Have you caught onto the cultural obsession with podcasting? Know someone who can't stop talking about Serial? Interested in checking some podcasts out for yourself? Here are my favorite ones that you've probably never heard of, but definitely should listen to.
1. Keep It!
If you're interested in the intersection between politics and pop culture, Keep It! is for you. Every week, Ira Madison III and cohosts Kara Brown and Louis Virtel go through the week's celebrity news, often having conversations with comedians, journalists, and activists who come on the show. They discuss movies, music, and Twitter fiascos, all without being overly negative and infusing the commentary with a certain lightheartedness. At the end of every episode, they discuss their "Keep It" segment, in which they each express their frustration at a specific moment, attitude, or arguably hot take that has recently come into vogue.
2. Lovett or Leave It
From the people behind Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave It is a political comedy show taped live in LA. Every week, Jon Lovett brings on a panel of comedians, actors, and general famous people to break down political news with jokes and games, and it's really fun to listen to. There's also a great deal of nuanced discussion, and Lovett invites cool people with diverse perspectives to speak about how they relate to political happenings.
3. The FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
FiveThirtyEight's podcast provides a non-partisan look at the latest in politics, and it's pretty great if you're a data nerd like myself. Nate Silver, Clare Malone, Micah Cohen, and their team provide look-aheads to important elections and track possible game changers, but there's enough laughter that it's not dry. The 538 team is well-known for their excellent political analysis and this podcast is no exception, with all of the hosts backing up their numbers and polling data with possible narratives and historical context.
4. Slow Burn
Slow Burn captured the political drama of the Watergate scandal through short radio segments that illustrated what it was like to live through it, providing some intriguing parallels to modern White House goings-on (in the first episode, host Leon Neyfakh says that a key figure reminds him of an Anthony Scaramucci-type). Slow Burn cuts Neyfakh's narration with archival audio, making it an invigorating trip back in history. Season two, which recently started, focuses on Bill Clinton's impeachment scandal, contextualizing the events in light of the modern conversation around sexual misconduct.
Obsessed with mystery and true crime? You should check out Limetown. While fictional, Limetown has drawn comparisons to Serial as well as The X-Files and tells the story of a made-up town in Tennessee that saw the disappearance of more than 300 people from a local neuroscience facility. The narrator, Annie-Sage Whitehurst, plays American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock, who seeks to uncover the truth behind this event. The podcast has been picked up as a TV series and provides a good introduction to the form of audio drama in a time when Lore, Homecoming, and soon Welcome to Night Vale are all being made into shows.
6. 99% Invisible
99% Invisible is a fascinating documentary-style look at achievements in design and architecture that affect our daily lives or our history but often go overlooked. Every episode focuses on a single topic and incorporates storytelling elements with interviews with experts and people who are familiar with the design. The show has been praised for its production and entertainment value, and some of the most interesting episodes to start with are about the Kowloon Walled City, Numbers Stations, Structural Integrity, and Curb Cuts.
7. Song Exploder
For people into music, Song Exploder is one of the coolest things you can listen to. Every week, host Hrishikesh Hirway has a musician on the show to explain their creative process in songwriting and "deconstruct" their music so that listeners can hear the individual pieces that went into making it. Notable guests include The Killers, MGMT, Janelle Monae, The Postal Service, U2, Gorillaz, Bleachers, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
8. Punch Up The Jam
Punch Up The Jam is a more humorous look at top hits. Comedians and best friends Demi Adejuyigbe and Miel Bredouw take songs that we all know and dissect their flaws—as Demi says, they're "really just haters"—before "punching them up" by creating a parody version, usually to the same tune. Songs they've tacked include L.A. Woman by The Doors, You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates, Mr. Brightside, Party in the USA, and The Star Spangled Banner. The punched-up jams, with subjects like awful traffic in Los Angeles and failing at learning how to play guitar, also have an incredibly high production value, which just adds to the comedy.
9. 2 Dope Queens
2 Dope Queens is a live comedy show hosted by Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams. It's fun regardless of topic, with anecdotes about race, gender, and sex. Robinson and Williams prioritize inclusivity in their conversations, and bring on female comedians, comedians of color, and LGBT comedians to represent all points of view. Also, they made an HBO show! And, although the podcast is now coming to an end, they chatted with Michelle Obama on their most recent episode, so it's definitely worth checking out the archives.
Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, and Lauren Lapkus are some of the best comedians in the podcast world, and this show has them taking a break from their usual shows to tell each other stories and play improv games. It's a great time. It's kind of insane. It's so ridiculous that you can't really binge-listen without going crazy, but you'll want to anyway, and that's really all I can say about it.
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