Thursday, February 28

The Awkward City Guide to Podcasts

I used to think podcasts were for nerds. Nerds and LA drivers. It never made sense to me why you would want to sit around, listening to a random person just talk about nonsense and nothingness until a full hour of your life had gone by. But, somewhere between being alone all day without the sound of human voices and having the option of listening in on Jeff Garlin make fun of his famous friends, I fell towards the latter end. From what I've experienced, many streamable hours out there are annoying, ranty and painstakingly intellectual, but for the rest of you normals (read: non-Comic-Con attendees), I've cherry picked the best of the best. (As well as the only thing I'm ever listening to on the train while dead-eyeing strangers who pushed past me to grab a seat.) No matter how many times you tried to like Nerdist and failed or are still attempting to figure out if YouTube beauty tutorials are normal or not, here are five nuggets of conversational happiness you can totally trust.

If you're still hung up on that "Well, why would I even want to listen to a podcast in the first place" mentality, here's a perfect place to start. Why, you ask? Because he's Alec god damn Baldwin, and it's a given that his guests are going to be more high-profile than those snippets of celebrity drops that play when Adele and Rihanna and Pink remind you you're listening to 95.5 PLJ. When he invites his friends to come guest on his radio hour, those friends are David Letterman, Billy Joel and Peter Frampton. Seriously.

His tone is soothing like a calorie-free butterscotch, his car commercial voice instantly draws you in, but above all, he's really an incredible interviewer. As a beloved celebrity he's insidery enough to not have to dig for answers, and he only really chimes in to push the story forward or provide a ridiculous things-only-famous-people-say anecdote, which is a little golden dropping of its own. He really does this shit with such a finesse, which is unexpected because I would listen to him read an encyclopedia if that was an option. Is that an option? Can it be? Damn, he could make a killing at that. Oh, and if your brain's been damaged from eating paint chips as a kid and you hate listening to him speak, hey also have the transcript. But god almighty, be lazy for once or something and just read with your ears.

Start With: Episode #13, Kristen Wiig. Did you know she never intended to act, or do comedy, or even be on SNL? I had no idea how incredible and accidental her story is.

Then Listen To: Episode 32: Lena Dunham, Episode 24: Fred Armisen, and Episode 8: Lorne Michaels. The ease between him and Lena is as impressive as him pulling out Lorne's entire life's details.

Tune In While: Cooking. Julia Child is to cooking as Alec Baldwin is to fuckin' COOKING. I had five minutes to make food last week, and it turned into an hour-long escapade featuring Patti LuPone's entire biography because I couldn't turn it off, and he subliminally convinced me to go ahead and try DIY tahini. Live a little! It tasted like shit, but at least I now know all about her and Kevin Klein's decade-long relationship.

I love Jeff Garlin for many reasons. I love him because he feels like a friendly father figure I could probably ask for an allowance from. I love him because he'd be great at giving hugs. I love him because he has a show in LA where he raffles off all of his nice things, and gave me a bunch of fun vinyl last time I went. And, obviously, I love him because he shares oxygen with my one true love, Larry David.

But, on his podcast, By The Way, Jeff shines beyond his role as my dream husband's best friend. He pulls out the most hilarious thoughts from people — Jeff Tweedy's undying adoration for Subarus, JJ Abrams on parenting techniques — while also pairing them with his own self-deprecating humor, mostly about his Jewish wife who's perennially ruining his life. (It's nice to be desensitized to what my assumed naggy future will be like.)

They can run long, and they're full of digressions that lead all over the place, but that's half the fun of listening in on his little chit-chats with these wonderful celebrity humans.

Start With: Episode 1: Larry David. Odds are if you're still reading about Jeff Garlin, you're mostly a Larry David fan. And from whining about paying the check for a table of people to divulging that he's "never in his life taken a photograph of something", he is off the charts bonkers in this one. It's so wonderful that I've listened twice.

Then Listen To: Episode 2: Lena Dunham, Episode 3: Jeff Tweedy, and Episode 4: JJ Abrams. In other words, listen to all of them.

Tune In While: Running errands, doing work, or trying to fall asleep. Stressing about which body wash to pick up for your male roommate or lugging home an ambitious amount of produce is a lot better when this guy's soundtracking it. And, surely, nothing jazzes up a little Stumptown-induced late-night insomnia like listening to his squeal of a giggle.

I used to read Dan Savage's painfully honest sex advice column when I was in college, but along with library study sessions, keg permits and Gawker actually covering New York news, that got left by the wayside. But, since stumbling across his Savage Love Podcast (and it's super adorable theme song), I'm back in the freaky sex news spectrum. It's updated every Tuesday like clockwork, and frankly, his openness and understanding towards every single lifestyle is a nice reminder in this politically fueled time that oh right, everyone should be accepted for who they are. It also reaffirms your sanity and teaches you more about diversity than the cover of a high school textbook. And hey, even if you don't personally need love advice on how to get your homosexual male partner to enjoy doing submissive things to you, it's fun to play "Columnist!" and try and guess what advice he's going to give before doling it out...mostly because you're always wrong and he's oh so much better at it.

Start With: Any week's works. Check here for the most recent one.

Then Listen To: Episode 330, a recording from his live Valentine's Day show featuring mind-numbingly wise beyond his years author Simon Rich. If you've ever dated anyone ever, it'll make you snort broth outta your faceholes.

Tune In While: On the subway. The fear of someone overhearing his rundown of butt plugs from outside your iPhone headphones will distract you from that heavyset man you're currently smushed next to.

It's precisely as described, but instead of being stuffy know-it-alls like every college TA you've ever had, the two hosts are lighthearted about the entire premise, and make casual learning and tip-telling actually fun. Some of How To Do Everything's topics are timely — staying awake during the State of The Union, how to win a wishbone pull at Thanksgiving — though others are insanely random and explorative. Like, oh, making a perfect ponytail by way of a vaccuum hose attachment, perhaps. (Verdict: if you're older than seven and have two hands, it's pretty unnecessary. Though, there's always a beauty tutorial to help! AAaaand bringing it full circle.)

They often reference videos or photos, so having their blog handy is an added bonus for re-laughing, but my favorite segment of all is Toilet of the Week, which chronicles unusual public loos around the world. Ends up it's nice to focus on something besides how tight to clench your tush so that the person in the stall doesn't realize you're also a poop-capable human.

Start With: Photos, Football and Shrek. The story at the beginning about President Obama is one of my favorites.

Then Listen To: Chinese Food and Paying Attention, but picking 'em based on their titles is probably your best bet.

Tune In While: Getting Ready. Since they move quickly, they're super engaging, but you also have to be able to focus and hear it clearly. So, as long as you're not screaming from poking your eye with a mascara wand, bathroom boring time is perfect for this one. Tune in while straightening your hair, slapping on eyeshadow or crunchy-curling your mane like it's junior high all over again.

As the first podcast I ever listened to and delved through the archives of, this one holds a special place in my heart for devirginizing me to the entire format. Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer discuss everything from dating fellow comics to life's Seinfeldian nuances to icky vaginal problems to feeling empowered in bed and literally, literally everything in between. Recent topics that come to mind: how belonging to a dirty gym will make you never want to exercise, cancer. The entire thing plays like going out to dinner with your funny friends, only you can do it whenever you want and no one has to make puppy dog eyes at the waitress afterwards when you ask to split the check three different ways. It's so incredibly, perfectly conversational that somewhere along the lines you'll start thinking to yourself "Hey, I can do this, too!" and dream about it but realize like real equipment is involved and your voice is really nasally and you should probably just leave it up to the fancy professionals.

The show has — how do I put this nicely — changed slightly since the two began their MTV late night show, with episodes now taped in their empty Midtown Viacom office instead of Sara's Brooklyn apartment filled with an audience. You can also hear the sleeplessness in their voice from their hefty scheduling bearing down on them, but it's worth sticking with it, because after all, so are they. If I had an MTV talk show, I'd abandon everything that didn't involve an on-call hairdresser and free access to a cable network wardrobe, so stack of applause to them for getting it done. Women having it all! And very nice hair too! I'm just hoping my current face will one day serve as a "before" picture for the shiny 'dos and cute duds they sport now.

Start With: The insanely, amazingly sexual Episode 85, featuring a pile of sillies served up by Dan St.Germain or Episode 72, Seth Herzog's insanely name-droppy (but worth it) edition.

Then Listen To: If you're looking for something goofy and girly, their recent chit-chat with Jessimae Peluso in Episode 96 fits the bill, but if you want something serious that could potentially spark waterworks, try Episode 90 with H. Alan Scott.

Tune In While: Getting Dressed and/or Cleaning. If you're like me, the two sort of go hand in hand — the easiest way to get a sweater out of the kitchen is to put it on, naturally — but these eppies really make your most pain in the ass chores a helluva lot better.

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