Let’s face it: times are hard right now. Millions of us spend day after day cooped up indoors with only so many ways to pass the time. And for the rest, those of us with essential jobs, days are invariably stressful and exhausting. But it’s been nearly two months, and the Netflix logo has started to burn itself into your psyche. Why not shake things up a bit?
I asked my DePaul friends what podcasts they’ve been playing, and they gave me more suggestions than I could shake a facemask at. I whittled that list down, and this is what I ended up with. Here are 12 podcasts to help you get through the boredom, the uncertainty or just your laundry.
How Did This Get Made?
Do you love dissecting terrible movies? Me, too. There’s something fulfilling about laughing at someone else’s spectacular failures, and How Did This Get Made? scratches that itch better than anything since Mystery Science Theater 3000. Comedy power-couple June Diane Raphael (Grace and Frankie; Burning Love) and Paul Scheer (NTSF:SD:SUV::; The League) co-host along with Jason Mantzoukas — known for wild-eyed performances in Parks and Rec, The Good Place, Big Mouth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Mantzoukas really milks his incredulity to energize the podcast. The fact that it’s usually recorded in front of big live audiences adds to the excitement. In between laughs, you’ll likely find yourself enveloped in comforting nostalgia. That’s because many of this podcast’s best episodes focus on movies made from the early ‘90s to the early ‘00s. The Space Jam episode — recorded in Chicago — and The Master of Disguise episode serve as great introductions to this podcast.
Why Won’t You Date Me?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more animated voice than Nicole Byer’s. Why Won’t You Date Me? is her podcast, and it’s focused on her confusion at being single for so long. As she says in the most recent episode, posted April 30, “You could take my glasses off of my face as I’m wearing them, step on them, kick them right at my feet, and I would still date you.”
It’s a funny premise for a podcast already, and it’s honestly surprising how much mileage Byer gets from it in each episode. Byer — also the host of the Netflix comedic reality bake-off show Nailed It! — invites friends, mostly writers and comedians, and they dive headfirst into fascinating conversations that other shows don’t typically touch. Episodes focus on topics like quarantine break-ups, prison dating, seeking single men at Target and Instagram DM sex. Byer’s natural energy keeps things light-hearted, even when the conversations get heavy.
Your Mom’s House
Christina Pazsitzky and Tom Segura deliver the laughs on this podcast. The two comedians muse about their lives, riffing off of each other and their guests. The energy is hysterical and at the same time welcoming. The couple, who have six Netflix stand-up specials between them, makes this show an interesting listen. They are a rare example of married celebrities who openly talk about their most private moments. So besides the hilarity, their relationship dynamic — and how open they are in talking about it — is fascinating.
Recorded in the couple’s home, Your Mom’s House makes quarantining feel like less of a big deal. The co-hosts share with listeners how their lives have changed and how they’re coping, but they keep it from feeling like a downer. They point out why this is all funny, and after you’ve listened for a while, you’ll be able to do the same.
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
Yes, that tall, pale, orange-haired late-night host does podcasts now, too. Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend follows a simple formula: comedian/host interviews interesting or funny people, with a sidekick keeping things light and bouncy. True to character, Conan self-deprecates relentlessly and in the same breath turns wildly braggadocious. Sona Movsesian, the podcast sidekick and Conan’s real-life assistant, shatters Conan’s cocky delusions — to everyone’s enjoyment.
I hadn’t watched Conan’s show in years when I discovered his podcast, so his quick wit proved to be a breath of fresh air for me. Hell, even his ad reads are funny — he loves to poke fun at the companies whose commercials he’s reading. Guests range from Dana Carvey (listen to all seven) to Michelle Obama. If you need to smile, this podcast will put one on your face.
The comedic chemistry between Desus Nice and The Kid Mero — hosts of the Showtime show Desus & Mero — just never quits. Bodega Boys is a podcast with a straightforward appeal: they are simply two funny dudes from the Bronx joking around and having entertaining conversations. It’s unfiltered and rough around the edges, and if you’re a Bodega newcomer, it can take a while to pick up on all the inside jokes. They release about one episode per week, and they’re usually one-and-a half hours to two hours long.
They’ve been running this podcast for five years, so it’s not exactly the cutting edge of the medium. But on the flip side, there are 200 episodes of hilarity. And with that kind of longevity, there are bound to be nuggets of wisdom. For example, Desus on Frank Ocean’s music. “You can apply it to anything in your life. Maybe your relationship, depression, you got roaches . . . it doesn’t matter.” If you miss clowning with your friends, Bodega Boys is the podcast for you.
Not everything needs to be an earth-shattering redefinition. Like some of the other entries on this list, Office Ladies proves that with podcasts, simple is often better. This is a podcast featuring The Office co-stars Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer. The two hosts, best friends since they started working on the show fifteen years ago, break down each episode of The Office in order. Along the way, they share behind-the-scenes stories, show trivia and memories from each episode.
If you’re a fan of the show, this one’s a no-brainer. But for everyone else, this podcast is still an enjoyable listen. Even if you’re not familiar with every episode’s details, don’t worry. They build up the context for you. The ladies share some truly heart-warming memories — like when Jenna, thinking the show wouldn’t be renewed after they finished filming the first season, made mixtapes for her castmates. Fischer and Kinsey laugh together with ease, and it’s hard not to join along.
The Adventure Zone
This one’s a personal favorite. The Adventure Zone is sort of a spin-off from My Brother, My Brother, and Me — an advice/humor podcast by the McElroy brothers. Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, with their dad Clint, started The Adventure Zone as simply a standalone Dungeons & Dragons episode of their main podcast. They brought along their trademark wacky-yet-wholesome flair, and along with D&D’s storytelling potential, it’s proven a winning combo. Wildly popular from the start, The Adventure Zone has kept listeners entertained for six years now.
If you start from episode one (which you should), you might think it’s a little slow while they introduce their characters. But Griffin, the first campaign’s host, dungeon master and youngest brother, creates an astonishing world with plot twists that will make you gasp. By episode two, you’ll be hooked. His dad and brothers pilot three characters — Merle the crusty cleric; burly fighter Magnus; and show-stealing wizard Taako (like “taco”). You’ll laugh, you’ll grip your seat, you might even cry once or twice. Remember how the characters fromThe Office or Friends started to feel like part of your family? That’s The Adventure Zone. Enjoy!
Matthew Mercer is a voice chameleon. He’s a professional voice actor with a nigh-endless list of credits (Levi from Attack on Titan; McCree from Overwatch; Jotaro Kujo from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure; etc. ad infinitum), and he serves as the host and dungeon master for Critical Role, another Dungeons & Dragons podcast. He’s joined by a group of eight other voice actors who have played D&D together for several years. The soundscapes, effects and vocal performances immerse the listener completely. Fire up this podcast, and suddenly you’ll teleport from your living room couch to a cavernous dwarven megalopolis, complete with raucous taverns and the ubiquitous echo of pickaxe against rock.
Every character the party encounters showcases a different facet of Mercer’s magical voice. The rest of the crew paint the soundscape with their own vivid vocal hues. Critical Role offers hundreds of episodes across multiple campaigns, and if you feel like breaking the fourth wall and seeing the real faces behind those voices, you’re in luck: they film all of the episodes for their YouTube channel.
This is Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. He has a penchant for revealing surprising quirks about the things we take for granted, and with Revisionist History, he’s adapted it to the podcast medium in a perfect marriage. If you’ve read his books, you probably don’t need to read any further information because you’re already subscribing. If you haven’t, then go ahead and add one of them to your quarantine queue. I recommend Outliers: The Story of Success.
Gladwell will tell you about why one specific semicolon in the Constitution could mean Texas can divide itself into five different states whenever it wants. Why Brian Williams might not be the dirty, rotten liar most of the world thinks he is. And why the push for heart health ruined McDonald’s french fries. It’s a fascinating 40 minute ride, and Gladwell’s smooth, dulcet tone guarantees it’s also a comfortable one.
Behind the Bastards
Maybe you knew Adolf Hitler painted, but did you know that he was into young adult novels? What about Saddam Hussein — did you know he wrote erotic fiction? Or that Osama Bin Laden was really, really into hentai porn? Host Robert Evans takes you into the unexplored recesses of the lives of history’s absolute worst people.
It makes sense that the monsters of humanity all come from interesting backgrounds, but until you listen to Behind the Bastards, you’d never guess just how wild the stories are. In fact, some of them are so zany it can start to feel suspect. For those occasions, Evans thankfully posts all his sources on the podcast’s webpage. For all of you who love to learn while you laugh, this is the podcast for you.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
This is a beast unlike any other listed here. Dan Carlin, longtime radio and TV journalist and self-proclaimed “history fan but not a historian,” compiles mountains of research for every topic he touches. The result is a podcast that only makes two to four episodes per year — but wow are they whoppers. Carlin might spend three five-hour episodes bringing to life the Pacific theater of World War II. Or he’ll crank out 10 hours of material telling the story of Genghis Khan’s armies, and why they might have been the greatest force in human history up until the first World War.
Carlin tells listeners he’s endlessly fascinated by the extremes of the human experience, and it is this curiosity — sometimes morbid — that drives him to produce such exhaustive content. What was it like on the front lines of a medieval clash? How was the average person’s quality of life in Achaemenid Persia? Carlin explores questions like these, citing every piece of original source material he can find. It’s a fascinating listen, perfect for a long road trip or cabin fever.
My Favorite Murder
I can’t remember a time when true crime wasn’t a hot genre in any medium, but My Favorite Murder has torn through all the podcast ratings metrics since it started in 2016. There’s something…relaxing(?) about the way comedian co-hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark relish the bizarre details of the endless murders and other crimes they’ve unearthed.
For each episode, Hardstark and Kilgariff both pick a violent crime or a serial killer. They do their research, keeping each other in the dark. Then they record the episode, sharing what they found with each other. You’re getting to hear two people learn about jaw-dropping homicides each episode! It’s a lot of entertainment value per minute, and subsequently it’s an addicting podcast full of laughs and “Whaaat?!” moments. Perfect with a glass of cheap wine and a plate of nachos.
No matter where you fall on the cabin fever meter, most of us could use a refreshing change of pace. Sure, you may not have that twice-daily commute anymore, but you can still enjoy a good podcast. If your routine has grown stale, if you need entertainment to take the edge off chores, or if you’re home alone and need some simulated company during meal time, podcasts are a great solution. Whether your life needs some joy, comfort or fascinating depth, there’s something on this list to get you there. Happy listening!
Header image by Natalie Wade, 14 East