The podcasts I fall asleep to

I often have difficulty falling asleep at night without the assistance of podcasts. Left to my own devices while lying in bed, I’ll start planning my next day, thinking about the future, or worse, pondering every terrible decision I’ve ever made.

So I listen to podcasts to lull me into a peaceful slumber. But not just any podcast will do. These “falling asleep” podcasts need to have certain characteristics:

  • They must be interesting. It can’t be a boring podcast, or I will get irritated by how boring it is and that irritation will keep me awake.
  • The hosts must have soothing voices. I’m trying to fall asleep here, folks. The hosts can’t have extremely grating or piercing voices, lest I’m jostled awake while I’m drifitng off.
  • The subject matter must be inessential. I don’t mean “inessential” to be a slight here. Pretty much all of the podcasts I host (with the possible exception of “The Tobolowsky Files”) I consider to be “inessential.” All I mean is that I can’t listen to important news about the world presented in a straightforward fashion, since that will likely upset me and prevent me from sleeping.
  • It’s a conversation between people, vs. a highly produced show. I don’t go for the long-form, intense storytelling podcasts while I’m falling asleep, because I want to listen to these shows while I’m awake. In the past, when I’ve tried listening to shows like Planet Money or Radiolab while in bed, I will fall asleep during it, then get annoyed later when I need to wake up and re-listen to the entire thing again.

So with all that said, what are the shows that I fall asleep to? Before I list them, I want to make clear: Just because I listen to these podcasts in this fashion, it doesn’t mean that I think any of these podcasts are “boring” in any way. They simply fulfill all of the curious and extremely specific characteristics I listed above.

Here they are:

Battleship Pretension — Tyler Smith and David Bax have been hosting this podcast for longer than I’ve been hosting the /Filmcast. They are extremely well-informed, articulate movie geeks, but they also speak with a lovely, calming cadence that I find ideal for provoking thought and also falling asleep to.

The Flop House — Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington discuss films that are critical and commercial failures in an engaging and funny way.

The Accidental Tech Podcast — Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Casey Liss cover weekly tech news from the perspective of those who are power users and skilled reviewers. My favorite component of this show: Siracusa’s and Arment’s extended rants.

The Bugle — Hosted by Andy Zaltzman and a rotating list of co-hosts, this podcast covers the week’s political news with a sense of humor that is drier than the Mojave. The show isn’t quite the same after John Oliver left to host Last Week Tonight, but Zaltzman himself is still a great talent.

**

I realize that many people listen to the above podcasts without falling asleep to them. I’d encourage this! But for me, they fulfill a very specific purpose in my life and I’m grateful for that.

The rise and fall of American Apparel

I’ve been catching up on a lot of old podcasts recently and finally had a chance to listen to the StartUp podcast’s 7-episode arc on American Apparel (originally broadcast in late 2016).

It begins as a profile of Dov Charney, the founder and former CEO of American Apparel, who is trying to launch a new clothing business. But as it dives deeper and deeper into Charney’s history, it provides a level of detail and insight that goes beyond the headlines. Charney comes off as enterprising, sharp and hard-working, but also completely self-delusional and self-destructive.

There is some tape in this series that blew me away — several gut punches that I did not see coming. It was riveting. I think I enjoyed this series more than I did S-Town, which is widely regarded as a game-changer in terms of long-form podcast storytelling.

Producer and host Lisa Chow should be proud of what she accomplished here. I’ve linked to all 7 parts below.

Listen to Part 1 here. 

Listen to Part 2 here.

Listen to Part 3 here.

Listen to Part 4 here.

Listen to Part 5 here.

Listen to Part 6 here.

Listen to Part 7 here.

You can also subscribe to the StartUp podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Radiolab’s “Nukes” episode

During my recent drive down to Las Vegas, I had a chance to catch up with dozens of podcasts. Radiolab in particular has been on a tear, with some of their most important and powerful work coming out in the past few weeks. Among these: their “Nukes” episode, which I’d recommend for anyone who cares about the fate of the world.

TL;DR – It’s as bad as we all think it is; there are essentially no checks on the U.S. President’s power to launch nukes; the decision can be unilateral; and no easy path exists to change that. Enjoy.

The upsetting implications of the “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast

Amanda Hess, writing for The New York Times, has written a thorough takedown of the new (and apparently very popular) “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast:

The relationship between journalists and subjects shouldn’t be confused with friendship. Journalists have power over their subjects and a responsibility to try to minimize harm. But Mr. Taberski leverages his claim to friendship to reverse the equation, arguing instead that it’s Mr. Simmons who has the responsibility to speak to him, and to explain himself to his former acquaintances and fans. He compares Mr. Simmons’s relationship to them to the responsibilities of a licensed therapist. Mr. Taberski says he took care to ask Mr. Simmons’s manager “if there was something serious going on, like illness, so I could just let it be.” But is depression not an illness? Is a person’s gender identity not sufficiently serious to leave alone? Having decided that Mr. Simmons’s reasons for withdrawal are not “serious,” Mr. Taberski feels freer to pursue the guy.

“Missing Richard Simmons” speaks to both the possibilities and the limits of the emerging prestige podcast form. Many of the podcast’s tropes — the mystery framing, the crowdsourcing of clues from the audience and a format that focuses on the narrator as much as his subject — are borrowed directly from “Serial.” By turning a journalist into a friend and casting a man’s personal life as a mystery, “Missing Richard Simmons” has retooled the stale Hollywood documentary as an addictive media sensation. But it’s also turned it into a morally suspect exercise: An invasion of privacy masquerading as a love letter. Mr. Simmons is a public figure, and that gives journalists a lot of latitude to pry. But a friend who claims to want to help Mr. Simmons should probably just leave him alone.

Many recent true crime and mystery podcasts/shows have exhumed details from the lives of private citizens for public entertainment. While shows like Serial and Making a Murderer are ostensibly about correcting some systemic or institutional injustice, they still wreak havoc on the lives of those who are its subjects.

If we take “Missing Richard Simmons” at face value, then it appears to have all the devastating impact of other similar shows, only without the journalistic value — just the veneer of it. Truly upsetting.

Asgar Farhadi and the Oscars

This week on Gen Pop, we talk with Siddhant Adlakha from Birth Movies Death about Trump’s Muslim ban and how it may impact art in the U.S.

We received this email about the show last night, and it really meant a lot to me (I’m sharing it anonymously, with permission):

Hi Joanna and Dave,

I just needed to tell you how much I love this podcast. I listen to A LOT of podcasts and this is quickly becoming my favourite. Every episode has been fascinating with brilliant discussions and interviews.

Your conversation with Sid Adlakha actually brought me to tears. I’m an interracial woman (my dad is half Somalian and half German and my Mum is a mix of Norwegian and Italian) but both my parents were born here in the UK. So I of course feel British through and through. With the horrors of Brexit and the rise of the Rightwing (everywhere it seems) I have had things said to me that I haven’t heard since the 90s. I felt we had moved past me being told to “Get back to the Paki Market” or being asked “What actually are you though?” But here I am crying at a podcast because it is so beautiful in its diverse voices and open discussion.

You should be so proud of yourselves for the outstanding work you are putting out.

I hope you enjoy the episode.

Thoughts on 400 Episodes of the /Filmcast

The /Filmcast just recorded its 400th episode, a review of Martin Scorsese’s newest film Silence. Eight years I’ve been doing this podcast, most recently with my intrepid co-hosts Devindra Hardawar and Jeff Cannata.

Last night, we received the following email about the podcast from a listener I’ll refer to as Brett. I’ve posted an excerpt from the email below, with his permission.

I share this excerpt not as an act of self-aggrandizement, but rather as encouragement to anyone reading it: You too can create something meaningful for other people. In fact, you probably already are, just by being who you are, interacting how you do, sharing what you do.

When we started the podcast, we didn’t think we’d be creating something that would allow people to feel less alone in the world. Maybe we just wanted to create something that made US feel less alone in our passion for movies, and by doing so, it made others feel the same as well.

And so when I read an email like this, I don’t think “I’m amazing!” I think: if some nincompoop with a microphone and an internet connection like me can create this kind of feeling in people, then pretty much anyone can. And you should all keep putting yourself out there and doing so.

***
Dear David, Devindra and Jeff,

My name is Brett. I’m 36 and I live northeast Philadelphia, PA. I have been listening to your podcast now for quite some time. I’m a huge fan. I’m also a musician, audio engineer and a lover of film. My love for film eventually led me to find your podcast. Since then, I’ve been with you guys every step of the way. To me, it’s the best podcast, in my opinion, for movie lovers.

I am writing this as I lay in a hospital bed. In 2012, I was diagnosed with leukemia. And ever since then, my life has been one disaster after another. I went through a divorce with a girl I had been with for 15 years. We have a beautiful son together. His name is David.

So I’m currently laying in a hospital bed and I’m in extreme pain. All I want to do is listen to you guys. So I started playing episode 400 and this feeling of peace just came over me. I just close my eyes and listen to the three of you talk film, make Boom goes the dynamite jokes, or the really well-handled ad reads with David and Jeff.

I just wanted you to know that your podcast is truly a light in a dark place. Since 2012, I’ve been in and out of hospitals. More times than I can even remember at this point. Tonight, I had a mental breakdown and started feeling very sorry for myself. The nurse came in to give me my meds. I took them, turned the TV, went to my podcast app and there was the new episode. I’m 30 minutes in and I’ve already forgotten where I was.

I just wanted to thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You’re really helping people in ways you might not know. I am sure you receive emails like this all the time but I really felt the need to express my gratitude to the three of you tonight.

I write this not in the hopes that you will read it on the podcast but that you will read this and feel a sense of pride. You would be really surprised to learn that three friends talking about movies can make someone who is very sick actually smile. So I thank you as much as I can. Your podcast means so much to me. When I listen to an episode, it just reminds me of conversations and arguments I’ve had with my friends in regards to film. Please continue to do what you do…

Thank you for hearing me out,
Brett

“The Alchemist” from The Tobolowsky Files selected for NPR’s Earbud.fm

Today, NPR published earbud.fm, which is their attempt at building a database of the best podcasts on the internet. I was honored to see that Stephen Tobolowsky’s “The Alchemist” (ep. 4 of The Tobolowsky Files) has been selected for inclusion.

Stephen has often described “The Alchemist” as the turning point in the history of the podcast, when it transformed from being a fun podcast about the film industry, into something that had the potential to be of lasting, cultural worth. If you who still haven’t listened to the podcast yet, I hope you’ll consider checking it out.

Thanks to listener Andy Koopmans for being one of the people that recommended this podcast to NPR. Listen to this episode, and more, at earbud.fm.