Just in time for Labor Day weekend, Advisory Board's experts offer seven recommendations on the podcasts you can listen to now to better understand human behavior, enjoy some good comedy, learn more about healthy living, and dive deep into life's greatest questions.
Mike Birbiglia’s Working it Out
When the pandemic shut down in-person events, a wave of speakers and performers turned to podcasting to reach their audience (and yes, I did the same thing when we launched Radio Advisory). One of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia, turned to podcasting at the start of the Covid-19 crisis. But rather than just interview fellow comedians and actors, Birbiglia invites the performers that come on his show to actually work through their in-progress jokes live. In fact, Birbiglia uses the platform to test his own material every single week and get candid feedback from his guests. It’s a fascinating look at the effort and vulnerability that comes with comedy.
Good comedy means impeccable writing, because performers have a few minutes at best to land a big idea. And really good comedy (especially Birbiglia's) taps into dark moments--like dealing with a dangerous sleep disorder or becoming a new parent (while having a dangerous sleep disorder). Birbiglia's guests work through how to find laughter in some of their own challenging moments, like struggling with drug abuse or depression. And listening to the process behind good comedy makes me enjoy the final punchline even more. In fact, I've started to wonder if I should do something similar on our own podcast by inviting researchers to test in-process insights on some of health care's biggest and most controversial challenges (think it's a good idea? Let me know!). As a bonus, Birbiglia ends every episode with a "working it out for a cause" where guests choose a charity to highlight. Birbiglia donates to that charity and invites his listeners to do the same.
Bullseye with Jesse Thorn
Vidal Seegobin, Managing Director, Advisory Board International
Each week, Bullseye brings you an intimate and in-depth interview that feels like a fantastic date. The guests frequently come from movie, film and the arts. And in nearly every episode, there’s a question that prompts profound honesty from the interviewee--either about their failings, a critical decision, or a deeply held belief.
If you’re looking to give it a trial run, I’d suggest either the interviews with Steven Yeun, Wanda Sykes, or Roy Wood Jr.
On Being with Krista Tippett
Andrew Mohama, Senior Analyst
What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? These questions are foundational to On Being. The depth of conversations often leaves me with important reflections—some that are deeply formative.
When I first began listening to On Being, I was captivated by Krista Tippett's calm voice and reflective mentality, but what kept me listening was her exploration of life's greatest questions. I appreciate her willingness to lean into discomfort with her guests. It offers honest encounters with life and learning at its highest potential.
This podcast has been airing for nearly 20 years, so there are plenty of episodes to explore. Here are some of my recent favorites:
- Brené Brown—Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart;
- Alain de Botton—The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships;
- Greg Boyle—The Calling of Delight: Gangs, Service, and Kinship; and,
- John Lewis—Love in Action
These conversations are about an hour in length, and they keep me engaged through it all. I've extended drives and bike rides just to finish episodes because I couldn't wait. If you love a good reflective deep dive like I do, this podcast should move near the top of your queue.
I Weigh with Jameela Jamil
Darby Sullivan, Research Consultant, Executive Insights
Since the start of the pandemic, I've particularly appreciated the existence of I Weigh—a podcast hosted by "The Good Place" actor and activist Jameela Jamil about the ways in which we can navigate a culture that tends to damage our mental health in so many ways. What started as an attempt to interrupt our society's toxic relationship with body image (and how it holds women back) has opened up more broadly to grapple with questions of shame, trauma, identity, power, and privilege. Some notably wonderful episodes include:
- Fatphobia and how it shows up in medicine with author Roxane Gay;
- Myth busting about women's health with author Dr. Jen Gunter;
- Men's violence against women (and how the patriarchy hurts us all) with Dr. Jackson Katz; and,
- Grade A allyship, unlearning, and self-love with actor Matt McGorry
Good One: A Podcast About Jokes
Ben Palmer, Associate Editor, Daily Briefing
I love overanalyzing art, whether it be music, movies, or, in the case of this podcast, jokes. Vulture’s senior editor Jesse David Fox spends each episode sitting down with a comedian (or multiple comedians) and other comedy writers to talk in detail about what went into specific jokes of theirs.
Each episode spends a bit of time talking about the guest more broadly, but then spends the bulk of the rest of the show dissecting one specific joke. To hear comedy analyzed in such a specific, detailed way, and to hear a comedian talk about all the work that can go into crafting just a brief two-minute bit from an hour-long special, or a four-minute sketch, is absolutely fascinating.
Good One will have you thinking completely differently about comedy, and it will make you appreciate the amount of work that goes into every word of a stand-up special or every beat of a sketch. And most of all, it will give you a new perspective on the artform of comedy.
Katie Schmalkuche, Director, Life Sciences and Health Care Ecosystems Research
I love asking the “why” questions—unpacking not just how something works but why it works in a particular way—and this podcast does just that, on a topic as mysterious as it is relatable: human behavior.
Episodes cover a range of concepts—like why hindsight is always 20/20, why humans love plot twists, why our memories aren’t always trustworthy, why we’re so bad at predicting what will make us happy, or why we simultaneously avoid thinking about death yet shape our behaviors around it. The show dives deeply into the subconscious biases, predispositions, and evolutionary quirks that underlie so many of our choices and experiences and makes me think differently about myself and my relationship to the world and others.
Beyond the topics themselves, this podcast is an exemplar of using stories and narrative to draw connections between the nitty gritty science and our everyday experiences. There’s enough psychology, biology, and neuroscience to be interesting to listeners with scientific backgrounds, but it’s not inaccessible to those who don’t.
Some of my recent favorites:
- "One Head, Two Brains" weighs in on the “right-brain vs left-brain” framework for cognitive function, how the right/left distinction is often wildly misunderstood, and how cultural forces change the way our brains process and respond to information (and vice versa);
- "Why Conversations Go Wrong" discusses why so many interactions – between strangers, family members, or even romantic partners – can go off the rails because of something as simple as individual differences in conversational style; and,
- "A Dramatic Cure" calls into question the conventional wisdom that a “placebo effect” means an intervention didn’t actually work. If headaches, for example, are eliminated with a placebo pill, why shouldn’t that “count” as an effective treatment?
Leanne Elston, Associate Director, Marketing
Could celery juice cure all your ailments? Is Halo Top ice cream really "healthy"? Has the President's Physical Fitness Test accomplished... anything?
Your gut response to these questions is probably "nope"—but if you're like me, you might not know why, exactly. Sure, rationally I know that celery juice is just celery juice, but I haven't done any real research on this.
Luckily, the hosts of the Maintenance Phase podcast did do some research. In one episode, they explore the bizarre origin story of the celery juice fad and explain why it is not, in fact, backed by science. Other episodes dig into popular diets like keto, controversial public figures like Dr. Oz, and "healthy alternatives" of both the past (Snackwell's cookies) and present (Halo Top).
If you're familiar with the You're Wrong About podcast, you'll recognize host Michael Hobbes here, where he joins Aubrey Gordon in taking listeners on a wild ride of debunking junk science. It's irreverent, well-researched, a little infuriating, and ultimately quite satisfying to understand how things like Olestra come about in the first place and why the health and wellness industry is full of so many scams and so much nonsense.
Oh, and lastly: The President’s Physical Fitness Test did accomplish one thing. It brought generations of us together under a universal hatred of the sit-and-reach.