Around this time last year, I wrote a blog post about how podcasts have affected my life in huge ways, including helping me through my divorce and generally keep me sane and focused at work.
If you want an overview of my favorites, you should probably start with my old post here but I think I’ll probably reiterate the highlights in this post. I actually have stopped listening to some of those I wrote about last year, but most of them still hold up. I’ve just moved on to different things in my quest for maximizing enjoyment while following way too many podcasts!
But today, I’m going to add to that list. I’ve discovered tons of amazing new podcasts that you should know about over the past year.
First: Some of my old reliables that you should check out if you haven’t already:
THE OLD RELIABLES–COMEDY
Answer Me This: This podcast has been going on for ELEVEN YEARS now as of January 2017, and when I discovered it I binge-listened to about 200 episodes. Helen and Olly (and echoy Martin the Soundman) are ridiculous British hosts and they answer their listeners’ questions, be it word etymology, etiquette, random facts, etc. in their hilariously wrong fashion.
My Brother, My Brother and Me (MBMBAM): I’ll be honest. I tried this a couple of times before I started to like it, but now I’m a rampant, rabid fancritter. This features the three McElroy brothers (one of which is on my favorite podcast Sawbones, which I’ll mention later), who talk about whatever they feel like (NSFW for sure!) and answer absurd questions from listeners and Yahoo Answers. It’s similar to Answer Me This in this way, except not really at all. I love those good, good boys. While they are three straight, cis white dudes originally from West Virginia, they are some of the most genuine fellas I’ve ever “known” and really work hard to be inclusive and aware of marginalized communities. This show really helped me through my divorce, and I’m deep in the cult-like fanbase! I’d recommend staying away from the “early” episodes until you’re thoroughly enamored with them, as they weren’t quite as “woke” as they are now and have said some things they’re not proud of.
2 Dope Queens: Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams host this hilarious show that features their BFF discussions about sex, race, hair, and Phoebe’s obsession with Bono, and then they have live stand up comedy performances by a great variety of people, focusing a lot on people of color and from the LGBTQ community. It’s delightful. Also, as of February 2018, they released a series of live standup specials on HBO that you can check out if you have access to that.
My Dad Wrote A Porno: Oh. My. Goodness. This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s embarrassing how much I laugh maniacally at work with my earbuds in while I’m listening to this show. Host Jamie Morton discovered that his 60-something father had begun writing a series of erotic novels called “Belinda Blinked.” Instead of trying to forget that fact, he embraced it and started reading it aloud to his two friends, as they interject with running commentary. His father, while fully intending to be serious and believing his work is that of a genius, is utterly clueless about what is actually sexy and anything about female anatomy. Yes, the phrase “He grabbed her cervix” is written in earnest. It. Is. So. Damn. Good. Even Elijah Wood is a fan! (They interviewed him on the show about it and he has given his word that he would love to be in a film adaptation if it ever gets made!) Start. From. The. Beginning.
THE OLD RELIABLES–STORYTELLING
The Moth: This is one of the most popular storytelling podcasts, where people tell true stories without notes.
Risk: This is the Rated R version of the other storytelling podcasts, featuring “true stories you never thought you’d dare to share”. The host can be a bit obnoxious but there are some really great stories! I can’t recommend this podcast enough, with its honest and raw stories. One of my very favorites! Let this be a trigger warning: They talk about lot of heavy stuff.
THE OLD RELIABLES–RACE, MENTAL HEALTH, GENDER AND SEXUALITY
Another Round: Yes, this is a Buzzfeed podcast, but don’t let it fool you. Hosts Heben and Tracy are brilliant young women who kind launched this podcast into stardom with their interview with Hillary Clinton in fall 2015. (“Madam Secretary, What’s Good?” )They asked her candid questions about her and her husbands’ roles in the mass incarceration of people of color. Tracy straight-up tells her that they “really fucked [things] up for black people” but these women walk an amazing balance between professional journalism and endearing goofiness. They talk about race and gender and politics and pop culture while imbibing in whiskey. They’re on a hiatus now because of some undisclosed reasons, but there’s a huge back catalogue worth checking out.
Call Your Girlfriend: Two “long-distance besties” talk about pop culture, intersectional feminism, and often have a “this week in menstruation” news. They’re pretty delightful. They are both super successful and intelligent women who aren’t ashamed to admit they appreciate the Kardashians and geek out about Beyonce. One of the hosts was recently diagnosed with endometrial cancer and has opened up about her experience and discussed what it’s like to be going through menopause as a woman in her 30s.
Jesse Vs. Cancer: Jesse Case, who was on a season of Last Comic Standing, is a 30 year old comedian who was diagnosed with, as he puts it “Stage 4 Ass Cancer of the Ass” (colon cancer) and decided to start this podcast talking about his experiences with an irreverent, soul-searching, morbid, and often highly immature and sometimes obnoxious monologue each week. But he’s grown on me so much. He takes listener questions and talks about how loved ones should relate to people with cancer, gives general life advice, talks about moving back in with his parents and leaving his old life behind, health insurance struggles, politics, etc. Sure, he’s abrasive at times, but he is giving a completely honest account of his treatments, his thoughts, his physical struggles, his fears and dealing with the very real fact that he may die. I want to keep listening, because I feel like I know him so intimately, and sincerely care about his future. As of January 2017, he completed his chemo and radiation and two surgeries and seems to be doing well. He’s really brilliant and has been talking a lot about politics nowadays, and his ongoing checkups. As of early 2018, he’s now starting to go back out on the road on a small comedy tour, and I’m so proud of this stranger I’ve grown to love. I’d recommend you start from the beginning to hear the whole process.
Why Oh Why: This podcast is about about dating and romance in the modern age, with a more personal touch. The host Andrea Silenzi is delightfully open and honest. Her “breakout episode” is called “How Will I Know?” In it, she talks about her long-time relationship and recent breakup with her boyfriend and discusses her reasons. Mainly, the issue was a disparity about whether or not they would ever have kids. It’s a beautiful, sensitive portrait of a doomed relationship.
THE OLD RELIABLES–EDUCATIONAL
99% Invisible: This podcast features subjects about design and architecture in an intriguing and accessible way. All of the episodes are fascinating, but some of my favorite episodes include “McMansion Hell,” a discussion about the architectural monstrosities built to impress, and “Unpleasant Design and Hostile Urban Architecture,” intentionally made to discourage loitering.
Good Job Brain: This podcast features four friends who make up a pub trivia team, and each week they make up puzzles and quizzes for each other. One of my favorite quizzes is “Brad Pitt or Lasers”, in which you must figure out which thing is older. Each podcast has a theme, like fruit or dairy or the 90s, and generally potty humor makes an appearance. It’s genuinely entertaining. They’ve been on a long hiatus due to babies and life getting in the way and such, but I just saw today that they’re back in the recording studio!
Sawbones: Potentially my favorite podcast, it features wife Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin (definitely not a doctor, one third of the podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me), discussing old-timey medicine in all of its misinformed glory. The Royal Fistula Fad is also one of the most delightfully, disgustingly ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. And, for a holiday special, Sydnee analyzed Santa’s health and lifestyle habits. It was great.
Reply All: Human interest stories based on the internet. The hosts Alex and PJ are so endearing and they dive into really fascinating topics. I seriously adore this podcast. Episode #57 discusses the surprisingly complex and sometimes shady world of the online breast milk market. In Episode #77 you find out what happens when the creator of the Pepe the Frog meme learns that his character has become appropriated by the alt-right and Trump campaign. And in Episode #44, host Alex tries the concept of LSD Microdosing.
The Allusionist: Helen Zaltzman (co-host of comedy podcast Answer Me This!–see below) hosts this podcast which dissects words in a very humorous and entertaining way. They’re generally only 15 minutes long. If you’re ok with swears, her “Detonating the C-Bomb” podcast discusses the origins of this very polarizing 4-Letter Word! She also did a great series recently about the language of romance novels (part 1 and part 2) and, for something completely different, a history of the term and concept of “Sanctuary.”
THE OLD RELIABLES–POP CULTURE
Pop Culture Happy Hour: An NPR podcast featuring a bunch of hilariously smart people talking about TV,movies, music, etc. and diving deeply into current hits.
Trends Like These: Featuring Travis McElroy, of My Brother, My Brother And Me fame, he and his best friend Brent discuss weekly trending news stories, from cowboy boot sandals to political issues, to sugary cereals and Dad Bods. They’ve gone deeper into politics over the past election season, and it’s a really great way I’ve found to stay up on current events while not getting too utterly depressed by the world. Edit: As of late 2017, they’ve begun to regularly have female guest hosts on the show as well, which I’ve found to be helpful because they are ultimately two straight cisgender white dudes who have a somewhat limited viewpoint.
The Modern Mann: Hosted by the delightful Brit, Olly Mann of the Answer Me This podcast. Olly is setting out to make this podcast a bit of an audio answer to men’s magazines like GQ, etc. He has talked with the author of Thrillist’s Best Burgers in the U.S. list and sampled some of the winners, discussed his impending fatherhood with other dads/dads to be, interviewed a Trinidadian immigrant turned Saville Row tailor, and there’s a weekly sex advice segment with a woman named Alix Fox that they have dubbed “The Fox-Hole.” It’s pretty great.
The Truth: When I first discovered this, I binge-listened to all of its episodes in about three workdays. Each episode is a self-contained radio drama story, completely different from the next and often really poignant
Start here: The chilling episode “Don’t Touch A Thing” has really stuck with me!
Of course, there are more at my original post, but these are still the top shows I listen to first when new episodes come out.
And now, my new favorites!
Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People with Chris Gethard: This show is quite a ride. Host actor and comedian Chris Gethard takes phone calls from anonymous people and they talk about whatever they want to talk about. The anonymity really allows for some deep conversations, self realization, and they always end up being poignant. When the hour is up, the call is disconnected and they never speak to each other again. It’s a beautiful, bite-sized human interaction, and Chris does a wonderful job of facilitating an easy discussion. One of my favorites was when an ex Orthodox Jew answered Chris’ questions about kosher law and Jewish wedding wine, and how he was able to get an emergency passport in spite of everything working against him.
Conversations with People Who Hate Me: Host Dylan Marron is a gay Venezuelan-American who is most known for his Youtube videos discussing race and sexuality. As you can guess, he’s received a lot of nasty comments over the years. So he decided to talk to his haters and, with their permission, calls them and has a conversation with them about their lives and viewpoints and why they said what they said online. They range from super conservative people worried about his soul to fellow gay men who feel he’s giving other gays a bad image. Dylan conducts his discussions with such calm in a way I never could, and I’ve learned a lot from his ways. He’s working on a second season right now in which he plays a moderator in between two other people. “Bigot Scum” features a female comedian who gained a lot of attention for her catchphrase “Men are scum” and the man who messaged her and called her a bigot.
Ear Hustle: This podcast features Nigel Poor, who brought recording equipment into San Quentin Prison and facilitated the creation of a podcast featuring inmates Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams. They talk about all aspects of prison life, from communicating with other inmates to relationships with “cellies” (cellmates), solitary confinement and how conjugal visits work. It’s really eye opening and I love how open the hosts are regarding their experiences.
The Mental Illness Happy Hour: If you want to hear people being real about mental illness, addiction, trauma, abuse, etc, this is the place. Hosted by comedian Paul Gilmartin, he interviews comedians, artists, friends, and the occasional doctor about their lives and struggles. It can get real dark, and the podcast also has a large group of fans who fill out surveys regarding their deepest struggles that he reads on air. While it can be triggering for some, it’s also helpful to hear how others have made it through trying times. All of the guests are so generous in sharing themselves, and it’s a good, if sometimes difficult listen.
Nancy: Hosted by two queer Asian best friends, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, they discuss all things LGBTQ+. It features some personal stories like how Kathy keeps having to come out to her mother with the help of Google Translate and her struggles to express her queerness in the way she feels most comfortable, but it also looks at queer culture through a wide lens as well. They interview a gay republican, discuss the (not actually for real but just J K Rowling pandering) queerness in the Harry Potter books, discussing the long-defunct show The L Word, and an interview with a trans kid and his parents. It’s pretty great.
PolyAM Radio: While I tried the whole ethical non-monogamy/polyamory thing for a hot second (it didn’t work out…) but I still enjoy listening to this podcast. Hosted by my friends Sophie and Mara, they’re an engaged trans and non-binary queer couple who talk about navigating polyamory. They discuss “new relationship energy” and how it can throw a monkey wrench into existing relationships, long distance relationships, and they recently released an episode interviewing a noted author and illustrator regarding about parenting while polyamorous. If this subject has ever interested you, give it a try!
Put Your Hands Together with Cam and Rhea: Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher are a married lesbian couple who host a weekly stand up comedy show featuring tons of great guests. They’re adorable and their guests are great and if you want to laugh you should probably download several episodes.
Unladylike: Hosts Cristen and Caroline, formerly of Stuff Mom Never Told You, recently branched off from How Stuff Works and decided to go indie to have full control over this new intersectional feminist podcast. Yes, now there’s swearing. The first episode discusses how people pay for abortions, and how family planning is so expensive for the people who need it most. There’s an episode about the rise in feminist witches. And there’s a great interview with Jessamyn Stanley, a fat, black yoga practitioner who has changed the way so many people view the “right” kind of yoga body.
Never Before with Janet Mock: Janet Mock is an amazing black trans activist who has scored some interviews with people like Kris Jenner (listening to it actually made me respect her more than I ever thought I could…) and Miss Tina Knowles-Lawson (AKA Beyonce’s mom) but my favorite is with actress Gabourey Sidibe. She’s wonderfully candid, especially regarding talking about Hollywood’s obsession with her weight. “People pretend that they care about my health by calling me a fat disgusting bitch. You do not care about my health. You are just a giant gaping asshole. And you think that you can have an opinion about me, but this is my body. I’m not out here in these streets writing think pieces about how your dick’s too small.” PREACH.
QUEERY with Cameron Esposito: This. Podcast. Is. So. Good. While Cameron Esposito is known as a comedian, she’s actually one of the best, most thoughtful interviewers I’ve ever heard. Cameron interviews a variety of LGBTQ+ people, from fellow comedians (starting with her wife Rhea Butcher) to people like Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent to actors like Stephanie Beatriz from Brooklyn 99 (ugh I have such a huge crush…) and even Evan Rachel Wood, and individuals with musicians Tegan and Sara Quin. Another standout interview is with writer Eva Sweeney, who is a genderqueer disabled sex educator with cerebral palsy. Cameron is always trying to broaden the diversity of her guests, and she’s doing such good work with this show. Also, I just love her voice.
Bawdy Storytelling: I discovered Bawdy Storytelling through one of my other favorite storytelling podcasts, Risk, and like Risk, this is DEFINITELY NSFW. It features people telling true stories about sex, kink, gender and body image and ranges from touching to ridiculous. If you like your stories juicy and salacious, this podcast is for you!
Good Christian Fun: LOL at the fact this came right after Bawdy by accident. I’m pretty sure this podcast was tailor-made just for me. It’s hosted by Kevin Porter from the Gilmore Guys podcast (which is amazing, FYI) and his friend Caroline Ely and they are millennials who still identify as Christians in some form. But nowadays, it’s difficult for many millenials to figure out where they fit in the church, with most eventually leaving because they can’t figure out how their progressive views can possibly mesh with the strict mindset of evangelical Christianity. But, at any rate, there’s a wealth of pretty amazing Christian pop culture from when we grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s (right when I was partaking as well) and they decided to start this show to revisit these gems along with guests from a variety of backgrounds, and see how Christian pop culture holds up today. And they’re on the hunt for the Worst Christian Song Of All Time. Top contenders include this song about how cartoons would worship if they got “saved”:
or this Christian Punk song about how “MASTURBATIONNNNNNNN….IS ARTIFICIAL SEX!” (It’s SO AMAZING. THIS SONG. WOW.)
Or this one from Relient K which talks about how nice it would be to “get emotional girls to wear mood rings so we’ll be tipped off when they’re ticked off.”
So basically, as I was saying, this podcast is made for me. I identify so much with the hosts’ and guests’ struggles with finding their place in or out of religion, and I love reminiscing about the Christian pop of my youth. Even if you don’t know any of these references, I bet it’s still pretty great.
Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel: Esther Perel is a brilliant couples’ therapist and in this podcast, she shares real counseling sessions with couples. It’s a fascinating look at partnership and how we can trick ourselves into thinking one thing out of self-protection (like “I don’t want to have a baby” because you’ve realized you can’t.)
Every Little Thing: Did you know that flamingos can drink boiling water? Did you know there’s a guy who experienced the vacuum of space and lived to tell the tale? What’s up with those “Speed Patrolled By Aircraft” signs? And you’d be amazed at how fascinating the industry of office plants really is. Every Little Thing examines the minutiae of life and relays it in a fascinating way!
The Fridge Light: We all eat food, but if you’re anything like me, you have no idea how much of it is made and how it’s delivered to us in our modern life. This podcast talks about the (really, truly!) fascinating history of packaged lettuce, the rise of tofu in America, and the meteoric rise and fall of the 1990s drink Orbitz (the one with the weird floating gummy balls in it…) This podcast makes even the dullest sounding subjects like yeast really interesting. I swear!
Why We Eat What We Eat: What if I told you that the rise of kale’s popularity had to do with a bored marketing director who just wanted to see if she could do it? Like, so much that she made up a national kale organization? Yeah. It’s buckwild. The episode about what our diets may look like as climate change progresses is also fascinating!
This Podcast Will Kill You: Hosted by two Disease Ecology grad students, this podcast is engaging and delightful and informative. Each episode focuses on a disease, be it Malaria or the Black Death or Polio or even HIV/AIDS, its history and modern effect it has on our world. And they make up a “Quarantini” alcoholic beverage each episode to go with the theme. This is my new favorite right here!
Little House On The Podcast: Kim Reed has been a professional TV show recap writer for years, and she decided that old episodes of Little House on the Prairie were so ridiculous that she would make a podcast summarizing each episode in her hilariously manic way. I’ve never even watched and episode (though I did read the books as a kid) and it’s so incredibly enjoyable.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Goys: This little gem is tucked in the Gilmore Guys feed because there’s only a few episodes and it’s a continuation of their recaps of all of Amy Sherman Palladino’s shows. ASP was the creator of Gilmore Girls, Bunheads, and now The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime, and Kevin Porter and comedian Alice Wetterlund are talking about all of the episodes of the first season of the show. They’re two non-Jewish people (aka goys) talking about a very Jewish show, so they try to get Jewish friends on to talk about what the show got right and wrong, and just talk about if they loved it or not. If you’re a fan of the show, you should check out this podcast!
Wonderful!: This podcast is an adorable delight. Griffin and Rachel McElroy decided they had enough of the dumpster fire that was the Bachelor franchise (they used to host the recap show Rose Buddies) and wanted to add some positivity into the world. So they created Wonderful!, where they discuss things that make them happy, like how powerful Wombat’s butts are, or the band They Might Be Giants or french fries or new book smell. It’s delightful and their love for each other is so pure.
Mabel: I can’t even begin to describe what this podcast is about succinctly, so I’ve found this from TVTropes: “Mabel” is a horror, folklore, weird fiction podcast regarding a series of phone messages sent by the main characters. The storyline starts with Anna Limon, a home health caregiver, starting to realize that the house in which she cares for the elderly Sally Martin, and in fact the very family itself may not be as simple as she had originally thought.” It gets weirder and weirder and there are queer characters and maybe fairies but it’s all so strange it’s hard to tell exactly. I’m a bit behind but I listened to the first 20+ episodes in a few days.
The Polybius Conspiracy: Released as a limited run series on the Radiotopia “Showcase” channel, this little show is a weird one. It’s similar in vein to The Black Tapes and other shows that appear to be real journalism at first glance, but this is ultimately fiction. It’s pretty convincing, and uses an actual urban legend as a jumping off point. It tells the story of Polybius, a mysterious arcade game from the ’80s whose alleged existence in the Pacific Northwest is fueled by myth and an obsessive online fan base, and which may have factored in the abduction of two teenage boys. It’s only seven episodes so it’s a quick and satisfying binge.
A Very Fatal Murder: This show is a short limited run series by The Onion which satirizes true crime shows a-la Serial. Starting off a little tongue-in-cheek, it quickly goes off the rails into utter absurdity. It’s glorious.
The Cleaning of John Doe: This podcast is hosted by a wife, mother of four, and owner of her own crime scene cleanup business Vanessa Phearson. This is a subject that has long fascinated me, and I was thrilled when this show came out. From crimes of passion to suicides to animal hoarding, she’s seen it all, and talks about it in a frank but compassionate way. Since I discovered it even before it was released (damn Facebook ads know me so well…) I jumped on her contest giveaway in which she was requesting honest iTunes reviews. A few lucky winners would get an Amazon gift card. While I didn’t win, she sent me a handwritten card and a sticker. Basically, this woman is amazing and I’m excited to spread the word for this podcast!
Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked: This podcast was a Halloween-time offshoot of the WNYC storytelling show Snap Judgment (I mentioned it on last year’s list), collecting dozens of scary stories, released leading up to Halloween. Since I’ve been a listener of Snap Judgement’s scary story collections for years, I had heard most of these before, but they’re all so good. They’re true stories as told by real people, but of course you can take that as you wish.
The Strange and Unusual Podcast: This podcast collects stories from around the world of murder, superstitions, urban legends, and all manners of the macabre. Standout episodes include one about Burke and Hare, notorious grave-robbers turned murderers to sell bodies to medical schools in the 19th century, and another about how green dye turned deadly. The host scripts the shows so sometimes she’s a little stilted/mispronounces the occasional word, but it’s well researched and really hitting its stride.
Rabbits: This has a lot in common with the Polybius Conspiracy podcast, though I heard this one first. It’s told in the same it-could-be-real-reporting-but-it’s-fiction way as many popular podcasts in this genre like The Black Tapes. The host of the podcast is searching for her missing friend who was last seen in a downward spiral after becoming obsessed with a virtual reality game that had, according to urban legends, caused people to go insane and even die. Over the decades, various iterations of the mysterious “game” referred to as “Rabbits” have come and gone, and only a small group even know what it is. If you like this sort of creepy realistic fictional podcast, you’ll devour this one.
Whew. So there’s some stuff you can check out if you like. Let me know if you discover any new favorites among them!
Every Little Thing: Did you know that flamingos can drink boiling water? What’s the deal with those “Speed Enforced by Aircraft” signs? Did you know that the business behind office plants is fascinating AF? Did you know there’s a guy who experienced the vacuum of space and lived to tell the tale? This podcast dives in to the minutiae of every little thing, and it’s always way more fascinating than you’d ever imagine!
The Fridge Light: We all eat, but most of us have no idea about the history of foods like chewing gum (and how incredibly mysterious today’s “gum base” can be) or the debate about white meat versus dark meat, and how our preferences shape the entire industry. They also did an amazing episode on the rapid rise and fall of Orbitz drink (yeah, that one that came out in the 1990s with the weird floating blobs in it.) And the history of packaged lettuce is way more fascinating than you’d imagine. This podcast is entertaining and enlightening!
Little House on the Podcast: Confession time: I’ve never watched the Little House on the Prairie TV show, but I did read the books growing up. Kim Reed has been a TV Recap writer for years and she’s wickedly funny, and gives rapid-fire recaps of the classic TV show Little House on the Prairie. They’re short and laugh out loud hilarious. Seriously.
Mabel: I don’t even know how to describe this one. It’s a fictional audiodrama that TVTropes calls “a horror, folklore, weird fiction podcast regarding a series of phone messages sent by the main characters. The storyline starts with Anna Limon, a home health caregiver, starting to realize that the house in which she cares for the elderly Sally Martin, and in fact the very family itself may not be as simple as she had originally thought. It’s mysterious and dissolves into utter weirdness and there’s queer themes and also maybe kinda fairies but it’s all so confusing. But it’s captivating. I’m about a season behind, but I binged the first 20+ episodes in a few days.