Sadia Azmat and Monty Onanuga from No Country For Young Women talk to Stylist about identity, being funny women and the need for conversations about vaginas.
Podcasters are learning that no conversation is off limits – especially female hosts who have had enough of tiptoeing around traditionally taboo subjects.
Earlier this year, The Receipts chatted to Stylist about how important it is for them to have unfiltered conversations. And Alix Fox explained why she asked people to come onto to The Morning After podcast to share their emergency contraception stories. Catriona Morton also talked to us about how she’s breaking barriers with the After podcast, which invites people to discuss their lives after sexual assault and abuse.
So it’s no surprise that we’re also now huge fans of No Country For Young Women, which has just launched it’s third series on BBC Sounds.
Hosted by comedians Sadia Azmat and Monty Onanuga, No Country For Young Women describes itself as tackling “life, love and work in a white man’s world”.
It’s raw, unafraid, topical and very, very funny. The hosts have come a long way since first conceiving the idea of a podcast when they worked together in a call centre. Guests have so far included Queenie author Candice Carty-Williams, comedian London Hughes, podcaster Sophie Hagen, actor Rose McGowan and, rather interestingly, TV chef Ainsley Harriet.
Here’s what happened when Stylist caught up with the pair.
In a nutshell: what is No Country For Young Women about?
M: We work out how we balance our identities as British women of colour. So the podcast is a place for listeners to balance their ethnicity and for them to call home if they are unable to feel at peace wherever they are in the world. That could be in another country, or in a different British town. Essentially, how we figure out how home looks for us, and for people listening.
S: Me and Monty are both British, which you might not think by looking at us. Some 50% of our listeners aren’t in Britain, so what we’re trying to do is be really relatable and universal to audiences in a way which we didn’t quite expect. Our audience, one way or another, might not feel completely embedded in their environment. And if that’s the case, then what we’re trying to do is create entertainment value for people who are in that boat.
It’s interesting that 50% of your audience aren’t in Britain…
S: When we were last updated, it was 50% globally, including China, Dubai and the US – so it’s really exciting for us because I originally thought the podcast would be specifically for a UK audience.
If you had to pick a few episodes for new listeners to listen to first, which ones would you recommend?
S: I would go for the end of series two. They’re quite a nice taster, I think. My episode talks about polygamy, looking at polyamory and multiple lovers around the world. And Monty’s talks about family – it was really nice how it explored the different generations of family through Monty’s personal relationships.
M: A lot of the other episodes are just about light-hearted ethnicity and having a laugh with each other about race and identity, it’s not all doom and gloom. In the first series we had a porn star called Lina Bembe who was cool to talk to, you don’t have to be a person of colour to relate to this podcast, it’s just about being comfortable.
As you say, it is light-hearted, but you do tackle race, religion and sex. Do you think that working in comedy and working with humour has helped with talking about these issues?
M: I think it makes it less scary for people, it’s a nice way to invite people into the conversation. We’re not saying these aren’t big topics, as they all have huge impacts on people’s lives, but this is a way for us to open a conversation up and talk more about it.
S: I think it’s really easy to be in your feelings all the time. What’s strong about having two friends on a podcast is that, because we’re relaxed, we can have more in depth conversations. We have a lot of fun along the way, which is important because it is a big part of our lives. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the only aspects of our lives where we don’t want to be considered ‘just down one lane’ rather than welcoming a load of different instances and personal issues which make up our lives.
But it doesn’t mean that we don’t make mistakes as well. It’s really not black and white: sometimes you’re a bit more sensitive than other times.
M: We’ve both said in the past that we’re not spokespeople for black people, Asians or anyone at all – that’s not what this is, we’re just saying and sharing our own experiences.
When women talk so frankly about sex and their bodies and their vaginas, it can still have a sort of ‘shock factor’ with some people. What’s your response to that – do you think there is still a taboo around talking about sex?
S: From the feedback and fan mail that we get, it’s only ever like “you guys are so funny, I love your podcasts”. I’m not being big headed or anything, I can take being heckled and receiving critical feedback, but from the people that we’ve been getting feedback from recently, we haven’t been told that we’re doing anything wrong, that this has already been done or we’re talking too much about something – I think people are really supportive. It’s good to have a place where we both feel free as that’s what a friendship is anyway.
M: You’re listening to conversations that we normally have together, so sex and our bodies are part and parcel of that. Its proved that people want to hear more real conversations and they want to know about what’s going on in your sex life, or they want to hear that it’s not weird that your vagina smells sometimes. Historically, from the backgrounds that we come from, we don’t have these open conversations about sex and our bodies. Just yesterday I was talking to my brother about my pubes. He freaked out but I think that’s mainly because he’s my brother.
S: I don’t think there is such a thing as normal but having these conversations is important as it sort of helps normalise the way that you’re feeling. We don’t do it to chase clout and haters will always hate.
Obviously you’ve had some really cool and amazing guests, what is it that you hope each one will bring to the episode?
S: What’s exciting is that we have such a different and diverse group of guests. So, in this series, we’ve had Rose McGowan, Ainsley Harriet and comedians like Phil Wang. It shows that as a duo, there’s no one that Monty and I can’t interview. It’s about learning and taking different insights from people with different upbringings, their background and professions. I love to learn and tackle different issues with that person.
M: It’s just a really nice chat. It’s nice to talk to people that want to talk about growing up and share their life experiences by explaining what home looks like to them. It’s a really nice way just to break the ice and display that these people are just the same as the rest of us.
What other podcasts would you recommend for people who love No Country For Young Women?
S: We’re not allowed to recommend… nah, I’m just kidding. I listen to The Comedian’s Comedian with Stuart Goldsmith a lot.
M: For me one of my favourites is Say Your Mind by Kelechi Okafor. She’s an actress, a director, a writer and she owns a pole dance studio in south east London. And it’s just a very fresh, very direct podcast, which talks about issues impacting the black community. It’s also a space to develop balls – very real and frank commentary that collectively delivers.
And lastly, what’s been the best NCFYW moment so far?
S: That we got commissioned for season three!
M: I’ve really enjoyed the live events. Although they’re quite nerve racking, I have so much fun doing those. The one we did at the London Podcast Festival was really great. Being able to have a discussion in front of people from your own town and with friends and families around. It was such a good energy around and a wicked evening.
Did you embrace the immediate reaction or did you feel a bit of pressure from that?
M: I don’t perform that often so I guess I did like the instant reaction as it’s nice to see people get what you’re saying and enjoy what you’re doing. And you feel it throughout the evening.
S: I also have to say that my highlight is having guests like Ainsley Harriet and Rose McGowan. It was a privilege to be around them and I think I learnt a lot, especially from McGowan with the #metoo movement, I felt there was a lot I learned which I took for granted because sometimes the way the media depicts it isn’t the way it is.
And I definitely took a lot from Harriet when he was talking about legacy and the next generation. He was such a generous character and soul. It was an inspiration for what sort of presenter I’d like to be, by making other people feel good, and he’s a great entertainer and an excellent communicator.
To be able to book these people who have achieved so much is extremely inspiring.
Images: Elisha Sessions (BBC)
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…
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