For a certain privileged class, one of the worst feelings in the world is being ambushed by podcast ads while your hands are otherwise engaged in some activity such as washing dishes and thus unable to fast-forward.
You feel trapped, an auditory hostage, like passengers on a subway that’s just been boarded by a busking mariachi band. However, there’s a reason we’re willing to put up with podcast hosts droning on about why Tommy John underwear is revolutionizing the underwear game: because podcasts are the best.
Podcasts have completely revolutionized our commutes, our chores-doing hours, our workouts, and even our work. (Note to my editor: I only listen to podcasts at work during moments when I absolutely do not need my brain.) A 2017 Nielsen survey found that 50% of all U.S. homes are filled with podcasting fans. As the industry continues expanding and we approach peak podcast saturation, programming has only gotten more and more niche. Much like Rule 34 of the internet: If it exists, there’s a podcast of it.
Hundreds of promising new shows launched in 2018. (It is at this point that I will insert a hearty plug for Fast Company’s own pair of podcasts launched this year: Secrets of the Most Productive People and Creative Conversation.) Some of these brave new shows found their footing right away, while others shuttered after only episode 3. Here are the 15 best new podcasts of 2018, as chosen by Fast Company staffers.
Game of Our Lives (as chosen by staff writer and editor Jeff Beer)
Created with Jetty, Al Jazeera’s audio brand, this might as well be The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Soccer podcast. Host David Goldblatt tackles subjects as diverse as politics, culture, economics, immigration, religion, and film–all through the lens of global football. Season One kicked off in March with Werner Herzog talking football and film and ended with an episode on the links between fascism and football in Italy. Season Two quickly gave fans regular servings of cultural context to the 2018 World Cup games in Russia.
Articles of Interest (as chosen by staff writer Melissa Locker)
The first spin-off series from Radiotopia’s 99% Invisible features producer Avery Trufelman taking listeners on an engrossing deep dive into the world of clothing. While the episodes on punk clothing and plaid’s checkered past and the legacy of Hawaiian shirts are by turns fascinating and fun, the show really shines in the episode on the strangely sexist history of pockets.
The Pay Check from Bloomberg (as chosen by deputy editor Kate Davis)
Hosted by former Fast Company staffer Becca Greenfield, this new show took a topic that I’ve reported on for years and shed new light on it. I learned new things about this complex issue, and the personal stories and deep reporting kept a subject feeling alive and urgent rather than bogged down in stats.
The Habitat (as chosen by staff writer Melissa Locker)
This is the true story of six strangers picked to live in fake Mars, work together, and have their lives taped. Find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real… The Habitat!
The Jeselnik & Rosenthal Vanity Project (as chosen by deputy editor David Lidsky)
Great podcasts are about relationships. The intimacy of listening to people in your head effectively demands that you feel like you’re among friends, or at least eavesdropping on close pals. My new favorite weekly hang of 2018 comes from experiencing the two-decade-long friendship of comedian Anthony Jeselnik and Gregg Rosenthal, a writer and podcaster for the NFL. These two initially tried a podcast together in 2015, under the auspices of the NFL Network. The Rosenthal & Jeselnik Vanity Project, as the show was then known, went awry almost immediately, as the No Fun League objected to just about everything relating to the podcast, from the rap music Jeselnik favored to his running jokes about commissioner Roger Goodell. As Jeselnik, a renowned button-pusher, grew more hysterically frustrated, Rosenthal tried to walk the line between making a good show and not getting himself fired.
Fast forward three years, and the duo is miraculously back, revived at Comedy Central as the cable network gets more seriously into the podcasting game. Now on Jeselnik’s home turf, the show is less focused on covering football news, or really much of anything at all. It’s two friends (and their new buddy, producer Erica Tamposi, who also for the NFL by day and is a writer and comedic performer as well) being silly and trying to make each other laugh. Thankfully, Comedy Central is almost as good a foil for Jeselnik as the NFL was, annoying him with its music restrictions and poor advertising options. The show is smart, funny, and daring: Jeselnik will take any indefensible position in an effort to make you laugh uncomfortably, such as analogizing the Caravan to a football team’s offensive strategy. The weekly 45-minute episodes go by remarkably fast. Jeselnik has only committed to doing the podcast for 40 weeks, and JRVP, as the hosts and fans call the show, is already 14 episodes into its run. Whether it makes it to 40, or beyond, is up to Jeselnik and his compellingly combustible humor. It’s a time bomb you’re dying laughing at while you wait for it to blow up.
Caliphate (as chosen by staff writer Ruth Reader)
If you love New York Times writer Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting and her epic tweet threads, you will love this podcast. Here, Callimachi really gets to tell her story, reporting on the particulars of ISIS and the people who get sucked into its orbit. It could be some of the best audio storytelling around.
Late Night Whenever (as chosen by director of photography Jeanne Graves)
Funny, crass, and endearing comedian Michelle Buteau’s podcast uses a late night TV show format, recorded in front of a live studio audience. Buteau starts each show with some funny and uncomfortable overshare about her day (butt sweat in spanks, fishing a ring out of the toilet after a wipe), and then talks to writers, actors, and comedians (Ben Sinclair, Jason Jones, Ann Dowd, Danielle Brook, Paul Feig) about all sorts of ridiculous life stories (sex, vomit, love) and, of course, inspiration. She ends each show by summing up what she’s learned in a one-sentence zinger. It’s a much needed 30-40 minute relief from the news of the day, and it’s refreshing to sit back and have a good laugh with a black woman talking to creative people.
The 2018 World Cup not only allowed the world to come together and yell at their TVs in unison, but it was also the perfect peg for two fantastic soccer podcasts. At WNYC, Roger Bennett hosted American Fiasco, about the greatest U.S. men’s soccer team and its disastrous bid to win the 1998 World Cup. The folks at Gimlet scored with We Came To Win telling some of the best untold stories of soccer, including how the 1990 World Cup saved soccer in England and what was really going on in an infamous Zaire match back in 1974.
The Cut on Tuesdays (as chosen by deputy editor Kate Davis)
Feminist podcasts are becoming a crowded space, but The Cut still feels fresh and offers interesting reporting and storytelling on a wide range of topics from women in politics to pubic hair to the tie between domestic violence and mass shootings.
The Dave Chang Show (as chosen by staff writer Ruth Reader)
If you don’t know Dave Chang, you should. He’s the man behind all the Momofuku restaurants and Milkbar. Though he’s a chef, his show goes far beyond food. What makes the show most compelling is Chang himself, who as a host is rough around the edges but off-the-cuff and extremely honest.
Everything is Alive (as chosen by staff writer Melissa Locker)
If you haven’t heard a sentient, lonely, overlooked can of off-brand cola get drunk on air, you are missing out on one of the most charmingly odd moments in audio storytelling.
Slow Burn (as chosen by editorial assistant Yasmine Gagne)
The engrossing second season of Slate’s Slow Burn deals with the Clinton impeachment proceedings. I was too young to follow the saga closely when it unfolded and host Leon Neyfakh did a good job bringing some nuance to characters like Linda Tripp and Ken Starr that seem overly simplified now. It’s an interesting listen at a time when our current president is being investigated by special counsel and has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Personal Best (as chosen by staff writer Melissa Locker)
The hosts of Personal Best just want to help people be themselves–within reason. Each week they set out to help someone improve themselves in some way, whether that’s learning do backflips like Jackie Chan, delivering a baby cow, or figuring out the rules of flirting via text, and each week it’s a goofy, funny caper that is a joy to listen to.
Punch Up the Jam (as chosen by staff writer Joe Berkowitz)
As much as I enjoy hearing trusted voices discuss the day’s news or funny people talking about whatever’s on their minds, my favorite podcasts tend to be those where the hosts and guests have a mission. On Punch Up the Jam, it’s a complicated but endlessly rewarding one. Each episode finds music-minded comedians Demi Adejuyigbe and Miel Bredouw dissect a song together, and then premiere a brand new “punched up” version at the end (along with some picks for songs deemed “unpunchable.”) It’s hard to tell what’s funnier: comedians like Paul F. Tompkins making fun of The Doors’ interminable “LA Woman” for an hour or some of the shockingly well-done Weird Al-ish remixes Adejuyigbe and Bredouw concoct. Luckily, you don’t have to choose. Just listen.
The Amelia Project (as chosen by staff writer Melissa Locker)
If you have ever thought about faking your own death to get out of a trip to the DMV or a visit to the in-laws, The Amelia Project is for you. The audio drama is set at an agency that helps people fake their deaths. In each episode, a client explains their plans for faking it as well as their eventual return.