Dead funny: the woman breaking the grief taboo through podcasting

Cariad Lloyd's Griefcast won three awards at the British Comedy Podcast Awards this year
Cariad Lloyd's Griefcast won three awards at the British Comedy Podcast Awards this year

Cariad Lloyd has laughed in the face of death. In fact, she does it every week as part of her bereavement podcast Griefcast.

Death and sadness might seem like a surprising topic for a comedian but this is entirely the 35-year-old’s point: to break down the taboo around bereavement and to “make it less depressing”.

It’s a surprising hit: her first interview, with comedian Adam Buxton about the loss of his father, got 20,000 plays within three months, and in May the podcast scooped three prizes at the British Podcast Awards, including Podcast of the Year.

The reason it works, she says, is because she is “in the club” herself. Lloyd’s father died of pancreatic cancer when she was 15 and her parents were “hippies” so “they were very, very open — sometimes too open — about everything. We would have family meetings. Whenever someone had a row we’d have to discuss it and how we all felt. So I was brought up in a very emotionally literate household.”

That was before her father’s death. Lloyd pauses and laughs. “Then, when he died, we really had something to talk about.”

Over time she became the “go-to grief girl” among her friends. “If something happened I’d get a phone call. Without knowing it, I’d been rehearsing for a podcast about death for 20 years.”

The idea to broadcast her conversations about death came about in 2016 before the birth of her first child. Lloyd started Griefcast as a side project hoping “maybe 10 people would listen” but quickly it became a chart-topping hit. “The biggest shock to me was how some people don’t talk about death,” she says. “I would get emails from people saying: ‘My parents died and I hadn’t spoken to my wife about it. I thought I was having a breakdown until I heard your podcast and realised I was just grieving’. Suddenly I thought: ‘Maybe this is useful’.”

In each episode she speaks to a fellow comic about the death of someone they loved — Sarah Pascoe (Lloyd’s former flatmate), David Baddiel and Bobby Mair have been guests — but importantly, Griefcast “isn’t an hour of weeping”. The laughter-to-tears ratio is normally about 50:50, Lloyd explains.

“When someone dies you’re made to feel like it’s 100 per cent awful, and any other feelings you have about it are wrong. But that’s not life. Life is always a mixture of emotions and I want the show to reflect that — about 50 per cent is people telling me these incredibly tragic, sad, painful, true stories and the other half is like: ‘Oh yeah, then they did this weird thing’. If funny things happen you don’t stop noticing them.”

Lloyd learnt this from experience. Although her father’s death was tragic “there was always laughter in among the absolute pitch-black pain”. She recalls how he once played dead when they visited him in hospital. “It wasn’t funny,” she remembers. “But that was his way of dealing with the fact that he was going to die.”

Lloyd’s guests recall similar experiences. In Buxton’s podcast, he shares the story of how a carer recognised him from TV as they were carrying his dying father, while comedian Robert Webb made listeners laugh with an impression of his late grandmother.

Lloyd says this juxtaposition is important and hopes she can communicate to listeners that “you’re not a bad person for laughing occasionally at what’s happening to you”.

Similarly, it’s OK to feel confused or angry, as she did as a teenager. “I grew up thinking that I’d reacted badly because I’d been angry.” She thinks these other emotions don’t get discussed and criticises the “serious and sombre” way in which death is often discussed.

“It’s normal that people die, so why are we acting like angels came down and took people away and we don’t know where they went …? They died. I wanted that to be the tone of the show, and that helps it be a bit less depressing.”

This warm, candid honesty about death has made Lloyd something of a bereavement counsellor for the nation. She gets daily emails from fellow “griefsters”, as she calls them, and says keeping up with them is “hard”.

Besides the podcast, she’s currently in a spoof Jane Austen play called Austentatious at the Savoy Theatre and will be at the Edinburgh Fringe later this month. She’s also writing this year’s panto for the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith.

“We’re doing Dick Whittington so I’m just writing some fun dick gags — it’s a nice break from death.”

To keep up with her audience, Lloyd has a reminder on her phone telling her to reply to at least one email every day. It takes time to personalise each message and people are “so grateful” when she replies, but despite setting out to help others with their grief, Lloyd thinks the person she’s helped the most has been herself.

“At the start I’d have told you I was fine, that I’d dealt with it, but talking about it so much and listening to myself talking about it has made me realise I’ve been processing stuff myself and perhaps I haven’t dealt with that bit. I never expected that.”

Does she cry on the show? “Oh, my God, all the time. When people describe stuff to me it brings back memories, or just as a human being I find myself empathising with someone.”

She cried while recording her latest podcast this morning. “You just have to laugh and try to get through it.”