The struggle to keep a clean house is one most people know well. It’s not that cleaning is hard, so much as that it’s boring. What are you suppose to do with your brain while your hands are working? You can try to watch a TV show, but ultimately that’s too distracting to get much done. What to do, what to do….
Recently I have solved this problem, and the answer was startlingly simple: podcasts. Like radio, but better. Here are four podcasts that I’d recommend listening to when your hands are busy and your brain is bored.
Of course, you probably already know that I listen to a lot of Welcome to Night Vale, since I wrote that whole post about it. That’s still my favorite ongoing story podcast, and recently it’s been quite good and I recommend it highly. But for a more episodic, cheeky kind of fictional entertainment, Thrilling Adventure Hour is another great option.
Thrilling Adventure Hour is styled after old-time radio, complete with hammed-up acting, cheesy sound effects and dramatic orchestral music, but it also taps into a more modern sense of humor, with many of its stories keeping their tongues planted firmly in cheek. There are several ongoing segments, some of which are considerably better than others. My personal favorites are Beyond Belief–the adventures of drunken, apathetic, deeply in love married mediums Frank and Sadie Doyle, who solve supernatural mysteries mostly just to get all the ghosts and creepy crawlies to leave them alone–and Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars–an old west-style serialized account of the sarcastically grouchy marshall and his native Martian tracker Croach as they defend their planet. The podcast is a product of Nerdist.com, and it often features big-name celebrities in guest roles, including people like Ira Glass, Adam Savage, Nathan Fillion, Weird Al Yankovic, Kate Micucci, John Hodgeman, and just about anyone else they can rope into an episode.
You can’t talk about podcasts without mentioning the NPR pantheon. I listen to their big two–Radiolab (highly recommended!) and This American Life–but Invisibilia is letter known, though deserving of as much attention. It’s similar in format to the other two, except that it focuses on psychological phenomenon: the things that we can’t see, but nevertheless determine our behavior. Thus the title’s focus on the invisible. Invisibilia is hosted by Lulu Miller (former Radiolab producer) and Alix Spiegel, so it also has a refreshing female perspective, which is a nice break from the relentlessly male-hosted world of podcasts. There’s only been one season so far, which aired in January and February of this year, and I’m just dying for this show to come back on air. Alas, good content takes time to produce, and so we patiently wait.
I’ve only just started listening to this podcast, starting from the way way back beginning, though I don’t think you have to start there to enjoy it. The premise is as the title implies: a guided tour through the frankly insanely complicated world of the X-Men comics, tracing characters through all of their various reboots and writers and artists, finding the ongoing thematic threads and filtering out all the stuff that makes absolutely no sense, with a side of loving criticism. If, like me, you love the worldbuilding and characters in comics, and yet find the astonishing backlog of books overwhelming and don’t know where to start reading (or what to skip), this is the podcast for you. Now I just need someone to make the same thing for the Avengers and the Justice League. And also for comic companies to stop completely rebooting their characters a million times in a million different parallel universes, because THAT SHIT IS CONFUSING.
Another recommendation for the Radiolab fans out there, You Are Not So Smart is the podcast extension of the blog by the same name, hosted by David McRaney. What I like about this podcast is Raney’s willingness to take a back seat in his own podcast and let his guests do most of the talking. Each episode features a different phenomena of psychological self-deception common among humans, and explores the ways these deceptions both help and hurt us in our daily lives. Interviews with the experts, many of which are available un-edited from the podcast’s website, help illuminate the complicated structure of the human brain, and make it a little bit easier to understand ourselves. Plus, McRaney ends every episode with a cookie recipe sent in by a fan, so this podcast is also a huge help in the baked goods department.
“I spent many a summer early morning with the radio very low, half sleeping and half listening.” -Frankie Valli