20 essential podcasts to subscribe to today
So what are you listening to? You did you binge-listen to all seven episodes of the new S.Town podcast in the car, and kept taking detours so you could carry on listening. While you were jonesing for a second series you dipped into Gimlet Media's Crimetown — a whole lurid season on the crooks and stick-up kids of mob stronghold Providence, Rhode Island — and got hooked on that, too.
And now you're desperately in need of another time sponge to get your through your daily commute. Well, how about XX primo podcasts that every man should listen to?
As the ancient Chinese curse said, we're living through interesting times. The least you can do is keep up with the catastrophes. American political journalist Jacob Weisberg gathers traumatised liberals and non-crazy conservatives for fast-response dissections of the latest development in the Trump White House. Super-informed, super-sobering.
Featuring preposterous tales of the imaginary Gangs of the EPL, borderline actionable impersonations of Zlatan and Jamie Vardy, and Bob Mortimer improvising songs in a surprisingly impressive Scottish voice akin to Ivor Cutler's, Mince is about as far from a discussion of "catenaccio", "tiki-taka" and "gegenpressing" as can be. Andy "@GetInTheSea" Dawson lends gravitas.
Pod Save America
Here, four former Obama aides convene for a highly entertaining "no bullshit" US politics doomwatch. Scoops include a final interview with their boss, Barack, on the eve of America's most embarrassing presidential nomination.
Coffee House Shots
The Spectator's rapid-response takes on the biggest current events — the Article 50 vote, the latest Trumpisms, the firings and the resignations — presented by editor Fraser Nelson and guests. They often come in bite-sized eight to 15-minute minicasts: ideal for lunchtime or a cig break.
They Walk Among Us
True crime is one of podcasting's surprise breakout formats. This coolly forensic series — presented by the unsurnamed husband and wife team Benjamin and Rosie from the marital bedroom — explores infamous British crimes that are all the more chilling for their everyday settings.
Answer Me This!
Ever worried that if you donate blood, someone might have it transfused into their body and then incriminate you in their crime? Such are the listeners' questions that Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann answer on this award-winning free-range comedy podcast, now in its tenth year.
Myths and Legends
A poor working knowledge of the lives of Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Theseus, Mulan and the rest of the mythic pantheon is a legacy of our failing educational system. Rectify it with these wry and witty summaries presented by literature and history buff Jason Weiser. Warning: contains mead.
Podcasts excel at the open-ended interview that turns into a satisfying conversation. Here, satirists Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein invite a renowned good talker round for a three-course chatfest. Sample episode: comedy giant John Lloyd on whether we should teach kids philosophy, the nature of consciousness, and whether artificial intelligence will destroy the planet. Perfect for those long flights.
No Such Thing as a Fish
Did you know that cows have friends? And DH Lawrence used to write letters to a cow called Susan? The wonkish researchers or "elves" behind QI unearth far more odd facts than any one show can take. Fascinating and fiercely peculiar.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
This series from the people behind HowStuffWorks will astound you with the things you didn't know. Sample subjects: the Attica prison riot, why Vincent Price's real life was stranger than anyone he played on film, and the lost African stone city of Great Zimbabwe.
If you love science fiction you're usually faced with 57 embarrassing varieties of Comic Book Guy-style nerdery on the comment front. But pro-radio reporter Eric Molinsky's highly listenable 15–25-minute shorts treat Star Wars, Philip K Dick, Tolkien, Marvel and the rest for what they are: the dominant fictional form of our time.
The Forward With Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong is one of the most detested fallen heroes in sport, but his interviews, with subjects as diverse as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Rahm Emanuel and Chris Evert, are fascinating enough to dispel — temporarily — suspicions that he's manipulating you.
How come most pundits only ever talk about new books? You wouldn't do that with albums. On this hybrid of literary salon and pub argument, QI writer John Mitchinson and voluble ex-Waterstone's staffer Andy Miller talk about an old book that everyone should read — from JG Ballard and Raymond Chandler to the weirder backwaters of the English psyche.
The Axe Files
Axelrod, second brain of Obama's first term, talks to pretty much the entire A-list of American politics in wide-ranging interviews that reveal far more than the standard "gotcha" grilling. The episode with incoming Trump attack chihuahua Sean Spicer is especially toothsome.
Sodajerker On Songwriting
One thing you learn from podcasts is that, freed from a cramped radio slot and faced with someone who actually knows a bit about their subject, almost everyone has a fascinating story to tell. Scouse songwriting duo Simon Barber and Brian O'Connor set up Sodajerker just as an excuse to talk to their heroes about what it's like to put songs together. But their natural inquisitiveness brings out the best in legends including Andy Partridge of XTC, Mike Stoller and Johnny Marr, making Sodajerker one of the most unusual and rewarding music podcasts.
Real Time With Bill Maher
This one, meanwhile, is Have I Got News For You with a metric shitload more swearing plus a little more bite and viciousness than "Gosh, isn't Ed Miliband's voice funny?" It's an audio version of red-meat liberal Bill Maher's HBO show, giving us a top-of-the-line comic – plus guests from politics, stand-up and the media – tearing into the rotten state of American government. British TV and radio keep failing to replicate this format chiefly because we have no-one like Maher, the left-wing PJ O'Rourke.
Your average radio interview can end up boringly formulaic, with three predictable questions wrapped up by a plug for the guest's latest "project". Being open-ended, podcasts can ramble on for as long as they like and – horror! – develop into actual conversations. Geeky interlocutor Chris Hardwick takes full advantage of this, coming up with entertaining and properly insightful sit-downs with characters as diverse as Harrison Ford, Vince Breaking Bad Gilligan, Dave Grohl and porn star turned actress Sasha Grey.
The Football Ramble
You know what would be nice? If every sports radio station on earth didn't dump all its shows into iTunes as well, making it harder to find worthwhile independent shows like the excellent Football Ramble. Here a handful of actual fans – civilians who buy their own tickets, not self-congratulatory pundits or shiny-suited ex-players up in the Green Room – talk over the week's footballing issues. It's the antithesis of so-called banter on so-called soccer sofas, and ideal if you love football but cringe when you hear the words "the beautiful game".
The Thrilling Adventure Hour
It's a brilliantly original idea — a spot-on recreation of old-time US radio drama from the Thirties and Forties that both sends up these corny, wholesome wireless serials and shows real affection for a homespun era before irony ruined everything. Fake serials including Sparks Nevada, Marshal On Mars, Amelia Earheart, Fearless Flier and Down in Moonshine Holler are rendered with songs, wisecracks and handmade sound effects before a live audience in Hollywood. You'll laugh like a space coyote.
WTF With Marc Maron
This high-intensity twice-weekly interview podcast is about as far as you can imagine from a chummy little chat between showbusiness insiders. Having paid his dues both in performance and his personal life – addiction, booze, bitter divorce – LA-based stand-up comic Marc Maron persuades a stellar line-up to come round to his garage (yes, his garage) and open up in ways that conventional media seldom sees. Robin Williams, Edgar Wright, Josh Homme and Thom Yorke are among the guests in an interview series unlike any other.