What We Talk About When We Talk About Podcasts

I wasn’t sold on podcasts immediately. There was a time when the only ones I listened to or watched were This American Life, which requires no explanation, and Yogamazing, which requires four words: yoga instructional video podcast. But at some point early in 2011, some friends of mine told me about the Maximum Fun network, which featured (and still does feature, to that end) pop culture and comedy podcasts hosted and run by a genuinely talented, relentlessly clever group of people. I gave Stop Podcasting Yourself a try, and it was all uphill from there.

Now, I have a roster of podcasts I listen to regularly: the aforementioned Stop Podcasting Yourself, a delightfully meandering show co-hosted by Canadian comedians Graham Clark and Dave Shumka; My Brother, My Brother, and Me, a fake advice program from the three brothers McElroy; NPR’s enlightening, ever-humorous Pop Culture Happy Hour; WYNC’s beautiful marriage of science and culture Radiolab; and How Did This Get Made, a sendup of wonderfully terrible movies co-hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas. This American Life and Yogamazing still linger, but they’ve been replaced by something entirely different.

Podcasts are unlike any other medium. They take active listening to a new level, making you feel as though you’re part of the conversation even if you never so much as @-tweet the hosts. It’s a much more communal, homegrown feel than something like a television show, even one that attempts to interact with its audience ala American Idol and other competition shows. Turning on an episode of Stop Podcasting Yourself is, for me, like running into a friend while I’m waiting for a drink at the Stag’s Head. I don’t have to know anything more about the encounter to already know that it’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be funny, and I’m not going to want to listen to anyone else for a while.

I think the shows I listed deserve a listen, all of them for particular reasons. So here’s what you should listen to, depending on what you care about.

If you like slice-of-life stories and Hulk Hogan, then give Stop Podcasting Yourself a try. My favorite episodes tend to be those with Paul F. Tompkins or Jon Dore and guestless episodes, which are a rare treat.

If you laugh at jokes many people would consider inappropriate or immature and enjoy the occasional reference to contemporary Christian music or movies shown exclusively on Starz! in 1998, check out My Brother, My Brother, and Me. My favorite episodes include This Is Our Rumours, Peepum’s Nastygum, and Lovegoose.

If you think pop culture deserves intelligent discussion and you’re comfortable having the occasional reference go over your head, then Pop Culture Happy Hour is for you. (I wrote a post at one point about how much I enjoy Linda Holmes’ analysis–I could write three more for Trey Graham, Glen Weldon, and Stephen Thompson.) Because it’s a timely show, I can’t really pick a favorite, but their awards show coverage is always delightful. Especially good was last year’s Tonys discussion.

If you want to hear from a pair of people who truly love radio and want to use it to its fullest, then Radiolab and its wonderful hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, are for you. My favorite episode, hands down, is Lost & Found; also good are Space and the entire series of meditations on death.

If you like bad movies, and you like making fun of them even more, and you can’t stop using the word “literally,” I advise you to check out How Did This Get Made. I have so much affection for this show that I spelled “Mantzoukas” correctly the first time. Particularly hilarious are their takes on The Last Airbender, Sleepaway Camp, and The Green Lantern. They’re also great with live episodes, namely Birdemic and Road House.

I haven’t been writing a lot lately–at least, not like this. But I have been listening. And you probably should be, too.

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