Monday, October 26, 2015

Now Hear This! (Podcast Edition)

Since I don’t drive, my commutes to and from work each day rely on public transportation.  That means some walking time, some waiting time, some riding time and generally an overall longer time spent in transit than most folks.  To pass the time, I load up the ol’ iPhone with podcasts, put on the earbuds, and listen to the modern-day equivalent of AM Talk Radio.

These days it seems everyone has a podcast (mine will be coming along soon, no doubt), and you can find the truly terrible, the overly self-indulgent, and the so slickly produced as to erase all personality among the thousands and thousands out there to choose from.  How can you find the true gems amid all that crap?  No worries, Friends!  Once again, your ol’ pal Bryan is here for you, this time with a handful of podcasts you really should be listening to.  Subscribe to these five and you’ll have something to listen to every day of your work week.  You’re welcome.

The Truth and Iliza
In addition to being one of the funniest comedians of the current generation, Iliza Shlesinger is very bright, very sarcastic and very opinionated.  Is it any wonder I am a huge fan?  All of these factor into her being perfectly cast in the role of host of her own podcast, The Truth and Iliza.  Rather than the umpteen-millionth podcast where the host gushes over how wonderful that episode’s guest is and providing yet another generic platform for the guest to perform their shtick and plug the hell out of a current project,  Iliza has created an environment where the guest is not necessarily the focus – the everyday things that piss them off is the jumping off point for a conversation that is usually very funny, searingly sardonic, and always authentic.  Whether she’s coaxing Adam Carolla into a rage about moronic gatekeepers, sharing a story about an astoundingly boorish family she had to deal with on a recent flight, or fan-girling out while convincing Taylor Dayne to sing a chorus of "Tell It To My Heart" with her, the reason Iliza makes this podcast work so well is that she isn’t doing an interview – she’s just hanging out with whomever is there with her and letting us listen in.  The conversation goes wherever it goes, peppered with occasional non sequitur cartoon-voice asides to her dog Blanche.  Join me and about 17 overnight truckers in listening to The Truth and Iliza regularly – this one is a must-listen.  Oh, and bonus points for having the coolest damn theme song in the history of podcasts.

Do you like improv comedy? Of course you do; it’s hilarious! Paul F. Tompkins seems to enjoy it as well.  He and a rotating cast of improv pals put on a little skit each week, riffing off of themes, comments and offhanded remarks made during Tompkins’ welcoming monologue or the interview section of the program.  Yep, you not only get an improv show, you get an interview – Spontaneanation is like two podcasts in one!  Each week’s guest is presented with a question left by the previous week’s guest, and the interview flows from there.  Then comes the main event: a complete narrative story, told from beginning to end yet often jumping around in time thanks to a series of sound effects, and set in a location chosen by that week’s interview guest.  Did you follow all that?  Well, go back and read it for yourself, then; I’ve explained it as clearly as I can.  Like all improv situations, not everything works.  It can be rather amusing, though, when you can tell the cast senses  they are tanking and begin scrambling to find their way back on track.  But, when they are on point (which they very often are), they can be laugh out loud funny.  Which is unfortunate when I’m on a crowded bus at 6:15 in the morning listening on my headphones and suddenly doubling over in gales of laughter.

How Did This Get Made?
I have been a fan and regular listener of How Did This Get Made? for quite awhile now. You don’t believe me? Well just follow this link right here and be reminded that I suggested you start listening to this one years ago!  Don’t feel so smug now, do you?  The longevity of the show (podcast years and dog years can, I believe, be calculated in roughly the same manner)  is proof that it is quality programming.  A recent trend towards live  episodes has injected renewed energy into a show that wasn’t flagging to begin with.  Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas have honed their film-skewering skills to a fine point over the life of the podcast, but when they have a live audience to play off of they are even better.  Mini-episodes between regular podcasts give you a head’s up to what movie is being given the HDTGM  treatment – helpful because the show works best when you have also watched the movie in preparation, but even if you don’t do your homework you’ll enjoy the fun.

Should I Worry About This?
I’ve shared many posts here over the years dealing with my anxieties, so you know I know worry. Hell, during those few instances when I am not worrying about something, I am worried that there ought to be something I should be worrying about!  If only there were some sort of guide to help sort the stuff that’s worth worrying about from the stiff that isn’t.  Cat Oddy and Eden Robins have come to the rescue with their wonderfully entertaining and informative podcast, Should I Worry About This? Every Monday they present a topic that one or both of them have found themselves worrying about, usually with some background story to go along with it, and they trade off doing the research to dig up the facts and determine whether it’s worth worrying about or not.   Worrying about everything from waking up during surgery to regretting tattoos, and from catching rabies to having Donald Trump as President, they cover a lot of ground.  They keep the mood up, and more often than not reach the conclusion that we’re all probably worried about a lot more than we need to be, although I’ve now I find myself worrying about whether they’re going to end the podcast anytime soon…

Radiolab is an extremely popular podcast, with good reason. Part journalistic endeavor, part Mondo-style documentary, part history lesson and part sound-collage pastiche, with some good-natured humor and the occasional dose of acute skepticism tossed in for good measure, Radiolab uses its unique editing style to weave stories about amazing things you might never have known have happened or are happening in this world.  Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich  make fine stand-ins for the listener, asking the questions that you or I would ask about things like Darkode hacking, the Mau Mau Rebellion, how time moves and how we move throughout it, and more.  The interwoven sounds of interviews, audio verite, music and narration combine to pull you into the midst of the story at hand, and at the end if you haven’t learned something new (and if so, you weren’t really paying attention), at least you’ll have been on one helluva ride.

I'm always on the lookout for good podcasts to add to my listening rotation - if you have some favorites, share with us in the comments below, or visit That's What I Was Going To Say on Facebook.  And hey, while you're there, consider "liking" the page.  I'd be much obliged!