The State of Podcasts 2018
I have been into podcasts for a really long time now. For the past decade or so it has been my main form of entertainment. Over that time my taste has evolved and the shows I listen to haved slowly changed. This list is a snapshot of the best shows in my feed right now in June 2018, and why I like them so much.
My Favourite Podcasts
Guests and callers play listener submitted games.
Dr Gameshow is delightful. It is the best podcast. Jo Firestone and Manolo Moreno are two truly unique individuals and they make a show like no other. It is so much fun and such a bullseye for my sense of humour that I can't explain why it's great. I think if you get Dr Gameshow you understand a part of my soul.
Ross and Carrie join cults and trying weird pseudoscience on themselves.
Ross and Carrie bring a sceptical eye and a realist attitude to weird cults and pseudoscience. One of my favourite things is they always describe banal details of the situation like when they went to learn how to do astral travelling "the air conditioning was stuck on and the room was so cold!", or at Scientology "there were no hot drinks!". Without the cameras they seem to get deeper into situations than a TV reporter might. They are truly fearless in front of mystics and charlatans and happy to sit through hours of the most boring talks, all so we don't have to.
Two Australian guys pitch ideas for podcasts to each other.
This is an idea I had for a podcast but these guys do it better than I ever could. Plus, they are nice middle aged Australian men and there is something about how they describe 80's Australia that makes it seem like an upside-down version of England. I could listen to these guys talk all day.
The hosts challenge each other to try something new each week, but that's secondary to ranting about the Trump administration.
An hour of mania. I could see why you wouldn't like this show, it has a certain rhythm and texture. But I love it. I've realised you need to listen to 10 other podcasts to get half of the references, so maybe it is a podcast for people who like podcasts.
The McElroy brothers and their dad play tabletop roleplaying games.
There is a reason this is so hyped. The "Balance" series is probably the best podcasting ever made, and certainly the best RPG / D&D podcast ever made. Start at the beginning, and stick with it through the first arc and you'll be all set to laugh and cry for the next few weeks.
5 guys write a different feature for the show each week. Features can be literally anything.
40 minutes or so of mania, chaos and nonsense. Sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes its filthy, sometimes you question the host's moral judgement, sometimes you question your own moral judgement for listening to it, sometimes it's amazing and sometimes it's just bad, but it's always unpredictable. I listen most Friday afternoons.
British podcasting kingpin Helen Zaltzmann, does short documentaries on different words and language stuff.
The Allusionist is just an excellent example of the form and how podcasts should be. Interesting stories you wouldn't hear about anywhere else, told with wit and sincerity. Listen to the story of the Welsh speaking region of Patagonia, find out how to make it in world championship crosswording, or hear a lady recount how she had to relearn all words after a brain injury.
YouTuber / podcast robot CGP Grey talks to two other guys about life, productivity and everything.
The two CGP Grey podcasts have literally changed my life over and over again. Grey is clearly crazy, but often he's right. The co-hosts, Brady Haran and Myke Hurley, are excellent foils for him and I'm always excited to listen to episodes as soon as they come out. There is a bit of a cult around Grey; a cult full of all kinds of obsessive nerds (like me).
Two New York TV and comedy friends record their lives for 12 hours straight.
I'm a 12 Hour Day evangelist. If we have ever had any conversation about podcasts I'll mention it. 12 Hour Day is a thing that can only exist in podcast form, that can only be pulled off by a few people, and 12 hours with JD and Connor is never enough. It taps into a weird part of your brain and becomes this very unique, intimate listening experience. My friend Chris once got so swept up in it that he started joining in with their conversation as he listened on the bus. That sounds crazy, but if you listen to 12 Hour Day you will know that that makes total sense.
New stuff that I like
I'm constantly looking for new shows. Here is a few podcasts I've found recently. I've only listened to these a few times but they are interesting.
Interviews with people about stuff they are super excited about that isn't their jobs.
Interview podcasts are very popular but I find interviews with hobbyists 100x more interesting than interviews with "celebrities". Hobby Horse is a great example of this. It's mostly interviews with Silicon Valley adjacent tech people, but they do not talk about their jobs, they only talk about their hobbies. Smart people talking about weird stuff at a surprisingly deep level with unabashed enthusiasm. What's not to like?
Husband and wife power couple, Casey Neistat and Candice Pool, talk about their relationship.
Casey Neistat is a YouTube juggernaut, he revolutionised the art of the vlog. I remember procrastinating some years ago and binge watching all his videos (this was way before the vlog - I was into Casey Neistat before it was cool OK, give me some YouTube hipster cred please kids). All I could think was "how does this man afford this lifestyle? How does he make these videos? I need to know more". Then the vlog came along and he answered all those questions with his iconic style. But the vlog left one question: What's the deal with his wife Candice? She was barely in the videos, yet he would often sing her praises. Now Couples Therapy is here to give her a voice, and she is as interesting as Casey said. (I could write a whole essay about this but I'm going to stop here)
A guy reads fiction he wrote.
I usually don't like fiction podcasts - I bounced straight off Welcome to Night Vale - but Imaginary Advice has two huge things in its favour: 1. it is made to be a podcast, not a book or a play or an article, it is a podcast; 2. it isn't American and, for some reason that I can't explain, that matters a lot. Imaginary Advice has a certain dream like quality that makes really compelling listening.
Oldies But Goldies
Podcasts I've listened to for so long that I don't know if they are good or bad anymore. They're the staples in my listening diet and the background noise to my life.
Helen and Olly answer questions from listeners.
Many podcasts have had this format. This is one of the longest running and is constantly delightful. Super sharp and tightly produced. Even after a decade AMT is still full of sage wisdom.
Humourist John Hodgman settles listener submitted disputes.
John Hodgman and Jesse Thorn are great characters and this show functions as their guide on how to live well. But the crux of the show is the litigants in the fake internet court room, and how hearing their petty disputes gives an insight into how real people live.
New Yorkers Tim and Tom sort of talk about a topic.
TCGTE was one of the first independent podcasts that I got really into. Over the past 10 years they've given this average guy look into life in New York, and it feels like I've heard them grow and change. I genuinely don't know if their show is still good, but for me it's like spending an hour with two old pals.
The McElroy brothers give advice to listener submitted questions and questions posted on Yahoo Answers.
The McElroy brothers revolutionised podcasting and this is the gold standard for audience interaction podcasts. Dense with in-jokes and full of joy. Make the McElroys your new best friends.
Short documentaries about easily overlooked things.
Roman Mars revolutionised podcasting and this is the gold standard for documentary podcasts. Stunningly well produced, every single episode of 99% Invisible is a work of art. Plus, Roman Mars has one of the greatest radio voices of all time.
Interviews with people you didn't know you wanted to hear interviewed.
Pretty infrequent now, a bit hit or miss, but clearly a passion project of one man who just likes talking to unusual people. An NFL cheerleader, a guy who has a museum devoted to the song Who Let the Dogs Out, a PowerPoint world champion, the Wikipedia editor with over 1.8 million edits, a Blue Man from the Blue Man Group. Like I said with Hobby Horse, interviews with people like this are what I want to hear.
Two guys make things on a theme and then bring them to show each other.
This is my podcast. Communal Bathroom was my attempt to make the kind of podcast I wish there was more of. To do this I enlisted my significantly more talented friend, Chris Delamere. It turned out to be very fun, extremely rewarding and one of the best things I've ever done. But it was so so so much work! This is what I want from podcasts, individuals with ideas, finding a way to make them - podcasts that can only ever be podcasts.