One of my favourite things to do is listen to podcasts. They have been a trusty companion on my long walks along the beach in Dublin bay. Far too often in the past I have found myself listening to very disposable interview podcasts that seem to lose their currency almost immediately, so this year I set myself the specific goal of listening only to podcasts that tell stories. It didn’t matter what kind of stories (or on what topic), just as long as they were focused on storytelling. Not all of the podcasts I listened to were great in that regard, but here is a list of the very best ones I heard. It’s a wide and varied list but every one of them is uniquely engaging.
Dead Eyes (Headgum // Connor Ratliff)
Dead Eyes is a really captivating podcast series hosted by comedian/actor Connor Ratliff, who tries to solve “a very stupid mystery” that has haunted him for two decades: why Tom Hanks fired him from a small role in the 2001 HBO mini-series, Band Of Brothers. Such a simple, narrow subject gives way to an amazing series of deep & interesting conversations with brilliant artists, creatives and performers (Jon Hamm, D’Arcy Carden, Elijah Wood, Damon Lindelof and many more) about the pitfalls of working in the entertainment industry, and the nature of rejection and ambition. While the central tale of his rejection from Band of Brothers forms the spine of the series, it branches out in unexpected and interesting ways that made it my favourite podcast of the year. And the whole tale is told in such a gentle, unassuming, entertaining way, that you can’t help but be swept along. Listen to the podcast here.
Heavyweight (Gimlet // Jonathan Goldstein)
I stumbled upon Heavyweight late last year and I was immediately hooked on the really compelling stories told on the podcast. Each episode is a cleverly crafted journey that begins with a person who has an unresolved moment in their past (a heavy weight) and the host, Jonathan Goldstein, takes them (and the listener) on a journey to resolve or reckon with that moment. It’s a simple premise that could easily fall apart in the hands of a lesser storyteller, but it is handled with such humour and care each time, you simply can’t help but get drawn in. This season told some brilliant new stories (especially episodes 44 and 45) and it remains one of the very best podcasts out there. Listen to the podcast here
Things Fell Apart (Jon Ronson // BBC)
One of the most gifted working storytellers today is Jon Ronson. His recent BBC Radio series, Things Fell Apart, which focuses on the human stories at the centre of the ongoing culture wars, is an absolute gem. Expertly constructed tales of people’s personal stories that, despite their relatively innocuous beginnings, have had huge ripples on our wider culture and communities. Equally interesting is the conversation between Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux, where they explore their particular brand of storytelling and what drives them to tell them. Fascinating insights from two masters of their craft. The link here is to the BBC website, but it is available on most podcast platforms.
9/12 (Pineapple Street Studios)
The compelling podcast 9/12 explores the impact on different people in the aftermath of the September 11th 2001 attacks. As someone who experienced 9/11 first hand and escaped from downtown Manhattan that day, I worried that it may be too triggering and difficult to listen to, but instead I was treated to a thoughtful, human-centric set of stories that explore really interesting angles of our post 9/11 world. My favourite was episode 2, which looked at the need for humour in the aftermath of tragedy, with a particular focus on the writers of The Onion. All of the episodes, and that one in particular, seemed even more relevant in the current world we find ourselves in. Highly recommended listening. Listen to the podcast here,
Dublin Story Slam (Julien Clancy)
The Dublin Story Slam is an independent podcast by award-winning radio producer Julien Clancy, that presents the best stories told at their monthly open mic storytelling show in Dublin’s Sugar Club. The live event is hosted by the whip-smart comedian Colm O’Regan, who also appears on several of the podcasts.
We have a genuine gift of the gab here in Ireland (and we love to spin a good yarn) so it’s no surprise that this podcast is a brilliant showcase of Irish storytelling at its finest. The stories range from big laughs to little melancholy moments, all infused with wit, charm and wisdom.
The beauty of these stories is how personal they are. I love the honesty & bravery shown by the storytellers sharing their tale with everyone, and it is a magical thing to be in that room (I’ve even had the pleasure of telling a story or two onstage myself). If you can’t be in the room, then this podcast is the next best thing. It is artfully put together and it has a gentle ease to it that makes it feel like a familiar friend.
You can listen to the podcast here on their website, where you can also find out details about their live shows.