Monday, February 21, 2011

Easy Listening

by Nails

Sometimes, the voices in my head tell me to do things. Normally this would be worrisome, but when the voice in my head is actually Peter Sagal's, you can rest assured that the only thing I'm going to be doing is laugh to myself like a lunatic. You see, I'm a podcast addict -- if I've got white buds in my ears, chances are I'm listening to someone having an intelligent conversation that I'm yearning to join. Like a good nerd, I love the chance to learn something new, or challenge how I think about something, and there are a few great podcasts out there that help me do just that.

Now of course there are plenty of very specific podcasts out there for the discerning geek (Radiolab, Nerdist), but I thought I'd share with you four of my own favorite general-geek-interest podcasts.

How Stuff Works' "Stuff You Should Know"

How Stuff Works has long been a site where you can go kill time by learning something. They now have a robust stable of podcasts that appeal to the different interests of just about any inquisitive mind, from conspiracy theories (Stuff They Don't Want You to Know) to something we here at Stellar Four are familiar with, "lady issues" (Stuff Mom Never Told You). But my recommendation to you is what's likely their broadest show, Stuff You Should Know. Hosted by the loveable and kinda goofy Josh and Chuck, they cover everything. I mean everything: how the Mafia works, how the Large Hadron Collider works, how blood pattern analysis works, how clouds work. Even if at first glance the topic sounds like something you're "meh" about, Josh and Chuck make it a fun listen. If nothing else, you'll be better armed at your local Trivia Night.

Start with: "Is the Necronomicon real?" (08/20/09), "How Jack the Ripper worked" (10/29/09), "Will the moon save humanity?" (01/21/10), and "How quantum suicide works" (08/03/10)

NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me"

Do you follow @CNNbrk on Twitter? Is your favorite TV show The Daily Show? Do you have naughty daydreams about Ira Glass? Chances are you're already a "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" listener. But if you're unfamiliar, Wait Wait is NPR's news quiz, where Peter Sagal tries to wrangle his three ever-changing contestants (often comedians, writers, and commentators), scorekeeper Carl Kasell, and their celebrity guests into a weekly show where both the contestants and listeners are asked about current events. It's a show that revels in being both a smarty-pants and a smart-ass.

Start with: This week's show. Current events only stay current for so long.


To explain the title, you've got to use it in a sentence. This week's show is geeks on Dungeons & Dragons. This show is geeks on Batman. This show is geeks on ComicCon. The four geeks -- Aaron, Peter, Matt, and Don -- get on the topic of some of the most popular fandoms. All four are LA-based, working in different aspects of the entertainment industry. Peter is a screenwriter, Matt is an actor, Don is a video game professional, and Aaron is a filmmaker and graphic designer. (And yes, Aaron Hendricks is Christina Hendricks' brother. Yes, he knows she's hot.) Though the episodes are a little slow in coming these days due to real life (two geeks recently became fathers -- psht, don't tell me that babies are more important than podcasts!), I look forward to each one. They cover some news and current events at the top of each show, but the real meat of the episode comes from the topic. Their discussions of geek culture become downright philosophical, and with four different opinions, they can get a little heated sometimes -- but in a good way. This is a show that'll definitely get you thinking about your own position on things like violence in video games, and the recurring motif of a messiah figure in sci-fi films.

Start with: "Ghosts" (ep. 45), "Guest: Author David Brin" (ep. 129), and "Gays in Sci-Fi" (ep. 130)

Too Beautiful to Live with Luke Burbank

And sometimes, after all that hard-core geekery, you just want the podcast equivalent of having a beer and shooting the shit with your friends. "Too Beautiful to Live" started out as a talk radio show out of Seattle, but after its cancellation it made the jump to podcast, where it's been thriving ever since. Host Luke Burbank, along with producer Jen Andrews and engineer Sean DeTore, are like drinking buddies trapped inside your iPod. I wouldn't say that they're particularly nerdy (although Jen does feel a certain connection to recent events in Tunisia because Star Wars' Tattooine was filmed there), but they're smart, funny people with great taste in movies, TV shows, and music. It's apt that for their "Awesome/Not Awesome" segment they use a soundclip of Gob Bluth from Arrested Development saying, "C'mon!". Too Beautiful To Live, like Arrested Development, is laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly quotable, and was taken off the air before its time. Thank god for the internet so that Luke can maintain his "micro-celebrity" status.

Start with: "Broke as a Joke in Seattle" (rebroadcast 01/09/08), "Luke almost drowns in a mud puddle" (02/07/11), "Guest: Comedian Maria Bamford" (02/18/11)

Though most of these shows have regular female contributors, there does still seem to be a lack of female voices on the podcast "airwaves." I'm always on the lookout for new shows, so if you have any suggestions for great lady-hosted podcasts, let me know in the comments!
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