As the podcast boom has snowballed over the past few years, so has the number of star vehicles in audio form. Once seen as a hobby, or at best a side hustle, podcasts now provide an opportunity for stars to connect directly with their audience. And ever since the pandemic brought film, TV and live performances to a standstill, the format has become even more appealing as an inexpensive and safe way to create content. A household name at the helm is no guarantee of a good audio experience, but these seven podcasts hosted by celebrities are worth the listen.
The comedic actress Anna Faris (“Mom”), one of the earliest big names to get into podcasting, has been delivering an uplifting blend of laughs and heartfelt life advice since 2015. Every week, Faris welcomes a fellow comedian or cultural figure for a conversation that is always unscripted but often plays more like a humorous skit than a straightforward chat-show interview. In addition to her own affable persona, Faris plays a range of recurring characters on the show, including Chad, a doltish, oblivious bro; and Karen, a jaded, eccentric Hollywood studio executive to whom guests pitch movie ideas. Each episode ends with a Dear Abby-inspired segment in which Faris and her guest call a listener who has reached out for guidance. Unqualified though they may be, Faris & Co. always deliver.
Starter episode: “Chelsea Handler”
“Using your platform for good” is a common, yet sometimes unclear, refrain among celebrities. But this riveting six-part audio series showcases the actress Dakota Johnson (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) using her own platform in a very specific way: to elevate the stories of sexual abuse victims around the world. “The Left Ear” is a compilation of candid first-person stories about sexual violence, presented without editorializing, told to Johnson via voice mail. In 2018, she put out a call inviting victims to anonymously share their experiences. Johnson’s soothing voice sets the tone with a brief introduction to each episode, inviting the audience to set aside preconceptions and simply listen, and ending with the phrase: “We hear you. We witness you.” The result is dizzyingly powerful.
Starter episode: “ONE”
Conan O’Brien getting into podcasting, which came as his iconic late-night talk show was on hiatus at the end of 2018, was a landmark moment for the format. The hit series is, unsurprisingly, a total pleasure, beginning with its premise: that O’Brien has no friends outside of work, and therefore has to invite people like Tom Hanks, Maya Rudolph and Keegan-Michael Key onto his show for company. After stating upfront how they feel about being O’Brien’s friend — their reactions range from “euphoric” to “fully indifferent” to “confused” — the celebrity guest of the week sits down for a warm, amusing and sincere conversation, in which O’Brien’s self-effacing weirdness always encourages a sense of real intimacy.