Recommendations for serious non-fiction podcasts (no comedians allowed!)
April 14, 2019 4:05 AM   Subscribe

There are so many non-fiction podcasts for exploring subjects like History, Science etc but almost every one I have found tends to have a "humour" element - ie a comedian trying to make jokes which I find jarring - looking for something without the laugh track

Examples of the type of thing I mean by comedian influenced include Infinite Monkey Cage, Star Talk, Daniel & Jorge, Sawbones etc etc

Hardcore History is obviously a prime example of the serious type
posted by mrbenn to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Hardcore History is unparalleled, but I rather like the Wondery podcast series like "History Tellers" "American Innovations" and "American Scandal". Just know that they're very clever at working their sponsors into the shows in a way that can make you feel cheated sometimes.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:29 AM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Futility Closet is a great podcast about historical novelties. As such, some of the stories are inherently amusing and the hosts will have a chuckle from time to time, but it's not an imposition of zany wit on top of an otherwise serious subject. It's another one of my favourite podcasts, and not just because they read my letters (and accepted one of my lateral thinking puzzles, which I hope to hear some time).
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:32 AM on April 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

posted by synecdoche at 4:53 AM on April 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

The BBC does have quite a few non-fiction podcasts that don't feature comedians. Two that I listen regularly are In Our Time and The Inquiry. Not all episodes are about history or science, so you may choose to skip certain episodes that don't interest you.
posted by applesurf at 4:55 AM on April 14, 2019 [16 favorites]

The Numberphile Podcast. A bit infrequent, not terribly funny, more about the mathematicians than the math.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:59 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You will probably want to look for podcasts with a single host rather than a pair which will let you get away from the straight/funny host dynamic. From my own listening list you might like the following:
Spacepod - One Astronomer interviewing another Astronomer about their work. The astronomy is serious, the what are they drinking at the beginning not so much.
Revolutions - Mike Duncan who did the History of Rome goes through important western political revolutions in rough chronological order.
The History of Byzantium - This podcast by Robin Pierson picks up where the History of Rome stopped (the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and follows what happened with the Eastern Roman Empire. Every 100 years or so of covering what the Emperors are doing, he stops and spends several episodes going over what has been changing in the broader Empire and answering listener questions.
Medieval Death Trip: The host finds an odd and/or interesting fragment of a medieval text and reads it with comments about the text before and/or afterwards.
In Our Time - A panel discussion of various topics, ranging from Literature, Science, Philosophy, Art, etc. from the BBC.
The History of Philosophy without any gaps - an attempt to go through the entire history of Western Philosophy skipping as little as possible. There is also a second podcast feed that has gone through Indian Philosophy and is currently working on Africana Philosophy.
The History of English - A history of the English language going over when, how and why it changed.
posted by Meeks Ormand at 5:03 AM on April 14, 2019 [13 favorites]

Daniel Bolelli of History on Fire takes Hardcore History as a model. He occasionally makes pop culture comparisons that are kind of funny, but it’s overall a serious podcast.

(And thanks for this question. I get tired of the comedy emphasis too.)
posted by FencingGal at 5:42 AM on April 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

The host of the British History Podcast is sometimes sarcastic but otherwise serious. Seconding the History of English.
posted by Botanizer at 5:46 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you are interested in the history of the Normans, this podcast is interesting. From the Vikings through 1066 and into Byzantium.
posted by Enid Lareg at 5:57 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tides of History
posted by Homer42 at 6:07 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Backstory is a public radio podcast about American history, so you get three history professors and zero comedians.
posted by jeoc at 6:22 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve been enjoying NPR’s new Throughline Podcast, which takes a current situation and looks at the history behind it.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 6:46 AM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't know why my links are not showing up. The podcast I mentioned is called Norman Centuries, by Lars Brownworth.
posted by Enid Lareg at 6:51 AM on April 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

posted by Thorzdad at 7:10 AM on April 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

New Books in History consists of serious interviews with authors about a history book they've recently written. They usually contain a good summary of the book and its main theses. It covers books on the histories of a very wide variety of people, places, and things. It might be worth your time to trawl through its episode archive, which is quite extensive.

They New Books Network also puts out a whole pile of podcasts on other disciplines and subject areas across the sciences and the humanities.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:17 AM on April 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Age of Napoleon is going through Napoleon's life step by step. Currently he's having a lot of struggles in Egypt, but the podcaster starts out with his childhood and family life. There are almost no jokes and the podcaster makes an effort to connect events to wider trends in society and to talk about Napoleon without lionizing or demonizing him. You also get to hear his very goofy teenage boy letters read out loud!

Inward Empire is another one, it updates very rarely and the episodes are LONG (2+ hours). It covers media representations and mythmaking in American history.
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 7:31 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Stuff You Missed In History Class - little chunks of history
99% Invisible - this one is hard to explain because it's about design and the ways design shapes other parts of life, but it's excellent
The Allusionist - language
Making Gay History - Eric Marcus's audio tapes of interviews from when he was putting his book, Gay History, together
One from the Vaults - trans history podcast
Queer as Fact - excellent, in-depth queer history podcast by a team of fab Aussie intellectuals
What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law - this is a series of shorts by Roman Mars of 99% Invisible and his neighbor who is a professor of constitutional law.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:41 AM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding the rec for the New Books podcasts, brought to you by a consortium of academic presses. Typically the host will interview the book's author.

Some hosts are more careful about production quality than others, so it's a little trial and error in that area, but I've gotten to hear some fascinating conversations.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:55 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not history but politics: another Europe
Insightful, left.
posted by 15L06 at 8:13 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Uncivil seems to be on a hiatus but it’s worth listening to the episodes so far.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 8:26 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Stuff You Missed in History Class. I love it so much. It also has a lot of history focussed around on interesting women, which is very nice.
posted by girlpublisher at 8:29 AM on April 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

posted by a strong female character at 9:03 AM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Dressed: The History of Fashion is, as you can tell, focused on clothing and fashion. That's a great lens to learn more general history through, though, and they contextualize people, ideas and places well. Sometimes the hosts get on my nerves (I really cannot listen to anything they talk about related to Marie Antoinette) but they are engaging and smart without being comedians.
posted by kalimac at 9:34 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am super into Emperors of Rome which is a great introduction to the various emperors, writers, and culture of ancient Rome. They also have a companion podcast called When in Rome that looks at the architecture of ancient Rome, but I haven't listened to that yet.

Crimetown is also great, I've also got The City queued up to listen to and I loved Last Seen about the famous art heist at the Isabella Gardner Museum in the 90s.
posted by brookeb at 9:43 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

CBC's Quirks and Quarks (sorry can't link)..

Interviews about current science with the scientists. Also contains a listener question at the end of each episode, also answered by a scientist.
posted by kathrynm at 10:12 AM on April 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

99% Invisible is a straight and fascinating take on how design hides within our everyday lives
posted by Mchelly at 10:33 AM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Already mentioned but In our Time is exactly what you are looking for. I have been listening to it for a decade and it has never let me down
posted by Megami at 11:01 AM on April 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Caliphate, from Rukmini Callamachai / the NYT, is a very good podcast on the history of ISIS.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 11:16 AM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can't believe no one has mentioned Hidden Brain, which is fascinating, not funny (except maybe for the episode on laughter and how it works) and the pod that got me hooked on listening to pods. Basically interesting investigations into how the brain works.

Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History is a bit patchy - some bits are more historical than others, and he can get a bit ranty, but it's not particularly funny and is usually quite interesting.

Lore describes itself as about "dark historical tales" - definitely not funny; not particularly scary either except inasmuch as humanity itself is scary. If you like it, there's a more in-depth series by the same guy called Unobscured. The first series is about the Salem witch trials but digs into a lot of aspects like economics, politics etc - it's not a sensationalist "woo witches" thing.

You may also want to check out Radiotopia which really does do great stuff. My favourites on there are Criminal and the Allusionist; but 99% Invisible, Song Exploder and the Memory Palace are also great. Showcase is a series of limited series, if that makes sense; some might work for you while others maybe not so much. Oh, and while I adore the Allusionist, she does tend to be funny. Not comedian funny, but definitely not all-serious all-the-time.

Nothing on TV and Dead and Buried both feature stories gleaned from Australian historic newspapers and other digitised records. Nothing on TV is more eclectic (and has heaps of source material linked on the website) while Dead & Buried tends more towards historical true crime, but both are pretty interesting.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:47 PM on April 14, 2019

The End of the World with Josh Clark from Stuff you Should Know, which I also recommend. While the latter is 2 guys talking and is sometimes funny, they aren't playing for laughs. (Sorry, for some reason this tablet is not letting me automatically link to the websites.)

Thank you so much for posting this. Podcasts that attempt to inject humor into serious subjects grate on my last nerve.
posted by she's not there at 7:43 PM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

BirdNote doesn't have that comedian vibe to it, IMO.
posted by Lexica at 10:52 AM on April 15, 2019

It's not being produced any more, but youi can still find Karina Longworth's You Must Remember This podcast - meticulously research about the golden age of Hollywood, or rather its stars and their peccadilloes.
posted by DandyRandy at 4:11 PM on April 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Great question!

Nthing In Our Time, which is great.

Also from the fab folks at the BBC:

The Life Scientific
Great Lives
A History of the World in 100 Objects
posted by kristi at 11:46 AM on April 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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