By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 4, 2016
Author’s note: I shared one more favorite podcast and a list of honorable mentions (most of which originally appeared in this post before I made a change) in this post on Friday, Aug. 5. MEM
Recently, my Sibling-in-Law asked me which podcasts I enjoy listening to. Here’s a belated reply:
Funemployment Radio, hosted by Greg Nibler and Sarah X. Dylan. This long-running Portland, Ore.–based show, recently voted Willamette Week’s best local podcast, features two refugees from what insiders call “terrestrial radio.” Shortly after they were fired seven years ago, the duo — now in their 30s — launched a five-day-a-week show in which they talk about their misadventures, personal foibles, crazy news stories, local happenings and whatever else catches their attention. This was one of the first podcasts I began listening to regularly. Comedians, friends of the hosts and various Portland personalities often turn up as guests on the show.
The Solid Verbal, hosted by Ty Hildenbrandt and Dan Rubenstein. Stanford entered the 2009 college football season with an unenviable recent history, having suffered seven consecutive losing seasons. But third-year coach Jim Harbaugh was about to turn things around, thanks in part to a talented freshman quarterback named Andrew Luck. The mainstay of the team’s offense that year was a senior running back named Toby Gerhart. The 6-foot-1-inch, 235-pound Norco, Calif., native helped lead the squad to an 8-5 record and racked up new team records for season rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. In the midst of this historic campaign, I had a seemingly insatiable thirst for college football information, prompting me to discover this podcast, which comes out twice a week in season and more or less weekly during the off-season. The hosts are serious about the sport but leaven the show with plenty of humor; there are also copious life tips for recent college graduates and passionate discussions of food, and off-season episodes frequently contain trivia contests. This show won’t appeal to non-sports fans, but it should be catnip to anyone who loves college football.
Stop Podcasting Yourself, hosted by Graham Clark and Dave Shumka. This weekly Vancouver, Canada–based show is another longtime favorite of mine that I found around 2009 as I was first developing my taste in podcasts. Stop Podcasting Yourself or SPY often has the hosts, both standup comedians, interviewing a fellow comedian. Sometimes the guest is known only in local circles; occasionally it’s someone who has done a lot of TV work; and a few times a year it’s just the fellows chatting with each other. Regardless of who’s on, the conversation is hilarious and frequently includes a lot of laughter-inducing digressions. SPY’s trademark segment is “Overheards,” in which each person in the studio shares something funny that he or she has heard or seen or (sometimes) dreamed; the segment also includes contributions that listeners share with email and voicemail messages.
Slate’s Hang Up and Listen, hosted by Josh Levin, Stefan Fatsis and Mike Pesca. This weekly show, hosted by Slate’s executive editor and featuring two regular contributors to the website, may be one of the smartest and funniest all-around sports podcasts on the web. (By “all around” I mean that they talk about major team and individual sports as well as more obscure ones.) Discussions aren’t just limited to what happens on the field of play — multiple segments on recent episodes have centered on police violence, societal racism and Black Lives Matter, while a May episode had an interview with a marketer who specializes in naming Minor League Baseball teams. As with The Solid Verbal, this won’t appeal to non-sports fans, but anyone who enjoys getting their sports fix with a dash of humor and some serious intellectual analysis should enjoy this show. This podcast also holds a soft spot in my heart because Pesca used to be a reporter for WNYC and NPR and Fatsis is the author of a popular book about Scrabble who regularly attends the annual Scrabble tournament the benefits the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program.
Prefer Not To, hosted by Josh Lucas and Kate Matthews. I stumbled across Prefer Not To a few years ago when I was trying to find podcasts produced in or near Durham. (There weren’t many at the time, and I don’t know if any have debuted since.) Every week, the co-hosts — housemates somewhere in either Chapel Hill or Carrboro, two communities near Durham — prepare a cocktail and discuss its origin and history before talking about a movie. I care not a whit for cocktails, but the discussions are light-hearted and fun. This is probably the most obscure podcast in my stable, but it deserves to have a much higher profile.
Read It and Weep, hosted by Alex Falcone, Chris Smith, Ezra Fox and Tanya Smith. About two years ago, I cottoned to the fact that there were a huge number of podcasts that belonged to a category I loosely think of as “bad movie podcasts.” (Prefer Not To is part of this genre but puts an alcohol-based twist on it.) I learned about Read It and Weep through Twitter (specifically, I think, after somehow coming across this tweet) and it soon became — and remains — one of my favorite shows. Each week, Portland, Ore., comedian Falcone and his friends talk about a (usually but not necessarily bad) movie, book, TV series or web series that they’ve consumed. These discussion are always entertaining, but sometimes the highlight of the show is frequently the mid-episode promotion, which features a hilarious sketch or “mini-podcast” of some sort.
The Flop House, hosted by Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy and Stuart Wellington. This is yet another entry in the bad movie podcast genre — in fact, I believe it’s one of the oldest examples of this type of show. Every other week, The Flop House’s three hosts — a current Daily Show writer, a former Daily Show writer and a bar owner — watch a bad movie, summarize it and render judgment upon it. Each episode also includes letters from readers, typically introduced by a hilarious improvised song from Kalan, and recommendations of movies that the hosts (and an occasional guest) actually liked. This is straightforward good old fashioned bad-movie-podcast fun.
How Did This Get Made?, hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas. Here’s another long-running bad-movie podcast, this one hosted by three 30-something Hollywood actors who are frequently joined by nationally prominent actors and comedians. (Scheer and Mantzoukas co-starred on the sitcom The League, while Raphael, who is married to Scheer, currently appears in the Netflix sitcom Grace and Frankie.) HDTGM, as it’s known, typically releases two episodes a week: One in which a movie is dissected by the gang and another “mini-sode” or “prequel episode” in which Scheer answers questions from listeners, reviews details that the panel botched or overlooked in the previous episode, and previews the film that will be the topic of the next episode.
Trends with Benefits, hosted by Greg Nibler. Funemployment Radio co-hosts Niber and Dylan have held a number of side gigs throughout their podcasting career, including this show that Greg hosts and produces for the Portland, Ore., website Digital Trends. Each week, Nibler is joined by a rotating cast of DT editors and writers, who spend half an hour or so shooting the breeze about a variety of new digital products and technology trends. This is a great way to get the scoop on developments involving drones, phones, runaway robots, high-definition TV and other tech stuff.
Lore, hosted by Aaron Mahnke. Every other week, novelist Aaron Mahnke spends about 25 minutes diving into various creepy tales straight out of history. If you’ve ever yearned to know more about the infamous sadistic Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, the long-ago slaying of an entire German farm family, documented cases of zombification, or various ghostly apparitions, Lore is for you. Just remember to keep the lights on when you listen, and try to stay close to someone you know and have good reason to trust…
Primary Concerns, hosted by Brian Beutler. The host, a New Republic political editor, is joined by two or three guests each week. Discussions revolve around the recent shenanigans of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, other prominent politicos and the American electorate. Aside from (arguably) Trends with Benefits, this is the only current-events podcast that I consume.
Our Debut Album, hosted by Dave Shumka and Graham Clark. In April, the co-hosts of Stop Podcasting Yourself began making a not-entirely-tongue-in-cheek rock album. Every month through March 2017, they aim to spend about an hour writing a single song. The resulting podcast, which runs about 45 to 60 minutes, showcases edited highlights from the writing session as well as samples from the demo version, studio-recording sessions and finished song.