Your podcast app’s discovery tab is very good at suggesting you listen to one of the new big podcasts backed by a major network — and certainly a lot of those shows are going to be great — but there are plenty of podcasters making beautiful content, and doin’ it on their own.
Writing, engineering, producing, hosting, selling ads — it’s a lot of work to put together a show, and the bar for assembling a great one is high. But plenty of indie creators clear it with apparent ease, and you deserve to enjoy the results of their effort. Dip into these 10 indies to find a new favourite pod. There are shows about conspiracy theories, the diet industry, B-list celebrities, people dying in elevators, man hugs, cannabis, and more. If you want to look like you’re in the know, recommend your favourite to a friend.
On American Hysteria, Chelsey Weber-Smith unlocks the world of fantastical thinking and irrational fears by digging deep into the moral panics, urban legends, and conspiracy theories that have shaped our lives. Think of it as your guide to American freak-outs. Chelsey oozes charm and humour while delving into topics from the satanic panic, to the Mandela effect, to the so-called gay agenda, offering the historical context we need to understand the real social issues the resultant frenzies are obscuring. This is the history the media isn’t telling us — sometimes horrifying, sometimes funny, always a lively investigation into a dark corner of American life. The writing is fantastic — Chelsey, a poet, isn’t just reading from a Wikipedia page. They’ve gone to dark places to bring us the stories not found on other conspiracy podcasts. Chelsey grew up with conspiracy theories so they have real insight into why people go to these nutty places in the first place.
Someone Dies In This Elevator
Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination, and in Someone Dies in this Elevator, the story is always kind of spoiled. You absolutely know that someone will die in an elevator, but how that happens is different every time. The stories Tal Minear weaves together are beautifully written and sound designed and feature talented voices from across the fiction space. Each episode drops you into an entirely new universe — with superheroes, ghosts, speakeasies, and more, that will lead you to a tragic ending that’s scary, quick-witted, oddly moving, or all three.
Other Men Need Help
Some men have trouble finding places where they can be vulnerable, honest about their emotions, and process the “unmanly” things they might be thinking or experiencing. Other Men Need Help provides men (and women, and everyone else) a place to explore differing ideas of masculinity and how they influence our behaviour and relationships, and ultimately, who we are. Host Mark Pagán shares personal stories that blur the lines between documentary, essay, and storytelling to illustrate ways to live free of the weight of being 100% “manly” all the time. The show conducts “friendterventions” and covers bad habits that are born of toxic masculinity — avoiding accountability, clinging to power, and masking insecurities, all while quietly screaming inside for connection. Episodes are made with playfulness, humour, and soul — it’s like giving your ears a hug. (And if the idea of Mark hugging you makes you uncomfortable, listen to the Hug Me Like Uncle Phil bonus episode.)
It’s Nice to Hear You
When the pandemic hit, we all said we’d write our first novel or remodel our bathrooms, but when Heather Li said she was going to launch a podcast, she actually meant it. After being laid off from her job in finance, she started It’s Nice to Hear You, which is part audio documentary about searching for connection and a better understanding of herself, and part audio dating show. Heather created a survey for people to fill out to match them with compatible mates, then she arranges a “conversation” between them conducted via audio clips that she sends them back and forth. The couples don’t meet and have no way to email or access each other — their relationship is completely born through these audio back-and-forths. We’re flies on the wall as the couples get to know each other. We hear them click (or not), and fall in love, or just make a new friend. Heather intersperses these audio postcards with snippets about herself, and interviews with experts who can help explain what it takes to find a partner, and the work we have to do on ourselves to be a part of a healthy relationship. It’s like no other show around, while the production also stands out — it’s immersive and lyrical, offering a gentle invitation to get to know Heather and the couples she’s trying to match.
You don’t have to be into beauty products to get a kick out of Jackie Johnson’s Natch Beaut. While it does recommend products and urges you to cream your neck on a daily basis, it’s a comedy show at heart, and Jackie J (your beauty talk shock jock) has an almost cartoonish personality, the energy to pick you up on the dreariest of mornings, and conversational and musical talent for days. (She brings out the best of all of her guests, and starts each episode with a beauty-themed spoof of a pop song.) Episodes range from serum suggestions to dancing around the house, but this show is really about people — the funny things we do in the morning, our relationships with our skin and the first beauty products we bought, and, yes, the things we should be buying and doing to make ourselves feel fabulous. Jackie’s “Hunnies” are a tight community of die-hards who appreciate the host’s unwavering love and compassion for everyone, human and animal. (Jackie is a vegan, so the focus is on cruelty-free products; she has an adorable dog co-host in her dog Chooch.)
How to Do the Pot
Ellen Scanlon was sick of the whole “dude bro let’s get stoned 4/20 forever” conversation happening around cannabis, even as the drug becomes an increasing accepted way to improve our mental and physical health, so she launched How to Do the Pot to answer the questions women and people with marginalised genders are googling: how does cannabis impact our cycles? What should we do if we go a little overboard on edibles? What ways are women turning to cannabis to alleviate their anxiety, period health, and autoimmune disorders? Each episode is beautifully produced, featuring walkthroughs with Ellen about the topic at hand, interviews with women in the cannabis space, and voices of everyday people who discuss their own relationships with weed and the issues that arise while they’re smoking pot. Try sample the mini-episodes in “The First Time I Bought Daily Weed” series — short stories that give voice to the women who want to share about their weed-buying experiences. They’re helpful to hear whether you’ve bought or not, and full of insight into what it’s like to be a pot-smoking woman today.
If you’re looking for a twist on the TARDIS, come on down to Midnight Burger, a completely ordinary diner, except for the fact that the universe is trying to kill it and it must skip through time and space in order to escape doom. In this scripted series, the Midnight Burger pops up just when people need a friend and a cup of coffee, and they are welcomed by the eclectic staff — a galactic drifter, a rogue theoretical physicist, a sentient old-time-y radio, and some guy named Caspar. Once you’ve visited the Midnight Burger once, you’re guaranteed to become a regular, if only to spend more time with the characters. The dialogue is so heartfelt and near-philosophical, and I often find myself skipping back to re-listen to a particularly insightful revelation, or just hitting pause to reflect. Podcasts can be imaginative, funny, and a little like therapy all at the same time — this show is proof of that.
We expect journalists to be unbiased, but there’s always another story behind the one they’re reporting. But what is it? On Citations Needed, hosts Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson dissect themes that pop up in media and explain why the story is being told the way that it is. The two pair find common themes across real news headlines to reveal how there is often one big media machine telling us the same story in different ways and across different outlets. Why is “Education as the Great Equaliser” so convenient and appealing to report on? What’s behind all of the “vote harder” messaging we’re getting? How is the “data-driven” label sanitizing cruel austerity politics? Are we living in a simulation? Maybe, but the least we can do is understand it. This is the show media outlets don’t want you to listen to. You’ll never read the news the same way again.
Frustrated with diet culture? So are Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon, who are roasting the wellness industry, ridiculous food trends, dieting books, and weight-loss scams every week on Maintenance Phase. Each episode is presented in the same format as Hobbes’ former show You’re Wrong About — the hosts take turns presenting something wild, like moon juice, metabolism myths, calorie menu labelling, or a real book called How to Take 9 kg Off Your Man. And then they go off about all the ways in which they are harmful. The hosts are friends, they’re hilarious, and they’re mad about everything. And it feels so good to get mad with them. They explore the societal and cultural reasons these fads exist, and call out all the bullshit that makes them both completely unscientific and extremely popular. If you’ve dabbled in dieting, food restriction, have counted a single Weight Watchers point, or read The South Beach Diet, you’ll find solace in the knowledge that the reason these philosophies didn’t work wasn’t because of you, it’s because it’s all smoke and mirrors.
Who is Chanté Adams? Who is Yung Gravy? They’re whos, that’s who! On Who? Weekly, Lindsey Webber and Bobby Finger take deep dives into the celebrities you keep hearing about but you have no idea why. It’s a celebration of the D-list — sometimes the G-list. They wade through the muck of fame, providing us with the final judgment about who is a who, and who is a “them.” (A celebrity with clout.) Bobby and Lindsey put tons of research into the lives of the celebs shilling diet teas, stars who seem to appear on every single episode of OK Magazine for undetermined reasons, and the brand influencers who are little too excited to talk to you about the obscure foundation or company they support. The hosts take listener calls, and their voicemail is bursting with equally funny characters seeking help in determining who is worth knowing about, asking questions about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and sharing gossip they’ve picked up on their own. You’ll laugh, you’ll fill your brain with deeply unimportant information, and you’ll always know what Rita Ora is up to.
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