An Interview with A Pod Head

Busy uni students caught in the middle of readings, work and keeping in touch with the world on Facebook may find themselves hard-pressed to find time to read books for leisure like back in the school days. Instead, you might just want to let someone talk to you and passively absorb that sweet knowledge. Introducing: podcasts. I’ve personally just started getting into some myself, but I really wanted to hear from a much more seasoned listener. Jharna Chamlagai is a podcast lover and a strong advocate for everyone else becoming one too.

Tell me about your love affair with podcasts.

If you’re a friend of mine, or honestly, even just an acquaintance, you’ll hear me say “so I was listening to this podcast and …” at least twice in any given conversation. You see, I’m what’s known as a “Pod Head” (a term I coined).

Pod Head (n.) An avid listener of podcasts. Must have subscribed and regularly listened to at least 10 podcasts to qualify.

I discovered the world of podcasts in my final years of high school. It was a stressful time and the 20-minute bus rides twice a day proved to be an escape from the pressures of grades, university applications and deciding my future as a 16-year-old. To be honest, I’m not sure what my first listening experience was, or even which podcast it was — all I know is that from then on, I woke up every day to download episodes of Radio Lab, Gilmore Guys or Nerdist for my daily commute.

At university, I soon found staring at a screen for five, six, seven hours a day was incredibly draining. It was practically impossible to use those same sensory muscles to read a book, which had been my hobby of choice until then. Instead, my listening habits grew. Two years later, I continue searching for new podcasts to obsess over for days on end.

I’m trying to get into podcasts but sometimes it feels like there are so many, and I just don’t know how to choose. How do you know what to check out?

You see, there are so many types of podcasts that if you get bored with one, there’s always another waiting in the “discover” section of your pod app. Another perk is that you can listen while doing almost any mundane task — tidying your room, doing the laundry, going for a run … you get the idea. Most of the time you’re literally just listening to complete strangers having a conversation about some specific topic, yet there’s always something you can relate to or laugh at or learn from. I think what draws me most to listening to these conversations is the fly-on-the-wall experience in situations you might otherwise never find yourself in. You get to know the presenters, who all have perspectives and opinions that are sometimes similar and sometimes different, yet always engaging. It feels personal in a way that reading words on a page or watching a TV show doesn’t achieve. You just have a voice or two to just listen to without being expected to comment or form an opinion straight away; it’s incredibly liberating.

For anyone interested in getting into podcasts for the first time, what are five tips?

  1. Download a podcast app on your phone! Most of them are free and easy to use. I use Castbox.
  2. Apps will usually have categories, such as humour, business, tech, etc. Go through a few and subscribe to any that you think sound interesting (or search for the ones below)!
  3. Next time you’re on a bus to uni or tiding your room, press play and have a listen.
  4. Don’t give up if the first one you listen to is not your jam, try a few more episodes or choose a podcast that isn’t so nuanced to start with.
  5. A good pair of headphones is a huge bonus!

What are some of your favourites?

Boars, Gore, and Swords is a weekly recap of the TV series Game of Thrones with hilarious and honest commentary thrown in. The hosts, Red Scott and Ivan Hernandez, genuinely love the show but aren’t afraid to critique it when it’s problematic. In the off-season they either do “book club” episodes where they review chapters from the book (they really hate reading the book, which makes it even funnier to listen to) or a “what you should be watching” (WYSBW) series. Most recently they reviewed The End of the Fucking World, a Netflix special that I loved and was excited to hear their opinions on.

In Black Men Can’t Jump (In Hollywood), Jonathan Braylock, James III and Jerah Milligan review — predominantly Hollywood — movies within the context of Hollywood’s race problem. They ask whether each movie harms or help the cause for actors of colour and ask questions like: how many people of colour (POC) actors can you name of the top of your head that have a leading role? Not only is it a great example of men of colour using agency to comment on how their cultures are portrayed, but it also offers non-POC a way to listen to and understand other perspectives. I highly recommend their episodes on Coco (for which they had a Latina guest host) and Black Panther. If anyone out there is thinking of doing a similar podcast for Australian movies and media I would 100 per cent be on board!

Searching for representation of people of colour in Australian media, I stumbled upon Buzzfeed’s Pretty for An Aboriginal. Hosted by Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell, the podcast looks at how race informs the everyday experiences of people of colour. In the first episode they talk to rapper and writer Adam Briggs to unpack the influence of African-American pop culture and politics on young black people in Australia — which is a fascinating listen.

If you’re like me and love law but hate reading nonfiction then More Perfect is the podcast for you. More Perfect is a game changer because it connects you to some of the biggest rulings in America’s supreme court by telling the stories that actually happened in cool and creative ways. Unlike other podcasts, the music and editing is very calculated, but in a way that helps the narrative rather than detaching you from it. For me the show’s main appeal is that it allows everyday people to understand important decisions that we all know we should pay attention to but often find to be literarily inaccessible.