New podcasts are popping up so fast, it’s easy to feel like you’re playing a game of Whack-a-Mole with your download queue. Some of these shows will go as quickly as they came, and sometimes it’s honestly a relief to learn others are intended to be limited series with a beginning, middle, and end. But anyone who had listened to a particular podcast across hundred of episodes knows that the hosts can wind up feeling like best friends, so sometimes, longevity is a very good thing.
Yes, believe it or not, podcasts were around long before Conan O’Brien invented them; the true veterans of the medium are well into their second decade of production by now. Familiarity may have pushed some of these old-timers to the back of your podcast download list, but today I am urging you to rediscover old favourites — or find something new to you but “old” in podcast years. The sheer number of episodes might seem intimidating, but on the other hand, nothing beats a good, long binge.
Since 2014, Kid Fury (who started out with the YouTube stand-up series “Furious Thoughts”) and Crissle West have been coming together for their weekly podcast The Read, covering current events, social justice, mental health, hip-hop, media, fashion, entertainment, and lots of Beyoncé with a critical, hysterical eye. Their best friend vibes are electric and their passion for pop culture is contagious. It’s like you’re tapping into their private conversations as they tear down celebs and the latest Da Baby drama with a sharp wit that brings needed criticism to the entertainment space. You don’t have to love hip-hop or even know who DDG is in order to be completely entertained by their banter.
Segments like Hot Tops, Kid Fury’s Sports Shorts! (sports updates that are always hilarious, seldom completely accurate,) Listener Letters, Crissle’s Couch, and The Read, where they almost poetically share their sharp opinion of the week, give the show a relaxed structure. The hosts are completely open about their lives (they just returned after a short hiatus for Kid Fury’s mental health) so you can be sure you’re getting authentic opinions, revelations, and stories about all their ups and downs. Episodes are long but can quickly start to feel all too short. If you’re new to the show and can’t get enough, consider yourself lucky: Like all these long-running shows, they have a deep library of more than 400 episodes for you to drown in.
Judge John Hodgman
John Hodgman (once the “PC Guy” from those Apple Mac commercials) has been holding hilarious court since 2010 on Judge John Hodgman, taking on listener disputes to arrive at a ruling on what should be done. Guests bring in their niche problems, from the trivial to the more nuanced — a woman who is still mad her sister wouldn’t let her be in her pog club when she was young, a mother who insists her daughter flush her ashes down the toilet in Walt Disney World when she dies (an episode on which I appeared), a couple arguing over a weird painting that one of them insists on keeping on display, a family that can’t agree over what a baby should call grandma, a man who doesn’t want to visit his in-laws for the holidays due to his childhood trauma.
Judge John and bailiff Jesse Thorne treat these cases and more with extreme seriousness and legal formality, eventually reaching rulings equally funny and fair — and, when called for, treating more serious conundrums with genuine compassion. It’s a juxtaposition of comedy and serious relationship issues. It’s a peek into the ridiculous interactions we all have with those we love, hosted by two of the funniest people in podcasting.
Welcome to Night Vale
Since 2012, Welcome to Night Vale has been bringing us community updates from the small desert town of Night Vale, creating a blueprint for many of the sci-fi audio dramas we consume today. It’s like Lake Wobegon with David Lynch as narrator. In telling the stories of Cecil Gershwin Palmer (Night Vale’s resident radio host), Dana Cardinal (radio intern and former Night Vale mayor), a literal five-headed dragon and former mayoral candidate, and more, this is a show bursting with humour and horror, a satire on the absurdities of American life. Its playful format has yet to be replicated (which is why it has persevered) and after ten years, it hasn’t even repeated itself. And because Night Vale feels so real, it probably never will. Funny and spooky stories, fake ads, recurring segments and characters and the weather: Listening will make you feel like you have a seat at a dark and twisted Broadway show (speaking of which, the live events are bananas).
I probably should be writing about Answer Me This!, a question/answer show launched by Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann in 2007, before most people knew what a podcast was. But after being named one of the top 10 comedy podcasts in the world by The Guardian and winning a Gold Award from The British Podcast Awards, the show ended. But Helen’s other show, The Allusionist, is still going, offering deep dives into the peculiarities of language. It’s not just a show about etymology, it’s about the way we use language in our lives, and it always ends up being more about people than words. Helenhighlists the ways words have been weaponised to further marginalize already-marginalised people and shares sordid histories of language that have left a lasting impression on the way we communicate today. TLDR: It’s technically a show about language, but really a show about empathy.
During the pandemic, she ran mini-episodes called The Tranquillusionist, special soothing shows in which she read recipes for salads from a 1950s recipe book and voiced vintage lawnmower ads (among other things), offering us a safe place to spend our time during one of the most stressful periods in recent history, and also proving Helen could read names from a phone book and still be captivating.
You might not think you know Emily Heller and Lisa Hanawalt, but you do. Emily is a comedian, and a writer and producer for the HBO series Barry. Lisa is an illustrator and production designer and a producer of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. She also created Tuca & Bertie. But even if you knew all that, did you know the two are friends who have a funny, chatty podcast called Baby Geniuses? Since 2012 they’ve been assembling a weekly show filled with hysterical segments, self reflection, and lots of audience participation. (Their listeners send in pictures of their bare butts and Emily and Lisa review them; because all butts are beautiful, it’s all quite silly and empowering.)
Baby Geniuses is a peek into a friendship between two weird, kind, smart, talented, and fascinating women. In an episode I’ll never forget, they have an honest conversation about Emily discovering, late in life, that she has ADHD; after 10 years, listeners have been part of their life journeys, from work, to travel, to relationships, and what’s bugging them all along. Segments include Wiki of the Week, where they read through outrageous Wikipedia entries, and Chunch Chat, where they offer updates on Martha Stewart’s horse.
Radio Drama Revival
Radio Drama Revival is one of the internet’s longest-running anthology audio dramas, showcasing audio fiction and interviews with their creators. The team has had their fingers on the pulse for 16 years, unearthing talented audio makers dedicated to the art of fiction podcasting. Host Elena Fernández Collins feels like a friend you trust to pass you the headphones to listen to the things they’re loving. Each episode can launch you towards a new audio obsession or a new favourite artist, and each is a piece of awe-inspiring aural art. If you’re already into fictional podcasting, this one is a celebration of what you already love, and if you’re new to the form, it will get you hooked.
This American Life
This American Life is a podcasting OG. It was a radio program before it became a podcast, and has been a gateway into the medium for many. It launched on November 17, 1995 under the title Your Radio Playhouse, and has been dropping beautiful stories (brought to you by some of audio’s brightest talent) ever since. Each episode is based around a theme, with host Ira Glass acting as the master of ceremonies to a three- or four-part performance. People racing against time to solve a problem, a closer look at the victims of a grocery store massacre in Buffalo New York, people’s memories of amusement parks — whatever the topic, the show is loaded with humour and emotion that will stick with you for weeks, or sometimes the rest of your life. Segments from the show have launched other podcasts (Serial host Sarah Koenig got her start there) and even award-winning films (2019’s The Farewell began life as an episode of the podcast).
Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor started Ear Hustle in 2017 when Earlonne was incarcerated at San Quentin and Nigel was a reporter coming to interview his about prison life. Earlonne would tell stories from his own experiences and talk with others, chronicling stories of prison lingo, making meals, transporting items through toilets, and more. In 2018, Earlonne’s sentence was commuted, in part for his work with Ear Hustle. And ten seasons later, Earlonne and Nigel are now both co-hosts on the outside, and the show remains one of the best storytelling podcasts around, still offering exclusive access to people living behind bars.
Episodes go to dark places, sharing stories of trauma, broken families, and, obviously, criminal behaviour, but many are also light-hearted and funny. Each one feels like a mini documentary focused on a single person, emotion, or object that expands outward to share something of the experience of prison life that most of us would never otherwise encounter. Without much sugarcoating, Ear Hustle will answer your questions and spark your compassion for incarcerated people.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Formerly known as Comedy Death-Ray, Comedy Bang! Bang! has existed as a live comedy showcase, a series of CDs, a radio show, an IFC TV show, and a podcast since 2002. On its face, it’s a traditional chat show, but its really a vehicle for wild improv comedy, with guests dropping by in the guise of recurring characters, and its go-anywhere attitude has made it a regular haunt for some of the biggest names in comedy, from Bob Odenkirk, to David Cross, to Laurie Kilmartin. Across hundred and hundreds of hours-long episodes, the show has built a zany universe of inside jokes and absurd running gags, turning offbeat pop culture figures like Andrew Lloyd Weber (portrayed by podcasting legend Paul F. Tompkins) into cult figures.
Dumb People Town
People doing dumb things all the time and all over the world, and since 2017, the Sklar brothers (Randy and Jason) and Daniel Van Kirk have been documenting the dumbest of them all on Dumb People Town. Each week they invite familiar comedians (Mike Birbiglia, Taylor Tomlinson, Bobcat Goldthwait, Dana Gould, Quinta Brunson) to review unbelievable headlines in the news: Someone who has never travelled in a plane flies one, a bride calls off a wedding when her bald groom’s wig falls off mid-ceremony, many stories from the “someone-got-something-stuck-in-them file,” and more.
What begins as a ridiculous example of the nonsensical things humans do when they have a little too much time or have had a little too much to drink is quickly spun into something even wackier. Fun segments, like guessing the age of the perpetrators, make he show feel like a variety hour. And if you are tired of long-winded shows, never fear — these guys always dive in right away. You’ll get to the good stuff within the first few minutes, so the laughter starts immediately.
The Flop House
These days, movie podcasts are commonplace, and bad movie podcasts in particular are a genre unto themselves. But few celebrations of cinematic stinkers have the longevity or the bonafides ofThe Flop House, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Each week, hosts Dan McCoy, Elliot Kalan, and Stewart Wellington discuss a critical or commercial flop they’ve just experienced, tell us what it’s all about, and try to figure out why it failed and whether it’s a “bad-bad movie” or a “good-bad movie” (or, rarely, a movie they just kinda like). You don’t have to actually watch the movies to enjoy their analysis (actually, it’s probably healthier if you don’t regularly subject yourself to the likes of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure), as the hosts are genuine friends who share a great rapport and super funny — Dan and Elliot were even formerly writers for The Daily Show; Elliot has also written for Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (Stewart owns a few bars in Brooklyn, but he’s quite the jokester too).
In 2009, Kaitlin Prest, Jess Grosman, Nora Rohman, Britt Wray, and Linda Tsang launched a sex-positive radio show called “Audio Smut” on Montreal’s CKUT 90.3 FM. This was the beginning of The Heart, an audio art project about intimacy and humanity that became a podcast in 2014. The show sounds like nothing else. The topics and the audio go to beautiful, uncomfortable places, focusing on the most awkward, vulnerable elements of the human condition. In 2018, Prest shifted to fiction to create The Shadows, and in 2019 founded Mermaid Palace, an audio company that became home to Asking For It, Appearances, and more. The Heart has gone dark since Covid struck, but don’t delete it from your feed — I have a feeling Mermaid Palace will soon be back with another innovative, immersive project that will make the podcast community drop everything and listen.
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