Since my very first iPod (RIP), podcasts have been a mainstay in my life. Whether I’m walking around the city, cleaning, or getting ready for work, I usually have one playing. I’m often asked about what I’m listening to, so I’ve compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of my favourites. Running the gamut from fun porn humour to investigative reporting, these are the ones I keep coming back to.
The Sugars started as a newspaper advice column, where readers wrote in with all types of questions, and received nonjudgmental advice from “the Sugars,” Cheryl Strayed of “Wild” fame and Steve Almond. Now as a podcast, you get to hear the excellent, empathetic advice straight from the Sugars’ mouths.
Probably one of my favourite podcasts of all time. Similarly to The Sugars, Dan Savage’s sex and relationship advice column started in Seattle’s “The Stranger” newspaper back in 1991. This one is decidedly NSFW, and I love that people call in with questions that I couldn’t even imagine. Dan’s advice is usually solid, and I always enjoy his (mainly political) rants at the beginning of each week.
Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel
Esther Perel is a leading couples therapist, and her podcast allows you to be a voyeur into her office. You hear recordings from real sessions with clients on everything from getting over a spouse’s affair to feeling like a partner is more invested in the children than the marriage. It’s fascinating and interesting, although I can’t listen to more than one episode at a time—it can get a bit heavy.
How I Built This
I love these conversations between Guy Raz and the people behind some of today’s most recognisable brands, like James Dyson of—you guessed it—Dyson and Melanie Perkins of Canva.
Produced by Zendesk, Repeat Customer is a natural fit for the brand. It’s all about how the brands we love, like Slack, Trader Joe’s, and Disney, create the wonderful customer experiences that keep us coming back for more.
Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness
Long before he was gracing our TV screens on Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” Jonathan Van Ness was hosting his podcast, where he chats with an expert on some really interesting topics.
Although the episode titles can be a little cutesy, like “What is the tea with vaccines, hunty?”, don’t let that fool you. Jonathan does his research before every episode, and the folks he brings on are super knowledgeable. You’ll feel like you learned something while also laughing with Jonathan’s vivacious personality.
David Tennant Does a Podcast
The former Dr. Who star chats with celebrities. Sounds boring, but the conversations are so organic and interesting, that I enjoy them even when I’m not very familiar with the guest. And really, with that accent, I could listen to David Tennant talk about anything and still enjoy it.
My Dad Wrote a Porno
I can no longer listen to this podcast while on public transportation, because I sit there laughing like a maniac to myself. The premise is simple: Jamie’s dad self-published an erotica series and Jamie, along with his two friends James and Alice, reads a chapter each episode. Do I know if his dad actually wrote these? No. Do I care? Not one bit.
Everything is Alive
These unscripted interviews with inanimate objects are just—incredible. I dare you not to laugh when you hear the interview with Annie the Jack o’Lantern.
All Songs Considered
Probably one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, All Songs Considered is still a favourite. I’ve discovered so much diverse music over the years through hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton. Each week, there’s a New Music Friday episode, where you hear snippets of new tracks, but they also do episodes with full tracks, conversations with musicians, and themed episodes driven by reader submissions.
Host Zan Rowe of Australia’s Double J has a musical guest come in weekly and choose five songs around a theme. As you can imagine, stories abound. This is a podcast that I don’t listen to all the time, but when I recognise the guest, I’m always delighted.
The only scripted podcast on this list because, while I’ve listened to others, none have kept the momentum up the way Homecoming does. Catherine Keener stars as a caseworker working with returning vets in a top-secret, government-funded experimental project. You’ll recognise other actors’ voices as well, like David Schwimmer and Amy Sedaris.
Listening to this one makes me feel the way it must have been to listen to radio programming in the pre-TV days—it’s so easy to visualise their world. Amazon made this into a TV series with Julia Roberts, but I refuse to watch because I just love the podcast so much.
Learn something new
In the Dark
What impresses me so much about In the Dark is the sheer amount of reporting that goes into producing each season. The first one focused on the abduction of child Jacob Wetterling from a small town in Minnesota. It’s not a whodunnit—you know in episode one who was eventually held responsible for the crime—but rather how the police let the killer slip through their fingers multiple times, and the reverberations this case had on America, including the sex-offender registry and crime solving.
Season two is even more intense, and tells the story of Curtis Flowers, who over 21 years, has been tried six times for the same crime and is on death row. Although he’s won appeal after appeal, the prosecutor keeps retrying his case. The reporting crew look at the evidence—or lack thereof—and try to make sense of exactly what type of justice is supposedly being served. A must-listen season.
With short, 20-minute episodes, Planet Money breaks down what’s going on in the economy with interesting, easy-to-understand stories.
This American Life
How to describe TAL? For starters, it’s definitely not just for Americans. The episodes, which are broken up into different acts, all relate to that week’s theme, but usually in ways you wouldn’t expect. Each one is introduced by host Ira Glass and then get into the topic, which range from current events to human nature, to essays or memoirs. Honestly, just listen for a taste of journalism done well.
Ahh, the podcast that introduced a whole new wave of listeners to the medium. The first season focuses on Adnan Syed who, in 1999, was arrested for the murder of his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee and later sentenced to life in prison. I’d argue that this was the beginning of the true crime podcast wave.
I found the second season, about Army deserter Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, less impressive, but it’s season three that really knocked my socks off. Instead of focusing on just one story, as the previous two seasons did, this one looks at America—its racism, how we punish children, how we treat (and often fail) people in the criminal justice system—by spending a year in a Cleveland courthouse and reporting the stories that come out of it. What’s shocking is how, while the stories sound unbelievable to many of us, how unremarkable they are to the people living them.
Just for Fun
Alone: A Love Story
OK, at first glance, this CBC-produced podcast doesn’t sound too fun: it’s Michelle Parise’s account of her marriage ending and the fallout that came afterward. But the way it’s done is just brilliant. It feels more like an intimate memoir audiobook than a podcast.
You’re along with Michelle as she recounts her relationship with her now-ex, how it ended, and how she picks up the pieces afterward, with the help of friends, late night drinks, and suitors who she gives great nicknames to. There’s a lot of honesty and self-awareness that comes along with each episode. I have to be in the right mood to listen to this, but I’m always happy when I do.
Mamamia Out Loud
Listening to this Australian podcast feels like you’re listening to three girlfriends chatting. Twice a week, Holly, Mia, and Jessie tackle three topics each episode, ranging from the serious to ridiculous, with a sprinkle of recommendations and reader questions. They’re fun, interesting, and don’t take themselves too seriously. I nearly always listen to the episodes as soon as they drop.
People everywhere deal with similar problems, but how are they dealt with in other parts of the world? This podcast gives a terrific glimpse into how conversations like fake news, racist words, and more are happening globally. It’s a great reminder that we’re not as unique as we think we are.
Moth events are great fun; presenters get up and tell their stories on a particular topic in front of strangers at bars, comedy rooms, and more. Funny, moving, heartbreaking, and more, the podcast features some of the best stories that have been told. Many major cities (including NYC and Melbourne) host Moth events, so if you can make it to a live event, even better.
Fresh Air – No one does interviews like Terry Gross
Modern Love – Celebrities read essays featured in my favourite New York Times’ column of the same name
Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations – I mean, she’s Oprah
Revisionist History – Author Malcolm Gladwell re-examines sometime from the past and wonders if we got right
The Mortified Podcast – Adults share the diaries, poems, and other embarrassing things they created as kids in front of strangers
WTF with Marc Maron – Comedian Marc Maron is so good at getting people to open up in these candid conversations
Yo, Is This Racist? – If you’ve ever wondered…