The smartest thing I’ve ever done – well, the smartest car audio thing I’ve ever done – was to drop $125 on a car stereo about two years ago that included a plug to hook my iPhone into. That doesn’t sound like much, you say? Well that’s likely because you don’t (yet) have an iPhone or that anachronistic, so-last-decade totemistic “iPod”. If you did have one of these Apple fetish objects, you’d know that once you can power one of these things and their nearly unlimited music/podcast-carrying potential via the mere battery in your car, the one that already comes with the car, your life changes. Changes. For the better, I might add.
Now I am consuming audiobooks at a feverish pace, and moreover, I am well-versed in the available world of podcasts for Apple devices. I set a pretty high bar when it comes to my personal entertainment, so rest assured that anything recommended in this “Hedonist Jive Guide To Podcasts” has been vetted and thoroughly researched for entertainment or enlightenment value. Granted, you’ll need to share my tastes in many regards for this list to be of any meaning or value to you – but I reckon you’re on my blog this very moment, so you're already making a statement of some kind about your high degree of sophistication and worldliness. Let’s proceed, shall we?
THIS AMERICAN LIFE – I’m starting with the easy one, the one everyone listens to already either on NPR or via its weekly podcast. I don’t miss a one of them, but it wasn’t always this way for me. Full write-up on this show’s wonders and my journey toward them, by me, is right here.
MIKE AND TOM EAT SNACKS – Only 4 episodes in, and this is already my second favorite podcast. Of all time? Maybe. Michael Ian Black is one of the finest comedians currently mining the comedic genre, and has been for some time. He and an equally funny fellow previously unknown to me named Tom Cavanaugh host a new weekly program centered around a snack foodstuff that they’re both trying again, often for the first time since childhood. Episodes have included riffs on Cheetos, Keebler Fudge Stripes, Slim Jims and so on. If I had just read that description, and you’d written it, I probably wouldn’t download this thing, so you’ll have to trust me that the snack portion of each show is extremely funny, and everything else is even better. I am in awe sometimes of how quick-witted, well-timed and verbose certain comedians can be, and these guys are among the best I’ve ever encountered.
DAN CARLIN’S HARDCORE HISTORY – Dan Carlin is a former TV reporter and radio talk-show host who has fully embraced this new medium and made it his own. While his “centrist” political podcast Common Sense is also recommended with some slight reservations (it’s a little overwrought at times, and like all centrists, a little mushy when it comes to solutions to some of our more plaguesome problems), HARDCORE HISTORY is recommended with full honors. This amateur but exceptionally well-studied historian brings a rich & detailed perspective and gripping narrative to historical events like WWII’s Eastern Front, the fall of Rome, the Punic Wars and much more. Way better than a college history class, and there’s no follow-up essay required.
FREEDARKO PRESENTS: THE DISCIPLES OF CLYDE – Pro basketball’s only my second favorite sport, way behind baseball, but I’ve noticed that there are some hilarious and sharp people out there who’ve made the NBA their unrivaled passion, and talk about it with style and panache. Take the collective known as FREEDARKO. They’ve got two excellent books on hoops out now, both required reading, and their podcast is pretty great as well. Imagine the smartest, nerdiest Jews you know knowing more about the NBA than any other topic, and imagine them having the ability to riff about NBA arcana for well over an hour each show. Would you listen to that? I sure do.
WTF WITH MARC MARON – Comedian Marc Maron’s podcast is one of iTunes’ most popular, and I’ll admit it’s a little hit and miss with me. Sometimes it depends on his guest, whom have ranged recently from Henry Rollins to Patton Oswalt to Sarah Silverman to Tom Scharpling. Most are comedians like Maron, and what’s usually funny is how often these 40-minute interviews end up being psychotherapy sessions for Maron himself. He’s a very admittedly messed-up individual who’s “always all up in his head”, and I can’t count the number of interviews that begin with him making an apology to his guest for some long-ago slight. It’s worth downloading a few episodes to at least see if you can hang with it.
CATO DAILY PODCAST – Here’s where the figurative off switch flips for dozens (a dozen?) of Hedonist Jive readers. This is a daily short podcast on the issues of the day by the libertarian Cato Institute. I listen to it religiously, because there’s nothing like being preached to when you’re already converted.
THE SOUND OF YOUNG AMERICA – Another hit or miss, guest-dependent entertainment podcast, though I’ll admit I’ve warmed to host Jesse Thorn over the years. This show is also on NPR a few times a week, distributed by Public Radio International, and the podcast version also has things not on the radio version – like expletives. Interviews are short, tight and usually quite funny, and Thorn does a great job prepping for his guests, who are most often comedians or comic writers, but who can also varyingly be authors, actors or candlestick makers. It shows no signs of slowing down and continues to attract some real first-rate emerging or established talent.
THE NEW YORKER OUT LOUD – A 15-minute episode of out loud is like a little sprinkle to throw on top of one of these other, longer podcasts, and I usually find it well worth downloading each week. It usually takes a story in that week’s issue of the New Yorker and interviews the author in more detail than the story was able to go into. While it’s certainly a promotional podcast for the magazine, it never comes off that way. I actually have not bought an issue of the magazine for two years, and yet I listen to this almost every week. So there you go.
BASEBALL TODAY/NBA TODAY – Finally, these two ESPN podcasts are for limited audiences, with the limitation being your absurd reverence for blather and minutia connected to the professional sports of baseball and basketball. Baseball Today comes out every weekday during the season (6 weeks! 6 weeks away!), and is hosted by Eric Karabell and Seth Everett, who, after a rocky start, are actually an awesome team together. No one knows more about the MLB – not even me. Even they don’t know as much about baseball as Ryan Russillo does about the NBA. NBA Today comes over thrice a week, is about a half hour a pop, and gives even people (again, like me) who don’t watch enough live hoops all the crutching they need to catch up and stay informed. Because it’s so, so important that we stay informed about millionaires playing a children’s playground game, isn’t it?
Let me know what your favorite podcasts are in the comments, please. It is in fact possible that I missed a good one or two.