Since the widespread success of everyone’s childhood favourite show, Horrible Histories, Greg Jenner has embarked on a quest to make history hilarious. With his podcast, You’re Dead to Me, Jenner pairs the factual with the funny. Here, he is joined by expert historians and award-winning comedians to explore everything from the history of ice cream to the riches of Mansa Musa. First released in 2019, BBC Radio 4’s You’re Dead to Me debuted number one in the 2019 Apple Podcast Charts and had 27 million downloads in the first 18 months of its run. Further, Series 3 was shortlisted for the Listener’s Choice Awards at the British Podcast Awards in 2021. Earning rave reviews and a wide fanbase, You’re Dead to Me, crucially, makes history accessible.
From the very beginning of the podcast, Jenner and his wise cracking guests tackle a diverse range of topics, most of which would not have been entirely familiar to Jenner’s target audience: a British public with only secondary school level history as a basis. At the beginning of each episode, a segment entitled ‘So, what do you know?’ relates the topic at hand to pop-culture that the audience can connect with, to immediately orient themselves with the themes. This is just one way in which You’re Dead to Me tries to make history feel interesting, accessible and remove the barrier of intimidation many listeners may feel when trying to learn about. For example, the Asante Empire. Further, Jenner puts his comedian to the test, ending each episode with a fun quiz reflecting on the major facts and themes of the topic. Through comedians such as Desiree Birch, Ed Gamble and Rosie Jones, listeners experience history through a lighter lens and this encourages listeners to engage in history, to spread the themes they learn. Jenner, through You’re Dead to Me and his other works, has reinvigorated public history and cemented it as an equally important aspect of historical learning. History, Jenner believes, does not need to be kept locked away by academics using overly complex language. It should be accessible and fun, and this is what You’re Dead to Me achieves.
The themes discussed on the show also deserve recognition. You’re Dead to Me covers a hugely varied spectrum of historical topics. Desiree Birch and Dr Michell Chresfield investigate the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and activist. Shortly after, LBGTQ+ history is assessed by comedian Suzie Ruffell and Dr Justin Bengry. Interestingly, Bengry created the world’s first master’s degree in queer history at Goldsmiths, University of London. Disability in the ancient world is pondered by Rosie Jones, and the world of the Aztecs is also explored. You’re Dead to Me goes beyond a surface level discussion of such important topics and delves into the wider themes and connections they example. The episode on the Aztecs, for example, opens a discussion on whose version of history we tell; the sources which remain on Aztec life were written not by Aztecs but by the Spanish colonizers who destroyed their way of life. How, then, do we decide to tell their story? In offering such questions, You’re Dead to Me encourages listeners to be critical of the histories they hear, and to investigate the traditional narratives which have dominated historical thought in Britain.
Of course, many of the episodes are more light-hearted, such as the History of ice cream, of high heels, and of football. The sheer range of histories discussed on You’re Dead to Me adds to its accessibility and to the enjoyment of listeners, but also brings to the fore the history of everyday objects, perhaps previously considered ahistorical by listeners. By zooming in on aspects of mundane life, Jenner widens the scope of what listeners conceive to be history and invites an investigation of the everyday. Indeed, this is in keeping with his previous work, A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Ordinary Life, From Stone Age to Phone Age, published in 2015, in which Jenner explores the small things which constitute our everyday routines. The range of this podcast sets it apart from other history podcasts available, as it does not tie itself to any one theme, time, or place and in doing so provides listeners with a crash course of all facets of human history. There is, as Jenner himself puts it, ‘something for everyone’.
I highly recommend this podcast to everyone. Whether it is useful in a pub quiz, to impress your friends with fun historical facts, or to broaden your perspective on what history itself means, You’re Dead to Me will teach you valuable lessons while you don’t even realise, you’re learning. I, for one, am excited for series 4.
Written by Amy Hendrie
Jenner, Greg, host ‘You’re Dead to Me’ (podcast)
Jenner, Greg ‘Greg Who?’ Gregjenner.com. Accessed 28/1/22