We are in peak podcast times. If there’s a topic you’re interested in, whether it be true crime or The Bachelor or climate change, chances are good that someone is already talking into a microphone about it for 30 minutes to an hour every week. Given the solitary nature of popping in your earbuds, you’re likely looking for the best podcasts to listen to by yourself—whether you’re about to take a long walk, have a lengthy drive ahead of you, or just need something to keep your ears company for a bit.
The recent podcast boom isn’t just a catchy headline nor is it an exaggeration. Per a 2017 survey from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, one-in-four Americans tuned into at least one podcast every month. In 2019, an estimated 62 million Americans listen to a podcast every week, according to a study by Edison Research and Triton Digital. That study also found that the U.S. podcast listeners average about seven podcasts in a week. Basically, if you’re under 35 and have your headphones on, you’re probably listening to a podcast.
Podcast recommendations have become as ubiquitous as podcasts themselves. A quick Google search or a conversation with one other person at a party will garner you dozens of podcast recommendations. However, if you’re looking for something to listen to while you’re alone, particularly if you want to laugh or learn, welcome. I’ve got just the podcasts for you.
1. Las Culturistas
If you have yet to join the cult that is Las Culturistas, now is the time to get indoctrinated. Las Culturistas is a weekly podcast hosted by comedians and culture aficionados Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang. Each episode features a guest, usually a fellow comedian, and covers everything from the current zeitgeist (like A Star is Born) to timeless cultural phenomena (like A Star is Born but make it a whole episode). It is the culture that will make you say “culture is for me.”
2. Seek Treatment
If you are not worshiping at the altar of Catherine Cohen and Pat Regan, what are you even doing? Seek Treatment, in the hosts’ words, is a comedy podcast about “boys, sex, fucking, dating, and love.” It’s funny and honest and feels like listening to your friends’ group text read aloud if your friends were coocoo looloo, which—honestly?—they should be.
Episode to start with: I listened to the recent episode “We R Thoreau” three times in a row because I do have, say it with me, a problem. You should start with that one or their episodes with Megan Stalter if you know what’s good for you.
Iconography, hosted by comedians Ayo Edebiri and Olivia Craighead, is stan culture at its best and funniest. Each episode features deep dives into a celebrity’s life and career as well as what celebrities they want to buy, sell, or hold a la the stock market. If you too treat celeb culture as capital, you’ll be a fan of Iconography.
Episode to start with: “Jordan Peele” featuring Dewayne Perkins.
4. What Makes U Sing?
Hosted by actor, singer, comedian, and overall “divine multihyphenate” Larry Owens, What Makes U Sing? is a podcast about music and the songs that provide the soundtrack to our lives. Each episode features a fellow actor, comedian, or musician, as well as multiple musical serenades by Owen and his guests. You should listen if only because getting to hear Larry Owens sing for free is a gift in and of itself.
Episode to start with: “What Makes Natalie Walker Sing?”
5. Oh No Ross and Carrie
Oh No Ross and Carrie, hosted by Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy, features deep, investigative dives into various parts of fringe culture. From Scientology to ear-candling to the paranormal, Ross and Carrie have seen it, done it, and have lived to podcast about it.
Episodes to start with: Their multi-part series on Ayahuasca will feed your curious soul.
6. The Read
Kid Fury and Crissle West are the pop culture guides your shady soul seeks. Each episode of The Read analyzes current cultural happenings, giving you the analytic precision of a New Yorker review with the humor and honesty of a good Twitter thread. As they put it, “no star is safe from Fury and Crissle unless their name is Beyoncé. (Or Blue Ivy.)”
Episode to start with: “Beychella”, obviously.
7. The Anthropocene Reviewed
Hosted by author, YouTuber, and general smart person John Green, each episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed looks at a different part of our “human-centered planet” and rates it on a five-star scale. It’s equal parts informative and poetic, sincere and silly. It’s like those lists of “things to restore your faith in humanity” in a podcast.
Episode to start with: “Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad”
NPR’s Invisibilia is hosted by Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin, or Lulu Miller, depending on which season you start with. Each episode is about the “unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions,” from internalized racism to empathy to our clothes. You’ll learn. You’ll maybe cry a little. You’ll definitely find yourself sending episode links to your friends as it’s the kind of podcast you’ll want to share immediately after you listen.
Episode to start with: “The Culture Inside”
9. A Very Fatal Murder
If you like murder podcasts and parodies, A Very Fatal Murder is for you. Brought to you by The Onion, the six-part series is a parody of the true-crime podcast genre. As the host investigates the fictional murder of prom queen Hayley Price, you’ll find yourself laughing while still fully invested in the fictional whodunnit. Come for the fake crime, stay for the fake commercial ad-reads.
Episode to start with: Since it’s serialized, you’ll want to start with episode one: “A Perfect Murder.”
10. Happiness Spells
Full disclosure: this was recommended to me by my therapist as a way to ease myself into meditation. I will save you the co-pay and trip to the doctor by imparting that bit of therapeutic advice to you. If you’re looking for something quiet and calming, each episode of Happiness Spells is a five-minute-long list of various happy things hosted by Amanda Meyncke. Meyncke’s voice and cadence are soothing and soft, relaxing and contemplative. If you want some space for self-reflection, this is the perfect podcast to help guide you.
Episode to start with: Any of them! I recommend finding a few titles that intrigue you (like “A Beautiful Walk Around Your Neighborhood” or “That Lazy Sunday Morning Feeling”) and queuing them up since each podcast runs about five minutes long.
Studies referenced: Edison Research and Triton Digital. (2019) The Infinite Dial. https://www.edisonresearch.com/infinite-dial-2019/