My Favourite Things: Podcasts
Welcome to My Favourite Things! It’s pretty self-explanatory really. This time, podcasts!
Never listened to a podcast before? Oh my god, your life is about to get so much better. Chores are a lot less boring when you have something interesting to listen to, and I will literally go for walks or drives purely so that I can listen to the next episode of a podcast in peace.
How much do they cost, I hear you ask? Why, they’re free! If you’re on iOS you have a Podcasts app installed on your phone already, and if you’re in camp Android, Google Podcasts is a thing.
I listen to a lot of podcasts — I’m currently at around 30 hours a week. Yeah, I struggle to keep up. In no particular order, here are some of my favourites. At the end of each short review I’ll let you know how long each episode is, as well as recommend a few episodes to start with (if it isn’t a serialised podcast or one which you can jump into at any point).
If you’ve heard of podcasts before I’m sure you’ve already listened to Serial. But just in case you haven’t, here’s the idea: each season, Sarah Koenig, investigative reporter for This American Life (also worth a mention as a great podcast), does a gripping deep dive into a real case with problems that still exist today.
Season One (quite literally the series that made podcasts a phenomenon), explores the death of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in 1999, and whether or not the man currently behind bars for her murder is guilty. Nearly every episode will cause you to flip between being 100% sure of his guilt and confused as to how he ended up being convicted in the first place.
There are two more seasons, each with different stories. Don’t concern yourself with those just yet. Honestly, I wouldn’t place them higher than the other podcasts on this list. But season 1 is … *kisses tips of fingers* premium podcasting.
Length: an hour.
Frequency: fortnightly (when active).
Start with: Season 1, Episode 1 — The Alibi.
My Brother, My Brother and Me
Hoo boy, I need more people in my life to listen to this show because I want to talk about it all the time. First thing’s first: this podcast is an acquired taste. It might take a while to “get” it. And that’s fair enough. It’s basically targeted at millennials with social anxiety like me. MBMBaM is an advice show for the modern era: three brothers, Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, answer both questions posed by their listeners, and the dumb shit people post to Yahoo Answers, with basically the most unhelpful answers possible.
Here’s a short, one-and-a-half minute excerpt of one of my favourite bits (it’s not even them answering a question, just part of their general chat):
So … it’s kind of a comedy talk-show? At the crux of it, yes, that’s it. Yet somehow, these boys are also some of the most hilarious, endearing, inclusive and genuine people on the internet. None of their humour ever punches down on anyone, and always manages to be some of the funniest shit I hear on any given week. This podcast has gotten me through some rough times, and no matter what I’m going through it’s always, always able to put a smile on my face.
Length: one hour.
Start with: somewhere around episode 300, listen to a couple of eps, then once you get the idea, jump forward to now.
Reply All, hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Voght, explores interesting stories surrounding technology, the internet, pop culture and memes. I find it a bit hard to describe because every episode is so wildly different, but there’ll be an episode where they go from figuring out how someone from Russia is using their colleague’s Uber account, to an episode where they manage to discover the identity of the Indian scammer who’s cold calling them, to an episode where they’re sitting their boss down and having him explain memes he doesn’t understand.
You don’t need to be tech-literate to enjoy this podcast; in fact, most episodes cover general issues that all internet users should know about (e.g. the consequences of what can go wrong when someone decides to destroy your life via the internet), to genuinely interesting tech problems that your average person can’t solve (e.g. a woman who gets phone calls where each call is nothing but the background noise of a different location).
Length: between 40 minutes and an hour.
Start with: #104 — The Case of the Phantom Caller, #91 — The Russian Passenger, or #102 — Long Distance.
Will Campos and Matt Arnold, screenwriters for RocketJump, are joined by Freddie Wong to pitch a movie or TV series idea for (usually) an existing property.
They’ll often work out a basic 5-act structure for the film/series over the course of an hour, and then either do an “elevator pitch” at the end where they have 1 minute to describe it to a network executive, or come up with a trailer for the film. The end result is usually as wild as most of RocketJump’s stuff is, but I really love listening to them develop characters, structure the big moments, and explain why they’re trying to steer away from tired tropes.
Length: an hour.
Start with: any episode for which you already know the source material, but I particularly recommend #2 — The Jar Jar Binks Movie (seriously), #5 — Clippy the Microsoft Paperclip, or #41 — Duke Nukem.
Phoebe Judge, the woman who owns the most soothing female voice you’ll ever hear in your entire life, tells a different story in each roughly half-hour episode. With the exception of a few two-parters, none of the episodes are connected, meaning that they can vary wildly from terrifying to hilarious to heartbreaking; with the only common theme being that each story explores some kind of criminal event.
You’ll hear stories from people who are responsible for putting witnesses into protection, parents who have suffered the death of a child, people who have gotten away with stealing huge amounts of money, victims of violent crimes, and streakers at sporting games.
Length: half an hour.
Start with: #71 — A Bump in the Night.
In each episode, Alex Blumburg interviews an incredibly successful person — not about their successes, but their failures.
Because their failures will tell you more about their successes than their successes ever could on their own.
Subjects that Alex interview run the gamut from television show runners, Hollywood executives, company CEOs, and detectives. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve all tasted both the sweet taste of incredible success, and bitter failure.
Length: an hour.
Start with: Nina Jacobson: How to Make a Hit in Hollywood, The Man Behind the Iconic Apple Stores: Ron Johnson, How to Fire People, The Decades-Long Hunt for the Golden State Killer.
Dr Sydnee McElroy sits down with her decidedly non-medically-trained husband, Justin (the eldest brother from My Brother, My Brother and Me), and tells both him and us the crazy shit we humans used to do to each other in the name of medicine.
Each episode covers a single aspect of medicine and the history of it. In most cases, the first half of the episode usually covers the batshit insane things doctors used to do while attempting to cure their patients (usually involving alcohol, opium or just cutting into the person indiscriminately), while the second half of the episode tends to cover what led to the breakthroughs we made in our understanding of the science which got us to where we are today. The show is a fact-based conversation-style program; Dr Sydnee is basically just chatting with her husband and telling him the story of (for example) herpes, or asbestos, or the placebo effect.
Honestly, I didn’t think this show would be for me, but I have to credit Dr Sydnee for both how accessibly she explains everything, and how much I appreciate the many hours of research she clearly puts into every single episode. She kindly but clearly explains why fake medicine like Jilly Juice and applied kinesiology is bullshit, and why you should absolutely be vaccinated among many other PSAs.
Length: between 40–50 minutes.
Start with: The Placebo Effect, Asbestos, Vasectomy, or 27 Reasons Why You Should Get A Flu Shot.
Hey Riddle Riddle
Three improvisational comedians from Chicago, Adal Rifai, John Patrick Coan and Erin Keif, solve riddles and puzzles while doing improvised scenes in between inspired by all the wrong answers they gave along the way.
This lasts a grand total of about one episode before they realise all riddles are terrible and that the show is significantly better when it’s just them goofing around using the riddles as nothing more than vague inspiration for their improv scenes. If you come to Hey Riddle Riddle for the riddles, you’ll be disappointed, but their improv level and ability to spin on a dime constantly leaves me in awe. I hope one day I can see them perform live.
Once you gel with the personalities of the hosts, it’s fun to just chill out and listen to three funny people being funny. I back their spin-off show, Clue Crew on Patreon as well.
Length: an hour.
Start with: the first episode, and then whatever the latest is.
David Tennant Does a Podcast With…
The format is deceptively simple. David Tennant sits with a famous person and talks casually with them about their life.
What’s impressive here is the names he has managed to get to sit down with him. Olivia Colman. Whoopi Goldberg. Jodie Whittaker. Ian McKellen. Jon Hamm. Gordon Brown (?!).
Every guest so far has been someone I’m at most super excited to hear talk and at least vaguely familiar with, but every episode I’ve listened to has been surprisingly enjoyable. Tennant doesn’t get in the way of the person’s life story; he just lets them talk, asking the right questions at the right time to get the most intriguing answers and interesting stories from them.
Length: an hour.
Frequency: weekly (while active).
Start with: whoever you know, but for me the ones I was most excited to hear were Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Garner and Catherine Tate.
Dungeons and Daddies
The Story Break team, joined by Beth May and Anthony Burch, play Dungeons and Dragons as four dads from the real world who suddenly end up in the world of DnD.
You don’t need to know anything about Dungeons and Dragons to follow along. In fact, if you think Dungeons and Dragons is lame as hell, I want even more for you to give this a go. This is just a hilarious story of four dads who are trying to find their kids, as they navigate crazy fantasy situations that they are in no way prepared for as characters.
I’ll be honest, I tossed up between this spot being The Adventure Zone or Dungeons and Daddies. I settled on Dungeons and Daddies purely because I already had two McElroy podcasts on this list, and while TAZ holds a very special place in my heart (it’s one of the only podcasts that’s made me cry), I think it’s something you’ll naturally gravitate to if you end up liking My Brother, My Brother and Me anyway. It also takes a while to warm up, whereas Dungeons and Daddies knows what it’s aiming for right out of the gate.
Length: an hour.
Start with: episode 1.
And that’s it, that’s my list! I listen to many many more; but these I think give a broad enough spectrum of taste. If you have any that you think I might like, please let me know!
Notable mentions: No Such Thing As A Fish, Darknet Diaries, The Besties.