My last post was a top tenner about this summer’s hottest songs. It was an easy format, fun to write, and a lot of people read it, so now you’re getting another one. Today’s blog covers my favorite podcasts of the year (so far, anyway). Some of them are recent discoveries, some of them I’ve listened to for a while, but all would receive my official stamp of approval if I had the ego to manufacture an official stamp.
I’m also in a big-time decluttering phase, so I’m not even sure where I’d store such a thing.
Anyway, without further preamble—the list:
Top Ten Pods of 2018:
10) Men in Blazers — I’ve listened to this pod for a while, and it always delivers. Rog’s woe-ridden Evertonian everyman is a perfect balance to Davo’s effervescent Chelsea-ness. I tend to identify with Rog’s views on life, but as a fellow Chelsea supporter, usually see eye to eye with Davo.
I originally ran across them on Morning Joe years ago and have followed them ever since. They were the highlight of my listening rotation during the World Cup and will be again now that the Premier League schedule has started in earnest.
This podcast will arm you with enough information to hold a conversation at one of those dive bars that open early on a Saturday so that people can watch soccer (football) games.
In other words, you probably won’t ever find it useful, but it’s still an entertaining listen.
9) Writing Excuses — I kind of feel obligated to mention something about writing since this is why a lot of you are here. Also, I listen to this pod every week.
I’m always looking for tips, tricks, and motivation wherever I can find them, and this show delivers them in easily digestible fifteen-minute broadcasts. Great for a quick walk with the dogs.
If you’re a writer, this pod will help you question everything you’ve ever done, and occasionally give you a fresh perspective on your writing for the day or week.
8) The Adventures of Memento Mori — Full disclosure: DS Moss is a friend of mine, but I’d listen to this pod anyway. Episodes examine the afterlife in a style that mashes-up Serial, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and … I don’t know, take your pick of one or more great Netflix docs (like Ugly Delicious for example). Check it out if you haven’t heard it, and tell your friends.
7) WTF — I’m sure you’ve heard of it, and actually, it should be way up higher on my list, but I’m too lazy to change it now.
Marc Maron is one of my favorite interviewers, if not my favorite. He’s able to utilize all the tools he’s collected in his life to take his listeners on open and honest adventures with his guests. He obviously has a great sense of humor, but you can feel the empathy, insecurity, and personal growth from years of therapy in his interviews. That may seem like a weird list of things to like at first, but it makes him a real guy. He puts himself out there, flaws and all—and it makes you like him. Well, it makes me like him, anyway.
He speaks, in depth, to the perils of addiction, of fame—or the desire for fame, and sometimes just wonders where the cat he’d been leaving food out for went. There’s something there for all of us, and he consistently gets something out of his guests that no one else can. You see the same name in a lot of pods when actors are out pushing their latest project, but you always get a different interview with Maron.
Great for one-upping movie guy at the party with some insight an actor shared that most people might not know. Also great for lifting some of the strategies he’s learned from therapy and applying them to your own life. Maybe like how you don’t constantly need to one-up people at parties.
6) Harmontown —Dan Harmon created Community as well as Rick and Morty, and I’m a big fan of both shows. Harmontown has a structure but feels free and effortless.
For the writers out there who are still reading, there are plenty of writing tips and other jewels of wisdom you can collect from week to week amid all sorts of weird bits you’d enjoy if you like Rick and Morty. Harmon is another guy that’s open about his years of talk therapy, and I don’t mind copping his strategies either.
5) Bill Simmons Podcast — I’m pretty sure Page 2 on ESPN (.go.com) was the first blog I consistently read. It was either that or Ain’t It Cool News. Anyway, Page 2 was Simmons’ brainchild, and he went on to create Grantland as well as the Thirty for Thirty series for ESPN. Dude knows his stuff, especially when it comes to basketball, and is a great interviewer. His pods with Kevin Durant are legendary, and he has a great line-up of contributing personalities.
His gambling bits with Cousin Sal from The Jimmy Kimmel Show are always good, and his latest feature where his daughter comes on and talks about what junior high kids are into these days (Netflix, social media, it’s cute, but highly listenable. Yeah—I said cute but highly listenable, I don’t like cute. Sue me. I also just put a bunch of sentences into parentheses … I do what I want).
Anyway, I don’t watch sports like I used to, in fact, it’s pretty much limited to Premier League games these days, but I still like to know what’s going on. His pods are perfect for that. Lots of Fantasy Football talk, trade rumors, and inside baseball kind of talk (mainly for basketball, but the term still applies). This podcast is great for keeping you up to date in the overall world of sports so you can “well, actually” your annoying cousin Ted at Sunday lunch.
4) Planet Money — Short, sweet pods that give you that edge at the next gathering you attend. Another interesting story about how your son eats paste, Gerald? Fascinating. Now, let’s talk about how there’s a secret global postal organization that’s rigged postage rates so that it’s cheaper to mail something to the US from China than it is to ship from Texas to Louisiana.
Sounds crazy, right? Like it’s a conspiracy theory … it’s not. I learned it from Planet Money. Not the bit about Gerald’s son, Gerald doesn’t even exist for godssakes. The global post thing.
The episode focused on a cup manufacturer that freaked out because his competitor offers up the same design for less than it would cost him to ship his product, let alone manufacture it.
Segments are upbeat and easily digestible fifteen to twenty-minute pods that are also great for quick walks with the dogs.
3) Armchair Expert — Just started listening to this lately. Dax Shepard has a similar style to Marc Maron or Howard Stern and consistently draws unique interviews out of his guests.
He even does an after show wrap-up to tell you what he or the guest got wrong in the course of discussion (like if facts were misquoted or he used an incorrect turn of phrase).
This pod is great for whenever someone is like, “I need to find a new podcast to listen to.” You’ll be right there with the recommendation, and people will love you. They probably won’t write songs about you or anything, but they may just tip their coffee mug to you in the break room the following Monday.
2) Hardcore History — Dan Carlin. The man is a legend. Another great one for meetings or parties where you can correct someone’s pronunciation of Ghengis Khan, then prattle on like you know a ton about him—because you do. By then you’ll have listened to hours and hours of history about Ghengis Khan and his rise to power.
You’re getting history from a great storyteller, with multiple sources and points of view cited. A must listen.
1) Song Exploder — Do you like music? Of course you do, and odds are that the good people at Song Exploder have talked to one of your favorite artists. You can hear Jeff Tweedy, Amy Mann, St. Vincent, or the guy from Bleachers talk about the origins of one of their songs. Everything from the story that inspired it to the actual crafting. “I got this riff from here, and we were at this weird piano,” you know … stuff like that. You listen to thirty minutes of story and hear the song at the end, and at least for me, I always come away with a new appreciation for it.
Great for the late hours of a party where you may have been overserved. A song comes on, and you roll your head over to tell the person next to you. You tell them everything you know about it … and you know a lot. Three songs have played since you started talking and, oh no, where are they going…
0) Comedy Bang Bang— Zero? You can’t have a number zero; this is a top ten list!
Ha, jokes on you! I will have a zero; it’s too late, it’s done.
Scott Auckerman is hilarious. He wrote for Mr. Show, a bunch of other things you probably thought were great. Comedy Bang Bang was a show on IFC, and one the funniest podcast out there. He interviews a guest at the top of each show, and then a bunch of comedians will pop in and improv. Contributors include Paul F Tomkins, Lauren Lapkus, Ben Schwartz, Thomas Middleditch, and Jon Gabrus.
Great for borrowing funny things to say in conversation, and of course, citing your source.
-1) Spontaneanation — Wait, I allowed zero, but a negative one? This is highly unorthodox, sir.
Well, buckle up because it’s the law, and it’s for your own good. Have you read vehicular injury reports since the mandate for seatbelts?
Hosted by Paul F Tomkins, it’s a similar format to Comedy Bang Bang except they take a scene from the guest at the top, let’s say Jon Hamm, and do a full-on improv scene as the second act to each show. It’s all scored by Eban Schletter, whose name you’ll learn how to spell from a song, and it is ooonly—the best.
Did you say Jon Hamm’s name out loud earlier? It’s just a figure of speech, dude.
-2) Raised by TV — Negative two? Fine, whatever. Just do what you want.
Lauren Lapkus and Jon Gabrus watched a LOT of TV growing up, but guess what? So did I, so I’m all in on this pod. Duck Tales, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Wrestling, and The Facts of Life—it has it all and more.
Oprah’s Master Class — Yeah. Honorable mention. It’s Oprah, who is more honorable? That’s right, no one.
That said, the show hasn’t lived up to its name quite yet.
You get to hear how Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, and Jay Z came up to make it, but instead of the long format pods like ID10T, WTF, or Armchair—you’ll hear the cuts in the takes during the interview. The common thread so far is that no one had their career handed to them, but you’re not exactly getting a master class either.
The pod is great for people. Just in general. It’s Oprah; you might as well listen.
So you’ve done it, you’ve read another blog. Good job. Now, feel free to download one or more of the podcasts above, and go for a walk or something. Especially if it’s nice out, you can take the dogs. They’d probably like to go pee on something. I know mine always do.
Oh, and speaking of pods, here's an interview I did for Smells Like Infinite Sadness. It's Pod #10.