Conversational podcasts?
January 9, 2014 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Looking for podcasts that could best be described as "really smart people shooting the breeze." Favorite examples would the various Slate podcasts that feature three writers discussing a range of topics, as well as NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. The subject matter can be about anything, though looking for something a bit more conversational and wide-ranging than, say, a panel of experts discussing their fields. Any suggestions?
posted by decoherence to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Could be just one person too, as long as it's more or less extemporaneous.
posted by decoherence at 4:26 PM on January 9, 2014

I adore Erin McGathy's This Feels Terrible largely for its charming conversational tone. It does lean more towards "really funny people shooting the breeze" but most of her guests are also very smart and insightful. It's about relationships and their many pitfalls.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 4:30 PM on January 9, 2014

I love this episode of Science Friday.
posted by sanka at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2014

My Brother, My Brother and Me is an hour-long podcast of three brothers basically doing what you described. The loose premise is that they're giving bad (but funny) advice to people who write in, but it seems to always turn into a free-for-all during each episode.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I used to listen to The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, but your opinion of it will vary depending on how you feel about the skeptical movement.
posted by matildaben at 4:46 PM on January 9, 2014

Start the Week is worth a look!
posted by HoraceH at 4:54 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try "The Cultures" (also on iTunes), a weekly podcast by mefi's own adrianhon and friends. Each one usually covers 3 topics, but often drifts in to interesting diversions.
posted by jeyb at 5:11 PM on January 9, 2014

Rex Factor has two very witty guys chatting about the history of the British monarchy. It's good info but never stuffy--conversational and funny. (I should add that the later episodes have better sound quality.)
posted by Quaversalis at 5:17 PM on January 9, 2014

Cortex and churl's The Crapshoot is a podcast with intelligent and relaxed conversation on a variety of subjects. They claim to have only three listeners so you could be number four.
posted by Area Man at 5:29 PM on January 9, 2014

Slate's Political Gabfest would fit the bill (I assume the other gabfests are similar, but that's the only one I actually subscribe to). So would Stuff You Should Know, probably. And then there's The Bugle which features John Oliver and is very funny in a British way.
posted by karbonokapi at 5:48 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Philip Adams is an Australian national treasure and public intellectual. His show, Late Night Live, is conversations with really interesting people. Try some of the podcasts, you won't be disappointed
posted by Kerasia at 5:49 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you like stand-up, I highly recommend Jimmy Pardo's Never Not Funny. He hosts with a different comedian each week - much more conversational than an interview. They routinely talk about what it is/was like to be a road comic and all the lessons they learned along the way.

It's one of the few pay podcasts (but well worth it for what you get - each episode is 90+ minutes) but they just announced today a partnership with Earwolf so they'll be free going forward.
posted by Twicketface at 5:49 PM on January 9, 2014

If "Never Not Funny" is a good fit, then I recommend "The Nerdist Podcast." There are about 9 dozen podcasts under the Nerdist network, but the main one, hosted by Chris Hardwick, and often co-hosted by fellow comics Matt Mira and Jonah Ray, is funny and usually pretty smart-- it's not always super-tasteful, but it's rarely low-brow. They have interview-y conversations with guests (movie stars, comics, nerd-interest celebs), but they also have "hostful" (i.e. guest-less) episodes where it's just the 3 of them talking together. I pick and choose the shows with guests, but I never miss a hostful; they keep it interesting and funny.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:01 PM on January 9, 2014

Since you're including single people talking solo, have you tried the Tobolowski Files? While I'm certain his pieces are pre-written, they feel conversational and are always interesting, usually funny, and often surprisingly deep.
posted by Mchelly at 6:01 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

(My immediate pick would have been the Slate Culture Gabfest, but I am guessing from your description that that one you already listen to)
posted by Mchelly at 6:03 PM on January 9, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour is a favorite of mine. Other things I love:

Roderick on the Line: Rock person and internet-famous productivity person talk about life. They were talking once about how "bureaucracy" started as a way to bring transparency to government during the French Revolution - the idea was that if everything was documented, then leaders were accountable. Maybe this is a Thing That Everybody Knows, but it kind of blew my mind.

Back to Work because one podcast with Merlin Mann isn't enough? This is supposed to be about productivity and stuff, but Merlin and his co-host spend most of the time just chatting now. It is much less about work productivity and much more about life, how it is sometimes hard, and maybe there's some stuff you can do to make it seem less hard.

In Beta has a defined topic (web culture?) but their discussions were pretty wide-ranging and interesting. The format has changed in the last month as one of the duo on this podcast have moved on, so I recommend the older episodes.

The Incomparable sometimes treads the same ground as PCHH -apparently everybody wants to talk about Christmas songs this year! But it is less structured than PCHH. And they do a way better job with show notes. I'm often frustrated by the fact that PCHH talks about lots of interesting stuff but then they don't give me a way to find it later.
posted by jeoc at 6:39 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

The K Ohle with Kurt Braunohler is a multi format podcast involving smart comedians talking about various things. Themes include boats (which they know nothing about but pretend to), pets, and psychogeography.
posted by Comet Bug at 6:42 PM on January 9, 2014

Another vote for Roderick on the Line. You might also like Professor Blastoff. It's comedy people talking about a science topic.
posted by O9scar at 7:43 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

As soon as I saw the description of this question, I immediately thought of You Look Nice Today. They don't post new episodes that often, but hopefully there's enough backlog to keep you entertained.
posted by destructive cactus at 7:46 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

(MetAfilters own) Jordan Jesse Go predates most of these named here and is actually funny as well as conversational. I would link to it, but I am a fancy man with a cane.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:38 PM on January 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Although it's more current events, I find CBC radio's "as it happens" podcast to be very conversational interviews, silly puns and just off from norm enough to be interesting. For example, today's segment was interviewing a guy who put out a potentially disastrous fire with beer from the truck that was on fire. And apparently it's better to make a smaller hole and shake than to pour as "you get better reach." Come on, that's gold for the next time you are to put out a fire. With beer.
posted by Yavsy at 9:33 PM on January 9, 2014

The Morning Stream, aka "two nerds talk about (mostly) weird news and then some." The first half-hour is pretty much chatter between the hosts about whatever shenanigans they got into. The second half of each show varies depending on the day of the week, with a guest coming on to talk about comic books, fitness, even WEIRDER news, Netflix recommendations and even psychotherapy.

Bonus points if you like Star Trek, since every episode has a "Stump a Trek Nerd" segment in which Scott and Brian call their go-to guy to ask a difficult trivia question.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 10:16 PM on January 9, 2014

Aisha Tyler's Girl On Guy features in-depth one-on-one interviews and conversations. Not just comedians, actors, or men either--she throws in chefs, brewery folks, soldiers, whoever she finds interesting.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:32 PM on January 9, 2014

Book Fight is ostensibly about books and writing, but the two guys (English professors and working writers) who host it end up at least 2-3 times an episode coming to the end of a long digression or tangent and saying, "Hey maybe we should get back to talking about the book."

I found the Writers Ask episodes more accessible at first, but the actual book episodes don't really require any knowledge of the book they're talking about. Mostly just free form discussion of writing in general and many other things.

The Dinner Party Download is a little more structured, but the segments are all fun and interesting.
posted by book 'em dano at 12:08 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've enjoyed heresthething recently. Alec Baldwin interviewing people.
posted by Spumante at 1:40 AM on January 10, 2014

WTF with Marc Maron has great conversations between the host (a comedian) and a celebrity guest (usually a comedian or musician). This isn't typical chat-show stuff, it's mainly about the performer's early life and how they broke into the business. Marc can get a bit grating as he often derails the conversation with his own issues, but it's a great insight into the world of showbiz, and often very funny.

Just make sure you skip over the first 10 minutes of each episode. It's mainly Marc blathering about his sponsors and personal life, which gets tedious.
posted by krunk at 6:43 AM on January 10, 2014 [2 favorites]'s Extra Hot Great! Mostly about TV, but I don't watch any of the shows they talk about and I looooove it. It's mostly a conversation among a bunch of very smart, funny friends, with some more structured segments (Game Time!). It's kind of like a longer, less NPR, more vulgar, more TV-focused PCHH.
posted by mskyle at 6:52 AM on January 10, 2014

destructive cactus is right: You Look Nice Today is an excellent podcast. If you want accurate non-fiction then it will not be a good fit, but if you want 3 smart guys bantering about absurd schemes to make money, then it will! Start with the episode "Gellies Local 416" where the hosts talk about starting their own union for the comradery and the matching denim vests.
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:47 AM on January 10, 2014

Two of my favorites already mentioned: Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin & You Look Nice Today are both unfortunately "retired" podcasts and no longer producing new episodes (they are putting out edited "best of" reissues of Here's the Thing episodes but I'd strongly suggest listening to the full original episodes).
posted by mathowie at 11:08 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I forgot a good one: The Dork Forest with comedian Jackie Kashian. In each episode, she talks to someone (usually another comedian but not always) about a hobby or interest. I've learned so much about bees, puppets, and Judaism!
posted by Comet Bug at 12:18 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I second Book Fight as being exactly what you're after.

I love EconTalk despite having had no special interest in economics before discovering it. It's one hour interviews with (mostly) economists, hosted by Russ Roberts, the libertarian economist who co-created the Keynes-Hayek rap videos (Youtube: 1, 2). Whatever you think of his libertarianism, you'll find the host to be intellectually honest and a great interviewer. It can get too technical, but only rarely—one can follow most of the interviews with no prior economics. The episodes featuring Mike Munger are particularly conversational and entertaining.
posted by sakahane at 4:21 AM on January 12, 2014

I'm surprised that Overthinking It hasn't been mentioned, as you described it nearly to a tee.

I also second EconTalk. It's the only podcast I've found that actually sounds like the kind of discussions that academics have with one another about their work in casual conversation.
posted by painquale at 7:25 AM on January 16, 2014

No one suggested Stop Podcasting Yourself, which is a perennial favorite of mine. Smart comics (always two -- Dave and Graham, usually also with a guest), definitely shooting the breeze, and although the humor occasionally-to-usually gets profane (which I don't mind/actually enjoy), my favorite thing about it is that the comedy is always gentle.
posted by emumimic at 6:03 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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