In pod we trust: 8 podcasts worth a listen

2014-08-08-dana_carvey_on_harmontown-thumbBy JIM SABATASO

[The following story appears in the April 6, 2015 edition of the Rutland Herald as part of the author’s weekly Click’d column.]

I spent most of Monday in airports. That means I spent most of Monday listening to podcasts. More than music, podcasts have become my default form of aural entertainment whether I’m on a plane, in the car, out for a run or cooking dinner at home. If you’re like me, you’re always looking for new shows. So in that spirit, here are a few of my favorite podcasts that I think are worth checking out.

NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour / Slate Culture Gabfest

Individually, both of these weekly podcasts present thoughtful, entertaining segments about TV, film, music and other corners of high and low culture. Both shows dig deeper than rote thumbs-up, thumbs-down criticism to offer up smart analysis of the various entertainments we consume. Taken together, they are a comprehensive and complementary duo that are sure to up your cocktail party conversation game. New episodes of Gabfest and PCHH drop every Wednesday and Friday respectively.

You Made It Weird

Fans of comedian Marc Maron’s more popular WTF podcast will recognize the format of fellow standup Pete Holmes’ own interview show. Each week, Holmes sits down with a new comedian for a lengthy, unscripted conversation about the topics of comedy, sex and God. The result is an honest, raw and humorous show that gives a lot of credence to the argument that comedians are modern-day philosophers. Holmes’ aw-shucks personality is disarming, allowing guests to let their guard down and be real. Episodes to check out: Aisha Tyler, Harris Wittels (2014), Emily Gordon (2012), the live shows, and any episode with Chelsea Peretti or TJ Miller.

Welcome to Night Vale

Imagine A Prairie Home Companion on peyote and you’ll begin to get a sense of what Welcome to Night Vale is about. Each episode, host Cecil Baldwin, via his radio show, relays the news of this mysterious community and its odd inhabitants, like mayoral candidate and five-headed dragon Hiram McDaniels. You’ll also visit strange locations like the forbidden dog park that must never be looked upon. Twice a month, creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor take you deeper and deeper into the dark recesses of this surreal desert town.

Serial

This one’s a no-brainer. Serial was the most talked about podcast of 2014. Journalist Sarah Koenig’s long-form report on a 1999 murder trial will have you flipping your verdict many times over during its 12-episode run. The show is meticulously researched and addictive as hell. A new season with a new story is set to air something this year.

Stuff You Should Know

Ever wonder why we have earwax? Or how ejection seats work? What about the history of the Roma? These are just a sample of the topics covered by hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant each week. At 40 minutes, episodes are usually easily digestible and cover a lot of ground. They may not make you an expert, but they are fascinating explainers for a wide variety of stuff.

Harmontown

I’ll be honest: Harmontown is not a podcast for everyone, but it’s also my favorite so I’m including it even I though I’m sure most readers won’t dig it. Hosted by Dan Harmon, the creator of the cult sitcom Community (read my review of the new season here), the podcast is a loose, boozy glimpse into the mind of a caustic yet compassionate high-functioning weirdo. The weekly two-hour show, taped in the back of a comic book store in LA (I’ve been to a taping; it’s as cool as it sounds), features Harmon holding court as he improvises bits, raps (badly), and profanely discusses whatever’s on his mind. The show is an interactive experience where the line between host and audience is blurred beyond definition. Harmon often invites audience members onstage where he earnestly inquires about their lives. Harmontown has become an inclusive space where a devoted tribe of outsiders has found a unique community. And if, like me, you thought listening to people play Dungeons and Dragons would be boring, you’ve never heard a bunch of comedians do it while drunk.

Rachel & Miles X-plain the X-Men

OK, this one’s for all my fellow comic book fans out there. If you’re a love the X-Men or just enjoy deep discussions of comics, this podcast is a treat. Starting with issue No. 1 in 1963, the hosts methodically work their way forward unpacking blocs of issues, significant story arcs and major crossovers with a sharp critical eye. More than story recaps, this show treats comic books as serious texts featuring thoughtful and entertaining discussions of gender, race and sexuality. There are a lot of comic book podcasts out there, but few are as smart. New episodes drop every Sunday.

Honorable mentions: This American LifeThe MothThe Thrilling Adventure Hour

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