Double acts often evoke some kind of unknowable, magical spark. Torville and Dean; Laurel and Hardy; Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest; it feels like many of the most iconic relationships in pop culture are built around a two-person dynamic. The same is true in podcasting, and two co-hosts seems to be the magic number for many successful shows such as Kermode and Mayo, French and Saunders, and Off Menu’s James Acaster and Ed Gamble.
Unfortunately, like the beauty of a pinned and mounted butterfly, that je ne sais quoi seems to disappear into the ether the moment you try to define it. However, there are some common qualities that can be observed across successful co-hosting partnerships.
Creating the winning formula
Brown Girls Do It Too is a podcast that has brought great success and acclaim to co-hosts Poppy Jay and Rubina Pabani, including winning the Best Sex & Relationships podcast at the British podcast Awards in 2021. Their winning formula derives from a blend of two opposing personalities: Pabani - who Jay refers to as “Manager Spice” - is the more organised one, while Pabani says that although Jay may show up hungover, she still “manages to be the funniest person in the room”.
When asked how she would describe the dynamic with her co-host, Poppy Jay of Brown Girls Do It Too jokes that it’s “hell!” - but admits that in reality, their relationship is a “beautiful thing”. This is typical of the fun, energetic atmosphere that makes Jay and her co-host Rubina Pabani such compelling listening.
Similarly, co-hosts Mariam Musa and Adeola Patronne have found themselves experiencing the same dynamic in their podcast, Pressed - a podcast where the two social media influencers come together to share their unfiltered thoughts and feelings on what it’s like to be a young Black woman today.
“I feel like we play off of each other naturally,” says Musa. “I feel that we have such different mindsets; she’s more stern and says ‘no’, while I’d lean towards ‘maybe’ – and then we counteract each other’s arguments.”
“We balance each other out,” adds Patronne. “Sometimes she’s the nice and reasonable one while I’m the hot-head - but she also has a problematic side and I have to remind her that people are watching!”.
Knowing what you bring to the table
Sometimes it’s not only about the opposing personalities that co-hosts can bring to a podcast that makes it exciting. In some cases, different levels of expertise can also do the trick. Ben Travis and Dr. Sam Summers believe that this is an important aspect of the dynamic of their podcast Disneyversity in which they analyse the company’s history of classic animation films.
Travis comes into each episode with little to no knowledge on the topic and Summers brings in the facts to give context to the films in question. That’s why he proudly decided to give Summers the label of ‘Dr Disney’.
He says: “I feel like I go in to each episode as the stupid one, and come out as the still-stupid one, but who knows a few more things than he did an hour and a half ago.”
On the other side, Summers says that Travis brings in the child-like wonder and positive energy that makes each episode more engaging. He says: “Ben is an incredibly nice and optimistic person who goes into everything wanting to love it and I think I may be more cynical.”
Ultimately, the natural friendship between Tavis and Summers is really the heart of the show and what makes it so successful. Best friends of 10 years, Travis and Summers started the Disneyversity podcast in 2020 as a way to share the conversations around film and Disney they were already having in real life with the rest of the world. Their biggest piece of advice for making your podcast work is genuinely enjoying talking to your co-host.
Understanding the rhythm
While it’s tempting to get carried away with banter and general chat between co-hosts, Travis - who edits all of the Disneyversity episodes - advises that there should still be a good structure to the show. Rather than just having free-flowing conversation, there should be clear chapters in the episode so that the audience doesn’t get lost.
“That’s why Ben is the pro,” says Summers. “If it was just me, I would be going off on a random stream-of-consciousness conversation – he knows these things and understands the rhythms!”
Although Jay and Pabani spend a lot of time together outside the podcast - whether it’s going out or constantly texting each other updates on their lives - they do occasionally hold back a story from their life to surprise one another on air. This way they’re able to get a genuine reaction out of each other.
This happened during the “This is your life” episode specials of Brown Girls Do It Too in which they shared stories about what impacted them at different points in their lives from their teens to their thirties. Pabani shocked Jay when she revealed that she was sent to a Muslim summer camp by her mother when she was a teen so that she could learn how to be cool.
Jay says: “I’ve known her for three years and we spend a lot of time messaging each other every day and I thought I knew everything… but I was like ‘wow’.”
“I also think we’re kind of like onions right? We have layers,” adds Pabani. “She made me cry and laugh, I cry because I feel her pain and laugh because she's so fucking funny!”
It’s also important to respect one another as co-hosts and to be careful not to talk over each other too much so that both have a chance to shine. Musfeen Miah and Spencer Cooper of the Queer Talk podcast are a great demonstration of how you can mix two loud personalities in a room and still create an enjoyable listening experience.
Cooper says: “Our dynamic is that I normally lead and talk loudly in order to get my way; then after a few moments I’m able to step down and we’re able to compromise – because compromise is important.
“Sometimes you do have your monologues… but luckily I do the editing so I can edit it down!” chuckles Miah.
Despite their boundless enthusiasm and energy meaning they occasionally speak over each other, when push comes to shove both have the vital respect and appreciation for each other and their guests, creating a space that is both humorous and safe.
Cooper adds: “You’re not always going to be on the same page but if you’re both working towards the same outcome, then you’ve got a lot to work with.”
Accepting that it can all end one day
Most importantly, there needs to be an equal level of commitment between podcasters in order for the show to succeed. As Musa notes, it’s important when you start a project that you see it through, because the interplay between hosts is a large element of the bond that listeners form with the show, and it’s hard for the audience to adjust to losing a part of that dynamic.
Having initially started the Pressed podcast as a trio in 2020 with influencer Nella Rose, the pair understand a thing or two about how losing a presenter can affect the dynamic. Rose had to step away from the podcast for the second series due to personal reasons, but she said in a statement that her relationship with her ex co-hosts is all good and “fun times”.
The Brown Girls Do It Too co-hosts keep their relationship healthy by acknowledging that the podcast may end one day – especially with Pabani being a mother and both of them having full-time jobs. Both have agreed to part ways on their own terms when they’ve said all they needed to, and there will be no hard feelings when and if one of them decides to end it.
“We have a rule, which is from Titanic, where he says ‘You jump, I jump’,” Poppy says. “That’s what we have with each other.”