Janet Varney

This was SO TOUGH (in a great way)! I listen to a TON of amazing podcasts, and it was hard to narrow down for this playlist. Left off some biggies I’m sure everyone’s already aware of. I’m also leaving off my own other podcasts, like Voyage to the Stars and The JV Club (and I always recommend ANY Maximum Fun network podcast, so there are too many to list!) What else to know about the list below: I came to most of these podcasts as a rabid fan, and in some cases, I’ve been honored to appear on an episode or two, but it’s usually only because my mega-fangirling drove me there as a faithful listener first!

A fantastic investigative journalism podcast based at the Cincinnati Enquirer, but diving into cases that people all over the world become fascinated by. They’ve got several gripping seasons, including their 4th, which only just dropped, so I’ve been binging it!

The supremely cool ladies Kulap Vilaysack and SuChin Pak somehow manage to lampoon our consumerism while at the same time actually covering products worth consuming, along with great conversation! I’m still not sure how they managed to strike this balance and am always impressed. 

This podcast is so special! The real-life relationships featured in real-life couple Naomi Ekperigin and Andy Beckerman’s podcast are both hilarious and often touching. To lean on its own very apt description, “The fun of a comedy show mixed with the intimacy of a private therapy sesh!

I met one of the creators of this sibling-hosted pop culture (& more) podcast at a comic-con many years ago and have since fallen in love with his whole family both on the podcast and off. Warning: you WILL want to be part of this funny, talented group of sibs, or at least be inspired to flex your creative muscles in your own life!

Everyone should have a little more Rainn Wilson in their life. This serialized, super weird and insanely funny podcast follows the life of a late-night talk show host named Terry Carnation. Definitely Rainn’s sensibilities at their finest.

Three of the fastest, funniest improvisers on Planet Earth frame each episode around solving a series of riddles (often sent in by listeners) and improvising scenes inspired by the riddles and lunacy they create. I end up crying with laughter literally every episode. 

This pod is created and hosted by one of my personal heroes, Rabia Chaudry. It’s an incredible look at the many stories behind the mysterious djinn. Side note, I could also listen to Rabia talk about just about anything because she has one of my favorite voices, period!

My favorite place to get news. Two journalists with backgrounds in education, science and humor who aren’t interested in smugness or smarm. Explorative, thoughtful, funny lenses on mainstream as well as more off-the-beaten-path journalism.

Two incredibly smart, incredibly compassionate doctors bring their experience and perspectives to a huge swath of topics, including mental health awareness and true crime. But I also love them for their obsession with Los Angeles and its fascinating, checkered history: race and class disparities, the entertainment business, architecture, civil action and more! 

The brave and wonderful Stephanie Wittels Wachs co-founded the fine network Lemonada media and created one of its most searching, committed podcasts with Last Day. It’s not a casual listen, but when you hear the conversations Stephanie expertly navigates, you’ll understand why and be glad of it.

Cannot say enough about this layered story about a prison inmate called Suave and the rollercoaster of his experience in the system. Great reporting, writing, hosting and frank conversation from Futuro Media’s Maria Hinojosa and Maggie Freleng.

A perfectly composed and reported podcast that starts with a real-life Agatha Christie-style “murder at a Halloween party” and grows exponentially into a bold, informative exploration of legal processes, biases, science and pseudoscience; all while holding onto the light and personality of Arpana Jinaga, whose life was taken. 

Totally unique and wildly varying types (in a great way!) of stories from Phoebe Judge, all connected by the ways we think about, study, and try to understand Love. One of the things I love about Phoebe’s shows (also a fan of Criminal) is that you never know what kind of story to expect from one week to the next.

In the years since Bob Ruff began his podcast, he has had a huge impact on numerous wrongful convictions in prisons all over the U.S. He’s humble, tenacious, inclusive, and inspiring. He shares all of the ups and downs of each journey with his “army” of listeners, encouraging them to engage in criminal justice reform and to be a responsible, informed part of the solution.

For a podcast title that could come off as a little intimidating, rest assured that the superb Sarah Marshall is actually graciously inviting you in for a relook at some of the stories we may need to peek at with fresh eyes.

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