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Cow Comedy, Phone Sex, and More Podcasts Worth Trying

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Hey all! Welcome back to the column, everyone. I hope you had a peaceful holiday season, or as peaceful as you can swing it. Me, I spent the bulk of my break reading about twelfth-century nuns accumulating power. In other words, it was a good time.

Anyway, I’m back to listening, so if you’re vibing with anything in particular, I’d love to know about it. You can reach me at nicholas.quah@vulture.com or find me on Twitter.

Beef and Dairy Network Podcast

Comedic Cow Content.
Available on all platforms. Listen here.

One of the more reliable pleasures to glean from the podcast world is how you can pick a topic, no matter how niche, and probably find a handful of shows dedicated to going deep on that topic. The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast isn’t really the perfect example of that, because it’s a piece of comedy fiction, but it’s kinda like that — and in any case, it’s funny as hell.

Created by the Welsh comedy writer Benjamin Partridge, and published as part of Maximum Fun, the Beef and Dairy Network Podcast is a monthly longform comedy project that takes its banal frame (official show description: “The number one podcast for those involved or just interested in the production of beef animals and dairy herds”), subject it to any number of absurd premises, and plays everything out with a straight face. Listening to an episode of the Beef and Dairy Network Podcast is a little like what I would imagine hearing how BBC World Service would present the news of a Godzilla attack. Genteel formality in the face of something completely wild is ripe space for comedic tension.

The podcast’s most recent installment, “Beef Security,” is as good an entrypoint for newcomers as any, given that it’s a great encapsulation of the show’s surreal, slapstick appeal. Ostensibly pegged to the subject of how cattle farmers protect their livestock, the episode revolves around an interview with a gruff gentleman named Eli, played by Welsh comedian Mike Bubbins, who came up with the bright idea of switching out human security guards with chimpanzees. Expectedly, the episode spirals out from there, eventually encompassing, among other things: a trek through the African continent, a missing young animal rights activist, and the grisly fate of a military squad hired to test out the chimpanzee-forward security system. (All these narrative threads are aided by guest appearances from the English actor Tom Bell, the novelist Amy Mason, and the creator Alasdair Satchel.)

One can group the Beef and Dairy Network Podcast in with a cluster of comedy podcasts that make a meal out of smashing together the straight and the surreal. A few issues ago, I wrote about Valley Heat, whose fictional narrative follows a freelance insurance adjuster as he chronicles supposedly suspicious activities around his neighborhood in Burbank, California — though, of course, it’s really a chronicle of the adjuster’s own bungling idiocy — and a similar kind of pleasure can be extracted from KPODD 101.3, a relatively new project from The Greatest Generation’s Ben Harrison and The Moth’s Dan Kennedy where they play two morning radio DJs in the late nineties who return to the airwaves after a suspension and a stint in rehab. I’ve been enjoying this subgenre a lot. In many ways, it’s pure vibes on top of everything else. At this point, what more can you ask for?


Wolf of Wall Street meets the phone sex business. 
Available on all platforms. Listen here.

Before internet pornography, there was the phone sex business, and like any booming industry, there was an empire. American TelNet was one of the most prominent providers of phone sex services over the course of the nineties and early 2000s, before a mixture of in-fighting, government regulation, and technological disruption ultimately led to its downfall. Phone sex hotlines are still around these days, apparently — as a recent Don’t Look Up gag (?) highlighted — but they’re more or less historical relics now, not unlike the flip phone.

Anyway, American TelNet’s rise and fall was made into the subject of an eight-part podcast series from Wondery that wrapped up at the very end of last year, and for the most part, I thought it was pretty good — though I was hoping for more serious engagement with the actual substance, meaning, and anthropology of phone sex itself. A missed opportunity.

That said, what you do get from Operator are the thrills of a conventional business drama stacked with betrayal, corporate intrigue, and descriptions of various debaucheries committed by individuals overflowing with money. If you’re into Barbarians at the Gates or, I guess, Wolf of Wall Street, you’ll likely get a lot out of Operator. The series is narrated by Tina Horn, who’s normally found in the audio world as the host of the independent podcast Why Are People Into That?!. She co-wrote the series with Michael Connors (who co-created the project with Daryl Freimark), and the production is edited by Chloe Prasinos.

You can find my full review of Operator here.

A Follow-up to the 2021 Vulture Podcast Industry Survey

Last week we published a hefty project where we polled over 150 people around the podcast world on their picks for the best shows from the year, and tallied up the results. In the actual post, we presented the fifteen shows that garnered the most number of votes, plus a few others that came with intriguing arguments. We learned a lot from this inaugural effort; I’m looking forward to further expanding the scope and making a bunch of refinements for the 2022 edition.

That comes later, though. For now, I have one final tid-bit for you. In the 2021 survey, over 250 podcasts received at least one vote during the process, and I thought it might be interesting to dispense, at random, forty other shows that popped up in the results.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

365 Stories to Tell You Before We Both Die, The Battersea Poltergeist, Blank Check, Blind Landing, Blowback, Bridgewater, Cocaine and Rhinestones, Desert Oracle, Dish City, El Robo Del Siglo, Exit Scam, Fanti, Flagrant 2, Full Send, Guardians of the Water, Hell of Presidents, I’m Not a Monster, Lecture Hall, The Log Books, The Lost City Prince, Mississippi Goddam, Noodle Loaf, Object of Sound, On Our Watch, Once Upon a Time… at Bennington College, Poog, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Shipworm, The Sink: Sleep Aid, Suave, This Land, Threedom, The Turning, Triple Click, Underunderstood, Waiting to X-Hale, We Can Do Hard Things, Welcome to Your Fantasy, Why Won’t You Date Me?, Wild.

Cool. That’s all for this project. Let’s move on!

Listening Notes …

— Big news out of NPR yesterday: All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish is leaving the organization after a decades-long run. We’re big fans of Audie in this household, and her next step remains unannounced at this writing. Her departure also contributes to a growing list of prominent talent of color who have left NPR in recent years, a portion of which you can view here. Thinking maybe I’ll poke around on this: if you have thoughts or information, write to me.

— Tried watching And Just Like That…, hit the line in the premiere where it’s revealed Carrie Bradshaw is now a podcaster, and I just couldn’t keep going. I’m sorry. Someday, I’ll whip up a ranking of Every Appearance of a Podcast in Film and TV. Halloween (2018) goes on the very top, Alex Inc goes on the very bottom. Instances of podcasts in reality television will also be included, so expect copious amounts of Real Housewives.

And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at nicholas.quah@vulture.com.

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Cow Comedy, Phone Sex, and More Podcasts Worth Trying