Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I'm Listening To

I love podcasts. They are like the choicest bits of radio, just when you want them. And by choicest bits, I mainly mean stuff that should be on the radio, if radio people knew what the hell they were doing.

(It was explained to me once this way: Once upon a time, there were lots of radio station owners with radio station people who knew radio up and down, backwards and forwards. Then all those radio stations were purchased by three great big companies, who let their VPs of Value Driven Parameters run the radio stations. And since radio stations have nothing to do with Value Driven Parameters and all the old radio guys were released like butterflies into early retirement, the radio stations all ended up playing Lady Gaga. The end.)

Where was I? Right. Podcasts. I like podcasts.

Here are my favorites today. (This is fluid. I hear Paul F. Tompkins is working on a podcast and if that comes to pass, that will be my instant new favorite.)

1. The Nerdist. This is Chris Hardwick's new funtime hour. If you don't know who Chris Hardwick is, you will. His career is on a major upswing after years of floundering in MTV reality-host-land. He has a killer stand-up routine, and a LOL-based show on G4 called Web Soup. The name stems from his popular web site,, which is also his Twitter handle. You don't have to be a nerd to listen, but it helps. And as with many of the comic-based podcasts, it also helps to know a little about the alt-comedy scene. (Oooh. "Scene." Okay, "goings-on." Oh, that's ever so much better, Grandma.)

2. Jordan, Jesse GO! This one is hard to describe. It is the chatty, improv-based comedy-chat show by Jesse Thorn of PRI's The Sound of Young America and Jordan Morris, his college buddy and current comic relief clown from Fuel TV. They usually include a guest from the world of comedy and improv. It's silly, silly fun. And profane. NSFW.

3. I Love Movies. This is Doug Benson's 45-minute chat with comedy and film-based guests built around goofing on movies and playing a game Benson invented called The Leonard Maltin Game, which is like Name That Tune using the cast lists from Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide book. Benson is naturally funny and quick-witted. And mellow. He's very mellow. If you know what I mean.

4. Slate Political Gabfest. This is Slate's political editorial staff (John Dickerson, David Plotz, and Emily Bazelon) sitting around a table and jabbing each other with wit and knowledge. And they have lots of both. The Political Gabfest is a Friday morning tradition. Highly recommended. If you are not that into silly, skip my first three recommendations and go straight to this one. The other Slate Gabfests and podcast offerings are good, but this one, the first, is just full of that Alonguin Round Table vibe.

5. Radiolab. If I were able to force The Captain to listen to one podcast, it would be this one. Every week, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich (neither are misspelled!) make their listeners care about something they didn't know they could care about, and their listeners leave with a gleaming nugget of knowledge that they can take out at cocktail parties or at dinner with their spouses and dazzle them. This is just top notch radio.

6. This American Life. Haven't I gushed about This American Life before? I must have. It has been a staple of my radio listening and then podcast listening habits since its inception in, I don't know, 1996? The veritable Mists of Long Ago. And yet it still keeps its hipster sheen. Ira Glass introduces stories, usually revolving around a theme. The stories are well produced and an hour will fly by. I can't believe you haven't subscribed to this yet. Get cracking.

7. The Bugle. I can't believe I'm at Number 7, and I'm just getting around to the Bugle. A travesty. The Bugle can make me look like an idiot while walking my dog alone in the park, cackling out loud to myself. John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman (again, spelled correctly) cover the world news. Sort of. Do not listen if you are allergic to puns. Andy Zaltzman is the worst pun inflicter in the business. Do not listen if you hate laughing. Do not listen if you have recently mistakenly shot yourself in the thigh by going to a nightclub with a handgun nestled in your sweat pants, because they will NOT stop bringing it up.

8. WTF with Marc Maron. I like to listen to Marc Maron when I am at my most neurotic - when I can't bear to look at myself in the mirror, or when I skip church because I'm feeling all can't-look-people-in-the-eye, then feel all can't-believe-I-can't-look-people-in-the-eye. Marc Maron makes me feel less like a freak for being such a freak. It's a great sanctuary for neurotics, as he is one of us. And he airs his own anxieties in such a light-hearted way (most of the time) that it's good for me. And he interviews interesting guests, 50% of whom he needs to apologize first for past sins, which makes it fun to tune in to find out who he's apologizing to next.

9. Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. Okay, is this in any order? Hey, if you know me and don't know about this show, then you haven't been paying attention. These guys are like old friends. This is another radio show that I have been listening to since it was in its no-audience infancy. I learned of Adam Felber's blog through Wait Wait, and through those blog posts, found a lot of new friends, some of which I have actually met in person. This is a Sunday morning tradition and a staple of conversation.

10. Popcorn Mafia. I could use this last spot for Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson, but that's what you would expect me to do. Here's something new. Grae Drake and Gariana Abeyta (Spelled right! I looked it up!) get sassy about movies and I end up laughing a lot. The only caveat: they don't mind letting loose with the spoilers. They expect you to do your movie-watching homework before you come to the podcast, so you can laugh along with them.

There's my Top Ten for Today. So go to iTunes and get busy.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Dan Walker Smith said...

Great list. I think you'd like the Moth as well, and also the BBC's Friday Night Comedy (particularly the News Quiz).

Other good BBC podcasts include In Our Time, which is a history show, Newsjack (satirical sketches), and Adam & Joe.

If you like comedy, Marsha Shandur interviews a different comedian each week on 'Marsha Meets...'.

BBC Radio 7 (available online) does loads of comedy, drama and documentaries from the BBC archives.

And for good music radio, East Village Radio and BBC 6Music are two of the best, most diverse stations out there.

Thanks for posting. It's great to hear good podcast recommendations.