The Joe Rogan Experience is technically one of the biggest podcasts around, numbers-wise, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. Here are 12 interview podcasts hosted by people with the magic touch for Q&A—shows that will stretch your mind, make you laugh, and fire your curiosity about the world, and generally without resorting to rage-bait to do it.
Bullseye with Jesse Thorn
Bullseye host Jesse Thorn has a fascinating brain and an unusual way of looking at the world, and his interviews always get to the heart of the matter in ways that others rarely do. He doesn’t interview people because they’re making media rounds, but because he respects them and knows their work up and down. He speaks to them with open curiosity, and endless generosity. He seems like one of the nicest people on the mic, and with every glimpse into his personal life (as a son, dad, friend, and Maximum Fun founder), the more you’ll like him. I never miss an episode—each one is a delightful surprise, deepening my appreciation for something I only knew a little bit about or introducing me to something entirely new. I trust Jesse, and I’ll go wherever he takes me.
On With Kara Swisher
If there is one person in media bold enough to ask tech leaders the hard questions, it’s Kara Swisher, who has been covering the business of the internet since 1994. Kara has hosted Sway, Pivot, HBO’s Succession podcast, and now hosts On With Kara Swisher. Through it all, she has hosted confessionals for the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch, Stacey Abrams, Kim Kardashian, and President Barack Obama. Kara knows the tech scene like a native, and her confidence has pulled her through tough interviews, earning her the reputation as “Silicon Valley’s most feared and well-liked journalist.” She doesn’t kiss anyone’s butt and has a sly sense of humor that’s both biting and self-deprecating.
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WTF with Marc Maron
Stand-up comedian, actor, and writer Marc Maron is also the host of WTF with Marc Maron, a show that foregrounds interviews with comedians, actors, musicians, and other cultural figures. It has become one of the most influential and well-known podcasts, and Maron has helped broaden the market for podcasts generally, for which I am grateful. (It was a huge moment in podcasting when Barack Obama made it to Maron’s famous garage for an interview.) Many of Maron’s interviews have been seismic media moments in and of themselves—comedian Gallagher famously stormed out, while Sam Elliott slammed The Year of the Dog and launched a Twitter backlash. As a host, Maron remains vulnerable throughout all of his interviews; each one seems as much a therapy session for him and the person he’s talking to. Whether you’re a fan of the person in the hot seat or not, the show is always fascinating.
Ologies with Alie Ward
On Ologies, Alie Ward talks to ologists—scientists who study very specific topics like Scotohylology (dark matter) Laryngology (voice boxes) Enigmatology (word puzzles) and Bryology (moss.) She’s not just accepting pitches from PR people (like me), she’s talking to the exact right people, all of them weird, nerdy, cool experts in their fields. Alie’s not afraid to admit she doesn’t understand something or ask fun softball questions like, “what’s the suckiest part of your job?” and she always brings in great questions from her Patreon fans. If you want to get a taste of her unbridled enthusiasm (if Alie appeared on Ologies, I would label her an “enthusiologist”) listen to the episode “Field Trip: An Airport Full of Neuroscientists.” At the airport one day, Allie stumbles upon a mob of neuroscientists on their way home from a conference, and she pulls out her mic and starts asking questions, because she absolutely can’t not.
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness
Nobody seems more delighted by his guests than the irreparable Jonathan Van Ness, who is unafraid to shriek with joy when a guest surprises him, or in horror when something is said that demolishes him. Every minute of Getting Curious is fueled by his enthusiasm for niche subjects and empathy for others. He serves us an intersectional look at the world, endless opportunities to learn something new or relearn something old, and enough laughter and positivity to make you feel good about being a human.
Song Exploder with Hrishikesh Hirway
Hrishikesh Hirway has been a creator and host or co-host of many projects (including The West Wing Weekly, Partners, Home Cooking, and more) but he is perhaps most famous for Song Exploder, on which he sits across from a musician as they take apart a song to tell the story of how it was made. (The feed is likewise now home to Book Exploder, which gives the same treatment to get authors.) Song Exploder is nominally about music, but it’s really about the experience of creativity, and while the word “intimacy” is overused in podcasting, Song Exploder is deeply intimate. Hrishikesh, a musician himself, is a master of sound and speech and always finds an interesting angle to help us experience and understand creators and their art.
The Ezra Klein Show
I have bought approximately $30,000 worth of books thanks to The Ezra Klein Show. Klein hosts academic conversations with people on deep-think-y topics ranging from parenting, to inflation, to climate change, to human consciousness, and in every instance, he comes off as the most well-prepared host on the block. He chooses subjects that interest him, which means his interviews are that much more genuine, and spark his own personality and intelligence. And it’s not for nothing that his show notes feel like hand-written love notes to the episode—I always read them and am forced to listen immediately. If there’s an author involved, I’m definitely buying their book afterward.
Death, Sex & Money with Anna Sale
Anna Sale couldn’t find a podcast that featured smart conversations about the toughest subjects, so she started Death, Sex & Money in 2014. The show covers everything from spousal estrangement to colonoscopies with grace and even-handedness. The podcast feels like a confession booth; in it, there is no judgment, only empathy. Anna’s helping hand (and soothing voice) are enoughto pull her guest (and anyone listening) out of a dark place and into the light. Her interviews are nuanced, calming, and soft-spoken, even as the content within them is often shocking, enraging, or a kick to the gut. The subject matter might feel salacious, cruel, or fear-mongering with someone else behind the microphone. With Anna, you’re safe.
Gender Reveal with Tuck Woodstock
On Gender Reveal, journalist and educator Tuck Woodstock talks to trans, trans, nonbinary and two-spirit people to help us understand what gender really is. Woodstock offers interviews with artists and activists, fields listener questions, and helps make sense of (or simply helps us lean to process) the news. Some of his questions are hard, but Woodstock pulls it all off by approaching his guest with kindness and respect, and as a patient listener more than anything. It’s one of the few truly trans-safe places on the internet. (If you’re curious, there’s a nice starter pack here.)
The Stacks with Traci Thomas
On The Stacks, Traci Thomas interviews film and television stars, community leaders, publishing professionals, best-selling authors, and more. The show is made of two-part chats—part one is a celebration of books and exactly what, how and why we read; in part two, Traci and her guest discuss The Stacks’ latest book club pick. These conversations go beyond what’s written on the page to touch upon race, politics, and the way it all fits into the culture we consume. The Short Stacks is a mini-series that lives on the feed in which Traci has bite-sized conversations with authors about the writing process.
Black on the Air with Larry Wilmore
It’s unsurprising that Larry Wilmore is one of the best hosts in podcasting. The Emmy-winning producer, writer, comedian, actor, and former host of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore was already an interviewing all-star, and was recently tapped by The Podcast Academy to host The Ambies (“the Oscars of the podcast space”). He might just be the host with the most on Black on the Air, where he interviews guests in the worlds of politics, entertainment, culture, sports, and more. Larry is able to elegantly draw out stories and opinions from people while adding his own, and the results always make for balanced, smart, and funny conversations.
On Being with Krista Tippett
On Being, Krista Tippett’s Peabody-award winning program about human spirituality, is a great listen if you want to hear excellent interviews with politicians, scientists, artists, theologians, and beyond. For that purpose, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the show. But if you want to be a better interviewer or conversationalist, start taking notes. Krista Tippett understands the power of perfect questions, and does enough research to get to them. The questions are fun because the interviewee wants to answer them. So guests shine and listeners are entertained. On On Being, Krista has created what feels like a sacred place of thoughtfulness and learning.
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