Allow me to remind you of a fantastic form of entertainment that you used to listen to during your commute: podcasts! For those of us who have already finished Tiger King (as well as seemingly everything else on Netflix), podcasts are a great way to pass the time between Zoom calls. I’ve established quite a lineup, many of which expand my horizons! Teach me new things! Make me a good scientist and a good citizen! And many of which… don’t. How self-conscious will you be about your podcast taste? Allow me to make a few suggestions.
Looking for a podcast you can brag about listening to? The Nature and Science podcasts are great options! We’re supposed to be keeping up with literature anyway, so why not do so with painless 30-minute episodes? Another great pick would be KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center, a panel-style podcast that keeps you up to date on the latest US political news. Also focused on politics is Why is This Happening? With Chris Heyes, a fantastic in-depth interview podcast, covering concepts in modern politics more broadly. For instance, the episode on modern monetary theory is excellent, both a great example of the style of interview that Chris conducts and a great introduction to the theory. All your friends will envy your erudite podcast-derived knowledge! Your mother will praise you for being a “well rounded” individual!
Recommended listening speed: 1.2x. Eat your veggies… quickly!
Creative, but refined choices
If you’re finding US politics coverage repetitive and boring, try All the President’s Lawyers for a dry, darkly humorous discussion of President Trump’s legal drama and an extremely cogent unpacking of all the related legal minutiae.
Would your life be improved by an in-depth discussion of an art gallery that recently opened in London and you will never be able to see? Maybe yes! Listen to Saturday Review, a discussion-based podcast focused on recent movies, books, plays, and other cultural events. In a similar vein, Start the Week is another excellent panel-format podcast focused on cultural issues, also hosted by the BBC. This podcast is very cool because the producers manage to assemble panels of guests who have very disparate careers, but somehow combine to generate very good discussion.
And finally, if you aren’t already listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, start now! It’s a really wonderful podcast that revisits Harry Potter by applying analysis techniques that are usually used for religious texts. If religion is not your thing, don’t worry: the hosts are an atheist and a gay man! It’s great! I’d recommend listening to this one from the beginning; you can set this up easily using a service like recast.
Recommended listening speed: 1.2x. British people are funny, British people talking really fast are even funnier. Crank it up!
Getting harder to explain…
There’s nothing more fun than when someone gets in trouble! That’s why you should start listening to Lie, Cheat & Steal, a podcast where two comedians deliver a story about a scam, fraud, or con job that got busted, in all its gory detail. You have GOT to hear all about Anna Delvey, or the Lularoe pyramid scheme because you’re... researching the human condition!
Another all-time favorite of mine is The Dollop, a podcast in which two comedians tell a story from American history. Sound boring? It’s not! They pick the best stories, including that one time we tried to eradicate squirrels (Episode 386), when the news boys went on strike in 1899 (Episode 275), the nail-biting time when this guy got stuck in a cave and it was national news (Episode 340), and the 1908 New York to Paris car race, which didn’t go well (Episode 323).
Did you know that the big names in the fitness industry, the ones who start million-dollar companies, are often into highly non-scientific wellness techniques? For example, Hayden Slater started Pressed Juicery, a company that had $75 million of revenue in 2019, and he’s into leeches. Find out more about all these kooky people, along with some insight about what makes all the various brands tick, on the Hurdle podcast. The episode on Barry’s bootcamp is a great one to start with.
Recommended listening speed: 1.2x. Look, it’s great material, but you can understand spoken word so much faster than people say it, so why burn daylight?
100% guilty pleasure
I’d like to state for the record that I have DEFINITELY NEVER listened to any of these podcasts, and I have great contempt for people who enjoy this trash – like any high-brow person would!
Looking for something you absolutely cannot admit to listening to? Try a ‘fanfiction-read-aloud’ style podcast, like this stupendous episode of Fanfiction Nation featuring a Dora the Explorer/Star Wars crossover (begins around minute 7), or really any episode of Fanatical Fics and Where to Find Them, a Harry Potter Fanfiction podcast. There’s nothing quite like breaking into hysterical, nervous laughter in front of your roommates and really not being able to tell them what’s so funny. Not that I would know!
Shocked? Buckle up, there’s worse. Another great podcast premise is “two comedians watch a bad movie over and over and over, record a podcast after each watching, and go slowly insane”. The finest exemplar of this genre is Season 1 of The Worst Idea of All Time, in which poor Tim and Guy watch Sex in the City 2 (a truly awful movie by the sound of it!) 52 times over the course of a year. Similarly,
I, I mean my friend who actually likes this nonsense, can’t recommend Blank Check by Griffin & David, the Phantom Podcast enough. In this podcast, our two heroic hosts produce 12.5 hours of content attempting to explain what Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is about (and then move on to other movies). Coincidentally, Phantom Podcast contains a fanfiction episode! It was so terrible that I, I mean my friend, just COULD. NOT. listen to it. I dare you to try. (But oh god don’t start with that one!)
Recommended listening speed: 1.0x: the whole point is letting the horror unfold in all its gory awfulness, and you can’t rush a train wreck.
Well there you are, a few highlights from every area of the spectrum. Go forth and listen. And don’t forget, when you wear headphones, nobody can hear what you’re listening to. So you could always say you’re listening to Nature...