50 of the best podcasts to listen to right now

Listen to podcasts through a smartphone app, or through the show’s website. Photograph: iStock
From history and comedy to sport, music and film, now is the perfect time to listen in

Comedy

The Adam Buxton Podcast
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There’s no clever hook or overarching theme here, just rambling and entertaining chats with interesting people. Episodes with childhood friends Louis Theroux and Joe Cornish are highlights.

Conan O’Brien talks to celebrities who aren’t pedalling products
Conan O’Brien talks to celebrities who aren’t pedalling products

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
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The problem with late-night talk shows is the guests are always selling something. It’s refreshing, then, to listen to Conan O’Brien talk to celebrities who aren’t pedalling their latest products. A brilliant conversationalist, Conan’s podcast works so well because he seems genuinely interested in the people he’s talking to.

Office Hours Live with Tim Heidecker 
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A chaotic and beautiful mess, Tim Heidecker’s podcast is basically a live call-in show he hosts in his living room with friends. Episode 82 with Fred Armisen is the funniest podcast you’ll listen to all year. Or possibly ever.

Every week Jamie Morton, James Cooper and Alice Levine read a new chapter from Morton’s dad’s amateur erotic novel
Every week Jamie Morton, James Cooper and Alice Levine read a new chapter from Morton’s dad’s amateur erotic novel

My Dad Wrote a Porno
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Pretty self-explanatory, this one. Every week Jamie Morton, with the help of friends James Cooper and Alice Levine, reads a new chapter from his dad’s amateur erotic novel. With more than 200 million downloads, it’s as close to a blockbuster as a podcast can get.

Blindboy takes on tough issues in his surreal, irreverent and strangely comforting comedy podcast. Photograph: Alan Place
Blindboy takes on tough issues in his surreal, irreverent and strangely comforting comedy podcast. Photograph: Alan Place

The Blindboy Podcast
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Blindboy is due a lot of credit for tackling tough issues like toxic masculinity and mental health on his hugely successful podcast. It is above all, however, a comedy podcast, and on that front it delivers in spades. Surreal, irreverent and strangely comforting.

History

The History of Rome
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At 179 episodes, The History of Rome can seem a little intimidating, but it’s a surprisingly accessible and straight-forward narrative history, from the mythical origins of the city to the fall of the Western Empire.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
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You need one thing more than any other to enjoy Hardcore History: time. With some episodes running up to six hours long, it’s the perfect lockdown binge. Start with King of Kings, a series of episodes about the Persian Empire.

The Memory Palace 
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There is nothing quite like The Memory Palace. Producer and host Nate DiMeo doesn’t want you to know what each episode is about, so just pick one at random and be transported to a place that exists somewhere between history, storytelling and art.

Throughline 
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Throughline can be summed up with one of Faulkner’s most famous lines, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. Taking stories from today’s headlines, their causes and historical origins are explored with piercing insight and clarity.

Irish History Podcast 
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Those of us who tuned into the very first episode of the Irish History Podcast remember a charming, insightful, lo-fi dissection of the middle ages in Ireland. Hundreds of episodes later, Fin Dwyer has transformed it into an all-encompassing historical juggernaut. As easy to dip in and out of as it is to binge.

Three Castles Burning 
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The new project from Donal Fallon (editor of the brilliant history blog Come Here to Me), Three Castles Burning is a social history podcast focusing on some lesser-told Dublin stories. The recent episode about Dublin’s Little Jerusalem (Portobello) is the perfect place to start.

Sport

The Tennis Podcast
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Particularly during Grand Slams, The Tennis Podcast is essential listening. Hosted by David Law and Catherine Whitaker, their post-match analysis is always thorough, insightful and funny.

Second Captains 
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For a lot of Irish sports fans, the Second Captains is the only podcast they need. Tuning into Eoin McDevitt, Ken Early and Ciarán Murphy quickly becomes a weekly obsession. Or, if you pay €5 a month to become a “World Service Member”, a daily obsession. Worth every penny.

Football Weekly 
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When James Richardson left The Guardian’s Football Weekly, many feared it would rip the beating heart from the show. It didn’t; new host Max Rushden has been doing a bang-up job, striking just the right “puns and punditry” chord fans have come to expect.

Golazzo: The Totally Italian Football Show 
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This is a podcast for those who still wistfully recall the joys of tuning into Channel 4 every weekend to watch Football Italia. Here, host James Richardson is joined by James Horncastle and Gab Marcotti to relive the highs and lows of the Serie A glory days.

30 For 30 
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This podcast, from the makers of the acclaimed 30 for 30 film series, is about as good as you’d expect. That is to say, it is incredible. Combining investigative journalism and expert story-telling, it peers into some fascinating and unexpected corners of sport, while always keeping one eye on the bigger picture.

Film & TV

The Rewatchables 
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A brilliantly simple idea; each episode Bill Simmons and guests pick a film to re-watch, and then talk about it. That’s it. Gloriously unpretentious film choices and infectious enthusiasm make it one of the best film podcasts out there.

You Must Remember This
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A podcast exploring the secret or long-forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century, You Must Remember This is a thoroughly researched and thoroughly entertaining listen. Filled with great anecdotes, gossip and scandal, it often exposes the seedy flipside to all the glitz and glamour.

Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas delight in skewering films for our listening pleasure
Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas delight in skewering films for our listening pleasure

How Did This Get Made?
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Is there anything better than watching a so-bad-it’s-good film with a group of friends? That’s what every episode of How Did This Get Made? is like. Hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas delight in absolutely skewering films for our listening pleasure.

The Cine-Files 
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If How Did This Get Made? is a celebration of bad films, The Cine-Files is a celebration of great ones. This is some grade-A film buff action, with classic films being dissected with expert analysis and wit.

The Treatment 
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Hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell, The Treatment features in-depth interviews with a wide range of people in the entertainment industry, but it’s with actors and film-makers where the show really shines. A superb interviewer with a vast knowledge of movies, he has a knack for revealing and insightful chat.

News & Politics

Inside Politics 
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Hosted by the Irish Times Arts & Culture editor Hugh Linehan, Inside Politics examines the current state of Irish politics with regular contributions from politicians, journalists and political thinkers. The daily coverage of the recent general election cut through all the guff so precisely it amounted to a public service broadcast.

David McWilliams has an incredible gift for simplifying complicated processes. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times
David McWilliams has an incredible gift for simplifying complicated processes. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

The David McWilliams Podcast 
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David McWilliams has an incredible gift for simplifying complicated processes. With the express aim of making economics easy and accessible, this podcast is a resounding success. The recent episode about completely rethinking economics should be required listening.

Chapo Trap House 
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Self-styled champions of the “dirt-bag left”, Chapo Trap House is a group of angry socialists, satirists and writers who use their podcast as a platform to riotously lambast the state of American politics.

The Echo Chamber Podcast 
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Hosted by Tony Groves and Martin McMahon, The Echo Chamber takes a lively and fairly irreverent look at news, politics and culture in Ireland. Independently supported by their listeners on Patreon, they are clearly passionate about what they do, and frequently have excellent guests to discuss current affairs.

The Irish Times World View Podcast 
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A handy weekly digest of what’s going on around the world from Irish Times foreign correspondents. Usually dispatched every Tuesday, it is now a daily affair as it covers the global coronavirus outbreak. If there’s one podcast you should be listening to now, it’s this.

Arts & Ideas

Endless Thread
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Using various Reddit threads as a prism through which to explore the internet’s impact on society, Endless Thread is vast in scope. It’s a clever idea and leads us down some strange and unexpected avenues.

The Way I See It 
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Thirty artists and creative types, including Steve Martin, Orhan Pamuk and Fiona Shaw, each pick one artwork from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and talk about it. A simple idea resulting in some very engaging and enlightening discussion.

Monocle on Design 
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Your one-stop podcast shop for everything in the world of design, from architecture and furniture to fashion and typography. The recent episode featuring an interview with Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, winners of this year’s Pritzker prize for architecture, is a good place to start.

Philosophize This! 
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In philosophy there are a lot of questions, and very few answers. In that sense, a podcast is the perfect format for sharing philosophical ideas; all you have to do is listen and think. Best enjoyed in chronological order, Philosophize This! is a great introduction to some of these big ideas that shaped our world.

Solvable 
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An admirable, optimistic and fascinating podcast tackling big, global problems like disease and inequality. Each episode, hosted by Malcom Gladwell, has a renowned thinker, policy-maker or humanitarian discussing how to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem.

New Scientist Weekly 
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A new podcast (only 10 have been released so far), each episode of New Scientist Weekly gives listeners the inside scoop on three must-know science stories in the news. Recent episodes have been understandably preoccupied with Covid-19, but they have been a welcome source of fact amid the rumours.

Lifestyle

Where Should We Begin? 
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One of the most intimate podcasts you will ever hear. Listening in on real couple’s therapy sessions feels pretty voyeuristic, but ultimately it’s a rewarding and positive experience. Recent episodes dealing with couples living in lockdown are excellent.

Griefcast 
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It shouldn’t be so hard to talk about death. Griefcast, a podcast where comedians discuss someone they’ve lost and how they dealt with grief, goes a long way to normalising the conversation. Series highlights include conversations with Aisling Bea, Adam Buxton and Robert Webb.

Reply All
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A podcast about how internet culture shapes our lives, Reply All is magically innovative and imaginative. Drop whatever you’re doing now and listen to episode 158: The Case of the Missing Hit, about a Californian man haunted by the memory of a pop song he can no longer find. It is a small slice of storytelling perfection.

Elizabeth Day celebrates life’s failures and how to learn from them
Elizabeth Day celebrates life’s failures and how to learn from them

How to Fail with Elizabeth Day 
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We all know that we learn from our mistakes, so why is failure so rarely tolerated? How to Fail with Elizabeth Day rightly celebrates life’s failures with celebrities talking about what went wrong in their lives, and how it ultimately helped them.

Articles of Interest
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A mini series within the 99% Invisible podcast, each episode of Article of Interest explores a different aspect of dress. This can be anything from blue jeans and Hawaiian shirts, to pockets and punk fashion.

Music

Dolly Parton looks at American’s divided culture and politics. Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images
Dolly Parton looks at American’s divided culture and politics. Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Dolly Parton’s America 
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A nine-part documentary series about Dolly Parton’s career, life and enduring legacy. As the name suggests, however, there is a wider focus on America’s divided culture and politics.

Song Exploder 
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Although it is specifically a podcast about music, Song Exploder also reveals so much about the creative process in general to make it essential listening for anyone interested in how art is made. In each episode an artist picks apart one of their songs bit by bit to reveal how they were made, and why. Guests include Fleetwood Mac, U2, Metallica, Solange, Lorde and The Mountain Goats.

Slow Burn: Biggie and Tupac 
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Does the world really need another in-depth look at the Biggie and Tupac beef? After listening to the first episode of this new Slow Burn series, you’ll believe it does. Taking the same masterful approach to storytelling they brought to the Watergate scandal and Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the Slate team deliver a riveting and still somehow shocking tale of violence and betrayal.

R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? 
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In their previous podcast U Talkin’ U2 To Me? hosts Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman talked all things U2. They have now moved on to REM, working their way through the band’s entire back catalogue and talking about what the music means to them. Funnier than it sounds.

Desert Island Discs 
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We all know the set-up: celebrities choose eight songs, a book and a luxury to take with them to a desert island. First broadcast in 1942, more than 3,000 episodes have been recorded, and last year it was voted “best radio programme of all time”. Sheer comfort listening.

Hit Parade 
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In Hit Parade, Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst, tells stories and dissects songs to figure out what makes a hit. Filled with trivia and spot-on pop culture analysis, it is a music nerd’s dream.

Non-fiction and Stories

Ear Hustle 
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A project between visual artist Nigel Poor and former inmate Earlonne Woods, Ear Hustle brings listeners inside the daily life of San Quentin State Prison. Sharing stories from those still incarcerated, as well as those released, it is a truly transportive listen.

This American Life 
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The podcast all other podcasts try to be. Hosted by Ira Glass, This American Life has become a cultural institution unto itself. Each episode has stories based around a particular theme; just pick one at random and get stuck in.

Documentary on One 
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With more than 200 national and international awards in the bag, as well as over 1,500 documentaries in the archive, RTÉ’s Documentary on One is a national treasure. If a story is worth telling, you can be sure to find it here.

S-Town 
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If truth is stranger than fiction, then S-Town is stranger than truth. It’s better if you go in blind; just prepare to stay up late. From the producers of This American Life and Serial, it is a perfectly crafted and consistently surprising true murder mystery.

Modern Love 
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Bite-size podcasts where famous actors read personal essays from the Modern Love column of The New York Times. The perfect marriage of performance and written word, highlights include readings from Colin Farrell, Greta Gerwig, Jason Alexander and Ruth Negga.

Welcome to Night Vale 
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Presented in the style of a radio broadcast, complete with weather updates and community announcements, this podcast details the strange goings-on in the fictional town of Night Vale. If Steven King wrote a podcast based on The Twilight Zone it might sound something like this.

Caliphate 
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A hard-hitting audio series presented by New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi as she reports on Islamic State and the fall of Mosul. The central question she tries to uncover is, who is the US really fighting in their war on terror?

Get your headphones on and listen in to the 50 best podcasts around. Photograph: Getty
Podcasts are available on a number of apps, or direct from the show's website. Photograph: Getty

What the hell are podcasts and where do they live?

If you’ve been hearing about this new-fangled podcast thing for years (maybe even decades) but couldn’t quite get around to tracking them down, now is the perfect time to remedy that.

These days most people listen to online audio shows (because that’s what they are) via a smartphone, whether through the phone’s native app (Apple Podcasts for iPhone or Google Play for Android), via Spotify, or through a range of bespoke apps, of which Pocket Casts and Acast are among the most popular.

Once downloaded, you can browse these apps by subject, name or just most popular and, when you find something you like, simply subscribe.

Once you’ve subscribed, new episodes of that show will appear automatically in your feed as soon as they’re published.

If that sounds like too much of a commitment, or you’d prefer to use a computer, just Google the names of any of the podcasts listed here, as they generally have websites from which you can play their shows directly. Happy listening!