What is the ideal length for a podcast? I think about this a lot when eyeing the ever-expanding pod mountain (roughly 1m series according to latest figures). One of the supposed advantages of the medium is that it is unhindered by schedules, meaning episodes can go on and on. But given the abundance of content, and the fact that, for many, the daily commute has been reduced to a walk upstairs, I’ve come around to the idea that less is more.
Welcome, then, to 365 Stories I Want To Tell You Before We Both Die, a new daily podcast from Prologue Projects in which each episode lasts between one and four minutes. What, you may wonder, can a podcast offer in the space of a minute? The answer is a snapshot of a life characterised by smart writing and editing, and stories that variously discomfort, captivate and amuse.
It is written and hosted by the Iranian-American film-maker Caveh Zahedi, who is known for mining his own life in documentary films such as 2005’s I Am a Sex Addict. His plan here is to deliver one autobiographical nugget a day throughout 2021. Among the tales so far is Grand Canyon Bullies, about the time Zahedi decided to become a bully on a school trip after months of being bullied himself, and Legalism vs. Essentialism, about an altercation with a judge over a parking ticket.
Some entries paint Zahedi in a dubious light: in Did You Have Sex With Karl?, he tries to forge a bond with his mother by asking an impertinent question, and gets a flea in his ear for his troubles, while in A Corpse from God he realises he has never seen a dead body, and so attempts to engineer a situation where he can. He phones up mortuaries to request a visit — “I said ‘I wanna see a corpse. Can I see a corpse?’ and they’re like ‘No, you can’t see a corpse.’” Eventually, a friend helps him realise his dream when her mother dies.
We’ll have to wait and see whether Zahedi can maintain the series’ momentum — it’s possible that, by September, he will have exhausted his best anecdotes and be sending listeners to sleep with stories about the time he wore odd socks to work. Until then, this tapestry of stories offers a fascinating portrait of a man who is at once naive and egotistical, exasperating and funny, each of them telling us something profound about human life.
Brevity is the order of the day in the consistently smart 60-Second Science, which gives the lowdown on scientific topics including duck-billed dinosaurs, Himalayan glaciers and the evolution of accents. Meanwhile, The Memory Palace is history delivered as a series of exquisitely written vignettes, in which you can find out about, among other things, the day Niagara Falls came to a standstill and George Washington’s enslaved cook, Hercules.