Celebrity podcasts are everywhere — and the deluge of downloads has only just begun
Sharon Osbourne has decided to un-cancel herself. After getting the boot from The Talk in March of 2021 for clashing on screen (and off) with co-host Sheryl Underwood, the 69-year-old will soon launch her own show on PodcastOne that will feature "interviews with celebrities and everyday people," along with an even more unfiltered version of her former talk-show self.
"It's kind of a gift to be able to talk about things that interest you and to be able to chat with people of your choosing," says Osbourne, who still believes she was unfairly silenced for defending Piers Morgan and his polarizing comments about the Duchess of Sussex. Asked whether she'll address her controversial last days on The Talk that included accusations of racially insensitive comments, Osbourne says, "I'm not done talking about cancel culture."
Whether it's relaunching (or rehabbing) a career, going behind the scenes of a popular TV show, or swapping stories with a fellow actor, podcasting has become the go-to answer for celebrities looking for a little autonomy. Cheap to do and even easier to launch, podcasting gives famous folks like Ellen Pompeo, Dakota Johnson, Seth Rogen, and John Stamos a chance to connect with their fans in ways they never have before.
"It's a great way to connect with their community in a whole different way," says Podcast One co-founder Kit Gray. "Fans get a chance to really interact with the celebrities, and the celebrities get a chance to talk to their fan base about things they wouldn't talk about before."
About one-third of Americans — that's 104 million people — are listening to podcasts regularly, with comedy-themed shows ranking among the most popular. Comedian and former Fear Factor host Joe Rogan is currently the most listened-to podcaster in the nation, with Office Ladies, hosted by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, also cracking the top 10. Meanwhile, Rogan's Man Show predecessor Adam Carolla ranked in 2020's top 50 with his eponymous podcast that launched in 2009. Newer comedy-and-celebrity entries like SmartLess (a year-old podcast hosted by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes) and Literally! With Rob Lowe are rapidly gaining listeners and buzz.
What's in it for the celebs? Money, for one. Hosts either draw a salary or share in the profits from advertisers, who have spent $1 billion on podcasts this year because of their ability to reach educated and affluent listeners. Armchair Expert, which Dax Shepard hosts with actress Monica Padman, earned a reported $9 million in 2020. That same year, Rogan landed an astonishing $100 million pact from Spotify for facilitating he-man discussions about mixed martial arts, hunting, and everything he hates about mask and vaccination mandates.
In addition to steady income, podcasts also give celebs creative freedom. In October, Rogen launched Storytime With Seth Rogen for Stitcher, a series that invites a wide range of guests to share a great tale about pretty much anything they've experienced. "It's helpful if it's something that had an impact on your life or your work," Rogen told EW in October, who sees his podcast as more of an audio documentary. "But that doesn't mean it can't be a story about s---ting your pants at Disney World."
Messy or not, the industry will take all the stories it can get: SiriusXM's president and chief content officer Scott Greenstein — whose company acquired Stitcher — believes we are only in the second inning of the podcast game, with nearly 2.4 million podcasts available to listeners in 2021 (though only 22 percent, or 552,000, are active with fresh episodes). "Whenever you see the intersection between creative freedom and economics starting to work," he says, "you're going to find celebrities paying attention."
Fans are paying attention as well, and they don't always like what they hear. In her second-ever episode of Tell Me With Ellen Pompeo, the actress learned that radical honesty isn't always the best policy. After sharing a story about her confrontation with Denzel Washington on the set of Grey's Anatomy in 2016 ("I was like, 'Listen, motherf---er, this is my show!' "), the actress got shellacked on the internet by people calling her "privileged" and "entitled." Notes Carolla, who does his show for Podcast One: "It's hard because if you are going to speak freely for two hours a day, you're going to end up creating some negative publicity on occasion. I've certainly had my fair share of that."
So chatty celebs, beware: Podcasting can be easy money, but only if you have a sustainable, interesting point of view. "What we relay to celebrities is that listeners don't want to come to you about politics and stuff like that," says Gray of Podcast One. "They want to get away from it. They want to enjoy life. They want to get some motivation." Adds Carolla, "It's hard to get by on your looks when you are podcasting. There's a business model now for it when there really didn't use to be. I would say the same thing to a random 19-year-old I met that I would to an A-lister. Do a podcast, provided you have something to say. If you don't, don't bother."
A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly's February issue, on newsstands Jan. 21 and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.