative reality. And if you think that sounds too heart-wrenching for your ears right now, know that he’s also incredibly funny and warm.
Doing it Right with Pandora Sykes
If you’re of a certain age then the name Pandora will automatically make you think of Adrian Mole’s girlfriend in the Secret Diaries but you may also know of this particular Panny from her other popular podcast The High Low. The High Low is two London journos, Pandora and her great buddy Dolly (truly, names don’t come any more English than this), chatting about life, news and pop culture and offering their erudite views on the changing times we live in. Yes, they do sound insanely posh but they also check their privilege regularly so it’s quite tolerable and they are also smart and funny and sometimes silly in a good way.
Well anyhow, Pan has now kicked off a new podcast called Doing it Right, which is not so much friendly bants but clever conversations with inspiring people. Pandora has only cranked out two episodes in her new series so far, the first with British comedian Joe Lycett but the second is with Sinead Burke a little person with a powerful message about how the world could be designed to be better for everyone. It’s inspiring, thought-provoking and made me feel newly aware that we could all be living in a much more inclusive way.
Back when I was someone who commuted, listening to this podcast on the bus was a risky business because I would often cry with laughter. Hosted by US comedians Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers, they are a delightful pair by themselves but every week they host another comedy pal of theirs and truly, the conversations they have are so demented and hilarious and filthy, I cannot explain it. You must just live it. In every episode, the two hosts and their guest host an “I don’t think so, Honey!” rant where they go off for 30 seconds about a topic of their choosing.
Please start with this episode, where the pair have deadpan comedy genius Eva Victor round and the conversation meanders through Brene Brown, break-ups, an impassioned defence of Katherine Heigl (risky) and Kim Cattrall, an impersonation of Project Runway that is making me snort AS I WRITE THIS, an argument as to why acne is character building and an I Don’t Think So, Honey character assassination against newsboy caps that is a comedy goldmine. If you like pop culture, this is for you.
I’ll start off by saying that the host Stephanie Holmes has an incredibly sexy voice and I can say that, because she is a close personal friend. But even without her sexy voice, this podcast is an effortlessly entertaining chat with a well-known person about travel and the trips that changed their lives. You learn a tonne, you get a lot of inspiration for your next trip – where to go, what to eat, what to pack – but also, now that we are all grounded for the foreseeable future, these 30-minute episodes are a bucket load of nostalgia for the wonder that is travel and will help scratch that itch we all have.
Please start with either this episode, where Stephanie interviews the wonderful and lyrically-worded Michelle Langstone about travelling to mend a broken heart and also this episode where Stephanie talks about taking the trip of a lifetime to Sri Lanka to help with a minor mid-life crisis.
Pretty Depressed with Kim Crossman
Kim Crossman is a Kiwi actress and absolute delight of a human being who has been very open about her journey with depression and anxiety, since she was diagnosed last year. She puts her own story on the line and also her excellent interviewing skills to great use as she chats to actors she’s worked with over the years who have also had to work on their own mental health. You might be like – actors, what’s relatable there? But actors are, for the most part, freelance workers who have had to survive without job security – a boat that a lot of us are now in.
Kim is really good at gently getting people to talk through their battles – some of which came hand-in-hand with other diagnosis, like Sopranos’ actress Jamie Lynn Sigler, who is living with MS. There are some well-known Kiwi names on the pod as well, like Rhys Darby and Martin Henderson, which are a great listen. But one of the episodes that was a stand-out for me was Kim’s chat with Utkarsh Ambudkar, who has starred in The Mindy Project and Pitch Perfect, and the pair get very real about burn out, feeling jaded by the industry and finding joy where they can.
A podcast from the New York Times, it’s hosted by Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, two culture writers. Both African-American and gay, the pair are brilliant and funny and bring their professional and personal backgrounds to a range of pop culture topics, from analysis of individual movies like Parasite and Us, through to looking at wider culture movements and both the impact they’re having and the roots they come from. If I’m making this sound like a history lesson, I’m doing a bad job – they’re fun and dynamic and thoughtful and just… brilliant.
Flick back to We Need Bad Women, that looks at how #MeToo gave the pop culture industry room to create unlikeable female characters, or Beychella, a tribute to the joyful performance Beyonce gave at Coachella. Then take an emotional 180 with We Grieve Charlottesville, a podcast from 2017 after the last big Black Lives Matter protest that killed three people. It’s very heavy and very sad and really brings back the point of the fact that America seems to be stuck in a never-ending loop of hatred and sadness.