Podmasters is a weekly column where staff writers Andrea Alfano and Laura Rosenfeld highlight the podcasts you need in your life. Every week, they tackle a new genre, recommending everything from well-known series to little-listened-to-gems that will make you laugh, cry and learn. This week, Laura Rosenfeld spotlights five podcasts from which you'll find the best interviews.
For me, different podcasts serve different purposes, which is why it’s so hard for me to pick just one as my favorite. I listen to This American Life for exceptional storytelling, Radiolab to help me make sense of big ideas and Comedy Bang! Bang! for a regular dose of hilarious absurdity.
However, nothing stays with me more than a fantastic interview. I believe this is where the true power of podcasts lies because the ability to hear people tell their own stories in their own voices is an incredibly moving experience.
There is something so deeply intimate about podcast interviews, revealing a tremendous amount of truth that makes me understand what a person went through possibly better than any other medium. Hearing the cadence of their voice allows their emotion and personality to shine through better than in a printed story, and the solely aural nature of podcasts amplifies the impact of their words.
From celebrities revealing what fuels their creativity to farmers describing how they get food on our tables, these five interview-driven podcasts will help you better understand someone else’s life and probably your own, too.
1. Fresh Air
NPR’s Fresh Air is the quintessential interview podcast to which every listener should subscribe. Though much of the series focuses on movers and shakers in arts and culture, Fresh Air is really one of the best general-interest podcasts around as host Terry Gross discusses the issues of the day with everyone from Jon Stewart to Toni Morrison to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Getting to know these high-profile personalities and their work on a deeper level is always entertaining, but it really makes you think, too.
2. Love + Radio
Love + Radio takes you into the lives of people you never knew you wanted to meet. When the series began in 2005, it had more of a traditional radio format featuring several stories relating to the theme of the episode. However, in recent years, Love + Radio has focused on a single subject per episode, which I believe better allows you to immerse yourself in that person’s world. Love + Radio has shown us what it’s like to experience a stroke, live like a biblical figure and work as a financial dominatrix for a living. This series will show you that everyone has an unbelievably captivating story to tell if they’re just given the mic.
3. WTF with Marc Maron
At one time, Marc Maron may have been primarily known for his comedy, but these days his podcast WTF might be getting the most attention, although it is still very funny. On WTF, Maron gets inside the heads of comedians, actors and creators of all types to find out where their inspiration comes from and how they make sense of the world. There are a lot of laughs on WTF, but this podcast is filled with a surprising amount of heart, too.
4. Working with Adam Davidson
We spend most of our lives at work, so it’s no surprise that people from all different industries would have so much to say about their jobs. With each installment, Slate’s Working podcast hosted by Adam Davidson introduces us to a member of America’s workforce and gives us a glimpse into what exactly it is they do all day, how they do it and why they do it. Whether Working gives us a day in the work of Stephen Colbert, a Google coder or a middle school principal, this series will show you that no one's job is glamorous all the time, but what’s behind someone's drive to keep doing what he or she is doing is extremely inspiring.
5. Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler
Aisha Tyler may be best known for appearing on your TV screen. She currently stars on The Talk and voices Lana Kane on Archer, in addition to appearing in Friends, 24 and CSI in the past. But what you may not know about Tyler is that she loves things that are stereotypically considered guy territory, such as video games, comic books and action movies. She uses her Girl on Guy podcast to let everyone know it. What’s great about Girl on Guy is that it doesn’t feel like your traditional interview podcast where the host asks questions and the guest answers. It’s really more like you’re eavesdropping on a conversation not much different from the kind you have when you hang out with your friends. The only downside to listening to Girl on Guy is that you’ll wish you could have as much fun as Tyler and her line-up of famous friends that includes Wil Wheaton, Joel McHale and Amber Tamblyn.
- Bullseye: Host Jesse Thorn talks to creative minds from all walks of arts and culture to give listeners a glimpse into how they got to where they are and what has inspired their current creative pursuits.
- Death, Sex & Money with Anna Sale: Death, sex and money are usually taboo topics in polite conversation. However, host Anna Sales embraces these subjects, asking celebrities and regular people alike about their thoughts on them, which unsurprisingly always makes for a fascinating half hour.
- Nerdist: If you don't have enough Chris Hardwick in your life from his countless other gigs, which includes hosting @Midnight on Comedy Central and Talking Dead on AMC, then you will definitely get your fill by listening to Nerdist, which features Hardwick talking to a super-famous guest each episode. Hardwick's interviews are fun, funny and always a little bit — or a lot — nerdy.
- The Moment with Brian Koppelman: If you need something to get your creative juices flowing, listen to these luminaries discuss the moments that changed everything and set them on their paths to greatness.
- Longform: Some of the best non-fiction writers around discuss how they tell stories, which will not only help you better understand their work but also make you a better storyteller too.
- Notebook on Cities and Culture: Host Colin Marshall interviews movers and shakers in cities around the world, which takes you on a journey to a whole other person's life and home city for an hour each episode.
- Mental Illness Happy Hour: On this podcast, host Paul Gilmartin talks to all different kinds of people about what's going on in their heads. That may sound like heavy stuff, but don't worry. Just like therapy, you should leave this podcast feeling better, not worse.