I live 12 miles from my job. Those 12 miles take me an hour to drive in the morning and between an hour and an hour and a half in the evening. I’ve been doing the commute for over 3 years and while, at some point, I did stop having small meltdowns every night (the drive home is always mentally harder than the start of the day for me) I was still relatively cranky. I’d listen to the radio or blast a new CD but I would still find myself in a much worst mood when I got out of the car than when I got in. That was until I found my saving grace, podcasts.
My husband, Kevin, was apparently an early adopter to podcasts, listening to certain ones religiously since 2009. He’d always tell me some interesting fact he’d learned from them but I never got interested enough to listen myself. After my dad died last November, I found my commute nearly impossible. No matter what song was playing I found my thoughts traveling back to my dad and my loss and I’d arrive at work in tears. I realized I needed more than a song to keep my mind occupied during my drive each day.
I thought I’d make podcast listening into an extension of my job and only listen to podcasts about marketing and branding. I quickly realized I was bored and didn’t want my commute to feel like more work. So, I went to the App Store and just typed in keywords of stuff I wanted to listen to: film, television, pop culture, film reviews.
I now listen to podcasts morning and night and have even started a walking routine at work each day to keep myself moving. I use my favorite podcasts as motivation, I’m only allowed to listen to those when walking. I’ve been thoroughly entertained by these shows and am thankful for the companionship they provide me each day.
Finding a podcast that connects with you is a very personal thing. I’ve found that certain qualities keep my attention much better than others. I also find that I’m more quick to dislike a podcast due to one person in a round-table not being my cup of tea than I am to, say, stop watching a television show because there is a character I dislike. Perhaps its because these are real people or because radio always feels like a more intimate medium. Without further ado, here are the people who’ve gotten me through the last seven months.
My Favorite Pop Culture Podcasts (in order)
NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour
Perhaps its because this was the first podcast I started listening to but its by far my top choice. I enjoy every element. Its structured as a round-table discussion of anything pop culture (film, TV, books, comics, music, general cultural touchstones). The camaraderie between the panels is probably my favorite aspect of the show. Unlike some of the other shows on this list, these three, and their occasional guests, all genuinely like, respect and appreciate each other. Pop Culture Happy Hour is hosted by Linda Holmes, a pop culture critic with an approachable sense of what good pop culture should accomplish. Stephen Thompson is a writer for NPR music and Glen Weldon writes about books and comic books. I enjoy the format of two or three topics per episode and then a “What’s Making Us Happy” wrap up with their sometimes musings and sometimes suggestions. Given their deep knowledge of a wide variety of topics, these three could probably talk about anything and make it seem interesting while keeping it casual and fun.
After the specific structure of Pop Culture Happy Hour and Slate Culture Gabfest, it took me a while to get used to the free-flowing interview style of Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick. Chris is a great interviewer because he never sounds like he’s interviewing. Sometimes the conversation goes off the rails and if they have a game guest the riffs end up being the best part of the episode. Generally the show is just fascinating people sitting around talking. The best part is that most people seem to like Nerdist because they know they won’t have to sell their newest movie, book, etc. to the audience. This isn’t a press junket or a late night talk show. Nerdist lets the actors, writers, musicians and other famous people relax more than usual and just have a good time. Chris’ interview with actress Eliza Coupe is one of the most bizarre, hilarious interviews/personal therapy sessions I’ve ever heard.
Pop Rocket only started in January of this year so it is still finding its footing but it has the potential to be great. Pop Rocket is on Maximum Fun channel and the creator, Jesse Thorn, said he wanted a pop culture show with diverse hosts. He definitely achieved that. The ability to listen to pop culture critiqued by voices that are not normally heard as much is why I’m enjoying the show. Its louder, crazier and more all over the place that the shows that have been around a long time. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to have profound thoughts on how minorities are portrayed in the media. Its more what its like when I sit around with my friends and discuss movies and tv. Host Guy Branum called this show the cousins of Pop Culture Happy Hour. I think that’s the perfect comparison which is why I always listen to both. Pop Rocket is the young, hip cousin that just came onto the party scene and is ready to make its mark on the dance floor.
Nerdist Writers Panel
Writers Panel is like a graduate school class on the film and television industry. Its like having the best guest lecture series in a writing class at your fingertips. I’ve always been just as fascinated by the writing process as the decisions made at the development level in Hollywood. Host Ben Blacker talks with actors, directors, writers, producers and studio heads about the ins and outs of the entertainment industry as well as what inspires them. I love hearing the insider tales of taking something from initial idea to rough draft and completed project. Blacker’s interviews are generally pretty deep dives into specific works or a guest’s resume so it might not be for everyone but scroll through the archives and I bet you can find at least a few topics/guests that you’ve always wanted to know more about.
Slate Culture Gabfest
Culture Gabfest is my love-to-hate addition to this list. I generally agree with the reviews of pop culture on Happy Hour and Pop Rocket while the Nerdist podcasts fulfill my desire for insider knowledge. The opinions of the panelists on Culture Gabfest, on the other hand, almost always run counter to my own. I find myself shaking my head and telling them they are wrong more often then not. Why do I keep listening, you ask? Because sometimes there is no better way to solidify your own opinions than to listen to someone else voice theirs. I knew I really liked Mad Max: Fury Road, but it wasn’t until I listened to the Culture Gabfest crew describe their “boredom” with the film that I had the fire under my belly to write why I found it so enjoyable. Gabfest also skews a bit more pretentious and self-serious than I prefer. I like my film critics to be populists (all hail Roger Ebert). With Gabfest, I’ve found that I don’t like listening just for the sake of listening. I’ve fought my completest personality type and now only listen to the episodes when they talk about a film or television show I’ve also seen. Gabfest is the closest I get to being back in a classroom setting with differing viewpoints where I’m itching to get my opinion heard. It’s also taught me an important lesson: I don’t have to love the show or the hosts to get something out of the podcast.
Let me know which podcasts you love listening to regularly and which ones you think I should give a try.