Embarrassing tales of misadventure from Jack Whitehall and friends | Podcasts

Just a quick glance at the podcast charts this week shows how intertwined audio shows are with a phenomenon I like to think of as “learning cool stuff”. History, economic analysis and current affairs-based shows make up six out of the 10. Or eight, if you include daily updates on this intensely political World Cup as current affairs. Clearly, knowledge and pods go together like Fifa and dreadful decisions about host nations.

So hopefully you’ll get plenty of enjoyment from this week’s recommended podcasts, given that they deliver up some astonishing titbits of knowledge. Did you know that in 1977 TV viewers in southern England had their news interrupted by a six-minute-long message claiming to be from aliens – and that to this day it’s never been explained? Me neither, until I heard excellent new show The Interruption. Also – and apologies in advance for this bit of jaw-dropping news – before listening to Jack Whitehall’s debut podcast, I was blissfully unaware of the fact that while filming the TV series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Jameela Jamil was so enthusiastic while performing her stunts that she managed to sprain her own bumhole.

Moving swiftly on, we also have Kathy Burke’s phenomenal new podcast about death, and a series from Duolingo looking at the way language works. Plus, in even more knowledge-related fun, there’s a roundup of the best quizzing podcasts known to earphones.

Alexi Duggins
Deputy TV editor

PS: If you’re after even more current affairs fun, the Guardian is running a live event next week offering a look back at 2022 with the Today in Focus team – you can get your tickets here.

Picks of the week

Kathy Burke, host of a new dark comedic podcast asking celebs what they want to happen to them when they die.
Kathy Burke, host of a new dark comedic podcast asking celebs what they want to happen to them when they die. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Where There’s a Will There’s a Wake
Widely available, episodes weekly
The gates of celebrity podcasting heaven have opened to unleash Kathy Burke (above) and her “decomposing dead end”, asking stars including Diane Morgan and Jamali Maddix about their own deaths. Funerals and hauntings also feature. First up is Dawn French, with her demands for a see-through hearse, plans to leave her money to useless causes and afterlife as a passive-aggressive poltergeist. Dark comedy at its finest. Hannah Verdier

Crush Hour: A Musical
Audible, all episodes out now

Hardened musical haters turn away now: this podcast set on London’s trains, buses and Ubers contains characters who have a habit of bursting into song at any moment. For those willing to embrace it, a solid cast including Ellie Goulding, Omari Douglas and Douglas Booth are looking for love as they commute in short, sweet, Christmassy tales. HV

Jack Whitehall’s Safe Space
Audible, episodes weekly
For his first podcast, the comedian takes his love of sharing embarrassing stories on-stage, and encourages guests to do the same. The enjoyably awkward chat sees the likes of Jameela Jamil talking about her “torn arsehole”, Judd Apatow on his wife’s shellfish poisoning and Emily Atack cringing about her acne-marked teen back – AKA “backne”. Alexi Duggins

The Interruption
Widely available,
from 28 Nov
On 26 November 1977, TV viewers in the south of England had their broadcast interrupted by a voice claiming to be an alien. It spent six minutes telling humans to live in peace or leave the galaxy, and has never been explained. This compelling podcast delves into the details, and tries to find the culprit – who, sadly, seems unlikely to be an intergalactic being. AD

Widely available, episodes weekly

From Crooked Media and Duolingo, Ahmed Ali Akbar is the lively host of this fun and inquisitive series about the intersection of language and culture. What’s in a name? What impact do different accents have? Using his own experiences and speaking with experts, Akbar takes a nerdy dive in to find answers. Hollie Richardson

There’s a podcast for that

Despicable Me’s Minions are among the wealth of topics covered in the Family Road Trip Trivia Podcast.
Despicable Me’s Minions are among the wealth of topics covered in the Family Road Trip Trivia Podcast. Photograph: Illumination Entertainment/AP

This week, Stuart Heritage picks five of the best quiz podcasts to play along with at home, from a kid-friendly road trip quiz to an “audio escape room” show.

Usually, podcasts are a passive experience: you go about your business while the hosts waffle in your ear. You can appreciate the companionship, and nothing is expected of you. But that doesn’t have to be the case; a handful actively require you to play along. The daddy of all of these is James Carter’s PodQuiz, a weekly 15-minute trivia contest. A bare-bones podcast, this is simply a series of fun questions and answers (recent categories include rats, fictional spacecraft and butter) with no fat to be trimmed whatsoever. It is the trivia podcast by which other trivia podcasts should be judged.

Trivia With Budds
But what if your trivia itch can’t be scratched by a mere one podcast a week? In that case, there is Trivia With Budds, in which host Ryan Budds flings 10 questions a day at you in less than 10 minutes. Each episode – there are more than 8,000 of them at this point – has a theme (recent examples: dog-related words, beer in movies, slang terms from Parks and Recreation), and Budds zips through them with minimal fuss. He also has a Patreon account, where subscribers can submit their own topics for him to tackle.

Doug Loves Movies
Maybe you are not the sort of person who enjoys pub quizzes purely for the simple exchange of knowledge. Maybe you just like the ambience of a pub quiz. A very entertaining middle ground can be had with Doug Loves Movies, a film quiz hosted by comedian Doug Benson. Many episodes are recorded live in front of an audience, and they boast a range of comics and actors as contestants. So, it’s less of a quiz and more of a rangy, shaggy gameshow. It includes a longstanding round where guests have to guess a movie based solely on reviews written by the former Entertainment Tonight movie critic Leonard Maltin.

Family Road Trip Trivia Podcast
Of course, quizzing podcasts aren’t just there to help you demonstrate your intellect. No, they are also there to keep your children quiet. As such, Family Road Trip Trivia Podcast performs a valuable public service. Designed to be played in the car, this podcast – devised by three kids and hosted by their mum, Brittany Gibbons – could be deployed in lieu of screen time, or just to stop your kids asking you when dinner will be ready three times a minute. Episodes cover themes such as Roblox, Despicable Me and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Escape This Podcast
Anyone looking for something more elaborate than questions and answers should try Escape This Podcast. Hosted by Bill Sunderland and Dani Siller, it describes itself as “a mix of escape room puzzles and table-top roleplaying”. In short, it’s an audio escape room game that guests (Neil Patrick Harris recently featured) have to try to solve. Better yet, each room is subsequently made available online, so listeners can play it through as well. Figuring out this podcast, especially now that it is so well established, takes time. But once you have acclimatised, it’s well worth the effort.

Why not try …

  • A right-wing radio host (played by Tracy Letts) is stalked by a terrifying evil in Quiet Part Loud, exec produced by Jordan Peele.

  • Comforting literary love-ins with friends Amanda and Ziporah in Stacked.

  • Real-life tales of audacious gangland action in 90s Hong Kong – and the resultant geopolitical strife – in Bad Money: Big Spender.