September’s Top 10 Podcast Episodes (2015)

And so begins year two of collecting my favorite podcasts together! I listen to a lot of audio in my life: during my commute, while shopping, while eating, while traveling… I felt that I frequently shared with individuals what was so great about this or that episode I just heard, but that the conversation would be lost but a week from then, and the creations unrecallable, unrecognized.

This posts are a mixture of chronicling what occurs in my life, recording big events in the podcast world, and sharing what audio I enjoy in my subset of ever-evolving taste. I’d love for these to spark conversations or get people to listen to things outside their normal sphere of influence, just like I enjoy when someone else tells me to try out something new.

If you’ve never listened to a podcast, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Find half an hour, or if that seems a lot, just take a 10-minute walk and try one of these out if any catch your interest. Just grab an app like Stitcher for your phone, or go directly to the page I’ve linked on your browser and hit play! I also enjoy putting something on while doing chores, cooking, or completing some other monotonous task. It can be just like talk radio.

I’ve got comedy, human interest, science, film, design, interviews, and more this month. Here’s September’s list:

SPONTANEANATION #24 – Sport Club/Live at Largo

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Paul F. Tompkins’ new(ish) show blends his ineffable humor with the charming stories of a guest and the improvisation skills of his friends. It’s structured enough to have happy expectation of, for example, Tompkins’ consistently rambling intro monologue, but diverse enough from guest stories and suggestions that the improv scene is always surprising.

This episode’s guest is Kumail Nanjiani, whom I love. He shares heartwarming stories about abusing his brother and weird scorpion dreams! The setting he chooses for the improvisers to run with is the perfectly broken English location “Sport Club”. The story they then create weaves a tale of intrigue into Sport Club council governance while incorporating parts of Nanjiani’s interview.

So yeah, there are scorpions. It’s charming, it’s ridiculous, and it’s great.

Wham Bam Pow #110 – American Ultra

In this episode of Wham Bam Pow, the movie review show, Cameron Esposito returns and the hosts share the news that the show will now be monthly. Bummer! But if that’s what has to happen to allow it to continue, so it shall be.

Ricky Carmona chats about the Netflix shows he’s watching, which sparks a conversation about the volume of shows being created by Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and how our mentalities when going to these services is more and more about the shows they themselves are creating. They then move to the film American Ultra. They mull over its successes and failures, noting that the attempts to do something very different by blending genres wasn’t fully successful.

The Skeptics Guide #531 – Sept. 12, 2015

This episode of the SGU stood out to me because it premiered Cara Santa Maria’s new segment on the show, “What’s the Word”, where she will define a word often misunderstood or unknown in the sciences. This week’s word is “stochastic”, which means randomly determined. Think statistics!

The news segments were also interesting. Two that caught my ear were, one, an investigation into what thinking patterns are strongly correlated with belief in the paranormal, conspiracy theory, and pseudoscience (intuitive versus analytical); and two, a look into a document advising police on how to handle psychic predictions on cases that isn’t… awful, but not great. It shed light on the possibility that the information could well be true but that the person is lying about the source being supernatural, for example, potentially trying to hide it!

This American Life #566 – The Land of Make Believe

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This TAL episode splits into two stories that both have important meaning. The first half of the episode tells the story of a family with many children whose father builds a pretend boat in their driveway. An elaborate boat that the kids get assigned jobs to and obsess over for years. They chronicle the passage of time as the children grow older and explore the impact it had on their discipline and relationships.

The second half of this episode followed an undercover cop trying to learn if a Muslim activist in America is dangerous. The story of trying to trying to befriend someone on false pretenses and bring up jihad and terrorism “organically” is a fascinating one. The reason the entire operation fails is equally fascinating. Both people are not fully understood, and this is a story that rarely gets told in such detail about the techniques used to gain information from a suspect.

99% Invisible #181 – Milk Carton Kids

There are some cultural phenomena that seem so minor or obvious that you don’t even think about why they exist. Thankfully 99PI specializes in exploring the overlooked. In this episode, they dive into the surprisingly-short-lived trend of placing the faces of missing children on milk cartons. It wasn’t extremely successful, and it met mixed reactions. Yet a single story of a girl saved by them might justify it all.

Why did the brief milk carton kids catch on so strongly in our minds while other, similar efforts did not? Listen to the episode to learn!

Reply All #39 – Exploder

I’ve come to love the podcast Song Exploder when it covers a musician or song I know. I was introduced to it through 99% Invisible, which I included in June’s top 10 list. Hrishikesh Hirway dives into one song and asks the artist to elaborate on every detail of its instrumentation, design, writing, backstory, meaning, and context.

In this episode, Reply All’s theme songs get the Hirway’s Exploder treatment. No one knows who the identity of the artist Breakmaster Cylinder is, but they respond to Hirway’s questions and give great insight into the evolution of Reply All’s earlier show, TL;DR, to now through the tone of the introduction they created for each show. Reply All’s hosts also share their decisionmaking early on as to whether to even have a theme song.

StarTalk Radio – A Conversation with Edward Snowden

This two-part episode is a notable departure from the usual format of StarTalk: Tyson has no comedian cohost nor subject-matter expert to comment on the conversation. Neil deGrasse Tyson simply interviews Edward Snowden, American fugitive living in Moscow who stole documents from the NSA to prove their overreach.

The conversation is wide-ranging, and Tyson carefully aims his viewpoint down the “geek” lane, not vocally siding with what Snowden did. I do feel like the simple fact that he’s having that conversation speaks volumes to his sympathies, however. They talk about privacy, surveillance overreach, Snowden’s history with science, and he dives notably deep into encryption techniques and their necessity in a private society.

It’s clear that Snowden wants to promote more ideas and continue to be a voice past his initial splash in the world’s consciousness. I really enjoyed when Snowden asked Tyson about if his expertise in astrophysics could shed light on possible techniques to use to create security from information streaming from the cosmos. Tyson excellently conducts the interview.

Highly, highly recommend. Oh, and you can thank Tyson for convincing Snowden to get on Twitter.

Nerdist #735 – Felicia Day

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Felicia Day is an actress, voice actress, and head honcha at Geek & Sundry, a kind of Nerdist equivalent where shows, articles, and more are created about comic books, tabletop gaming, video gaming, and all things geeky. This is the first time she’s been on the podcast since very early on in its inception, and she’s promoting her book.

What made this episode notable to me were a few conversations. One large topic is Day’s work ethic, work/play balance, and her routine. She’s clearly put a lot of thought into reforming how and why she makes decisions in order to pursue what she truly wants, not burn out, and accept help from others. I really valued her insights, and I believe most of us struggle with at least a few of those things. She talks about needing approval from others in what she pursues, and how that isn’t a sound foundation to build happiness and success upon.

One other really important topic was about her harassment and treatment in the gaming space and online space. She laments how much her appearance is tied to so many people’s perception of her worth. She wishes to eschew the “woman gamer” label, as well, preferring the latter descriptor.

Day also mentions her frequent convention appearances, including DragonCon, which happened at the beginning of this month. Apparently she had her phone stolen there, which is a real bummer, though.

Reasonably Sound #28 – HBDTM

Happy birthday, Reasonably Sound! It’s been roughly a year since this podcast about all things sound began. Rugnetta uses this opportunity to announce his new Patreon campaign for the show and explore the frustrating copyright ownership of “The Happy Birthday Song”. Conveniently, but a few days after this episode went out online, a ruling saying the copyright was not valid was struck, perhaps signaling a future where the song will be free again!

In the episode, however, Rugnetta also explores a movement a few years ago to create a replacement for The Official HBD. He plays the top rated ones and his own personal favorite, musing on the idea of personal birthday songs for individuals, which I like.

Spawn On Me #79 – In Space No One Can Hear You “Unh”

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Spawn On Me is a great podcast full of cool folks chatting about gaming from a perspective valuing diversity of all kinds. What better guest to have on that the head of Fullbright, Steve Gaynor, who helped create the indie game Gone Home? This game struck a nerve in the gaming world in 2013 when its gameplay simplicity met its thoughtful storytelling of a girl falling in love with another girl in the 90s. I love the game, as do the hosts of this show, for being a touchstone in the modern era of progressive indie gaming.

Fullbright has shown demos of its upcoming title for next year called Tacoma, which is similar in mechanics to Gone Home but takes place on a space station. The hosts and Gaynor talk about the process of creating a new title and what choices were made that lead to this quite distant locale. The conversation is fun and entertaining, and if you’re in the gaming space, it deserves your listen.

Honorable mention:

Nerdist #734 – Brian Regan

Brian Regan is a comedian that a lot of people my age, or at least in my friend group, simply love. His humor is loud and character-driven but in a way that still seems a step ahead of you. The host Chris Hardwick asks him about his joke crafting and his set, his influences and experiences starting out, and how and why he keeps up what feels like relentless touring.

October 4th update: I listened to a few more episodes from September that simply must go on the honorable mentions list. Check them out!

How To Be Amazing – Nate Silver

Michael Ian Black interviews the master statistician from fivethirtyeight.com about his path to today through sports stats and its evolving world on to his surprisingly accurate prediction of all but one of the states in the 2008 United States election. This man’s philosophy is one that I greatly appreciate, tying himself rigorously to evidence and data for his reasoning. It’s equally interesting that the comedian Black chooses to interview him.

How To Be Amazing – Chris Hardwick

I’m a fan of the Nerdist (as evidenced by an above selection), which Chris Hardwick created and runs. Through listening to the Nerdist podcast, one learns Hardwick’s past through his anecdotes and in his relating to his guests, but Michael Ian Black not only charts his course from bowling kid to dating show host to stand-up to CEO but also probes him in fascinating ways. I never would have thought to relate the life of a professional bowler to that of a comedian, or connect Hardwick’s alcoholism with his drive to create and succeed. This episode really got me thinking, just like Felicia Day’s interview, about what drives me, and what I want to do.

What stuck out to you this fine September? Anything you remember, that made an impact on you? I’d love to know. Please share!

Oh, and it looks like I got this out just in time for the end of #PodcastDay! Happy Podcast Day y’all!

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