7 Podcasts to Make You Feel Smart and Stupid at the Same Time

Hi. I’m Marissa. I hope you’ve gathered that by now.

And I love spouting off random trivia to break awkward silences, and because I genuinely love seeing people’s bewildered expressions.

For instance: Did you know that ancient Egyptians shaved their heads, not for fashion, but to eliminate lice epidemics?

Now you do.

In the past year, I have really delved into podcasts. I discovered podcasts one day after looking at all those dumb apps Apple makes you keep on your iPhone. I found the Podcast app, which I opened and then found the Serial podcast everyone was raving about online.

And I never looked back.

I’m still a podcast novice but have found a certain type or genre of show that I enjoy listening to at work or while working out. And all of these podcasts have two things in common: they simultaneously make me feel so smart and so dumb. It’s that moment when you receive new and wonderful and clever information and feel so powerful and full of knowledge, yet you also feel so stupid, because you didn’t know what they were talking about to begin with, and you feel like you should have known about it, considering how essential it seems to know it now that you actually know it, you know? And so this vicious cycle begins where you desperately search for more and more information to fill your brain tank, even though Sherlock Holmes was right and there’s no way you will be able to remember it all, but you try anyway. So now you, i.e. me, live in a world where you feel constantly smart/dumb (smumb?) and the only way to alleviate that feeling is by listening to endless podcasts that make you feel smart for 2 minutes, and then instantly dumb again, and the whole process starts over.

So if you’re like me and are looking for something to listen to other than the 5 new songs playing on a loop on the radio, I highly recommend looking into podcasts. Granted, not everyone likes the same podcast genres (apparently there are genres), but here are a few I recommend if you’re into weird history facts/interesting and meaningless trivia/true crime stories.

1. Serial

I don’t mean to be cliché by putting Serial first, but I think it’s a great podcast to introduce people to the amazingly well-crafted content podcasts have to offer. It’s not just a random person spewing their brain-babbles into a microphone in their garage, although there are probably some like that out there. There are currently two seasons of Serial out right now. The first focuses on the 1990s case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of his ex-girlfriend’s murder. Host Sarah Koenig is asked to research his case to see if there was any wrong doing on the part of lawyer and to prove his innocence. The second season focuses on the circumstances surrounding the capture and release of Bowe Bergdahl, and his experience as a prisoner of war for five years in the Middle East.

2. Stuff You Missed in History Class

I found this podcast when searching for interesting history shows, because I am fascinated by cultures and customs of the past. It covers some more obscure, but equally important, historically topics from around the world that are skipped over in history classes. Some of what they research adds to our understanding of what we already know, some of it is completely new history (at least to my ears). The hosts, Holly and Tracy, do a great job with research and keep the show interesting and light.

3. Sawbones

This is a podcast I discovered in recent months and binged until I was caught up with the current episodes. It is another history podcasts, with a few twists. The hosts, Justin and Sydney McIlroy, are husband and wife. Sydney is a doctor and Justin is, well, not. Each week they talk about a particular disease or illness and how we as humans tried to “cure” it throughout history, when in reality we were only making things worse. It is equal  parts informational and hysterical.

4. Mystery Show

If you like Serial, you’ll like Mystery Show. Hosted by Starlee Kine, this podcast revolves around people sending in “mysteries” for Starlee to solve, as they have had no luck on their own. Some mysteries are strange, others downright odd, but all are entertaining. From helping someone find out the true height of Jake Gyllenhaal, to deciphering why an elderly woman chose the license plate, “I Luv 9/11,” Starlee’s on the hunt for answers. And she always finds them.

5. Lore

Written and narrated by Aaron Menke, Lore is a mix of historical and supernatural happenings. Lore has covered the Villisca Axe House Murder, the Salem Witch Trials and much more. It’s the perfect mix of historical storytelling with suspicious supernatural activity.

6. Embedded

Now, if you are a fan of Serial, you will definitely be a fan of Embedded. This NPR podcast is hosted by Kelly McEvers, and the tone and music of the show are very similar to that of Koenig’s Serial. They also have a similar premise. Each episode of Embedded’s first season takes a news story, one that generates a lot of talk, but never really gets a lot of attention or in-depth reporting, and they “go deep.” Kelly and her team “embed” themselves in these news stories to paint the bigger picture. From traveling to a small town in Indiana to learn more about the largest HIV outbreak in decades due to drug use to visiting a Doctor’s Without Borders hospital in Sudan to find out why the hospitals are being targeted by bombs and gunfire, the Embedded Team not only research the issue at large, but they bring the voices of these news stories to the forefront. They humanize situations that seem too far away to be real. If you want to be like me and cry on a treadmill during a 5k workout, listen to this podcast.

7. No Such Thing as a Fish

I love this podcast for 2 reasons. The first is that all of the hosts are from the UK and I could listen to them talk about nonsense for hours. The second is that they talk about nonsense for hours. This show is basically a jackpot full of weird trivia to pull out at awkward holiday parties. Each week, the four hosts pick their favorite fact or event from that week and they all discuss it to absurd lengths that leaves the nonsense seared into your mind. For instance, they discovered that after President Garfield was shot four months into his presidency, doctors decided he needed to bed fed through his anus, despite his ability to eat and swallow, for the last month of his life. Also, his favorite food was milk (which is a liquid, not a food, but you know to each their own).

So there you have it, 7 podcast recommendations from someone who really only listens to 7 podcasts. I am now diving into some new podcasts (to me that is) such as Welcome to Night Vale, Beautiful/Anonymous, The Moth, Unsolved, and Anna Faris is Unqualified. If you have any podcast suggestions for me, leave them in the comments!

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