I have a long commute. I listen to lots of podcasts. I want other people to listen to the podcasts that I like, and I’ve spent a long time finding a bunch of them that I find reliably entertaining and/or informative (usually both). I’ll update this page as I discover new ones. Please feel free to recommend podcasts you think should be on this list.
This is the first podcast I ever listened to…because I listened to it before it was a podcast. I remember hearing the first episode of TAL on KQED in San Francisco in 1995. I was hooked.
Episodes made their way online fairly soon after and that was the main way I listened, starting with Real Player and eventually downloading mp3 files.
I can’t imagine that there are that many folks out there who haven’t heard TAL, but if you haven’t, start with these lists of episodes chosen by the creators of the show:
Early Shows (I recommend “Who’s Canadian” from this list)
They produced two seasons of a TV show based on the series, and it was pretty darn good, too. In 2014, Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass toured a fantastic stage show that combined Ira telling stories and Monica and Anna dancing. It should not have worked, but absolutely did. If One Radio Host and Two Dancers comes back around, go see it!
I’ve been a fan of John Hodgman before I knew who he was. He was the wrote and performed two of my favorite This American Life segments:
In fact, I recommended “Invisible Man vs Hawkman” to people for years before I put it together that that voice was the same as the PC guy from the Apple commercials! The point is that I remain a fan of John Hodgman and I was excited to hear that not only does he have a podcast, but it’s a People’s Court style adjudication podcast!
On every episode, Judge John Hodgman hears a “case” brought against each other by listeners who Skype into the “courtroom.” Bailiff Jesse Thorn acts as a combination Rusty Burrell and Doug Llewelyn and alternately keeps the proceedings on track and derails them. I like the podcast, but I fell in love with it after Episode 103: Gas, Grass, or Justice on which Paul F. Tompkins is a guest expert in the case, but hangs around to clear the docket with the judge and the two go on a long ramble about haunted hotels.
I found The Flop House when it was mentioned on the Judge John Hodgman podcast. Hodgman met Flophouse co-host Elliott Kalan on The Daily Show, where Kalan is now Head Writer, and Hodgman is a semi-regular correspondent. Why would I not try a podcast about bad movies recommended by both Judge John Hodgman and Bailiff Jesse Thorn?
It actually took me a while to start listening to The Flop House because I mistakenly thought I should see the movies being discussed before listening. I finally found one I had seen to start with and…it didn’t matter!
The guys watch a bad movie before recording the podcast and then summarize the plot (if possible) and then pass judgement (is it a goo/bad movie, a bad/bad movie, or a movie they kind of like). Then they recommend good movies you actually should watch, followed by a letters section. Not only do you not have to watch the movies before listening, they might keep you from watching a truly terrible movie.
But insight into terrible movies is not the reason to listen to The Flop House. The hilarious banter between Kalan, fellow Daily Show writer, Dan McCoy and their pal Stuart Wellington is the reason. These are three extremely funny guys who also have the easy comfort of long-time friends…and you will soon find yourself drawn into this group of friends and their in-jokes. Remember the first time you laughed at an MST3K callback to an earlier episode. That will happen listening to The Flop House.
Start after episode 11, when Elliott became a regular on the show. Do start back in the early episodes and work your way forward to enjoy the development of regular features like The Flop House Housecat, letters from Elliott’s brother David, Castle Freak, and words that sound like other words.
Not only is this a podcast I wish I’d thought of, it’s one I wish I was on.
I discovered Writers’ Bloc when Elliott Kalan on The Flop House mentioned his upcoming appearance on his Daily Show coworker’s podcast. Do you see a pattern here?
J.R. Havlan was a writer on The Daily show for almost 18 years, and while many of the guests are current or former writers on that show, most of them have gone on to write for other shows, doing the kind of comedy writing that Havlan himself never has: multi-camera sitcoms, single-camera sitcoms, late night talk shows, sketch shows and animation. The result is a writer interviewing writers about the specifics of the type of writing they do.
Want to know what about the writer’s room at The Simpsons? Pitching shows to networks? Blocking in a Community script with dummy dialog to keep things moving when you get stuck on a scene? Havlan asks about all of them and genuinely wants the answers.
He’s the perfect combination of insider and outsider. Required listening for anyone interested in writing for TV.
I’ve been listening to TWiT for almost as long as it has been around. My mom listened to Leo Laporte‘s radio show forever, and I was a big fan of The Screen Savers, and even appeared on the show once with my friend Benton Jew. TWiT is something of a continuation of that TV show in audio and video podcast form.
Unlike Leo’s radio show, TWiT is not really for lay people. It’s for tech nerds who would be interested by a 20 minute discussion of Net Neutrality or the best kind of keyboard. The quality of the show can vary widely depending on that week’s guests, but Leo and good natured crank John C. Dvorak are almost always there to anchor the show.
I don’t listen to the show every week anymore, but instead dip in every month or so.
As with This American Life, it’s hard to imagine anyone hasn’t at least heard of WTF if they haven’t listened to it before. And that’s because it’s compelling. And it’s compelling because Marc Maron is a…complex personality, but one you root for…and most of the comedians he interviews are also…complex personalities.
I go through phases with WTF. I’ll listen regularly for a month or so, then stop for a month or so. But every time I his a “meh” episode with perhaps too much Marc Maron drama/news and a less-compelling guest, I notice an interview with someone I really like pops in the queue and I’m back in.
WTF has a premium membership model, so the latest 50 episodes are free, but older episodes are only accessible using the subscription-based app. The good news is that you can buy a single month if you want to binge. I listen free most of the time, but will get a one-month subscription if we’re taking a road trip.
Here are some of my favorite episodes:
Episode 177 - Garry Shandling; This is a great example of WTF at it’s best. Marc’s insecurities play an important role in this interview, and Gary Shandling confirms that he’s a remarkable person as well as a huge comedic talent.
Episode 498 – Ru Paul Charles: This is a great, life-affirming episode. Just great. Ru Paul is on my hero list now.
I didn’t know there was such a thing as being a “comedy nerd” but I guess the box of comedy records in the garage qualify me as one, and probably accounts for my familiarity with so many of Marc’s guests.
This one is not for everyone and is NSFW. Dan Savage is, in my opinion, an American hero. With his husband, Terry Miller, Savage created the It Get’s Better Project to address LGBT teen suicide. He also made the Santorum thing happen (no, I’m not going to link to that. You can look it up if you need to). He does good work.
He also hosts a heck of a sex advice podcast.
True stories, told onstage. without notes. That is the core of what The Moth is all about. Some of the stories are funny, some will make you cry, but all of them are fascinating.
This is one of my favorites:
“Blues Clues, Stowaways and Marital Surprises” – Steve, the host of Blue’s Clues relates a grown-up story about fame and dating.
Most of the individual stories are less than three minutes long, so The Moth makes for good dishwasher loading/unloading entertainment.
Each episode of Norm’s interview show starts with a sketch bit with Norm and his sidekick Adam Eget. I reflexively skipped these the first few times I listened (conditioned by Marc Maron), so I could get right to the funny interviews. Then I listened to one. Holy crap. I forgot how funny Norm MacDonald is. I went back and listened to the opening sketches I skipped.
This podcast is not for everyone. You probably already know if you like Norm MacDonald. If you do, give it a try. If not, pick an interview with someone you do like (Russell Brand, Ray Romano, Fred Willard) and give it as try.
I noticed that the interview with Gilbert Gottfried was so long it spanned two episodes. Holy crap. Gilbert and Norm are really funny together. If you like them…which you may not. Gilbert is a thread that runs between several of the podcasts on my list.
This is one that you can either watch on YouTube or listen to as a podcast; I listen to the audio version.
I started listening to this one from the very first episode. For the first four or five of them, Penn was very careful to mention that this podcast thing was an experiment and might go away at any point. Over 100 episodes later, it’s still going strong.
Penn, fellow juggler Michael Goudeau and improv comedian Matt Donnelly discuss current events, cephalopod news, monkeys, and whatever Penn is up to (which right now is a crowd-funded thriller in which he plays the villain). That’s it. Three smart funny guys who like hanging out letting us listen.
Yes, there is lots of (mostly respectful) discussion of religion, atheism, and Libertarianism, but they really so discuss squids and monkeys…and magic.
Like Norm MacDonald’s podcast, when Gilbert Gottfried was a guest on Sunday School, it took multiple episodes to contain the comedy. This one is also available on video and you can watch it live on Sunday afternoon.
Here it is. Where the multiple streams of Gilbert Gottfried converge and condense. This podcast is pure, uncut Gilbert. But that can be very funny and he gets guests that he genuinely wants to talk to, even if most people don’t know who they are.
Comics often joke that Gilbert’s newest cultural references in his act are from the 1940s, and they are not really wrong. But I grew up watching The Lone Ranger, The Little Rascals and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon every morning before elementary school. I was also fed a steady diet of classic Universal monster movies. Gilbert’s co-host, Frank Santopadre is an expert on old Hollywood in his own right.
So, guests like Larry Storch, Adam West, Butch Patrick, and Barbara Feldon should not be surprising. Gilbert and Frank are genuine fans of this stuff and are genuine fans of these people. It makes for great interviews…but it’s still Gilbert, so there are questions about Uncle Milton’s…um…equipment, Paul Lynde’s anti-semitism, and Charles Nelson Riley giving his young male costars on Lidsville a bit too much attention between takes.
Oh, and the Danny Aiello episode is amazing!
This one can be a bit polarizing. The “in conversation” part of the title is accurate. Jeff Garlin is doing a good portion of the speaking in this podcast. The good news is that he can be as charming and funny as he is somewhat abrasive and loud.
Most people know Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Larry David was an early guest on the show. The guests are people that Garlin is genuinely fond of or admires and he makes no apologies for gushing more than a bit. And he gets great people to share the stage with him at Largo in Los Angeles.
He does sometimes repeat the same story, and he does use certain phrases over and over (a great big bowl of ________), and that may be a good reason not to binge this podcast.
Paul F. Tompkins is at his best when he becomes H.G. Wells somewhat monthly at UCB to interview dead authors that he has whisked from their own time with his Time Machine. And now you know the premise of this show.
Improv comics and actors play the roles of the authors being interviewed and do either lots of research…or none, before having an improvised conversation with Wells about their lives and work. It works most of the time and when it works best, it is extremely funny.
But Tompkins’ recurring role as Wells is what keeps it all together for me. Over the course of podcasts, we learn of his rivalry with Jules Verne, favorite contemporary TV shows and places in LA where he like to take visitors from other eras. He’s great and this is a role tailor made for him. Chapter 7: P.G. Wodehouse, featuring Brian Stack almost made me wet my pants. ‘Nuff said.
Planet Money is a spin off of This American Life. It’s origin story begins with a series of reports which aimed (and succeeded) to explain the subprime mortgage crisis in a way that normal people could understand. And then Alex Blumberg and his team kept going, producing more economic stories for TAL, and eventually starting their own podcast.
It turns out I like economics. Or rather, I like economics when it is presented in and interesting and accessible way. This podcast was my gateway drug and the Freakonomics podcast was the next logical step. You may not think you like economics, but you might too, and this podcast is a good way to tell if you do.
Planet Money is an example, like TAL before it, of a radio show that uses reporters with, let’s say unconventional voices as on-air presenters. Zoe Chace would not have found her voice on the air 20 years ago. You might find her annoying at first, but hang in there. Remember how weird Ira Glass and Sarah Vowell sounded at first? And then she got cast as the voice of Violet Parr in The Incredibles. Start with the most recent episode.
This should not be a compelling podcast.
But it totally is.
This American Life and Planet Money producer, Alex Blumberg is starting a new podcast network and StartUp is the first podcast he is producing. And StartUp is about Blumberg starting his new podcast network, or more precisely securing funding and setting up his new company.
It’s a story you never hear and it’s fascinating. It’s emotional, and educational, and inspirational. If you have any interest in entrepreneurship, venture capital, podcasting, documentary journalism, or if you are just a fan of Alex Blumberg, or Planet Money or This American Life, you should try this podcast. Start at the beginning!
Serial is another, more direct spin-off of This American Life and it has the opposite format. Instead of several stories on a theme each episode, Serial follows one story over the course of many episodes…like a serial. For the first season, Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder do an amazing job of pacing and structuring the tale of a murder investigation and conviction that is anything but open and shut. Of all the podcasts I listen to, this is the one I really wait for each week.
I hope they keep doing more and I hope they are able to find more stories that are this compelling and which keep you coming back week after week. Listen from the beginning!
Based on the unlikely bestseller of the same name, this is the other economics podcast I listen to. Economist Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner are an unlikely team that apply economic principles to all manner of everyday problems and conundrums. It makes for fascinating, informative and often surprising listing. Start with the latest episode (they are often timely), and you’ll know pretty quick if this one is for you. If you like this one, odds are you will like Planet Money. They have very different personalities as podcasts, but look at economics in a similar way. I wish they would join forces on some projects!
This is one of the podcasts that I listen to that is really a TV show masquerading as a podcast. I’m not sure why HBO publishes the audio of Bill Maher’s political comedy panel show, but they do, and I’m glad. It lets me enjoy it even though I don’t subscribe to cable. I’ve been a fan of Maher since Politically Incorrect way back when and he’s only gotten better with the format.
The only downside to listening to the show rather than watching it is missing out on the visual gags that are part of almost every episode. Atheist, liberal, pot-smoking Maher may not be to everyone’s taste, but he gets great guests of every political stripe and treats them all with respect…but does call bullshit on things they say if he thinks they are…well, bullshit.
MSNBC goes even farther than HBO and publishes both an audio and a video version of Rachel Maddow’s daily news and opinion show. They used to do the same with Keith Olbermann’s show (before he imploded <sigh>), and that’s where I became a Maddow fan when she used to guest host for him and then got her own show.
I love Rachel Maddow. She is an unabashed Liberal who treats all of her guests with common decency and is careful to correct herself is she makes factual mistakes on the air. But the goal is not to make any such mistakes and she frequently starts interviews with guests by asking “In that introduction did I get anything wrong misrepresent anything?” Who does that? Rachel Maddow.
She’s also goofy and passionate and a friend to our active duty military and veterans alike. She also shares cocktail recipes on many Friday shows. We’ve made several. They are good.
Radiolab is a podcast version of the popular public radio show about science, the scientific method and the wonder of everyday things. Sometimes this show teeters on the edge of being overproduced, and sometime it goes over that line. Jad Abumrad is a musician as well as a host and radio producer. He loves creating soundscapes. The goal is to help illustrate the often challenging concepts being described on the show. The sometimes distract from it. But usually they do hat they are supposed to. Likewise, co-host Robert Krulwich sometimes aims for goofy and relatable and bleeds uncomfortably close to embarrassing. He doesn’t really end up there ever…but almost.
Attention design nerds of all kinds! This podcast is for you! While there is a general focus on architectural design, many other kinds of design get love from host Roman Mars.
All game designers should listen to Episode 77: Game Changer right now.
But the truth is everyone should listen to all three of those episodes, and all of the rest of them, too. They are entertaining, informative and funny.