My “Must Listen” Podcasts

I love podcasts. I used to bike to and from work for years, listening to podcasts with one earbud in. I started with NPR – a ton of NPR – but then comedy podcasting started taking off. Comedians I loved were putting out content for free. What they lost in time they gained in notoriety and new fans. Then there were shows diving into weird, niche topics that only I really cared about and I couldn’t imagine why they existed… except to entertain me. The bike has been replaced with a car, but I still fill my commute with podcasts. They fall into two categories: serious, interesting stuff and dumb, silly comedy stuff. Folks are always asking me what I’m listening to, so here’s a list of my go to podcasts.

Oh, and if you have a show to recommend, let me know! I am always looking for new stuff to listen to.

Here’s the interesting ones!

 

Oh No Ross and Carrie: Ross and Carrie investigate different religions and spiritual/pseudo-science experiences… and they do it from as neutral a place as they can. I was introduced to them when episode one of their series on Scientology dropped. They’re nice people and not looking to expose – just experience and report. Which is why I think this show is so good. Episode to try: Going Preclear (Part 1)

Criminal: This show profiles different crimes and the criminals that commit them. While the topic seems like it would be very narrow, just a rehash of those true crime TV shows you see on all the time, the podcast is fresh and intriguing. Episode to try: Episode 40 – Pappy

Reply All: This show is still all about the internet and still one of my favorites! I’ve talked about them before, but this is a reminder that you should be listening to them. Episode to try: #47 – Quit Already!

 

If you’re a big dumb comedy nerd like I am, try these out!

 

Comedy Bang Bang: CBB is my must listen to podcast every week. Comedians come on and become silly characters and have an improvised conversation. It is often weird and raunchy and is sort of the quintessential improv comedy experience through your ears. It has introduced me to characters I love. It has a TV show now. It is not 100% Grade A every time, but it makes me laugh. If you’re a serious comedy nerd, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Everyone else will probably just find this weird and judge me a lot. Episode to try: #338 – Be My Guest, Literally! They usually don’t just have regular people in the studio but their special guest plays along really well. If you like this, I’d listen to the “Best of” episodes to see if you’re in.

Spontaneanation: Comedian Paul F. Tompkins didn’t start out as a king of comedy podcasts, but he is now. Prolific and a great improviser, he’s a frequent guest on other shows. But did you know he has his own?! Yes! It’s a funny improv podcast of a different sort. Paul has on a guest, that guest has a conversation with him and then he and his “improviser friends” make up a scene based on the chat. I am especially fond of improv and PFT so, again, if you’re not a deep comedy nerd maybe not your thing. Episode to try:  #4 Savannah, Georgia. It’s just a silly time with silly voices and gives you a good idea of what this show is all about. BONUS RECOMMENDATION: Watch PFT and puppets on ‘No You Shut Up!’ on YouTube.

How Did This Get Made?: Paul Scheer from “The League” sits down with his wife June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (one of my favorites) to review terrible movies. Comedy and terrible movies are two of my favorite things, so this is just a natural win. Fun fact! This podcast is the reason why I went back and watched all of the Fast and the Furious movies! Episode to try: If you see a movie on their episode list you’ve watched, go for that, but otherwise try #53 Anaconda. You can listen to this without having watched the movie because they do a good job talking about it, but… you also pretty much know what you’re getting into.

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Hits Too Close To Home

I recently had occasion to reorganize my music collection. Since it is digital, I’m not shuffling around boxes of CDs and LPs or selling off anything, which I am thankful for. My parents’ music collections were always heavy and cumbersome to deal with. Modern music, though, has it’s own annoyances. I needed to transfer all of my songs, making sure my collections mirrored each other in a sort of “no song left behind” effort as I bailed from one service to another. This meant evaluating roughly 15,000 songs, downloading them from one place and uploading to another.

It took awhile. The good news is I knew that a majority of the songs had transferred already, so I could skip over certain sections. After some searching, the only thing I really needed to worry about were songs I’d purchased over the last three years or so.

Woven into this list of songs I purchased were a lot of classics like Nat King Cole and James Taylor. Then there was the pop stuff, Kesha and LMFAO. Movie soundtracks. Talking Heads. Ok Go. Thelonious Monk. Sia, before Chandelier was a thing. Phoenix and Metric. On and on.

There was a grouping of songs purchased over the course of one specific year: the year my husband and I were apart. Not separated, but living apart until he could be transferred to Michigan. A long distance relationship. That was a really sad and lonely year. I relocated to a place where I didn’t know many people and didn’t know when my best friend was coming home to me. I still don’t know that I could say I’ve really processed it.

To fill the hours, I drove in my car a lot and listened to music. I haven’t thought of these songs much since that time. I had them grouped together in a playlist called, “Hits Too Close To Home”, only rediscovered with the moving of my music. A mixtape for myself.

Hey Julie – Fountains of Wayne

This song has a cheeriness as it talks about the bleak reality of having to chip away at a job that keeps you from the person you love. It’s a bitterness I frequently felt as I spent hours working my ass off in my 20s. I had grown to accept it as just part of being an adult as the years rolled on, but revisited the sentiment during this time apart. I was working overtime because I had no one to go home to and not much else to do but wait. At one point, a tactless coworker asked me if I thought my relocation was a mistake (because it sounded like a mistake); a question I was too raw to give any answer to other than breaking down in tears in my cubicle. What an ass.

She Don’t Come Around Here Anymore – Bill Ricchini

There’s nothing like realizing you’re listening to breakup songs, you really get it, and then that you live in this painful paradox. They apply to you… but they don’t. A unique conundrum. A complicated situation that makes you feel like a husk, emotionally drained and wrung out. But you can tap your foot to it.

Hate It Here – Wilco

I try to stay busy

I do the dishes, I mow the lawn

I try to keep myself occupied

Even though I know you’re not coming home

This might have been a bit on the nose.

You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me – Dusty Springfield

In the movie version of this story, there’s a montage of a camera panning over half eaten containers of Trader Joe’s snacks before landing on me, laying on the floor, staring off into space. Then there’s a shot of me marking days off a calendar with frowny faces instead of Xs. It cuts to me leaving the house in his sweatshirt, driving in the dark with my windows down, singing at the top of my lungs.

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here – She & Him

He would come to visit on occasion and I would serenade him with this little ditty, until he had to leave again and it soured with my bitterness. The “AHHH AHHH AHHH” at the end of the song would be very cathartic.

Let It Be Me – Nina Simone

Okay, this one needs some context. In 2012, radio show and podcast This American Life did a live show in movie theaters called Invisible Made Visible that was just wonderful and is easily one of my favorite things This American Life has produced. It has some truly touching moments, including one of the last appearances of David Rakoff (one of my favorite authors) before he passed away. There’s a story of the man who discovered a hidden treasure trove of the photography of Vivian Maier, which is remarkable. The show features dancing from Monica Bill Barnes & Co. to this tune from Nina Simone.

I wish, WISH I could share the video with you. It was so beautiful and so spoke to my emotional state at the time. I’m rewatching it now so I can accurately explain.

Anna Bass, the dancer, is elegant and graceful. She is fluidity as she does her routine, with a little showmanship and jazz hands. There’s a moment where she’s arching her back and then someone offstage abruptly hurls a giant box at her chest. THUD. She catches it. There’s a beat before she walks it to the corner of the stage. She goes to center stage and resets with a pained look, showing a little leg and with her arm extended.

She does her best to keep up the enthusiasm, once again getting her rhythm and her wits about her as she dances. The next box comes and she takes it and sets it aside, trying her best not to acknowledge the interruption. Now her dance isn’t as loose. It feels more like she’s going through the motions, hurky jerky, building to more frantic movements, bigger movements, and soon box after box after box. She makes a stack of three boxes, seemingly organizing her issue when an entire row of boxes deploy from the ceiling onto the stage behind her.

She accepts things for what they are and then creates a stack of seven boxes, standing behind them, entirely hidden. With a laugh from Nina Simone, the final flourish of the song plays with a little leg and her arm sticking out from behind the stack. The petite dancer picks up the ten foot tall stack and without dropping a box she slowly slides off the stage.

I was reduced to tears. Everything about that sequence so perfectly encapsulated what I was feeling. I’m sure the other theatergoers were like ‘why is that woman crying?!’ But I couldn’t help myself.

Let it be me? That dance and that song and that memory were me. I heard Nina Simone sing and I remembered that no matter how many boxes were going to get thrown at me, no matter how hard it was to hear the lyrics, “So never leave me lonely/Tell me you’ll love me only/And that you’ll always let it be me”… I was going to be alright. This was just a balancing act. He already let it be me and we would be together again. I just needed to hang in there until it came to a close. 

And it did, eventually. He got his transfer and moved back in with me and it was like we didn’t miss a beat. We were still crazy in love with each other. Sure, I learned a lot about being independent and how to be alone. And I’m sure that was good for Lauren the Adult. But it sucked a lot and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

But if it happens to you, hang in there. You’re gunna be fine.

“It’s a show about the internet.”

When I heard those words I was already hooked. I love learning about the internet. Not only did the internet change almost everything about our lives, there is just a wonderfully fascinating culture that has emerged from it. My status as a total nerd is pretty well established, but my love of all things internet just affirms this.

Reply All is a new podcast that I have been devouring. There are so many stories they cover… situations and tales that wouldn’t exists without the internet: An ex-girlfriend breaks up with her boyfriend, only to use an app later to hire a stranger to deliver a message to him in person: I fucking love you. A man invents the pop-up, much to the ire and upset of the rest of us. A man who has dedicated his Sunday nights to amending Wikipedia of one specific grammatical mistake. These are stories that I have loved hearing and learning about.

This is going to sound odd, but I love the ads too. Podcasts, for the uninitiated, are ad supported. Most shows just read off copy they’ve been handed, rattle off the website and coupon code, and back to the show. But these guys, PJ and Alex, are using their ads as an extension of the show’s concept in an entertaining way. They have a conversation about how they use the vendors they’re advertising for, which are all digital services that exist thanks to the internet. For Squarespace, where you can build your own webpage, Alex created a page dedicated to whether PJ has met his new baby. Well, HAS HE? You can check out that page here and find out: http://haspjmetalexssonyet.squarespace.com. They also talk about their MailChimp e-mail list, and how, whoops, they forgot one week to send the newsletter. “Obviously, what you’ve just recorded is our ad.” “MailChimp! Works great if you actually send your newsletter out!”

It’s also doing something I didn’t expect: it’s teaching me about the internet. Things I had no idea were happening. Not that I thought I was the end all be all of internet culture, but I thought I was pretty savvy. For example, there’s a thing called swatting where someone as a prank will phone in a threat at someone’s house who’s doing a livestream on the internet. The result is a SWAT team raiding them, live online. Just mentioning it makes me nervous.

This universe is wide and weird and wonderful and awful all at the same time. I suppose that’s part of the reason I’m so drawn to it. I think the other reason is because this culture is my culture. Its history is my history. Much of the family and friends I have are from the internet, as I’ve discussed in previous blog posts. I’ve always said that my dream job would be to become an internet anthropologist, but there’s not a real clear road map for how that would even be a thing, and at age 30 I think I’m a little late to figure it out.

I can’t wait to see what Reply All has up its sleeve. Do yourself a favor, head over to replyall.limo (yes, .limo, since the .com was taken, which is hilarious to me). Check them out. And keep up the good work, Reply All. I’ll see you on the internet.