A lot of shit happened in 2016.
The podcast world in 2016, however, was impressive. A lot of great content, a lot of new and interesting shows, and a lot more made by people who are not straight white men. Many address the shifting political tone in the country, many offer an escape from it. At some point, I started compiling this list.
Here it is! my top 10 podcast episodes of 2016:
- Another Round #35: Kwanzaa Spectacular Live (video). This may be the singularly greatest thing that happened on a stage in 2016. It actually happened in Dec 2015, but I listened to it in 2016, so I am counting it. Another Round is the perfect mix of friendship, silliness, me laughing out loud listening, realtalk about feminism/mental health/selfcare, beautiful quotes and amazing guests (Hillary Clinton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lin Manuel Miranda, David Simon, Lena Dunham,...). Impossible to pick one episode, so I picked this–the live Kwanzaa special. It's just perfect. (thanks Anna C. Reilly for introducing me to this!)
- Allusionist #12: Pride. Originally aired in 2015, this episode was re-broadcast in 2016 with some additional commentary in the wake of the Orlando shootings. One of my hands-down favorite podcasts of the last few years, Allusionist features Helen Zaltzman digging deep on interesting questions of language–in this case "pride," and where its origins in the LGBTQ community. It's an interesting history of activism and evolution.
- Imaginary Worlds #54: Dumbledore's Army. Imaginary World's is the newest podcast (to me) on the list, and I am loving it. Eric Molinsky interviews authors about sci-fi and fantasy, world building and the power therein. In this episode, he concludes a Harry Potter series exploring how J.K. Rowling's background at Amnesty International inspired novels that (according to the professor on the show), can make people more tolerant of diversity. Eric also interviews folks involved in the Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit coordinated online of HP fans who do good in the real world. It's an inspiring episode.
- Code Switch #15: What's So Funny About The Indian Accent? It was hard to pick one episode of Code Switch, NPR's new podcast about race and identity. In addition to the fascinating topics, I am learning a lot about how to have explicit conversations about race. Covering everything from black officer reactions to the Dallas shootings to trigger warnings to mispronouncing names. I chose this episode because it speaks to a conversation we have often in the comedy community.
- Planet Money #576: When Women Stopped Coding. Planet Money began when everyone realized we don't know anything about our financial system, but continues to produce some interesting shows about the intersection of economics and daily life. Like this episode about how there used to be as many women as men in computer science, and then all the sudden in 1984 the numbers dropped and continued dropping. Hear why, and get really mad.
- Invisibilia: The New Norm. After a long hiatus, Invisibilia (the podcast about the invisible forces that control human behavior–ideas, beliefs, emotions) is back and with an amazing 2nd season. I was really affected by the story of applied theater, but overall the episode got me reflecting. And really, the whole season (a mere 6 episodes) is great!
- 99% Invisible: Ten Letters for the President. 99% invisible looks into the little elements of design that make up our world, and this episode talks to the mostly volunteer office in Obama's White House responsible for reading all his mail and selecting 10 letters per day for him to read that represent the feelings of the electorate at that moment. I cried.
- Freakonomics: Has the U.S. Presidency Become a Dictatorship? I am not a Freakonomics bro (at least I don't think so). I haven't read the books, and I find Stephen Dubner to be a bit annoying. Yet, I still find the podcast pretty interesting. This episode is a real rollercoaster. First, we learn about how the President really has a lot of actual power, and that the legislative and judicial branch no longer effectively check it. So who does? The county, the party, and the administrivia of the executive branch. It's an important and complex look at modern politics. If you want a good companion episode on the evolution of the Supreme Court's power, check out this other episode of More Perfect.
- More Perfect: Object Anyway. Speaking of More Perfect, this podcast spun off this year from Radiolab and focuses on the Supreme Court. Each episode is fascinating and important, like this case that was intended to prevent race-based jury selection but in practice has made the problem much worse.
- Reply All #74: Making Friends. Reply All is a show about the Internet–it explains Internet things to me, but also tells really interesting stories about people that the Internet enables. While tempted to pick their coverage of Pizzagate or Pepe, I went with this story about a young woman who hears a voice in her head, and finds an online community of people who create more voices and foster relationships with them. (thanks Karen Schiller for introducing me to this!)
- 2 Dope Queens. YQY! I love this show, it's generally the only stand-up podcast I listen to. I just didn't have a landmark episode ready.
- This American Life #589: Tell Me I'm Fat. I always listen to TAL when it comes out, and I thought the middle of the year had some particularly great topics, including this episode about shifting perceptions of fatness.
- Welcome to Night Vale. I'm still (very) slowly working through all of these from the beginning, and they continue to delight me.
- Savage Lovecast. Dan is less of a cornerstone of my listening than in the past, but this show still has a place in my heart (and my ears).
- As this is my improv blog, I'll note that I do listen to comedy performer podcasts, as well as acting podcasts, tabletopping/RPG podcasts, and other niche shows. I was surprised as you that none of them made this list. I'd love to talk to you about them if you'd like to compare notes!