In a time of lockdowns and self isolation, what better way to find company than with podcasts? Here, podcaster Josie Cray reviews the new Little Wander podcast series launched by the creators of the Machynlleth Comedy Festival.
One of the few things I’ve managed to still enjoy after the year that has been 2020 is listening to podcasts. When TV shows can’t seem to hook me in or I’ve played a certain album on repeat until the music doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, I know I can find joy and stimulation through the range of podcasts I follow. From art history and Katy Hessel’s The Great Women Artists podcast to getting a literary fix with the Times Literary Supplement podcast, the friendly voices and great stories have seen me through dish washing, laundry hanging and general procrastination. Podcasts have been a great way for me to learn more about the things I love, so much so I now co-host the Wales Arts Review podcast (apologies for the plug) to talk about things I love.
I was very excited to hear that the creators of Machynlleth Comedy Festival have launched a series of podcasts with hilarious comedians and hosts at the respective helms with fabulous guests including Josh Widdicombe and James Acaster. I’d been looking for something more light-hearted in my podcast library and the three podcasts launched did just that.
I Wish I Was an Only Child is hosted by sisters Rachel and Cath Mason and explores prominent sibling relationships (and trying to work out why they have such explosive dealings). Now, every podcast has a little jingle they come to be associated with and nothing has made me laugh out loud so quickly as the hilariously awful tune tooted out by a recorder, beaming images of primary school music lessons into my head, which opens the episode. The squeaky tune is not the only laugh though. The first episode saw Cath and Rachel interviewing ‘The Last Leg’ and Apollo star Josh Widdicombe and Henry Widdicombe, creator of Machynlleth Comedy Festival. Josh and Henry are half-brothers, Henry being Josh’s senior by three years. Cath and Rachel are not afraid to ask questions which could rock the boat, enquiring about the Widdicombe family make-up and asking if Henry ever blames his dad for leaving to start a new family. Whilst Henry admits he struggled a bit in his 20s with this, he still has a strong relationship with his father (albeit a different one to Josh). The sons and dad still meet up for Plymouth Argyle games and family get-togethers are more about having fun and having a laugh than arguing and dealing with family disagreements. The episode touches on the period of time Josh and Henry worked together, where their love of comedy comes from and how their paths have been very different but right for them. The brothers talk about shared experiences such as when Josh and Henry reveal they had been given £800 inheritance after their paternal grandmother died and what they bought (Josh, a £350 Sony stereo; Henry, a body board and Omega 1200), and times when they’ve upset each other including when Henry revealed to Josh’s university friends that Josh had had a breakdown after a poorly refereed football match, leading to Josh kicking Henry out of the house. A great start to a really fun series that made me think about (and miss) my siblings and all the stupid things we’ve done.
Here to Judge is the podcast I’d love to do if I have the guts: judging strangers on the internet. Hosts Robin Morgan, Leila Navabi, and Priya Hall explore the internet’s weirdest stories, get sucked into some odd eBay research, and reveal just how strange your next door neighbor might be. The first episode, aptly titled ‘Nana’s Teeth’, sees the trio judge three ‘Am I The Arsehole?’ stories. For those who may not be aware, Am I The Arsehole (shorthand AITA) is a Reddit forum where people can post their stories, ranging from relationship problems to reactions to rude behaviours, and ask strangers on the internet to provide a verdict. Check out the Guardian’s article which discusses the forum in more detail. Morgan, Navabi and Hall take stories from here and do just what is asked: judge. First up is a boyfriend a little confused after finding a ceramic box containing both human and animal teeth next to the kitchen sink. The box remains there but the boyfriend is slightly disturbed by the thought of his girlfriend collecting teeth. This leads the trio to see if it is possible to buy human teeth on eBay, finding a French dentist who does, in fact, sell teeth.
The second story (involving fewer teeth) is a husband who is asking if he is being unreasonable asking his wife to get a part-time job to pay for her lavish lifestyle. It turns out she had wanted him to give up his therapy sport (Polo—yes, the one with horses) as they were having money problems. After wanting to keep up appearances, the pair had been dipping into their son’s college fund and after years of unchecked spending had now meant he was unable to attend the college he wanted to. The trappings of capitalism seem to be the issue here, but the trio can’t sympathise with the Madison Avenue husband-and-wife. Finally, the oddest story sees a return to teeth. A wife wonders if she is horrible for not wanting to participate in her husband’s family’s odd funeral tradition: when a relative dies, the teeth of that person are knocked out and each person is given a certain tooth depending on their relationship to the deceased which they then carry with them in a pouch. As her husband is Welsh, she had researched to see if this was a Welsh tradition, though nothing seems to confirm this. The trio seem split on the matter. Morgan says lean into it, get involved while Navabi and Hall tell the woman to leave. A light-hearted podcast which indulges that desire to judge strangers when we’re stuck inside.
Finally, Welcome to Spooktown is a podcast for all horror lovers. Described as ‘bringing back Lord Byron and Mary Shelley’s party game for the Zoom generation’, hosts Kath Hughes and Ed Easton challenge a guest to tell a scary story set in a different part of Spooktown (population: yikes!). If they approve of the story it is added to Spooktown lore. If not, it is lost to history. Episode one sees James Acaster telling the very cerebral story of Elizabeth who is locked in a seemingly never-ending cycle of nightmares where she is trapped and burned alive only to be woken by the buzz of her alarm clock to face the terrors all over again. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but Acaster’s explanation of the story covers everything from Twitter and cancel culture to the destructive behaviour of teenagers on video games and the 2017 Darren Aronofsky film Mother!. The story, it seems, is ultimately about the horrors of modern life. Careful deliberation between Hughes and Easton sees something remain in Spooktown. Not the scariest story I’ve ever heard, but it did prompt quite a few chuckles. Fantastic for cold, dark nights.
All three podcasts hit the right note: I laughed out loud. I thought about friends and family. I shuddered at the thought of what else might be sold on eBay. Check out these series available on all good podcast platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, Podcast Addict, and PocketCasts. And transcriptions are available for those hard of hearing. Happy laughing!
Josie Cray co-hosts and produces the Wales Arts Review podcast.