The 15 Best Podcasts for Diving into Nerd Culture

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This post was selected for inclusion in our Future of Art and Work series in December 2016. The series, sponsored by Microsoft Surface, selects some of our best posts exploring the topics of how art and work will look in the 21st century. This post was originally published in April, 2016.

The world has never been nerdier than it is in 2016. Winky, referential reboots rule on TV and at the box office. Video games, old toys, and comic books are among our most influential cultural touchstones. For many of us, the smartphone — a tiny computer — is the most important tool in our lives.

Interests and creative forms that have been historically received as uncool in pop culture — the aforementioned comic books and video games, along with the internet, technology, and science — are now creeping into mainstream culture. More than novelties, understanding them is essential to understanding the trends of pop culture’s present and future.

So, whether you want to know more about the comics that’ll inspire the next five years of blockbuster superhero movies, or if you’re just thinking about getting into virtual reality gear, we’ve got all the instructive (but fun!) podcasts you could need right here. Turn on, tune in, and geek out.

1. Buzzfeed’s Internet Explorer

There’s this thing that people use to watch videos, order pizza, read articles and yell about them. It’s called “the internet.” I’m not sure if you knew this, but, there are a lot of subcultures, ideas, and conversations that live exclusively online. A lot of them are, by traditional standards, pretty odd.

Buzzfeed editors Katie Notopoulos and Ryan Broderick dig deep and discuss some of the weirdest, most interesting things you had no idea people were talking about, sometimes even obsessing over, online. From investigating subcultures such as internet bodybuilding forums and Vore (the online community of cannibal fetishists), to tracking down the history of viral icons like the guy from the infamous “Pumpkin Dance” video, Internet Explorer will relentlessly expose you to new cultures that will make you laugh, cry, cringe and ponder. (Also there will be some swearing.)

Listen here.

2. Laser Time

To understand what’s happening in pop culture, increasingly we have to look back in order to move forward. On Laser Time, a group of former video game culture writers recount and reminisce about the last 30 years of pop culture. While you can always expect them to weigh in with a searing take on a new comic book movie, their nuanced and detailed histories of forgotten phenomena like celebrity vehicle cartoons, actors who were accused of murder, and unaired TV pilots provide fascinating new insight into topics you didn’t know could be interesting.

Listen here.

3. Invisibilia

NPR’s compelling news magazine podcast about psychological phenomena, Invisibilia, was created by alumni of This American Life and Radiolab, and reported stories on the “invisible things” that can shape and define our lives. Though the show has been on hiatus for longer than it was on the air — its initial season only produced eight episodes in early 2015 — its unique storytelling style is still extremely compelling.

Invisibilia is still expected to return with a second season this “spring or summer,” this time with a third co-host, Slate’s Hanna Rosin. We can only hope that, with more than a year of prep, the show will be here to stay when it finally returns.

Listen here.

4. Reply All

This post was selected for inclusion in our Future of Art and Work series in December 2016. The series, sponsored by Microsoft Surface, selects some of our best posts exploring the topics of how art and work will look in the 21st century. This post was originally published in April, 2016.

Technology culture isn’t just about cool gadgets: It’s about the people who use cool gadgets and how those gadgets change their lives. On Gimlet Media’s news magazine-style technology show, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman report on how technology and the internet have changed, if not completely redefined, our lives though striking human stories.

TL;DR — It’s like This American Life, but about people using the internet.

Listen here.

5. Idle Thumbs

There is no shortage of good podcasts about video games (as you’ll soon discover), but developers Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, Sean Vanaman, Nick Breckon, and James Spafford provide rare insight: the Thumbs hosts have a penchant for honing in on what does and does not work about a given game thanks to the fact that, unlike many pundits, they make games professionally in addition to critiquing them. With some of the game industry’s complexities laid bare, you’ll develop a more profound understanding and respect for the process of making interactive entertainment.

Listen here.

6. Radiolab

Maybe it’s a cop-out because everyone’s heard of it, but it can’t be helped: NPR’s magazine-style science show is one of the best podcast out there. Period. Spanning every kind of topic one could label “scientific,” Radiolab never ceases to inform and amaze. And whether or not the story directly pertains storytelling in any form, it’s safe to say that what you learn will shape how take new stories in.

Listen here.

7. Tomorrow with Joshua Topolsky

This post was selected for inclusion in our Future of Art and Work series in December 2016. The series, sponsored by Microsoft Surface, selects some of our best posts exploring the topics of how art and work will look in the 21st century. This post was originally published in April, 2016.

Former Bloomberg editorial director and technology critic Joshua Topolsky complains loudly and concerns himself with matters of digital culture, technology, entertainment and media. Topolsky tends to illicit a mix of expert insight and cross-discipline discussions from guests like Ex Machina director Alex Garland, Google VP Matia Duarte and comedian Sara Schaefer. As someone who writes (and occasionally reads) things on the internet, I’m especially partial to episodes where he digs into the state of digital media with editors like Buzzfeed News’ Shani Hilton and The Awl’s Sylvia Killingsworth. In general, Tomorrow consistently offers smart, nerdy conversations.

Listen here.

8. The Giant Bombcast

Where there are not many good shows that run down the events of the week in the world of comic books, there’s a seemingly infinite number of them covering the world of games. Among the best of them is the podcast for gaming video site Giant Bomb. The show is anchored by longtime games media veterans Jeff Gerstmann and Brad Shoemaker, whose command of gaming history tends to manifest in their analysis the news and new releases of the day with longer view, backward and forward.

Listen here.

9. The Canon

It’s a film podcast, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a podcast nerdier than this one. Every week, Devin Feraci of Birth, Movies, Death, and MTV News film critic Amy Nicholson discuss whether or not an important and/or popular movie should be considered essential viewing by film buffs. After they make their cases, listeners get the chance to vote on whether or not the film makes it into the show’s official viewing list on the show’s forums.

While the premise is kind of silly, especially when you consider that the canon spans now more than 50 films, Feraci and Nicholson are a wonderfully combative duo whose debates encapsulate the battle of wills that can occur between die-hard fans of any stripe.

Listen here.

10. Cape Crisis

This comic book podcast, from the same crew behind a previous entry, Laser Time, discusses the latest goings-on in comic books and the media inspired by them. Crisis does for comics what countless other audio shows do for TV, film, games and so many other entertainment: keep fans up to date on trends and exciting developments in that space.

As with the other shows on the Laser Time Network, hosts Henry Gilbert, Chris Antista and Brett Elston blend personal anecdotes and an encyclopedic knowledge of comic book history to provide a unique understanding of the form. Even life-long comic book readers will likely learn a thing or two.

Listen here.

11. Not Too Deep with Grace Helbig

There’s a ton of great stuff to watch on YouTube if you know where to look. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many reliable resources for figuring that out. Enter YouTube-famous comedian Grace Helbig and her podcast, Not Too Deep. Though the podcast is “unapologetically superficial,” her weekly interviews highlight exceptional YouTube creators give the occasional peek behind the curtain of making digital video. It may not be as explicitly educational as what the Longform podcast, but Not Too Big will introduce you to much wider range of video than simply watching whatever your friends recommend.

Listen here.

12. The Story Collider

Science is all around us. You may not always understand it, but you know it’s there. The Story Collider is a live show where everyone from elite scientists to comedians to regular joes tell their personal stories about life and science.

For those of you have been around the podcast circuit, it may just be easier to say that it’s like The Moth, but with stories specifically related to science.

The concept is neat, but it’s the wide array of performers that really makes the show. Whether they’re coming from a scientific background or an artistic one, many of the stories become cross-disciplinary exercises in linking the personal to the technical.

Listen here.

13. VGMpire

We travel, once again, into the arms of team Laser Time for a podcast exclusively about video game soundtracks. As it turns out, making a full-length song that has to have the capacity for getting listened to over and over in perpetuity — while only using a limited set of electronic sounds — has led to a very distinct musical style. Former games journalist and game music aficionado Brett Elston guides listeners through gaming history, presenting the music of video games and game franchises.

Listen here.

14. Good Job, Brain!

It’s great to geek out about individual bands, movies, or TV shows, but sometimes a broader approach to nerddom is required. Trivia podcast Good Job, Brain!, hosted by an actual bar trivia team, alternates between exploring odd topics that tend to generate neat facts — for example, terms and pop culture touchstones invented by advertising — to actual quizzes formatted just like the average Tuesday night bar event fare. It probably won’t make you smarter, but you’ll know a lot more stuff.

Listen here.

15. What’s Tech?

Described as a podcast you should send to your parents (or grandparents), The Verge’s Chris Plante forces his co-workers to distill concepts and major players from the world of technology down to the most essential parts. The result is a brief — under 25 minutes — but entertaining explanation of everything from Uber to internet memes to emoji. And even if you know what these things are, chances are you’ll have a better, more clear understanding of what these are, where they come from, and why they matter.

Listen here.