There’s nothing I love more than a well curated list. Okay, there may be a few things I love more, but when it comes to finding the info I need on the internet — lists just make life a whole lot easier.
Lately I’ve had a handful of people ask me for podcast suggestions and what better way to answer their requests than with a public post for all of you? My husband and I are podcast addicts. He is literally listening to podcasts 24/7 — we often joke about the fact that he can’t even pour himself a glass of water without having a podcast playing in one earbud. I listen to them daily and got on board the podcast train right from day one.
I distinctly remember writing to CBC Radio 3 when they cancelled their R3-30 weekly top Canadian indie hits podcast. This podcast of Canadian music got me through some of my most homesick days living abroad in Germany and I was devastated to learn it was getting cancelled. They wrote back telling me that, “podcasts are on the way out so we decided to go another direction.” Um…flash forward to about five years later and now everyone and their dog listens to podcasts. And you know why? Because they are delightful, digestible tidbits of knowledge, humour, news, stories, music, adventure and so much more all for the price of well – nothing (well, you can pay for many of them but most can be found for free or by donation). It’s pretty great. I have so many podcasts that I love, but I also have a list of “must-listens” that I devour in my daily long bike commutes. In my full list of podcasts in my podcast app (I currently use Instacast) I have about 25-30 so a follow up post is definitely in order, but for now I give you my absolute favourites.
What can I say? Radio Lab was around from the beginning and continues to be one of the best podcasts out there. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the show focuses on topics of a scientific and philosophical nature but really has a broad range of subjects — most recently an amazing series on consent and another fantastic one on gonads (trust me on that one). No matter what the topic every episode is so carefully researched and produced that it’s hard to ever get even a little bit bored.
I can’t miss a single episode of this podcast. No I mean, I really can’t. There are comedy threads that have been buried so deep in Comedy Bang Bang that unless you listen carefully every week you just might miss out on one of the funniest things you’ve ever heard. Every week host extraordinaire, Scott Aukerman has about 3-4 (and sometimes 8-10 on some especially cray cray episodes) comedians on his show for shenanigans, conversations and random hilarity. Sometimes his guests play characters and sometimes they just play themselves and you never really know what you’re going to get which is part of the fun. There are tons of favourite characters who make regular appearances, but lots of new ones too which keeps the show fresh and fun. Scott is a top notch comedy curator who plays off his guests in a way that pushes them to the next levels of funny. The threads that run through the show are, of course, inside jokes which spontaneously tumble out of each week’s episode and on occasion, even end up on t-shirts. Heynongman!
Alright, I’m just going to come out and say it — I sometimes only listen to the first 10 minutes of this podcast. Why? Because Paul F. Tompkins monologues are the funniest things in the universe (really, like really) and nothing else in comedy and in the rest of the podcast compares to them. Don’t get me wrong, Paul always has hilarious guests on and the show concludes with some funny-as-hell improvised scenes, but the monologues are just THAT good. I was introduced to PFT about five years ago and I felt like I was coming home, comedically (and yes, I’m sure that must be a word.) This dude gets my brain and tickles it in the most wonderful and hilarious ways. He is a genuinely awesome human being and his comedy is just like him – astute, genuine, warm, generous, witty and well, maybe I’ll let the A.V. Club really sum it up best, “he’s an eloquent, off-the-cuff orator, and his shows feel conversational and high-minded without coming off as elitist.” My husband and I sometimes lie in bed at night listening to him together and inevitably one of us will start shaking and then the other will follow and before we know it we are dying from laughter. Actually, I may have exaggerated a little bit about his intros being the best because his characters are nearly as funny as his meandering improvised monologues and should not be missed. You can catch them on Comedy Bang Bang, various TV shows and lots of other podcasts too. In fact you can catch PFT on so many podcasts I’m not even sure how he has time for them all. He’s a favourite on all comedy podcasts — the ratings even go up for any episode he makes an appearance on. Thank you, PFT, for being you.
Do you ever hear something for the first time and think, “how did they get inside my brain?” That’s what listening to Invisibilia is like for me. Sadly this isn’t a regular weekly podcast, but I wait for new episodes like kids wait for new games to be released. It’s basically the love child of Radio Lab and This American Life and tackles stories about human behaviour and ideas that shape our lives — all the little invisible parts of society that we so often ignore but are essential parts of what make us human.
As Ira Glass says at the beginning of each episode, “This American Life is a weekly public radio program and podcast. Each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme.” I was first introduced to TAL at a live show by my friend Genevieve who was already a die hard fan. Basically she told me, “you’re going to love this podcast. Come to the live show with me and you’ll see.” I’ve been a huge fan ever since and love how the three story themed format. This past week’s episode was about stories of women in unsettling positions and I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything quite like it before.
This is perhaps my most nerdy favourite because all it does is tackle important US supreme court cases that changed the course of history. Okay, that does sound pretty cool, but the amazing thing is that those smarty pants at Radiolab make a podcast about law completely and utterly fascinating. As a Canadian I often feel like my knowledge of the American judicial system is pretty limited and this fantastic podcast has helped me to understand why things are the way they are in the US right now, at least from a legal perspective.
I have loved musical theatre since my parents first took us to see Cats on Broadway when I was about five or six. From there we moved on to classics such as West Side Story, The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof. I had a ton of musical theatre loving friends in high school, played in a few musicals and then took an American Musical Theatre class during my music degree. I’ve always been supremely impressed by musical improvisation in the form of song which has to be one of the hardest forms of improv. Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino host this weekly podcast and somehow rope a special guest on there as well — a guest who can sometimes sing and sometimes, not so much but is always up for the challenge. Jess and Zach are insanely gifted musical improvisers who make me laugh so hard on my commute that sometimes I worry I will fall off my bike. Make sure to listen to the end when they rap improv too. They are just too talented for their own good.
If you have heard of nothing else in podcastland, you must have heard of Serial. This podcast took the world by storm and was also responsible for podcasts taking over even more than they already had. The first season of Serial was so addictive that most people I know devoured it in a matter of days. Each season follows a story, week by week and it is utterly captivating. The first season is about a murder that happened in 1999, the second season follows a soldier who deserts his post in Afghanistan and the third season has taken a slightly different route and is following a courtroom in Cleveland Ohio and the ins and outs of the American justice system. The stories are compelling, beautifully told and did I mention, addictive?
9. Modern Love
Modern stories of love, loss and redemption. Every week an actor is hired to read an essay on one of these topics that was chosen to be in a weekly column in the New York Times. These essays are stunningly written, powerful, unpredictable, funny, heart breaking and heart warming. My goal is to one day write something worthy of this podcast.
10. A Cast of Kings
Hosts David Chen and Joanna Robinson discuss every episode of Game of Thrones week by week as it comes out. I’m so sad that I only have one more season to listen to this podcast but if you love this one, they also put out a great podcast on Westworld called ‘Decoding Westworld’, but that also involves actually watching Westworld which sometimes feels like painful homework for the podcast itself. In fact, sometimes Game of Thrones feels a bit that way too, but now that I’ve invested so much time and energy into this show I have to see it through. I look forward to the follow up podcast episodes dropping a day or two after each episode of GOT and love the frank and funny discussions, analysis and predictions that come. It makes watching the show so much better. Thanks Dave and Joanna!