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What’s in my podcast player?

Did you get turned onto podcasts by the murder mystery “Serial?” Or have you been listening to podcasts ever since Adam Carolla exploded the format into a relevant medium?

No matter how you got turned onto podcasts, welcome to the future of listening to documentary- and TV show-length shows by an incredible array of comedians, science geniuses, newscasters, hypnotists, athletes, directors, entrepreneurs, DJs, and me.

If you’re a newbie, read all about my personal recommendations in today below, then listen to podcasts for free on iTunes, PC/Mac, or Android phones and tablets after downloading a free podcast app, such as Podcast Addict, from the Google Play Store.

  • The Joe Rogan Experience — Rogan (who performs Friday night in the MGM’s “Ka” theater) is a Renaissance man of media. He’s one of America’s funniest comedians. He used to host “Fear Factor” and costar in “NewsRadio.” And he does commentary for the UFC. His podcast is often three hours conversations with fellow comedians, scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, conspiracy people, UFC fighters, mushroom aficionados, and futurists. Rogan is an inquisitive, rational but passionate, smart but silly, generous, funny guy with an open mind, and he’s neither a pushover nor a hothead. He never screams at guests. If they say something dumb, he’ll Google it on the spot to fact-check them. He is the only public figure who has completely changed my opinion about a major political subject (drug legalization). He promotes other podcasters, even though they are essentially rivals, so he has turned me onto other podcasts. This is my most indispensable podcast. I’d recommend you start with a recent episode, such as No. 666, his three-hour, interesting, often hilarious chat with comedian Duncan Trussell about Satanism, Ram Dass, cops, and “the human hive.”
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History — I was a history minor in college, and I can’t stress strongly enough that you fellow history buffs should be listening to this podcast. Carlin, a longtime broadcaster, uses an arresting vocal delivery to present seriously researched takes on moments in history. His last six episodes, “Blueprint for Armageddon,” chronicle 20 hours (20 hours!) of true stories from the before-during-and-after events of World War I. That series is incredible, but so are his eight hours of episodes, “Wrath of the Khans” on Genghis Khan, and other shows. If you’re a history person and you’re not listening to this podcast, you are missing out on the best history broadcasting in audio and probably TV. Carlin’s other podcast, “Common Sense with Dan Carlin” is also an enlightening show about politics that is, blessedly, not tied to any of the isms but rather a rational look at contemporary politics by a history guy, which is what we need more of in this world, and less intractable isms.
  • Here We Are — Comedian Shane Mauss had a moment of perfect clarity a few years ago and discovered he wanted to learn all the cool stuff he didn’t want to learn in college. So he now goes around the country, interviewing evolutionary biologists and other university researchers about why humans, animals and the Earth do the things they do. I’d recommend starting with episode No. 19 in which researcher Nicole Prause talks sex, and Episode 18 in which Marlene Zuk gives us insights into how parasites rule our lives in silent power.
  • Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank — Shaffir, the comedian behind Comedy Central’s “This is Not Happening,” talks to his friends who are comedians about one subject per show, plus tangents. That’s it. It’s so stripped down to conversations among friends that I didn’t get it at first. But then I shed my stupid preconceived notions about what a podcast should be, and I just enjoyed his two- and three-hour talks with buddies. He says things that will offend some people. I have been offended once or twice, even. But that’s what the best comedians do, as an important testing of our boundaries to shake our brains awake with laughs. If you can just stop your mind from being offended, and hang in there, you can be rewarded. I’d start with episode No. 203, “Prison Rules,” with Ali Siddiq (but skip the 12-minute intro), and episode No. 221 about a guy who introduced ice cream trucks to China.
  • “Guys We (Expletive)” — Comedians Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fisher co-host this “anti-slut-shaming” podcast. You will notice there aren’t a lot of women- fronted and not-white-people-fronted podcasts on my podcast list, because unfortunately there aren’t many non-white-male podcasts. That is absolutely the biggest bummer about podcasts. I hope this will change and fast. But this show is right on for what it is, two women talking to each other, and a few guests, about sex in 100-percent unadulterated, uncensored shows that even iTunes has previously declined to promote, but that’s iTunes’ loss. If you love hearing raw feminists talk about sex for pleasure and politics, start with any title that sounds interesting.
  • “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” — This is the podcast you wouldn’t think would be in my podcast rotation. It’s a “G”-rated” well-meaning corny show which is often just about, like, two women organizing a closet. But there’s something comforting about this show, with sisters Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft fleshing out good tips on how to become a happier human being, such as greeting everyone in your home at the beginning of each day with hugs and genuine smiles. If you’re allergic to earnest self-improvement, you can use this podcast more than anyone.
  • Radiolab — I’ve heard almost all of the “Radiolab” episodes. They’re really great, highly produced shows that play on public radio. Many episodes are phenomenal. But the one that shook me to the core and has haunted me the most was 2012’s episode “A War We Need,” a true story about how half of the Earth’s oxygen comes from a war between trillions of microscopic sea creatures. Without that war? Where’s our oxygen?
  • The Tim Ferriss Show — Tim Ferriss appears to be the new Tony Robbins. Ferriss is a rich entrepreneur and investment guy who speaks to his rich buddies. Sounds insufferable, doesn’t it? But it’s not. Ferriss is a very good interviewer, getting interesting nuggets out of people you might not even like. I’d recommend listening to his interviews with Dr. Astro Teller, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rick Rubin, and Whitney Cummings.
  • WTF with Marc Maron — President Obama just did Maron’s show, the president’s first podcast appearance. It was good. But one of the best podcast hours I’ve ever heard was Maron’s recent stage interview of NPR’s Terry Gross. You should totally listen to that Gross episode if you’re an NPR listener.
  • “Mohr Stories” — Comedian and actor Jay Mohr does terrific interview conversations with his agent, comedians, family members and actors in hour and two-hour shows. I have a longtime fondness for “Mohr Stories,” because years ago, I was turned onto podcasts by Mohr, Carolla and “Fresh Air.” I’d recommend starting with No. 290 with his wife, Nikki Cox, as they cope and joke with the death of her mom.
  • StarTalk Radio — America’s most famous physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson mixes fun science knowledge with pop culture, interviews with people such as Norman Lear, people from NASA, and Jimmy Carter. Personally, I enjoy it more when Tyson gets interviewed by other people. That’s when he shines most, giving us big answers in understandable dialogue. But whatever, the world is always better with more Tyson.
  • The Cracked Podcast — This often-entertaining podcast takes on fun trends and traditions in pop culture, but also big social, political, and entertainment issues. This is the podcast that gives me the most frustration, because one episode will be an fun take on film tropes, and the next episode will include fairly idiotic viewpoints. But it’s good.
  • Coffee Break — If you want to learn some languages for free, try “Coffee Break French,” “Coffee Break Spanish,” “Coffee Break Italian,” or “Coffee Break German.”
  • The Nerdist — Comedian Chris Hardwick interviews Hollywood types and other famous people, from John Cusack to Paul McCartney, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Stephen Tobolowsky. My favorite episode, though, was with Joss Whedon, because I’m a “Buffy” dork.
  • This American Life — The very popular public radio show is available for download en masse, now, finally, after limiting previous downloads.
  • The University of Chicago Law School Faculty Podcast — Professorial lawyers talk about the law. Fascinating!
  • Getting Doug With High — Comedian Doug Benson smokes marijuana with famous people. You would definitely want to begin with Episode No. 8 with actresses Aubrey Plaza and Alia Shawkat.
  • Tangentially Speaking with Dr. Christopher Ryan — The author of “Sex at Dawn” speaks frankly with lightness and intelligence to experts of sex, primatology and other fields of study.
  • The Duncan Trussell Family Hour — The comedian has conversations with friends, comedians, spiritualists, drug enthusiasts, and other people he finds interesting.
  • The Smartest Man in the World — Comedian Greg Proops, the world’s best improv artist who is often known best from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, goes on stage but instead of doing his comedy routine, he performs funny, smart, politically liberal monologues in a breathless “vodkast” of intellectual but silly jokes and statements.
  • Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler — The comedian and “Archer” actor does interviews with comedians (the Chris Rock episode is legendary), actors and friends.
  • The Mating Grounds — Tucker Max and Dr. Geoffrey Miller talk very directly about mating rituals. Some feminists hate Tucker Max, but this is a pretty entertaining show regarding dudes and their sometimes super dumb ideas about how to entice women.
  • The Adam Carolla Show — Carolla will record two episodes of his show on Friday in front of an audience at club Vinyl in the Hard Rock Hotel, and another two episodes there on Saturday. Like many podcast listeners, I only found out about podcasts because Carolla popularized the art form years ago. If his show is way down here on my list, don’t take that as a criticism but rather because we’ve all written about him regularly for so long, I have to presume you have tried the show and love it or hate it, already. He’s also still doing the entertaining Adam and Dr. Drew Show podcast.
  • Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend — The comedian Carolla fired interviews comedians and leads conversations with friends on a roundtable.
  • Penn’s Sunday School — Penn Jillette records this podcast from Las Vegas every Sunday, talking very openly as always about his successful career, his life, and pop culture.
  • Ram Dass Here and Now — I’m an atheist, but I enjoy listening to old monologues from the archives of Ram Dass, the enlightenment guru, because his talks are lovingly groovy, in an old 1970s way, and he’s not wrong about life and death. I’d recommend listening to the January episode, “Love and Incarnation.”
  • 99% Invisible — This little short show is public-radio-esque in its telling of true stories that have had big impacts on the world despite being very little known.
  • The Tobolowsky Files — And last but definitely not least, “Groundhog Day” actor Stephen Tobolowsky tells a story better than anyone in podcasting. Each episode is a long tale in acts from his interesting life. Two of the best podcast hours I’ve ever heard were his episodes No. 4 (on the life and death of his mother, which I will never forget) and episode No. 29 (on filming “Groundhog Day” with the unparalleled Bill Murray).

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman. Find him on Twitter: @VegasAnonymous.

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