If it seems like everybody has a podcast these days, it’s because pretty much everybody does. All kinds of people now host hyper-specific shows on whatever – sports, politics, business, health, Star Wars, what-have-you.
Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, celebrities are people too – and some of the best current podcast series come from persons with familiar names.
And the proliferation of celebrity podcasts isn’t slowing down. In a cover story titled, “Audio Boom,” Variety magazine reports “a surge of high-profile talent in the space and higher production budgets promises to accelerate the format’s popularity.”
Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey of “The Office” just launched “Office Ladies” this month, a weekly episode-by-episode look at their beloved TV series.
TV producer Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” fame recently announced a three-year deal to produce podcasts for iHeartMedia. That already includes the weekly “Katie’s Crib,” with “Scandal” actress Katie Lowe dishing on what it’s like to be a mom.
Actresses-turned-activists Alyssa Milano and Sophia Bush have ventured into podcast territory, too. Milano launched “Sorry Not Sorry” in April, focusing on social and political issues. Bush shows her vulnerabilities on “Work in Progress,” which began in September, talking to well-known figures whose struggles have inspired her.
There are a lot of podcasts to wade through — celebrity or otherwise. But here are five particularly good podcasts from famous people.
‘WTF with Marc Maron’
Comic Marc Maron’s groundbreaking podcast “WTF” – which stands for what you think it stands for – remains the single best interview series on the podcast dial and seems to be the model for some of the new celeb podcasts to spring up.
Twice a week, Maron issues hour-long conversations with various artists and public figures: actors, writers, musicians, comedians and showbiz professionals, plus the occasional politician or professional wrestler.
Over the course of 10 years, Maron’s style has matured and evolved. He’s remarkably successful at cajoling guests to share candid thoughts and stories – search the archives for emotionally raw interviews with Robin Williams, actress Jenny Slate and comic Todd Glass. Maron is also a good listener, which is a rare quality in this talkiest of media formats.
As befits his day job, Maron is professionally funny when the moment calls. The 2011 Amy Poehler episode is a riotous hour between two of the fastest thinkers on the planet. Also, don’t miss the famous Barack Obama interview.
‘Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend’
Conan O’Brien dove into the deep end of the podcast pool a year ago and logged 36 episodes by last summer — admirable, considering his day job as a late-night talk show host. The hook for the series, taken semi-seriously by all parties, is that O’Brien is a lonely celebrity and hopes to find real friends among his fellow celebrity guests.
It’s a typically weird and self-effacing conceit for the late show veteran, and it can introduce some interesting tension. Unlike Maron, O’Brien has trouble projecting the authentic version of himself. He’s just too fast on the joke button and can’t seem to help it. We all know someone like this, and maybe that’s why this series is so oddly compelling.
He’s also got a pair of funny sidekicks in Sona Movsesian and Matt Gourley, who help to generate the show’s awkward workplace vibe. Some good representative episodes: Jeff Goldblum, David Sedaris, Lisa Kudrow, Michelle Obama and – not coincidentally – Maron.
Variety recently reported it generates 1 million downloads an episode and that O’Brien’s team is set to create a show for Andy Richter, his late show sidekick, as well as scripted podcasts.
Similar in style and tone to Maron, “Armchair Expert” is hosted by actor Dax Shepard, who has starred in “Parenthood” and “Bless This Mess” on TV in addition to other film roles. He also is married to actress Kristen Bell, which contributes to the show’s down-to-earth vibe. His high-profile showbiz partner regularly drops in on the show. By all indications, they’re the coolest and funniest couple in Hollywood.
Along with co-host Monica Padman, Shepard maintains a casual and fun atmosphere in the studio, actually the attic of his home. Shepard has been sober for more than a decade, and there’s an appealing 12-step feel to his conversational style – frank questions, thoughtful introspection and rigorous honesty. As such, he comes off as impossibly authentic for, you know, a movie star.
The series’ ostensible premise is that Shepherd will happily expound upon any given topic, regardless of actual knowledge. But that’s really just the hook from which the show hangs its celebrity conversations: The Avett Brothers of North Carolina, Casey Affeck, Aubrey Plaza, W. Kamau Bell. Occasionally a real expert drops by — check out the recent interview with Nadine Burke Harris, Surgeon General of California — and Shepard rolls with that, too. He’s a natural.
‘Anna Faris is Unqualified’
For dedicated podcast listeners, a big part of the appeal — of certain shows, anyway — is that the format can get rather emotionally intimate. For several hours a week you have someone else’s voice in your head (literally, if you like earbuds).
As with radio, you get used to having certain people in your life. Raise your hand if you have an inexplicable affection for NPR’s Guy Raz or Audie Cornish.
Actress and comedienne Anna Faris has cultivated a similar vibe on her podcast, an offshoot of her 2017 memoir “Unqualified.” Faris is a veteran of dozens of films and TV shows, including CBS’s “Mom” currently. She’s a fast and funny comic performer onscreen, and she’s just as engaging on the podcast mic.
Most episodes feature a fellow celebrity guest – Bill Hader, Kelly Ripa, Kobe Bryant – and series of running-gag question-and-answer bits that allow both host and guest to be open and forthcoming. . But the heart of the show is the listener call-in (or email-in) segments, in which Faris and her guests offer relationship advice with genuine empathy. Faris recently returned from a six-month hiatus, so now’s a good time to jump in.
Author, journalist and public thinker Malcolm Gladwell is a natural fit for the podcast format. He’s a born storyteller with an almost hypnotic cadence as an orator. Like fellow author David Sedaris, Gladwell’s books (“Outliers,” “The Tipping Point.”) are arguably best experienced in audiobook format.
Gladwell’s podcast is among the most polished series in the entire industry. The shows sound terrific, and they’re often structured in interesting ways. Half the fun of reading Gladwell is simply following along as his curious mind roams around. The podcast maintains this approach, which is always engaging, if sometimes less than rigorous from a journalistic standpoint.
Season Four of the series dropped over the summer and features 11 hour-long explorations of historical topics “overlooked and misunderstood,” as the series motto goes. Gladwell digs into the history of higher education, steroids in baseball, AIDS research, the American Revolution, and birth control.