I think we can all agree that 2017 is a horrifying roller-coaster ride that will land us all directly into a fully-realized version of the Springfield Tire Fire, but all of the fun-making adrenaline of a roller-coaster has been replaced with crippling anxiety and depression. Also, the cost of admission is more than an annual pass to Disneyland, but instead of acres of whimsy, it’s just this one ride, and also the ride is life. And there aren’t even churros.
What I’m trying to say is that oftentimes, but especially right now, everything is a lot, and it’s hard. Sometimes a little light, something kind or funny, to help us get through the day. It can seem impossible to get that escape if you’re always working, commuting, working out, cooking, cleaning, etc. but reader, I have some good news:
Podcasts exist, and unlike therapy, they are free. (Please don’t substitute podcasts for therapy, etc.)
Kind World is a short-form nonfiction podcast that features one story of sheer kindness each week. With episodes clocking in at about 10 minutes each, this show is like an auditory piece of chocolate: it’s hyper-sweet, but small enough to make sure you won’t get sick. This is the podcast that inspired me to write this list, and I’d recommend it to anyone who just needs something small and nice in their life, even f they don’t usually listen to podcasts. Kind World never alienates its listeners and never tries to force its point. It simply delivers one short, lovely, true story each week, understanding that sometimes, the simplest concepts are the best.
The McElroys have become a bit of a thing in media, and after engaging in some of their content, I absolutely understand why. The three brothers have a knack for balancing silly and genuine while also keeping their humor kind.
For those looking for sheer silliness with an occasional tidbit of good advice, My Brother, My Brother and Me is hard to beat. The show is an “advice” podcast, but the advice is often terrible, and the questions are often taken from Yahoo Answers. The show is less advice and more humor, split between the brothers discussing the questions and their day-to-day lives. I will admit than when I first started listening to this show, I did not understand the appeal–for those who feel the same, I’d urge them to check out this video. Not every episode is going to be as stellar as that moment, but most episodes have moments just as good.
For those looking for something a little more immersive and a little nerdier, The Adventure Zone is a show in which the McElroy brothers play Dungeons and Dragons with their father. The show is just as funny as My Brother, My Brother and Me, but has the benefit of being half fiction, half McElroys being McElroys. As the show progresses, the plot becomes more and more intriguing; the production quality increases as well, making the story even more immersive. Even for those who aren’t well-versed in D&D, this show is still the perfect mix of silliness and genuinely high-quality storytelling, and gives a refreshing dose of gender diversity in its characters. Note that if you’re going to listen to The Adventure Zone, you have to start with episode 1 and listen chronologically.
Beautiful Stories from Anonymous Strangers is exactly what the title suggests. Each week, an anonymous caller talks about their life with the host, Chris Gethard. While each episode varies dramatically given the format of the podcast, even the most intense episodes feel healing in how intimate they are. While The Moth and This American Life both provide true stories, Beautiful / Anonymous has the benefit of being almost entirely raw audio. Instead of being written, edited, and polished, each episode is the full hour the caller has to talk. There’s a freeing honesty in each episode both from the caller and Gethard himself, and each episode offers the listener a way to live vicariously, relate, or reminisce.
I’ve been singing The Hilarious World of Depression‘s praises for some time now, but I’ll recap here as well: this show interviews famous comedians who have depression or other mental illnesses. While the show has a premise that might sound heavy, the content is shockingly, and refreshingly, upbeat. The honest conversations about mental illness without the melodramatic flair of most pieces of media makes the show relatable and comforting. While most of my other picks on this list are bright, happy getaways, The Hilarious World of Depression is admittedly more serious; sometimes, though, understanding you’re not alone is more important than some quick escapism.
If you are looking for pure escapism, though, look no further than EOS 10. EOS 10 is a sci-fi comedy fiction podcast about a surgeon who is sent to a space station to reel in his reckless, alcoholic idol. Don’t let that description fool you; EOS 10 is much closer to “Futurama but they’re doctors” than “Grey’s Anatomy but they’re in space.” The show is ridiculous and fun, borrowing from classic sitcom and sci-fi tropes while still making them seem updated and interesting. If you’re looking for a show that has careful writing without problems, this show likely isn’t for you; the tropes do, at times, have a twinge of misogyny that does detract from the content (and in that case, you might like The Strange Case of Starship Iris more). Still, the jokes, silly worldbuilding, and character development are more than enough to endear the show to me. Note that if you’re going to listen to EOS 10, you have to start with episode 1 and listen chronologically–this is a good time for that, though, as the crew is currently recording Season 2 after long last.
All of the shows listed can be found on any standard podcast streaming app like the Podcasts app for iPhones, or PodcastAddict and PocketCasts for Android. They can also be streamed directly from their sites. If you want more podcast recommendations, you can read my reviews or ask me on Tumblr or Twitter.