7 podcasts to hearken to this fall, in keeping with advisory board consultants

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Just in time for Labor Day weekend, the Advisory Board experts offer seven recommendations on the podcasts you can hear now to better understand human behavior, enjoy good comedy, learn about healthy living, and dig deep into life’s biggest questions to immerse.

Mike Birbiglia is working on it

Rachel Woods, Managing Director, Executive Insights and Host of the Radio Advisory Podcast

As the pandemic closed in-person events, a wave of speakers and performers turned to podcasting to reach their audiences (and yes, I did the same when we started Radio Advisory). One of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia, turned to podcasting at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. But instead of just interviewing other comedians and actors, Birbiglia invites the cast on his show to work through their running jokes live. In fact, Birbiglia uses the platform to test its own material every single week and to receive open feedback from its guests. It’s a fascinating look at the effort and vulnerability that comes with comedy.

Good comedy means flawless writing, because the actors have a few minutes at best to come up with a big idea. And really good comedies (especially Birbiglias) attack dark moments – like dealing with a dangerous sleep disorder or becoming a new parent (during a dangerous sleep disorder). Birbiglia guests work on how to help them in some of their own challenging moments such as: For example, when you are suffering from substance abuse or depression, you can laugh. And when I listen to the process behind good comedy, I enjoy the final punch line even more. In fact, I’ve started to wonder if I should do something similar on our own podcast, inviting researchers to test in-process findings on some of the biggest and most controversial health care challenges (do you think it’s a good idea? Let know me!). As a bonus, Birbiglia ends each episode with a “Working for a Good Cause,” where guests choose a charity to make them stand out. Birbiglia donates to this charity and invites its listeners to do the same.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

Vidal Seegobin, Managing Director, International Advisory Board

Bullseye offers you an intimate and in-depth interview every week that feels like a fantastic date. The guests often come from film, film and art. And in almost every episode there is a question that prompts the interviewee to be deeply honest – either about their mistakes, a critical decision, or a deeply rooted belief.

If you want to try it out, I recommend you either check out the interviews with Steven Yeun, Wanda Sykes, or Roy Wood Jr.

About 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 for each other? These questions are fundamental to On Being. The depth of the conversations often leaves me with important reflections – some that are deeply formative.

When I first started listening to On Being, I was captivated by Krista Tippett’s calm voice and thoughtful mentality, but what got me to hear was her grappling with life’s biggest questions. I appreciate their willingness to feel uncomfortable with their guests. It offers honest encounters with life and learning at the highest level.

This podcast has been on the air for nearly 20 years, so there are plenty of episodes to explore. Here are some of my current favorites:

  • Brené Brown – strong back, soft front, wild heart;
  • Alain de Botton – The Real Hard Work of Love and Relationships;
  • Greg Boyle – The Call of Joy: Gangs, Service, and Kinship; and,
  • John Lewis – love in action

These conversations last about an hour and keep me busy the whole time. I’ve stretched car trips and bike rides just to end episodes because I couldn’t wait. If, like me, you love a good reflective deep dive, this podcast should be at the top of your queue.

I weigh in with Jameela Jamil

Darby Sullivan, Research Advisor, Executive Insights

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have particularly valued the existence of I Weigha podcast by The Good Place actress and activist Jameela Jamil on the ways we can move around in a culture that tends to damage our mental health in many ways. What began as an attempt to disrupt our society’s toxic relationship with body image (and how it holds back women) has opened wider to address issues of shame, trauma, identity, power, and privilege. Some notably wonderful episodes are:

  • Fat phobia and how it manifests itself in medicine with the author Roxane Gay;
  • Myth About Women’s Health With Author Dr. Jen Gunter;
  • Male Violence Against Women (and How Patriarchy Hurts Us All) with Dr. Jackson Katz; and,
  • Class A allies, unlearning and self-love with actor Matt McGorry

Good: A podcast about jokes

Ben Palmer, Associate Editor, Daily Briefing

I love to over-analyze art, be it music, movies or, in the case of this podcast, jokes. Vulture Editor-in-Chief Jesse David Fox spends each episode sitting down with a comedian (or multiple comedians) and other comedy writers to talk in detail about what is in their respective jokes.

Each episode spends a bit of time talking about the guest in general, but then spends most of the rest of the show dissecting a specific joke. To hear comedy analyzed in such a specific and detailed way, and to hear a comedian about all the work that can go into making even a short two-minute piece of a one-hour special or a four-minute sketch, is absolutely fascinating.

Good One will make you think differently about comedy, and you will appreciate the amount of work that goes into every word of a stand-up special or every beat of a sketch. And most importantly, it will give you a new perspective on the art form of comedy.

Hidden brain

Katie Schmalkuche, Director, Life Sciences and Health Care Ecosystems Research

I love to ask the “why” questions – not just unpacking how something works, but why it works in a certain way – and this podcast does just that on a topic as mysterious as it is understandable: human behavior.

Episodes cover a number of concepts – such as why looking back is always 20/20, why people love idioms, why our memories are not always trustworthy, why we are so hard to predict what makes us happy, or why we avoid them at the same time to think about death, but to shape our behavior around it. The show delves deep into the subconscious prejudices, dispositions, and evolutionary quirks that underlie so many of our decisions and experiences, and makes me think differently about myself and my relationship with the world and others.

Beyond the topics themselves, this podcast is an example of how stories and narratives are used to make connections between basic science and our everyday experiences. There is enough psychology, biology, and neuroscience to be interesting to listeners with a science background, but it’s not inaccessible to those who don’t.

Some of my last favorites:

  • “One Head, Two Brains” deals with the “right brain vs (and vice versa);
  • “Why Conversations Go Wrong” discusses why so many interactions – between strangers, family members, or even romantic partners – can go awry because of differences in conversation style, as simple as they are individual; and,
  • “A Dramatic Cure” challenges the conventional wisdom that a “placebo effect” means that an intervention didn’t really work. For example, if a headache is eliminated with a placebo pill, why shouldn’t that “count” as an effective treatment?

Maintenance phase

Leanne Elston, Associate Director, Marketing

Could Celery Juice Cure All Your Ailments? Is Halo Top Ice Cream Really “Healthy”? Did the President’s physical fitness test … do anything?

Your gut answer to these questions is likely “no” – but if you’re like me you may not know exactly why. Sure, rationally I know that celery juice is just celery juice, but I haven’t done any real research on this.

Fortunately, the hosts of the maintenance phase podcast did some research. In one episode, they explore the bizarre genesis of the celery juice fad and explain why it’s actually not backed by science. Other episodes focus on popular diets like keto, controversial public figures like Dr. Oz and “healthy alternatives” of both the past (Snackwells Cookies) and the present (Halo Top).

If you’re familiar with the You’re Wrong About podcast, this is where you’ll recognize host Michael Hobbes, along with Aubrey Gordon, taking listeners on a wild ride of debunking junk science. It’s disrespectful, well-researched, a little annoying, and ultimately very satisfying to understand how something like Olestra came about in the first place and why the health and wellness industry is full of scams and so much nonsense.

Oh, and last but not least, the President’s physical fitness test achieved one thing. It has brought generations of us together under a universal hatred for sit and reach.