Credit: @AishaTyler on Twitter

On a past post where I gushed about the Gilmore Guys, Serena commented and requested a best-of podcast recommendation list.

I’m obsessed with podcasts — now that I spend 1-2 hours a day in the car, it’s primo podcast catch up time and I love coming away learning something new v. listening to “Man in the Mirror” again. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

If you enjoy podcasts, I highly recommend you switch over to using Downcast as an app instead of the Podcast app. The Podcast app is terrible — it crashes, it has a bad UX and if you listen to a number of podcasts, it’s a mess to navigate. Downcast is great and has a desktop app as well. I’ve heard great things about Pocket Casts (which Lifehacker now recommends instead), but since I’m all squared away with Downcast, I haven’t made the switch.

Anyway, my favorite podcasts fall into a few categories:

Listen Religiously

This category is reserved for the podcasts where I look forward to new episodes and usually listen to them within the week of release. Anticipation is high and build up of old episodes is low.

  • Girl On Guy with Aisha Tyler: Aisha Tyler is my way cooler aspirational spirit animal. Like way cooler. She’s into craft beer, she studied environmental policy at Dartmouth, is taller than I and she talks to a wide range of people from comedians to chefs to directors to tech/gaming executives. I love the wide variety of guests and her easy way of conversing with them. She concludes each episode by asking her guest to share a “self-inflicted wound” – a story about something stupid or embarrassing that they did to themselves, usually in an effort to show that famous/accomplished people make mistakes too. I’ve noticed that people seem to have a love/hate response to her though… Jeff, for example, is not a fan. I loved her episode from April with Frank Bruni  and the one immediately after with David Benioff. I actually paid to access her archives and if you’re a Top Chef fan then you must listen to her episode with Antonia Lofaso.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show: Tim delves into the idea of “examining excellence” and talks to entrepreneurs, investors and other celebrities about how they got where they did. I end almost every episode with a new book on my reading list and a great fact or tidbit for dinner party conversation.
  • Dear Sugar: Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) and Steve Almond each wrote the Dear Sugar advice column online at one point and now do a weekly podcast where they answer 1-2 beautifully written letters in a thoughtful manner — often calling an author friend of theirs for perspective. For example, on a recent episode an extrovert woman wrote in to ask about long-term compatibility with an introvert and they called Susan Cain, the author of Quiet. I aspire to be half as eloquent advising strangers as Cheryl and Steve. I also aspire to get paid to give advice to strangers…
  • The Lively Show: Recently, I stumbled across Jess Lively and the Lively Show mainly because a number of my favorite bloggers all ended up on her show in a short period. She interviews content creators and a lot of creative professionals to talk about their path and how they knew they were on the right road. She also speaks a lot to following your own intuition and for the touchy feely place I’ve reached in my 30s, I love the message.
  • How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner: This was my favorite podcast for two years but now that Julie has a show on Hulu, new episodes are not available very often. Fingers crossed she finds the time to bring it back because her take on pop culture made my life complete.


Subscribe but Check the Guest/Topic

I don’t listen to every episode but if I enjoy the guest or topic, these are some favorites.

  • Bon Appetit Foodcast: This one gets bonus points for being SHORT (most episodes are under 20 minutes) but it’s kind of hit or miss. I tend to enjoy the conversations with chefs more than the conversations among the various editors.
  • Grantland Pop Culture: I only listen when they’re covering a show or movie that I like but I particularly love the Reality TV Podcast especially given that they treat Real World/Road Rules: The Challenge with the reverence it deserves.
  • You Made It Weird: Pete Holmes talks to comedians and each episode ends up being a wonderful mix of funny and insightful. I’d listen more often but each episode is usually over two hours so it doesn’t always make the cut. His episode with Dana Carvey and his second episode with Harris Wittels are both worth a listen, several laughs, and, in Harris’ case, several tears.
  • Adam Carolla: Adam Carolla got me started with podcasts but I’ve grown a bit tired and, given that he records several 2+ hour episodes a week, it’s impossible to stay current.
  • WTF with Marc Maron: Marc is a masterful interviewer but I just don’t connect with him so I struggle through episodes when I don’t care for the guest. On the other hand, Jeff is obsessed with him and wants to be his best friend. I’m wondering if between Marc Maron and Aisha Tyler, it’s only possible to connect with one of them?

Early but Promising

Each of these have only released six episodes so I don’t want to commit to a full review but I am enjoying them.

  • Mystery Show: I hated the first episode but have found them pretty charming since. In each one, Starlee will investigate a mystery that would never make the cut for anyone else to investigate like Jake Gyllenhaal’s height or why they depicted the scene they did on the Welcome Back Kotter lunchbox.
  • Magic Lessons: Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity and speaks with author and other creatives. I get a kick of inspiration each time I listen. Again, bonus points for brevity.

The Standards – Subscribe & Save

I enjoy all of the below but usually subscribe and then save for a road trip. They’re also the most appealing to a wide range of audiences which means that Jeff, the kids & I can all find something we enjoy.

  • This American Life: The gold standard and one you MUST subscribe to if only because NPR will only keep four episodes available for free online at the same time so subscribing allows you to stockpile. Earlier this month there was one on people who work at amusement parks that I’m still recovering from.
  • Serial: Credited with getting all of America interested in podcasts… and debating who’s lying: Jay or Adnan, Serial is a mandatory listen if you didn’t already. (Although, what rock were you living under???)
  • Hardcore History: Award-winning in-depth coverage of various historical events, Dan Carlin recently spent over 23 hours (over six podcasts) talking about World War I. He’s a brilliant storyteller but these episodes are a heavy time commitment. Fortunately, they’re a major time commitment for him too and he’s been releasing a new one every 3-6 months.
  • Freakonomics: My interest in these have been waning but there are still a number of good episodes… although I really prefer them covering a topic rather than trying to interview. Per the above, there are so many people who do interviews much better.