Maybe you love podcasts. Maybe you have listened to every single episode of every single show spotlighted on the Apple Podcasts homepage. And maybe you have thus found yourself in a listening rut. There are so many interview shows, scripted non-fiction shows, comedy chat shows, and fiction dramas, sometimes it seems like podcasts are pulling from a similar playbook. Is that all there is to a podcast?
Not these podcasts. Here’s are 11 shows that break every rule in the book, whether by inviting listener participation, completely ad-libbing musicals, playing with sound in unusual ways, or interviewing inanimate objects like chainsaws and grains of sand. If you think you’ve heard it all, try one of these experimental, innovative, hilarious, heartfelt shows that will stand out in your podcast queue and give you a new zest for the medium. Warning: You have no idea what you’re getting into.
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One of the most inventive shows of late is comedian Lizzy Cooperman’s In Your Hands. Every week, Lizzy gives her listeners two options for her next life step. They vote their choice on her Instagram, and she does whatever wins. It’s a literal choose-Lizzy’s-own-adventure. Lizzy is hilarious and brings on comedians and experts to help her listeners make a decision. Her life is literally in our hands, and our choices are dictating some of her wildest adventures. Because of the show, Lizzy has gotten multiple piercings, become an L.A. tour guide for the TV show This Is Us, burned her journals, and created a workout that she does every day. Her life is getting wilder…and who knows where it could go next. Tune in now and become part of her journey. (Disclosure: I was recently on an episode of this show.)
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Every wonder what a sock is thinking? How about a phone booth, or a chain saw? On Everything Is Alive, Ian Chillag asks and gets answers from these objects (with the help of talented comedians and storytellers). It’s rich improv comedy punched up with jokes, but it leaves you with a lot of existential questions to think about. What can a grain of sand can teach us about the passing of time? How would you feel about having someone carve into you, a pumpkin, like a jack-o-lantern? I now get emotional thinking about the everyday objects in my liife—and I won’t look at the world in the same way ever again. There truly isn’t another show like Everything Is Alive.
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Get ready to get meta—Shameless Acquisition Target is a podcast about the podcast industry and business acquisitions, but in the process of making it, host Laura Mayer is trying to get it acquired. Even as she peels back the curtain on the making of a podcast, she’s sharing everything she learns along the way. It’s a living show—advertisers come in and out and out-bid each other, and we have no idea what the final result will be. Will Shameless Acquisition Target be acquired? Laura Mayer, a former executive producer at Stitcher, is one of the most successful podcasters in the biz, having cofounded podcast studio Three Uncanny Four with Sony Music Entertainment—but she’s always been left out of podcast acquisition deals. This podcast is her attempt to find out why. And it’s our chance to laugh and learn along with her.
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Love and Radio has long been a listener favorite: one of the most beautiful and unexpected podcasts, combining surprise storytelling and masterful production. It was behind the Luminary paywall for awhile, but it’s recently been freed, so we can binge all of the episodes we’ve missed. But wait, there’s more: Host Nick van der Kolk has launched a podcast that started as a series on Love and Radio, The Secrets Hotline, in which anonymous callers from across the globe share what is hidden in their lives. Your jaw will drop to hear some of these confessions—one caller dreams of murdering their father, another talks about being unafraid of death—and you’ll also feel less alone in the world.
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On poet Ross Sutherland’s Imaginary Advice, you never know what you’re going to get. Most of what you hear is fiction, everything is something imaginative from Ross’ brain. A series that imagines if there was a Sleep No More-like attraction with a Sex and the City theme, or a fictional interview with the person who had to type out thousands of pages of text that say “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Ross is a genius producer and funny host, and his writing is lyrical. Listen to his separate series too: The Golden House is a fake interactive podcast hosted by a shady tech company that’s a PR exercise on the surface, but one hiding secrets that listeners can discover and unlock on their own.
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Richard’s Famous Food Podcast is the definition of madcap. (Or you should.) Audio wizard, James Beard Award-nominated food writer, and filmmaker Richard Parks III has created a zany journey into a food-related topics, from the American Michelada to the consumption of bugs, presented via storytelling heavily seasoned with reporting, facts, and lots of playful sound design. (If you remember what it feels like to watch Pee Wee’s Playhouse, that’s what this show will do for your ears.) One episode takes you on a wild tour of the L.A. food scene with Wolfgang Puck in the passenger seat. Another is entirely an interview with Avery Trufelman (of 99% Invisible/Articles of Interst/Nice Try fame) about truffles. A mustachio’d pickle, whose input makes you feel like you’re trapped in a fever dream, is Richard’s partner in chaos. You might learn about food along the way, but you’ll be so tickled by Richard and the pickle that you won’t notice.
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Sound Deals is a completely improvised podcast that is also “the world’s premier (and only) Podcast Shopping Channel,” hosted by Max and Ivan straight from the Sound Deals warehouse, where they test weird products and try to sell them to you. Ivan is the tester, and appears to be locked in the warehouse, forced to go through painful, impossible exercises to test out things like “The Lucky Pipe” and “Shower Belly,” which sound completely awful but are presented as the hottest items you’ll want to pull out your credit card to buy. Guest comedians come by to riff on and promote unexpected products, selling them to listeners no matter how zany they sound. It’s a ridiculous premise that makes me (and Max and Ivan) laugh every time.
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Wading through true crime podcasts, movies, and TV shows? Crime Writers On… is the only podcast that takes a truly critical look at the genre’s most consumed content with the help of a panel of crime writing experts—Rebecca Lavoie, Kevin Flynn, Lara Bricker, and Toby Ball. Each episode, the crew gives a complete breakdown (with spoilers) of hits like I Just Killed My Dad, Only Murders in the Building, Stranger Things, and HBO’s The Staircase. Don’t want them to spoil it for you? They give you a timestamp for their thumbs up or thumbs down review, so you can skip to find out whether or not a show is worth your time. They feel like a funny true-crime family who don’t hold back any punches. I’m not saying I’d jump off a bridge if they advised me to, but I’m not not saying that. This show is a blast, and will help you refine your true-crime diet to boot. Because friends don’t let friends listen to bad true-crime!
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Off Book is a podcast that’s also an improvised musical. Each episode, Jessica McKenna, Zach Reino, and a special guest create a new musical on the spot. Jessica and Zach are hysterical leaders in this quest to make punchy, listenable musical theater with expert harmonies and instrumental prowess. Past storylines include: a band of emo knights, co-workers attempting to maintain a friendship post work, and the secret menu items at the P. F. Chang’s. In a world of scripted shows and predictable interviews, treat yourself to a joyful celebration of music that is a surprise to everyone…even the hosts. It’s a showcase of talent. (Start with “Fear the Ocean.”)
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Google “fever dream podcast.” If it doesn’t suggest The Skewer, your Google is broken. In this weird British import, host Jon Holmes spins snippets from the week’s news into a 15-minute comedic audio montage full of piercing wit and political commentary. This is a BCC production, so you’ll hear all the news that’s fit to remix about everything from parliament, to Liz Truss, to Doctor Who, all interspersed with music that will delight you and maybe make your head spin.
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Still looking for something new? Feedback With EarBuds is a podcast newsletter, each edition of which collects 5 podcast episodes based on a theme—each one curated by someone new. (And yes, even you can be a curator.) The podcast highlights each week’s podcast picks, information about the curator, and more. If you’re a podcaster, you’ll also get podcast tips, industry news, and bonus recommendations from host Arielle Nissenblatt, a true queen of the podcast world. Find podcasts about investigating justice, podcasts about hope punk, podcasts that rewrite Black and Indigenous histories, or just podcasts to make you fall in love with more podcasts. If someone can think of a theme, it’s an episode. And if you’re a loyal listener, you’ll never run out of something to hit play on.
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