Over the last few years the reach of podcasts into society’s distracted selves has broadened from the domain of bespectacled early adopters to being a ubiquitous part of a normal demographic.
As a way to be educated while commuting, something to inspire you as you trudge through repetitive tasks, or just make you laugh; podcasts have become more than an escape, they’ve become a way of life.
In podcasts alternative media has become truly democratised: anyone with a point of view can reach an audience (and by repeating the process achieve fame) with little technical knowledge and less literacy. The distractions of visuals and video are irrelevant in an auditory medium, so people aren’t bound by appearance, which is a revelation in these times of conceptual corporatism that hides the ugly or unusual.
Listen to the right podcast and you’ll have your mind opened, health improved, heart lightened and soul refreshed. Listen to the wrong podcast and you’re merely and momentarily bored.
Compiled here are some of the podcasts that have become welcome additions to modern life chosen by the regularity that they come up, unsolicited, in conversation with both strangers and friends of Trebuchet magazine.
1. The Joe Rogan Experience
Humour and the art of stand-up comedy, mixed martial arts, libertarian responsibility, consciousness expansion, health and nutrition, sex, masculinity and contemporary survivalism.
There aren’t many topics that aren’t covered in what has become less a podcast and more of a bona fide movement. One guest declared the government must be paying attention because Rogan wasn’t attracting listeners but rather training an army. Reading through the forums, there are hundreds of stories of people working out, getting healthy and getting happy.
Part of the success of the podcast is that Rogan rarely focuses on himself but acts as foil to bring out the most interesting facets of his guests, or putting on his stoned pool-playing knucklehead gambit, driving them to explain their ideas and theories in simple terms which either reveals them to be laughably naïve, or revelatory.
Another reason the podcast works well is that not every episode is for everyone. Learning about the minutiae of constructing or tagging a bit won’t engage a martial artist and similarly, the intricacies of attempting a Kimura on an opponent with long arms will have less appeal to someone interested in the healing claims of ayahuasca. That said, most episodes do have a general appeal and are delivered with enough charisma to have you chuckling right up to the very end of these hour-plus (often two hour-plus) episodes.
Joe Rogan Regulars.
Honourable mentions must go to Rogan’s regular guests Brian Redban and Joey Diaz. Brian Redban is a hugely polarising feature of the Joe Rogan podcast (and hence essential). Ostensibly the producer of the show, he not only makes sure that the show runs smoothly technically (audio and video streams) but also adds asides to the proceedings. It’s here that people are divided.
bombs that grind
the show to an
To some, Redban’s additions are stilted, awkward, and cringingly unfunny bombs that grind the show to an embarrassed standstill. To others he is a selfless comic master whose interjections are brutal code to Rogan that a topic or line of dialogue has been humped to death and it’s time to press onward.
It’s possible that both perspectives are simultaneously true. However, when Redban talks offhand about subjects he’s an intelligent, informed and engaging speaker, so the level to which he consciously throws the dirtiest of bombs could be seen as a meta joke of the highest order.
Consider him the Flavour Flav to Rogan’s Chuck D.
Joey Diaz. Joey ‘fucking’ Diaz is a gravel-voiced Buddha of the highest Zen enlightenment. His ability to tell a story is without parallel. The sheer tragic reality of his existence is interweaved with a (hard won) hugeness of spirit that reduces you to tear-stained revelations of pure LIFE. In a era of fakeness, and recorded in the media chasm of California, that people like Diaz exist is a breath of fresh air that cuts through bullshit with a knife, though not without some collateral silliness.
Rogan himself is a comedian, TV presenter, commentator, former pool shark, fitness entrepreneur and father. How the podcast will develop over time is hard to know. However, as of 2013 it’s been running on a two year high. With very few misses, the show is a singularly entertaining experience that has of itself spawned numerous spinoffs and related businesses aimed at activating people to be more present in their own lives.
2. Dan Carlin
a. Common Sense
b. Hardcore History
Dan Carlin came to prominence to US audiences via a syndicated radio show which at some point made the move to podcasting. Where Hardcore History attempts to put ancient history in a frame that explains events through the motivations of its participants (rather than brute facts) Common Sense cuts through current (largely American) political events by discussing the, often hidden or forgotten, facts that underpin the polemic.
In both cases, Carlin urges his listeners to chase the facts (or latterly follow the cash) of issues and to take a view of political actors in light of what they say juxtaposed against what they do.
Hardly revolutionary stuff, except that few other media commentators seem to be as bipartisan or as total in raising awareness of the overarching political trends taking place – namely the erosion of civil liberties in favour of governmental control.
If Carlin can be said to have an agenda it’s that he’s alarmed by the explanations coming from governments that don’t justify the actions being taken. Seeking to promote transparency and appropriate government rather than ad hoc and arbitrary legislation, Carlin decries processes that serve corporate interests and enthrone government as a separate social class above the governed.
3. Seth Godin Startup School
Some years ago Seth Godin wrote Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers which quickly became THE bible of the nascent digital frontier, the contents of which covered more than just people selling things but actually the formation of communities (strangers into friends) and how to optimise how communities can be useful for themselves (friends into people with servable needs – customers).
The Seth Godin Start-up School is based on a commercial course that Godin gives, and while he has removed participant information and some of the exercises, there’s still enough there that anyone interested in business theory, social media, cutting-edge capitalism or business development has enough thoughtful grist for many sleepless nights and business model tweaks.
Somewhat the heir apparent of podcasters, Kevin Smith wasn’t there from the beginning but it’s hard to imagine a time without him in terms of market share. Whether you are fond of his films or not (and plenty aren’t) Smith and co. are masters of the podcast. Few podcasters, including those done by more specialised comedians or comedy writers, (Smith is something of a media polymath) are as consistently uproarious as Kevin Smith.
Propelled by a complete honesty about his life, fears, loves, mistakes, Smith discusses everything from anal fissures to comic book mythos and the movie business.
Smith’s biggest asset is often in his choice of co-hosts. Whilst often voluble on his own (he’s released several DVDs of comic monologues) Smith is at his best when alongside his friends Ralph Garman or Scott Mosier.
Smith’s first podcast (and over the years he’s supported and started several) was Smodcast, a funny and occasionally moving insight into his successful creative partnership with producer Scott Mosier. Essentially two old friends talking shit and trying to get the other person to laugh so much they cry, the show rests entirely on the warmth and oddness of these two guys.
They are often woefully ignorant on common subjects (likely for comic effect) but rather than use the wikipedia, they delve into backrooms of their warped logic to shape the world as they’d prefer it to be. By no means a unique premise for a podcast, even at the time of its inception, few podcasters are as open or interesting as the natural storyteller Kevin Smith, or as fascinating as Scott Mosier.
Hollywood Babble-on, hosted with Ralph Garman, is less a vehicle for Smith’s work as it is for he and Garman to take apart the Hollywood PR engine and skewer empty celebrity where it sleeps. Not that there aren’t regular diversions into other subjects, or darkly surreal turns such as when Garman , a talented impressionist, recreates a scene in which a paraplegic man gets stuck in Disneyland’s Small World ride.
Critics might point that later episodes are getting overly formulaic with regular segments outweighing leftfield subject matter, however there has yet to be an episode that hasn’t been a ‘winning’ romp through Hollywood’s dark present.
5. WTF with Marc Maron
‘Failed and Jealous’ Comedian Mark Maron (really he’s neither of these things) is possibly the greatest interviewer on the planet. He has an preternatural ability to get his subjects to drop their facades and talk about their real lives.
Coupled with slightly obsessive knowledge of his subjects, Mark Maron has managed to reveal almost every working comedian in the US and a fair number of other people as well. Other the last few years he has become something of an institution on the press circuit and, ever the reactionary, he’s slowed his output to keep the quality of guests high.
6. This American Life
Each week this podcast features a number of breathy audio documentaries that plot the trials and triumphs of American existences through interviews and features. Always enlightening, this radio-based institution covers an immense amount of ground. Literally the alpha and omega of first world thought.
7. Geek Knights
A weird little podcast where the two deepest nerds ever bicker over role play games, anime, books, computers, software and other bits of nerdlore. Other podcasts might claim to be nerdy but this is the apex of geekdom. Nasal, strange and addictive, the appeal of Geek Knights is much like the BBC – it’s genre all of its own.
8. Sound Opinions
Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot are two of the world’s foremost music critics that, unusually, haven’t escaped the public by ascending to become quasi-academic authors. Simply put, what they don’t know about music isn’t worth knowing.
Of course, this doesn’t mean their opinions are always spot-on. Half the fun of listening to Sound Opinions is throwing your hands up in despair and yelling expletives as they eruditely champion some band you hate. Sometimes you have your mind changed, sometimes your ire is deepened, but you’ve always learned something on the way.
9. Kermode and Mayo Film Review
The UK daddies of popular criticism Kermode and Mayo’s appeal lies in their knowledgeable, smarmy delivery and right opinions about the latest blockbusters clambering for the public’s attention. They also can be counted on to get some of the biggest names on their show, whom they’ll normally make squirm before touting their latest releases.