Variety Gets It Wrong: Podcasts Don’t Need the Help of Big Celebrities

Leo West
August 23, 2019

This week, Variety put out their newest cover story “How Conan O’Brien and Other Top Hosts Are Tapping Into the Podcast Revolution.” The main assertion of the article is that with the popularity of the medium at an all time high, big-name celebs are getting into the podcasting world, and big corporations are now noticing that people like podcasts. What a realization! It cites Conan dipping his toe into the podcasting world as a barometer for a change in the industry. 

The article also noted the successful podcasts from Joe Rogan, Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Andy Richter. All celebrity talent boosting a medium that millions of people were listening to already. I’m not opposed to celebrity-run podcasts – Dax Shepard’s Podcast is extremely popular and entertaining – but the medium does not need A-list talent to make it extraordinary. Nor does making the face of the medium a successful white, male comedian an accurate depiction of the current podcasting world. The internet, along with other successful podcasters, seemed to agree:

Below are some podcasts that have been around for much longer than Conan’s podcast and prove that a unique voice is more exciting than a name. 

Las Culturistas: ForeverDog

Comedians and best friends Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers gab with fun guests and ask the question, “What’s the culture that made you say culture is for me?” It’s fun, silly, and unapologetically queer. Extra points if you stay around for I DON’T THINK SO HONEY, the one minute segment where Matt and Bowen drag something in culture for one minute. Perhaps they would choose this Variety cover? 

The Read: Loudspeakers Network 

The Read, hosted by Kid Fury and Crissle, single handedly led the campaign to get Missy Elliot her Video Vanguard award at this year’s VMAs. If that doesn’t prove how important their voices are in the podcasting world, what else will!? Each episode starts with the segment “Black Excellence” where they talk about a person of color succeeding the world. This week, they talked about Normani’s new video, which like…YOU NEED TO WATCH. Stop reading this, go watch, come back! 

Throwing Shade: Earwolf

Throwing Shade is hosted by comedians and writers Homosensual Bryan Safi and Feminasty Erin Gibson. Each episode, they go over a recent issue affecting the LGBTQ communities and women. Peppered through are wacky asides, improvised songs, and characters. It’s informative and silly and it makes every commute better. Bryan and Erin started doing this podcast back in 2011, when truly no one was thinking about the medium. 

Pop Culture Happy Hour: NPR 

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour is a panel show hosted by culture writer Linda Holmes. Along with NPR Music’s Stephen Thompson, and NPR Panelist Glen Weldon, the show talks about everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to the Metropolitan Opera, to HBO’s Succession. 

Bottom line: Making another famous talk show host A-lister the face of podcasting completely distorts the current makeup of the medium. People like Conan aren’t pushing a new revolution of podcasting, they are standing on the backs of people who bolstered and grew the industry while people weren’t listening. Now that more people are listening, we can’t forget who made it possible!