Podcasts are having a moment. Thanks in no small part to Serial, which of course exists in no small part thanks to This American Life, which reignited oral storytelling in a big way. There is no end to the kinds of podcasts popping up all over the Internet these days. Comedians are doing it, libraries are doing it, newspapers are doing it (I even loan myself out weekly to Mixed Media: Dallas Morning News' Culture Podcast), scientists are doing it, hey, your dad is probably doing it. Around this office, we're all suckers for good storytelling, so Caroline and I decided to compile a list of our favorites.
This American Life
As far as podcasts go, This American Life is Old Faithful. Every Sunday, the podcast version of the hour-long NPR radio show gets delivered, and each episode has a theme loosely associated with American Life. They’re always educational, but they veer from lighthearted and open-ended (“Not It!”) to discussion of more serious fodder like the Chicago public school system (we fell asleep listening to that one ... not a great bedtime story). Endlessly charming host Ira Glass presents the show in several acts, which can include interviews, essays read aloud (it’s where David Sedaris broke out) and more. This American Life is a mixed bag, and the surprise is never a disappointment.
How Did This Get Made
The last time you considered walking out of a movie theater, did you instead stay because you couldn’t stop marvelling that actors, directors and producers had coordinated to make a movie so terrible? If so, How Did This Get Made is for you. In this podcast, comedians Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael watch the best worst movies and take them apart piece by piece … sort of like how Betty White’s crocodiles eat people in Lake Placid. It’s basically Mystery Theater 3000 for all of the tackiest contemporary movies — so, awesome.
WTF with Marc Maron
If you don’t listen to comedian Marc Maron, now’s the time to start. Even Barack Obama’s doing it! Maron, who also has a TV show on IFC, is already known for interviewing the brightest figures in the entertainment industry — whether it’s comedy, music, TV or film — and Slate rightly rated his slightly awkward, very intimate 2010 interview with former BFF Louis CK the best podcast of all time. But Maron is still coming up in the world: this week he added our president to his list of interviewees.
Love and Radio
This show blends fact and fiction in its discussion of topics related to love and relationships. We got hooked on a moving episode called “The Living Room,” in which a woman relates her experience observing the curtain-less couple who lived across from her Manhattan apartment. Love and Radio is more explicit than most podcasts — other episodes have visited a girl who does balloon porn, and another who’s paid to abuse men over the phone. Imagine if Dan Savage and This American Life had a baby and you’re about there.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Starlee Kine sure does, and on her podcast, she devotes her time to untangling them. She’s sort of like a private investigator. Listeners present questions — on one recent episode, an author wanted to find out why Britney Spears had been spotted carrying her little-read book — and Kine sets out to answer them. The questions often seem trivial, but as ridiculous as they sometimes are, the execution is ridiculously flawless. You’ll be amazed by how interesting Jake Gyllenhaal’s height can seem.
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Krista Tippet starts off every episode by asking her guests how they were raised spiritually. Encounters range from adult rejection of religion, or late in life conversion, but it starts every episode with a general thoughtfulness not found in very many podcasts. Because of this, On Being attracts guests like poets, or the happiest man in the world (Matthieu Ricard, a Buddisht monk). It's rejuvenating listening.
With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus
Comedian Lauren Lapkus has one of the best scenes in Jurassic World. In a moment of dramatic heroism Jake Johnson (Nick from New Girl) announces his plans to stay in the control and swoops in for a kiss, only to have Lapkus' character reject him, deadpan, because she has a boyfriend. It's this charming moment made all the more funny by Lapkus, who is on her way up in the world of comedy. If you want a taste of her sense of humor, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus is every kind of ridiculous. On every episode she invites a comedian to host whatever kind of podcast he/she would like, and then create a character for Lapkus to play as the "special guest." It's sketch comedy for your ears.
The downtown Dallas Public Library has long had a reputation for playing host to the daily activities of the city's homeless population. In the past couple of years, innovative employees have found a way to turn that into a positive thing. The library has now become the national model for homeless engagement, and one of their initiatives earning them praise is the Street View podcast. Hosted by Rashad Dickerson, who was homeless himself when they started the podcast. It's an honest look at the life of the homeless person, as well as a constant source of information and resources.
It should go without saying that Terry Gross is one of the best interviewers living right now. Hell, maybe one of the best who ever lived. It helps that she interviews some of contemporary culture's greatest minds. She's got this conversational way of asking questions we all want to know the answer to without giving up her intellectualism. Chances are, if there's a smart, hit movie or TV show she's interviewing the actor, the director or the writer. We <3 you, Terry.