The Five Podcasts to Listen to If You Want to Say You Love Podcasts
Look, I get it; you got into SERIAL last year and began to sorta think this whole podcasting thing seemed neat, but then GAME OF THRONES came back on, or you had to water your hedgehog, or whatever lame excuse you had so that you never got around to it. Honestly, I can’t entirely blame you; there’s a vast sea of people talking into microphones broadcasting on the internet out there. It can be a scary place, and oftentimes an incredibly boring one, too. With a wealth of forgettable podcasts out there, it’s always good to step up to the plate when you’ve got something of value to put out into the world: a podcast that will stand out from the crowd and allow you to carry out a bit of self-promotion in the process. With Lower Street, you can add to the list of popular shows and stand shoulder to shoulder with the podcasting greats I am about to list for you here. Have no fear for I, your knowledgeable sea captain, will guide you through the choppy waters with a deft touch. Let me take you to a magical place where your commutes are never boring, your drunken arguments are slightly more well-informed, and you always have something interesting to talk about at your internship. Don’t worry, there is something for everyone in the world of podcasts, from politics to the best marijuana podcasts, you can find whatever you need. If you’re looking to start podcasting for yourself and see how much of an audience you can build, perhaps take a look at something like this guide here.
I have an app on my phone called Podcast Addict, and it really is a fitting title. At this point, if I’m not actively engaged in conversation with another human being, watching a movie, or sleeping, I’m listening to a podcast. I think they’re an amazing tool for bringing people together, for fully taking advantage of the internet, and just a generally great boredom killing tool. Here are five essential podcasts everyone should know and love.
RADIOLAB is a fascinating and bizarre intersection of science, philosophy, and storytelling that’s really unlike anything else inside or outside of podcasting. The hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, are two of the most passionate and curious people I’ve ever encountered; they find a way to make complicated, technical scientific discoveries revelatory and poetic. They spend hours interviewing scientists, philosophers, travelers, lawyers, doctors, and more until they can cull together thirty minute episodes about life, the universe, and everything that is as entertaining as they are informative and moving. RADIOLAB is special because by the end of almost every episode, you feel as if you have huge swaths of new information that make life a little more rich, vibrant, and confusing than it was before.
Recommended Episodes: “Remembering Oliver Sachs”: The RADIOLAB team reflects on the death of their close friend and widely influential scientist Oliver Sachs, a fascinating and curious man.
“Juicervose”: A look at the story of one family’s attempts to learn how to communicate with their son who has severe autism.
“In the Dust of This Planet”: An amazing exploration of how and why nihilism and a desire for the world to end has become such a sexy part of mainstream culture.
Dan Carlin’s HARDCORE HISTORY
If you have even a mild interest in history and in trying to make sense of how we came to be where we are today by looking back in time, this podcast is essential. Dan Carlin weaves together dense, fact packed, but deeply entertaining and easy to follow stories that look at historical events and their wider implications. Oftentimes, these stories will stretch on for six, ten, or twelve hours, but the beauty of podcasts is that they can be paused and played almost anywhere at your convenience; you don’t have to take them in all in one sitting. HARDCORE HISTORY offers a chance to reconsider everything you know about the Mongols, World War I, or the Monroe Doctrine. It’s one of the lesser known podcasts on this list that thoroughly deserves to be much more popular than it is.
Recommended Episodes: Start with “Wrath of the Khans”, where he pieces together the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most destructive dynasties in all of human history over the course of almost twelve hours. What’s most impressive is how Carlin manages to look at the topic with equal parts wild fascination and reverential horror at the sheer number of lives lost.
Joe Rogan’s THE JOE ROGAN EXPERIENCE
This is the one podcast on the list that I don’t expect to have universal appeal, but if you want to be able to have a conversation with someone about podcasting, you should have an opinion on it nonetheless. Joe Rogan is a polarizing comedian; he hosted FEAR FACTOR when it was on the air, he provides color commentary for the UFC, and he’s deeply invested in pro-marijuana advocacy and the proliferation of psychedelic substances in popular culture. There are a lot of people who very adamantly dislike him, and to be perfectly honest, there will be times I have to shut him off because he gets under my skin.
At the end of the day, though, that’s the entire point of his podcast: pushing your boundaries, your comfort zones, and what you will and won’t allow yourself to think about. The show is great because Rogan is one of the most gifted conversationalists in the world; he is incredibly adept at finding fascinating people, figuring out how they communicate, and getting them to open up and share their ideas. The typical format of the show involves Rogan bringing guests to his studios to discuss whatever topics they’re most intensely interested in for two and a half to three hours of mostly casual conversation.
If you’re a person who adamantly clings to any ideology, Rogan or one of his guests will almost certainly offend your sensibilities at one point or another. If you want to have your beliefs challenged, your worldview expanded, and hear from people you may not see eye-to-eye with, however, this podcast is fantastic.
Recommended Episodes: Since the podcast just hit its 700th episode mark last week, it’s difficult to recommend individual episodes. However some great recurring guests are: Vice’s Shane Smith, drug researcher Dr. Carl Hart, and Rogan’s fellow comedian Duncan Trussel.
THIS AMERICAN LIFE
This is the podcast that got me started in podcasts, and it’s not even really a podcast, it’s a radio show. It crossed the great divide from the old school of radio and the bizarre podcasting universe, and now dominates the two with ease. The basic premise of THIS AMERICAN LIFE is to look at ordinary American life with the same intense interest that the news gives national politics, tragedy, and warfare. It’s funny, though, because THIS AMERICAN LIFE has done plenty of stories on politicians, soldiers, and large-scale tragedies over the years. The approach they always take with these stories remains the same, however; humanizing, observing, and understanding people and why they behave the way that they do. If you’re into incredibly poignant and character driven storytelling, it really doesn’t get any better than this series.
Recommended Episodes: #545: “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS”, #522: “Tarred and Feathred”, #419: “Petty Tyrant”, #381 “Turncoat”, #310 “Habeas, Schmabeas”, (You’ll have to look up the episodes to find out what they’re about, there’s a convenient archive right here.)
Marc Maron’s WTF
This is the podcast. The definitive interview podcast with the internet’s most beloved high-strung Jew. Marc Maron is a person who has done and seen a lot of things, many of which he regrets deeply. What’s really great about WTF is that if you dig deep into the archives and work your way forward, you can hear him becoming a better person from episode to episode. The podcast began after Maron’s second marriage had ended: he’d been fired from his radio gig and he didn’t know if he could keep working in the standup comedy world. His combative and abrasive personality had cut him off from a lot of people within standup.
Through the early episodes, you hear him hash out issues he’s had with specific comedians one-on-one in his garage with consistently surprising results, with Maron oftentimes reaching a mutual respect for the other comedian that didn’t seem possible at the outset. In his opening monologues, you can hear Maron confessing his struggles with recognizing that he’s the asshole in a lot of these situations, and he actively tries to make himself change for the better. Maron worked with his fans to discuss his shortcomings and address some of their issues as well; he eventually builds up a community of disenfranchised neurotics looking to change their outlook on life.
Today, when you tune into the podcast, you’ll find a transformed Maron, a guy who revels in the amazing experience of getting to sit down and have real conversations with interesting people on a bi-weekly basis. This podcast is an absolute staple of my week and should become part of yours as well. Hell, the president thought Maron was important, so why shouldn’t you?
Recommended Episodes: Dive in deep with WTF and go straight to the source with an episode Slate (hyperbolically) called “the greatest podcast episode of all time”. It’s an interview with legendary comedian Louis CK, and it’s nothing short of breathtaking. Here, two old friends confront each other on their bullshit, celebrate each other’s work, and reconnect after years of not talking. You can listen to the whole thing on YouTube.