So You Want to Start Listening to Podcasts

Kelby George

Recently, a friend of mine asked me which podcasts they should listen to. I happen to be a HUGE fan of podcasting. So in response to them, I wrote this guide to podcasts I think are great and easiest for new people to start listening to. A couple of notes before we start.

The three most successful comedy podcasts are The Nerdist, Comedy Bang Bang, and WTF with Marc Maron. All three are great and you can listen to them. Nerdist, hosted by Chris Hardwick with Jonah Ray and Matt Mira, is a standard interview podcast. Comedy Bang Bang’s format is of a interview show, but comedians as characters interrupt the show and lots of fun is had. WTF is a semi-serious interview show, Maron is a fantastic interviewer, while being very neurotic and open about things.

I eliminated some podcasts that, while I love, have a lot of inside references and might be hard to “get” until you’ve gone through the entire back-catalog. Comedy Bang Bang and Hollywood Handbook are two such examples of this, even though I love them oh so dearly.

Also, A lot of these will be comedy podcasts. They are the bread-and-butter of what I listen too. After writing this though, I now realize that I listen to A LOT of podcasts. So I can give recommendations for any other category that you may fancy.

And finally, there are podcasting companies out there. If you want to explore what they offer I’ll give you two good ones. Feral Audio and Earwolf are my favorite podcasting collectives/companies. The podcasts they produce are great. The r/earwolf is pretty active and you can find out more information or advice on where to start there.

So, without futher delay, is my recommendations to start listening.

  1. The Dead Authors Podcast — Essentially, comedians come on as famous dead authors and are interviewed by Paul F. Tompkins (a.k.a. PFT) as H.G. Wells. The premise being that H.G. Wells actually invented a time machine and now spends his time interviewing authors and hating on Jules Verne. To start, I would suggest the Walt Whitman or Ayn Rand episodes, played by James Admonian and John Hodgeman, respectfully. Both James and John do a large amount of research into their authors and have a lot of fun. I would also suggest the Plato episode for being absolutely bonkers. Plato is played by Jason Mantzoukas (Rafi from the League). He, unlike the previous ones, probably did zero research and went off the rails and it turned out amazing. There isn’t a canon to this one, so you can start wherever you want. Just pick of couple of interesting authors and go!
  2. How Did This Get Made? – The premise is simple: The hosts (Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, and June Diane-Rapheal) and a guest watch a bad movie and talk about it. I feel like this might be the easiest one to start with. The format is simple, but very very fun. You can start with any of them. Just pick a movie or guest you’re interested in and go.
  3. Pod f. Tompkast — This is hosted by Paul F. Tompkins, who is by far my favorite comedian and this is hands-down my favorite podcast. The premise is simple-ish: It’s nighttime on the internet and Paul F. comes out and talks to the listener. Tompkast is basically a variety show in podcast form. There’s an opening monologue with improvised piano, guest interviews, live comedy skits, and a long-form narrative called The Great Undiscovered Project in which PFT plays ALL of the characters. It’s stopped running a while ago, but the episodes are still online. Start listening to Episode 1 and enjoy.
  4. Hardcore History — Dan Carlin does a great job narrating popularizing history. This is Noah’s favorite podcast and one of mine too. The length of the episode can be daunting, but Carlin can tell a great story. Start with Wrath of the Khans Part 1. It’s the first in a series about the Mongols. Very interesting.
  5. Improv4humans– Hosted by one of the founders of the United Citizens Brigade, Matt Besser, this podcast is the one closest to a live improv show. It’s very tight and consistently great. You can start anywhere with this one. Episodes #79 and #42 are my favorites and the best-ofs tend to be great too. There’s really no learning curve to this one.
  6. The Indoor Kids— It’s about Video Games and Pop Culture. Hosted by a couple, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, for this one you should just proobably start with the most recent one. If you like it, go back through and pick out guests or topics that interest you. The Dan Harmon ones get very, very philosophical about Skyrim and Minecraft.
  7. Radiolab— This is a science podcast. It’s one of the most popular podcasts out there. I listen to it sometimes, but it’s very informative and odd at the same time.
  8. This Feels Terrible– Hosted by Erin McGathy, a improv comedian, This Feels Terrible is about relationships. What makes this podcast great is the host’s personality, which really comes through on the show. A lot of her guest are comedians, so it’s informative and funny. The first Dan Harmon episode starts everything and is pretty good. Jeff Davis is just an interesting one.
  9. Nerdist– As said before, this one is hosted by Chris Hardwick and started the whole Nerdist empire. He’s very much like Jimmy Fallon when it comes to his style of interviewing. The catalog is HUGE, 500+ episodes at a hour each. So just find a guest you like and start listening.

So that was my ramblings. Just pick one and start listening. If you don’t like it, move on to any of the literals dozens I can name for you. Like I said before, I’d start with The Dead Author’s Podcast, then next maybe try How Did This Get Made and then Improv4humans and Radiolab.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions, comments, concerns about my mental health.