From comedy to history, informative to narrative, these podcasts are great for killing time (and misconceptions)
While podcasting has been competing (and occasionally colluding) with traditional radio for some time, the launch of true crime series Serial in the fall of 2014 drop-kicked the medium into the mainstream, becoming the fastest podcast to hit 5 million downloads in iTunes history.
Some of the format’s earliest champions were comedians like Adam Carolla, Joe Rogan and Marc Maron, with the latter resurrecting his then-stagnant stand-up career as a result.
Podcasts offer all the benefits of radio, and downloading them makes them more travel-friendly. From the thought-provoking to the laugh-provoking, here are some of Billy’s picks for the best podcasts to take with you.
TED Radio Hour (NPR)
Hosted by former CNN correspondent Guy Raz, TED Radio Hour brings ideas to an easily accessible format, by creating themed episodes out of groups of TED Talks on one topic at a time – happiness, for example, or work. TED talk speakers earn their place on the stage via their gift of thinking outside the box, as well as the results of said ability. TED Radio Hour affords listeners a more intimate look into the innovations of TED speakers without having to trek to the West coast, or shell out the big bucks, for a conference.
The brainchild of Kevin Allison, former cast member of MTV’s sketch comedy show The State, Risk! is for those who love a good story, plain and simple. The monthly show, recorded in front of a live audience in New York and/or Los Angeles, features stand-up comics and humourists telling tales of varying degrees of debauchery, self-deprecation and embarrassment. If you’re looking for replay value, Risk! has it in spades.
WTF with Marc Maron
WTF started after hours on the DL during in the Air America offices in 2009 (Maron’s show on the network had just been cancelled) and, as of this past June, boasts an hour-long fat-chewing session with US president Barack Obama. Maron was one of the first comedians to capitalize on the format, after which almost every working comic jumped on the bandwagon in an effort to raise their respective profiles. WTF’s early days saw Maron mostly interviewing (and often apologizing for some years-old slight) fellow comics, but its popularity has allowed him to diversify his guests, from musicians to Oscar-nominated filmmakers.
BBC’s In Our Time
Like TED Radio Hour, In Our Time is dedicated to ideas. Hosted by Melvyn Bragg, whose time with the network dates back to the early 1960s, In Our Time usually hosts a panel discussion featuring elite experts on the topic of the week – typically prominent British academics. Each program is a smartypants briefing on a topic, which could be anything from Mary Magdalene to bacteria. In the great British tradition of bluntness in broadcasting, Sir Melvyn keeps guests on their toes by asking questions so pointed he’s practically bickering. To keep the episodes to 45 minutes (ish), he impatiently cuts off the hapless professors when they digress. This isn’t a comedy podcast, but that part is funny enough.
In 2003, journalist Steven D. Levitt and economist Steven J. Dubner crossed paths when the former shadowed the latter for a piece in New York Times Magazine. Six years later, the Stevens put out a book called Freakonomics, which, like their podcast of the same name, looks at how daily mundanities (or irregularities) correlate with economy. Example: the subject of a recent episode was an economics essay told from the point of view of a pencil.
You Know What Dude!
If you’ve ever wondered what comedians are like off stage, Robert Kelly’s podcast will make you a fly on the wall. While Maron’s podcast is a show of life stories, Kelly’s is a casual “comic hang.” The format is loose, rarely exceeding more than a few talking points, open to lengthy digressions and almost always secondary to friendly (and sometimes vitriolic) ribbing. For all those whose time is precious and don’t get to shoot the breeze with friends as often as they’d like, You Know What Dude! will fill the void.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
Its title is pretty self-explanatory: SYMIHC dives into the quirkier side of history. Few, if any of its episodic topics, ranging from obscure military campaigns to the history of moonshine or Crayola, are taught in schools. In short, every episode will leave you with a few “did you know?” gems to flaunt at your go-to watering hole.
The Joe Rogan Experience
Joe Rogan wears many hats: comedian, UFC commentator, Fear Factor host and podcaster. Like Maron, Rogan was one of the first to make good on the format’s potential (the two also aired some grievances on WTF a few years back). While the show occasionally takes a “remember when” turn when fellow comics are on, JRE’s main purpose is to feed the mind as opposed to getting a guest’s life story on record. Aside from a rotating crew of comic friends, Rogan regularly chats with mixed martial artists, academics and scientists, including Neil deGrasse Tyson.