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Amazin’ Avenue Recommends: Podcasts to enjoy

We continue our series of staff recommendations with podcasts!

2019 Getty Entertainment - Social Ready Content Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Clusterfest

As we all adjust to a new, temporary reality without sports, live music, theater, or any kind of social gatherings, we here at Amazin’ Avenue have been looking for recommendations of things to keep ourselves entertained over the coming days/weeks/months, and we thought it would be good to collect some of our own recommendations and share them with this great community. We’ll do a post each for a variety of things, today we suggest a bunch of podcasts to listen after you’ve listened to all the Amazin’ Avenue Audio family of podcasts. The format here is simple, as we’ll run down each participating AA writer or editor and his or her picks. And whenever this is all over and it’s safe to gather again, we’ll definitely put together the best AARGH ever.

Allison McCague

The Dollop (All Things Comedy Network): Hosted by comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, the premise of this show is that Dave finds a (usually more obscure) story from American history to read to Gareth, who doesn’t know what the topic is beforehand. General hilarity ensues, as the two will joke their way through the story, often improving as the various characters. Think Drunk History, but sober and perhaps even funnier. This podcast makes me laugh a lot, but I usually learn a thing or two along the way as well.

Reply All (Gimlet Media): Reply All is a show that should be appealing to the readership of this site, especially the regulars, because it is a show meant for the most online among us. Generally speaking, it’s a podcast about technology and the internet, but their topics are wide-ranging. There are a few reoccurring segments on the show, but my two favorites are “Yes, Yes, No” and “Super Tech Support.” “Yes, Yes, No” involves Alex Blumberg, the CEO and co-founder of Gimlet, bringing a Tweet to Reply All hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt that he doesn’t understand, usually because it contains some obscure meme or reference. Alex and PJ proceed to explain the tweet, telling the backstory of any memes or references involved. “Super Tech Support” is exactly what it seems like; a listener brings a tech issue they’ve been having to Alex and PJ, who try to solve it for them. These range from hacked Snapchat accounts, to a song entirely missing from the internet, to podcast apps breaking car stereos. The show is informative and funny and Alex and PJ have such a natural rapport that makes for a great listen.

Radiolab (WNYC): Okay, so my podcast repertoire is pretty science nerd heavy. (A side note: if you need more podcast recs, just reach out to me—a person who commutes over an hour by car each way every day and therefore listens to a TON of podcasts.) Radiolab has evolved a lot from where it started. Loosely, it describes itself as a show that is “investigating a strange world,” which I think is pretty apt. It’s a show for the innately curious. The show goes very in depth into a wide array of topics from CRISPR to pandemics (the Patient Zero episode is particularly salient right now) to the history of society’s attempt to measure human intelligence. The fantastic investigative journalism in this show will leave you asking plenty of questions after every listen.

Science Vs (Gimlet Media): You don’t need to be a science nerd to enjoy Science Vs, though it helps. This show is all about myth-busting. It tackles popular myths and puts them to the test of scientific scrutiny. Do vaccines cause autism? (No.) Is the placebo effect real? (Yes, but it’s complicated.) Can you trust direct to consumer genetic tests? (Yes, but be careful.) Right now, they’re doing a lot of coronavirus content, talking to the experts on the front lines of this crisis.

Celebrities Visit Broadway - October 20, 2019
Ira Glass

This American Life (WBEZ Chicago): One of the most popular podcasts out there, This American Life has been on the air since 1995 with hundreds of episodes and thousands of stories. There have even since been two spin-off shows from This American LifeSerial and S-Town (I highly recommend both of those shows as well). Each episode runs an hour exactly and every week the show is centered around a theme, with several shorter stories around that theme (although sometimes they do have a story that runs the whole hour). If you’re new to podcasts as a medium, This American Life is a great place to start because it casts a very wide net. There are stories in the show’s archive about almost everything, but the show as a whole seeks to capture the American experience. On their website, they have a “recommended” section where you can browse staff picks, award-winning episodes, and more if you’re looking for a place to begin in their robust archive.

Chris Strohmaier

The Axe Files: Longtime political strategist David Axelrod, now the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, interviews and discusses the backstories of many of the top names in politics and media on both sides of the aisle. Axelrod’s style is smooth and cool, and his personal relationships with most of his guests make it a casual conversation. Axelrod isn’t afraid to press his guests, however, but does it with understanding their viewpoint in mind, and never allows it to get contentious. It’s a good way to listen to some sensible takes, outside of everyone’s favorite echo chamber.

Rick Steves Europe Lecture
Rick Steves
Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage

Travel with Rick Steves: The venerable radio show has been cut for podcasts for a few years now, but during difficult times like these, Rick’s smooth voice is a comforting way to get us to the beaches of Portugal, or sipping wine under the Eiffel Tower when we can’t be. Even the most ardent travel junkie will likely learn something, and Rick’s guests give some great insider tips for upcoming trips. Even if you’ve never left the country, Rick’s grasp on history might give some important looks into geopolitics and the world at large.

The Underculture: If you were ever a frequenter of UCB Theater, you might be familiar with the brilliant impressionist James Adomian, currently touring the country as part of Trump vs. Bernie. Adomian has brought his talents from the stage to his podcast, where he and his guests, many of them UCB alums, bash characters in politics and pop culture with deadly accuracy. Nobody is safe, and he caps it off with side-splitting discussions on comedy and life with whoever is sitting besides him.

Hardcore History: Dan Carlin’s extremely long and engrossing backstories behind some of the most impactful events in history is certainly one of the most informative ways to kill quartantine time. Bouncing from Rome, to the development of the atomic bomb, Carlin dives deep into some of the happenstances and plot twists that brought the modern world to life. The show is broken into series, each with hours and hours of material, but the narrative nature of each show make it a fascinating - even if not always pleasant - listen. Check out Prophets of Doom or Blueprint for Armageddon if you’re looking for some of the more engrossing tales.

Animal Spirits: The world of finance, retirement funds, and stocks is arcane to many, but Michael Batnick and Ben Carlson manage to make learning about markets and the economy fun and easy. By boiling down opinion surveys and articles in major publications they provide an entry point into personal finance, and strive to promote financial literacy between joking about the NBA and bad television. The jargon and inside jokes can make for a learning curve, but you’ll be rewarded with a better understanding of what happens when the money goes from your paycheck to your 401k and beyond.

Brian Salvatore

leetUP At The Club Nokia
Jimmy Pardo
Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Never Not Funny: Jimmy Pardo was a standup comic and sometimes television personality in 2006, when he launched Never Not Funny with producer Matt Belknap. It was the start of what became a wave of comedy podcasts, yet Pardo isn’t mentioned alongside folks like Marc Maron or Sarah Koenig when talking about the pioneers of the genre.

Well, they’re all wrong. Never Not Funny is easily one of the funniest podcasts out there, and the show has evolved into a true group effort, with four cast members and a guest each week participating in ‘the fastest hour in podcasting.’ Pardo has an incredibly fast mind, and his rapid fire brain, supported by the foils around him, makes the show one of the funniest per minute experiences out there. Having just celebrated 1,000 episodes and launched their new subscription model, there is never a better time to jump on board.

We’re Not Over Six Feet Under: I suggested Six Feet Under on Monday in the TV recommendations; a perfect accompaniment to the first two seasons (thus far) is We’re Not Over Six Feet Under. Go episode by episode through the show with hosts Caroline V. McGraw and Jenna Scherer, as you marvel at Nate’s great hair, some of the more problematic/dated elements, and just how effective and moving the show continues to be, nearly 20 years later.

R U Talkin’ R.E.M. Re: Me?: What started as “U Talkin’ U2 to Me?,” has diverted into “Youey Talkin’ Huey 2ey Me?” and “Stained Glass,” and firmly settled for a little while into “R U Talkin’ R.E.M. Re: Me,” Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott balance some totally nonsensical improv and some in depth conversations about music. The hosts have great chemistry, with Scott’s earnestness and Aukerman’s cynicism perfectly balancing each other out, riffing and riffing (and riffing) about every record in one of my favorite band’s catalog.

Song Exploder: Ever wonder how a song comes together? Song Exploder quite literally takes apart songs, sharing demos, interviews with musicians/producers, and isolating stems to allow listeners to hear how songs get made. Even for songs/genres that aren’t your favorites, the process is incredibly interesting to experience, and gives a new level of appreciation for how music is made.

Bizarre Albums: Have you ever heard the Star Wars disco records? Miss Piggy’s workout? The single recorded by Lurch from The Munsters? If not, but those sound interesting to you, Bizarre Albums is the podcast for you. Hosted by drummer Tony Thaxton, the show celebrates in an earnest way all the weird records that have come out over the last sixty or so years. It, like Song Exploder, is also very short, so it is easy to digest and leaves you wanting more.

Jack McLoone

My Brother, My Brother and Me: As someone who already felt like he had enough serious news in his life without serious podcasts even before all of *waves hands* this, I feel well-suited to contribute in this trying time. These three good brothers, Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, and their comedy “advice” show have gotten me through all kinds of lows. The formula is simple: the boys answer questions, both listener-submitted and from Yahoo Answers, though whether the advice is good, or even advice at all, is up for debate. With a backlog of 500 episodes (though even they would caution not going back too far), that’s a lot of content. If you’re looking for easy-going goofs about, I don’t know, how to make friends by saying the name Jeffrey over and over again or whether you’d rather have a cat with a human face or a dog with human hands, this is the podcast for you. Lin-Manuel Miranda listened to it while writing “Hamilton” and likes it so much that he put a reference to it in the show.

Shutdown Fullcast: The internet’s only college football podcast is rarely about college football in the best way possible. The SB Nation product is long-running and off-kilter enough that, as part of the Banner Society rebrand, they had to put out a podcast attempting to explain their running jokes that, like most of the podcast, was mostly a hilarious failure of both structure and audio quality. “Welcome! To Your First Shutdown Fullcast” is the right place to start. Zero interest in college football? There’s still a font of side-splitting content in their “Disaster” series, where they share their own and others’ examples of disasters ranging from “backyard” to “holiday” to “romance,” which they have put together in a handy-dandy playlist. This is a podcast that spent an entire episode assigning teams to books of the Bible. Just listen.

No Such Thing as a Fish: The closest thing I get to a current events podcast is four “QI Elves,” researchers for the BBC panel game QI, talking about their four favorite facts from the previous week. But they aren’t facts like “Pete Alonso hit 53 homers to set the rookie home run record.” They are more like, “In the time it takes to listen to the Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),’ the International Space Station travels 500 miles, then 500 more” and “In 1875, the British navy erased 123 islands from their charts because they didn’t exist,” among other odd facts. They then discuss other tangentially related useless knowledge in a very light-hearted way to pass the time. You might even learn something, but not in a boring way!

Wonderful: Another podcast from the McElroy family of podcasts is Wonderful, which is also the best way to describe it. Featuring Griffin and his wife, Rachel, Wonderful started as a different show, called Rose Buddies, that recapped the Bachelor/Bachelorette every week. But during Rachel’s season, when the show got kinda icky, they tried a one-off episode talking about things they like instead. Griffin started with “The Six Notes Carly Rae Jepsen Sings Leading Into The Chorus Of ‘Cut To The Feeling,’” which should show you how small they are willing to go. Listening to a couple wax poetic — often literally — about the things they like is very refreshing and a good reminder that it’s okay to step back and just like things because you like them.

Entertainment Weekly Hosts Its Annual Comic-Con Bash At FLOAT At The Hard Rock Hotel In San Diego In Celebration Of Comic-Con 2019 - Arrivals
Griffin, Justin, Clint, and Travis McElroy
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

The Adventure Zone: Balance: Clearly, I’m very in the McElroy family ecosystem, as this is the three brothers once again, this time joined by their father, Clint. Balance is the first arc of their Dungeons & Dragons campaign, run by Griffin. If that sentence throws you off, I don’t blame you. But while I am a huge nerd, I’ve never actually played D&D and still drew so much enjoyment from the storytelling, particularly in this arc, and the improv skills, both comedic and otherwise, that bring Griffin’s tale to life. This trailer they put together with fan artists manages to show everything but spoil nothing and if you’re a fan of deep storytelling — and trust me, there are some turns — don’t let the “four people playing D&D” part stop you.

Rich Resch

Effectively Wild: A fun, quirky, often hilarious baseball podcast from The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh, ESPN’s Sam Miller and Fangraphs’ Meg Rowley (and formerly Jeff Sullivan, who now works in the Tampa Bay Rays organization). The chemistry between the hosts is what makes Effectively Wild so enjoyable, as their clever banter and penchant for discussing random hypothetical situations makes for a unique listening experience you can’t get from any other baseball podcast.

There have been over 1,500 episodes, so if you start listening now, you can probably finish before the baseball season starts. Alternatively, you can jump in at any point, or pick and choose whichever episodes seem most interesting.

Most importantly, undoubtedly, they have shouted out my hometown’s group of friends a bunch of times, and Sam even wrote an article recently about a baseball term we coined many years ago (#TrueWin #EastMeadowCrew).

Hollywood Handbook at Vulture Festival
Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

Hollywood Handbook: The premise is that the two hosts, comedy writers Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements (AKA The Boys, AKA a couple of sweeties), are Hollywood insiders who are generous enough to share their insight about showbiz with us, the unwashed masses. The show has evolved away from that premise over the years, and is now less high-concept and more focused on making hilarious, absurd, and often farcical conversation with each weekly guest.

Now is a great time to get on board, as it is currently “Try Month” - the month in which producer “Chef Kevin” Bartelt attempts to get high profile guests; recent guests include Jon Hamm, David Sedaris, and Will Forte. It’s certainly not for everyone - the hosts often joke about how inaccessible their podcast is for most of the general public - but I laugh more during an episode of Hollywood Handbook than I do during most comedy films. So if your brain is broken in the same way that mine is and you’re in the mood to bust up laughing, check it out!