Podcasts that are lighthearted but interesting
December 22, 2017 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for podcasts to listen to while relaxing that are not too deep or intense, but still engaging.

Nothing dealing with breaking news or heavy culture issues, emotional stories, mentally intensive thinking, activism or social justice. At the same time, not looking something for specifically humor focused, as they tend to try too hard to be high energy and zany. Prefer to not have too much cursing or crass topics.

Like – Stuff You Should Know, No Such Thing as a Fish, Car Talk, 99% invisible, Judge John Hodgman

Not looking for – TAL, The Moth (too emotional/depressing), This Week in Tech (gets into a lot of social and culture issues), Radiolab (can be mentally intense), Pop Culture Happy Hour, Comedy Bang Bang (too comedy focused and sometimes activist/social justice oriented)

Interested in, but not necessarily looking for topics like general knowledge, video games, movies, sports, technology

Thanks for your help!
posted by roaring beast to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Every Little Thing?
posted by primethyme at 9:20 AM on December 22, 2017

I like The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe. His voice is soothing and the format is predictable: he tells a story from history about a significant person, but only tells you who they are at the end.
posted by assenav at 9:26 AM on December 22, 2017

I like quite a few of the previously.tv stable of podcasts: http://previously.tv/podcasts/ They're all about TV, whether it's a specific show, interviews with people who make TV, or more general discussion.

My favorite is their longrunning flagship podcast, "Extra Hot Great", which is a good solid TV discussion with three hosts and usually a guest or two. They're light-hearted and can be funny, but are not like OMG WE'RE ZANY U GUYS. Also, the production values are excellent.
posted by theatro at 9:28 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Answer Me This. It's like all the lighthearted/knowledge based Ask Metafilter questions plus chatfilter. The hosts have excellent chemistry, it's well produced, and there are about 100 free archived episodes you can listen to. It's often funny but is not really a comedy show.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:29 AM on December 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

Oh, also--it feels like I hardly watch any TV these days compared to other people, and yet I always enjoy Extra Hot Great, whether I'm personally familiar with the shows they talk about or not. I think they're generally accessible.
posted by theatro at 9:30 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Important If True does a lot of humorous musing about the future and technology.
posted by ignignokt at 9:30 AM on December 22, 2017

Perennial Metafilter favorite Rex Factor for British monarchs (England/GB, then Scotland). Biography and review of each monarch. Not as much sex with nuns once you get past the Norman conquest.

You may or may not like James Bonding, with two guys + a guest who recap all the James Bond movies and miscellanea. It can get a bit long, and it’s “two comedians talking”, but it can also be fun.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:33 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I can't sleep and fire up a podcast to help me relax, it's usually Classical Classroom.
posted by gyusan at 9:36 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Stuff You Missed in History Class is entertaining with lots of researched interesting information.
posted by Fig at 9:40 AM on December 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

Came here to recommend Stuff You Missed in History Class! Love their cheery attitude and inclusive approach.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:42 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Sawbones! Wacky medical history, explicitly family friendly (so no cursing), occasionally gross because medical stuff but not so gross that I've ever felt I needed to turn it off while eating. The show is funny but also informative.
posted by darchildre at 9:46 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Most of Sawbones and sister podcast Still Buffering, though they both occasionally do Very Special Episodes that you'll probably want to skip. While they're not specifically about social justice, the hosts are very careful with language in a way that would probably get them tagged as SJW by a certain crowd. But you could also say the same thing about Stuff You Missed in History Class, so adjust to taste.
posted by natabat at 9:51 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

HumaNature: "HumaNature is the PRNDI award-winning podcast that tells real stories where humans and our habitat meet, produced by Wyoming Public Media."
posted by amf at 9:54 AM on December 22, 2017

Imaginary Worlds -- Mostly sci-fi/fantasy, books, movies, TV.
The Memory Palace -- Short, engaging stories about diverse interesting topics.
To the Best of Our Knowledge -- NPR-style show from Wisconsin public radio -- each episode is several stories around a single theme/topic.
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:56 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Gastropod is a delighful, engaging show about the science and history of food.
posted by ourobouros at 10:05 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I really like Nocturne, which falls in my mental category of "soft-voiced non-fiction storytelling" like Criminal and Invisibilia, but is mostly not as heavy. And because the stories are about nighttime they have a little bit of a dreamy quality. This week's episode, about a guy who works in Christmas tree lots overnight in NYC, is a good example.

I just noticed as I got that link that one of Nocturne's producers has just started a podcast called Square Mile that I'm listening to now and might be a good option too.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:11 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Came here to recommend Sawbones, but it's already covered, so here's a couple more recommendations.

Movie Sign with the Mads featuring "Frank Conniff (MST3K), Trace Beaulieu (MST3K), and Carolina Hidalgo (Sirius Radio) on a film odyssey exploring the good, the bad, and the weird."

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project featuring Adam Savage of MythBusters fame. "Still Untitled covers everything from hot-button issues within the maker community to experiences from Adam's life to questions from the audience."
posted by ringu0 at 10:29 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Rex Factor. Like pretty much all podcasts, the sound quality's a bit dodgy on the first couple -- try William IV or Charles II first to see if you like them.
posted by Diablevert at 10:40 AM on December 22, 2017

Seconding Nocturn. I also LOVE The Twenty Percent True Podcast. Buttery, under a warm fuzzy blanket on the sofa in front of a crackling fire type of storytelling.
posted by WalkingHorse at 10:44 AM on December 22, 2017

I really enjoy Stuff to Blow Your Mind. It's quite relaxed, is not humor focused though it has lighthearted moments, and deals with a wide variety of science topics.

I'd never heard of Stuff You Should Know, so I looked it up and it looks to be a very similar podcast, and now that I look again they're both produced by How Stuff Works.
posted by SquidLips at 10:52 AM on December 22, 2017

Hello Internet
posted by misterbrandt at 11:18 AM on December 22, 2017

I started listening to Scriptnotes, in which two scriptwriters discuss, well, screenwriting and anything related to the film or TV industry, and I think it would fit into what you're looking for. I haven't listened to it, but there's also How Did This Get Made?, which seems to be about poking fun - with love - at "a movie so bad that it's amazing."

You may also enjoy The Dinner Party Download and BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. As the names suggest, the former is set up like a dinner party featuring a celebrity (for a brief interview) and interesting, cocktail party-esque facts, and the latter asks each guest to choose 8 records, one book, and a luxury item to take with him or her at a deserted island. My friend is a big fan of Call Your Girlfriend, in which two "long distance besties" catch up on anything and everything.
posted by postmortemsalmon at 11:21 AM on December 22, 2017

My Dad wrote a Porno is hilarious without trying too hard.
posted by raccoon409 at 11:33 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Sporkful is pretty good, though in the last year or so they’ve been a bit more political. Mostly they talk about food, how to eat it, and some science-y bits about food.

Spilled Milk is another food podcast, but there’s a lot more silliness and laughter.
posted by Night_owl at 11:42 AM on December 22, 2017

If you are interested in popular music at all, Hit Parade is a pretty deep dive.
posted by Duffington at 11:54 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like Reply All and Slate's Culture Gabfest.

That said, Reply All veers serious occasionally. The Gabfest covers currently relevant events including some serious ones. They both have some cursing.

You nixed Pop Culture Happy Hour but don't say exactly why - the format for Slate's Culture Gabfest is the same, but I think it's just much better.

As mentioned above, Hit Parade is excellent.
posted by vunder at 12:02 PM on December 22, 2017

Seconding the memory palace, especially since you mentioned 99% Invisible and Judge John Hodgman. Most of the episodes are about lesser-known people or events from U.S. history (mostly the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), and they're fairly brief. It definitely isn't overly intense or zany. I find the writing and narration to be really affecting, but calming. They're small doses of lovely worldbuilding.

Sadly, the Dinner Party Download, mentioned above, has come to an end.
posted by Anita Bath at 12:45 PM on December 22, 2017

The History of English. I had no idea how interesting words could be. A warning, though: Kevin Stroud is taking us from prehistory to (eventually) the present to learn about those words, and sometimes it can be pretty brutal (feudal times were pretty horrific).

And if NY City history is of interest to you, I recommend the Bowery Boys.
posted by AMyNameIs at 1:05 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like House of Carbs.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:36 PM on December 22, 2017

TBTL is great for this!! It's two friends talking about all sorts of things and it has new episodes every weekday. They keep the conversation light, don't typically cuss, and they have a regular segment about sports. Listening to it feels like catching up with friends.

Here is an episode I like that's good to start with. They took a boat out to Bellingham Bay to view the recent eclipse.
posted by heart's ease at 1:57 PM on December 22, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great responses!
posted by roaring beast at 3:43 PM on December 22, 2017

One more, if you like Chuck Bryant from SYSK - Movie Crush is a podcast he just started with him sitting down to talk to someone about a popular movie they feel an attachment to; Roman Mars on Jaws, John Hodgman on the Avengers, etc. Makes for some engaging but light conversations.

One one more more, but maybe not what you're looking for, since it's on the loud/zany/rowdy side: How Did This Get Made is June Diane Raphael, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and an assortment of celebrity guests taking apart a bad - no, really bad - direct-to-video type movie in front of a live audience.
posted by bartleby at 6:00 PM on December 22, 2017

The Poscast is Joe Posnanski (sports writer) and Michael Schur (TV showrunner of Parks and Rec and the Good Place) having ridiculous conversations. I wouldn't classify it as a humor podcast, but it's consistently enjoyable and total nonsense. There's usually some sports discussion, then drafts of things like We Are the World singers, fruit, utensils and sandwiches.
posted by thatquietgirl at 9:44 PM on December 22, 2017

I quite enjoy The Omnibus by John Roderick and Ken Jennings, which might fit into your parameters.
posted by dominik at 10:17 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I feel you. I had to ditch a few of my faves when they got way too Trump focused.

Agree with The Sporkful. Even the more serious ones are not downers. Definitely Gastropod too.

Reply All isn't lighthearted usually, but it's really fucking good and the hosts are Mefites.

How I Built This is great stories about entrepreneurs, without being a cult of personality.

If you like dogs, Can I Pet Your Dog is delightful.

Do you like interview shows? Bullseye with Mefi's own Jesse Thorn is great. Also his miniseries The Turnaround is phenomenal.

If you're interested in pop music, Switched on Pop breaks down what makes hit songs hits, and it's super interesting.

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is like, the original lighthearted radio show. It's technically about "news" but it's mostly wacky news.
posted by radioamy at 10:30 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

You sound so much like me that I've busy taking notes to add to my own list.
A few other favorites:
You're the Expert three comedians interview a scientist. I learn something new, I get a good feel for what real science is like and a sense of the scientist as a person as well as an expert.

Another one that will make you feel smart without taxing your brain (or talking about anything depressing) is the Infinite Monkey Cage More hard science focus but the usually have one comedian on the panel to distract things.

The Allusionist with Helen Zaltzman is a shorter podcast that is uses words as a springboard to talk about language and culture. Part of Radiotopia (the network founded by the 99% invisible folks), Helen is also on Ask Me Another (which I like to listen to while I fall asleep - it varies widely in how much research they do to answer questions - often not much - so I don't mind missing out when I drift off)

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is joking about the news - personally I reacted badly to the election and the state of politics so that stuff just isn't funny right now.
posted by metahawk at 1:09 AM on December 24, 2017

Blindboy podcast. This is a bit of a leftfield suggestion as it does sometimes deal with heavier subjects but in a surreal, stream of consciousness way. It does have some cursing. The guy has a heavy Limerick accent and there's a very soothing musical background in all but the earliest episodes. I mean basically listen for five minutes and you'll know if you like it or not.
posted by roolya_boolya at 10:43 AM on December 24, 2017

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