Listen & Learn: The Best Interview Podcasts
The interview. Although initially perceived as "a dangerous method of communication between our public men and the people," this distinctively American invention has evolved into a powerful tool.
Since the first credited interview went to print in 1859—who could forget the thrilling literary volley between the New York Tribune's Horace Greeley and controversial leader of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young—many interviews have stepped onto the podium of greatness.
When you think about it, there's a spattering of interviews that have resonated so deeply and captured the zeitgeist so perfectly, that they have ingrained themselves within the psyche of an entire generation.
Oprah and Jackson, Nixon and Frost, Diana and Bashir. Need we say more?
While press, radio, and TV have consistently dominated the interview space for decades, a new kid is in town. Podcasts. Now podcasters from all sorts of backgrounds and industries are carving out interview nooks of their own. And it's certainly changing the interview landscape.
Podcast Interviews: Listen and Learn
Podcasts allow interviewers to untie themselves from the usual restraints of other mediums. Longform. Short form. There are literally no limits. Unlike most televised interviews (which often get whittled down to a mere six minutes), and printed interviews that become lost behind the dreaded paywall, podcasts offer interviews in all shapes and sizes and cater to today's on-the-go, content hungry culture. Something that you just can't find elsewhere.
Listen and learn. That's the name of the game with most podcast interviews. Although the subject matter can span across many topics, podcast interviews can teach us so much about ourselves and the world around us. They can introduce us to new ideas and ways of thinking, offer insight into the lives of fascinating people, create social movements, and enforce real change by providing fresh perspectives on life, business, history, culture, and so much more.
Interview podcasts are definitely worth your time investment, and these are some of the best out there.
How I Built This
Business life can be tough. Anyone walking the entrepreneurial path will understand that the road can be long and often lonely. So, why not hear from experienced voices to give you some guidance?
The incredibly popular How I Built This is a narrative-styled podcast that offers audiences a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of brands. Hosted by Guy Raz, journalist, correspondent, radio host, and now podcast tycoon, this show takes a standard interview and turns it into a masterpiece.
Raz provides entrepreneurs with a safe space to share their business stories—the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Produced by NPR, HIBT began in September 2016 with a tête-a-tête between Spanx founder Sara Blakely and a very eager Mr. Raz. This premiere episode set the stage for a business podcast that certainly isn't dry. In fact, it's much easier to swallow than 99% of its counterparts.
Speaking with The New York Times, Raz stated that, "Business is filled with crisis and failure and sadness and tension and discomfort and then triumph," pointing towards How I Built This as a show about vulnerability above anything else.
From the enviable bank of guests to the impeccable sound design, this podcast informs and entertains in a way that very few podcasts could even dream of achieving.
Recommended for: Curious cats who love well-told origin stories about business and entrepreneurship. If you have 30 minutes to an hour to spare each week, this could be for you.
WTF With Marc Maron
It seems that every actor on the planet has their own podcast at the moment. But then there's Marc Maron. The ultimate OG of celebrity podcasting.
Marc's craft has been honed to such a point that it's hard not to have your heart pricked by this intimate and easy-flowing podcast. The Guardian once wrote, "Maron's mix of swagger and self-loathing, of alpha and beta male, is a curious combination," and it's true. This fireball blend is what endears listeners and guests alike. Maron elicits answers with such ease that topics like addiction, mental health, failure, and mortality appear to just melt out his guests with minimal prodding.
WTF launched in September 2009 after Marc's radio show Breakroom Live with Maron & Seder was canceled. With a few podcast episodes already under his belt, Maron moved from New York to California. This is where he set up his famed home garage recording studio nicknamed "The Cat Ranch."
Originally intended to be a podcast filled with joke-fueled conversations between Maron and fellow comedians, WTF has since evolved throughout the 1000+ episodes to become a celebrity interview powerhouse.
"It became clear that WTF was a showcase where you could just be amazing," says comedian and past WTF guest Patton Oswalt in an interview with Entertainment Magazine. "Despite all his neuroses, Marc wants his guests to become better and more human." And that's just what you get.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Halle Berry, Sarah Silverman, Alice Cooper, the late Robin Williams, and even President Barack Obama have all parked their keisters in Maron's garage.
Recommended for: WFT isn't a show for the celebrity-obsessed. Instead, think of it more as a podcast for those who have an open mind and want a better understanding of the human condition. Even if it is from some of the planet's most revered individuals. Expect deep conversations peppered with laughter, and the occasional conflict.
Have you ever thought about the process behind some of your favorite songs? Well, neither had we until we found Song Exploder.
Back in 2014, Song Exploder entered the podcast airwaves. The premise is pretty simple: musicians sit down with host Hrishikesh Hirway and deconstruct their songs, piece by piece, all while telling the stories behind how and why they were made.
But this isn't your usual back and forth type of interview. Instead, it's deeply immersive, ticking between conversation and pops of a musical interlude. Guests pull at the historical threads, going deep into the writing, recording, and mixing while touching upon every decision, until we're left with the final product—and oh boy, is it fascinating.
What stands out about this podcast is that Hirway totally takes a back seat. The only time you hear his voice is in the intro, outro, and the occasional ad. So, unlike other podcasts where the host is constantly interjecting, commenting, and imposing their opinion into the conversation, here, there is no room for ego, just the story.
Podcasts don't often come with clean and seamless editing like Song Exploder. This could be a testament to Hirway's own musical background, which has given him a keen ear, and a great sense of timing. And although his voice is missing from the conversation, you can certainly sense the enthusiasm for his guest's craft.
Every episode is rich and juicy with insights as the musicians open up, tapping into their experiences and the minutiae of what makes a song come to life.
Previous guests include Lorde, Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, rapper-singer DRAM, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Aurora, and more.
Recommended for: Anyone who welcomes exceptional storytelling from people who love their craft. Even if you're not a music aficionado, this podcast offers a fascinating glimpse into a world and process most of us aren't privy to. It's a podcast that's incredibly intimate and taps into the auditory senses on a level unlike any other—leaving listeners with an overwhelming sense of fascination, intrigue, and hopefully inspiration.
There's a lot of noise in our world today. Trying to decipher what on earth is happening and staying abreast of the big issues in the news can be challenging. That's why The Daily is such a breath of fresh air.
The podcast tagline says it all:
This is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week.
We couldn't agree more. Hosted by Michael Barbaro, the premise behind The Daily is to explore current news stories reported by New York Times journalists. What they do exceptionally well, is break down complex news into digestible clusters of narrative. This podcast is designed so that anyone who is even half listening can comfortably get the gist.
Instead of trying to cover all the current news, this podcast does an excellent job of sticking to one particular recent event at a time. Which means that listeners can become clear and informed on a specific topic without venturing into other confusing distractions.
Recommended for: Anyone short on time but craves a global news fix. It's a firm fan favorite, and is often cited as being part of listeners' morning routines. So, grab your morning cup of coffee, and tune in to what's happening.
No Such Thing as a Fish
No Such Thing as a Fish is a podcast hosted by Dan Schreiber, James Harkin, Anna Ptaszynski, and Andrew Hunter, otherwise known as the "elves" from the hit UK TV show QI.
For those unfamiliar with QI (an acronym for Quite Interesting), it's a British panel quiz show featuring a host of comedy panelists who have to answer extremely obscure questions. More often than not, hilarity ensues as the audience is treated to a barrage of off-the-wall answers.
The NSTAAF gang are part of the research and writing team behind QI, and therefore have a lot of strange facts at their disposal. Each podcast host presents four facts they discovered in the last seven days while researching topics and segments for QI.
By tuning in, you'll be treated to an endless stream of hilariously random facts—ideal for sprucing up your repertoire of useless information. Each host is a genius in their own right and brings their unique knowledge bank to whatever random fact is brought to the table.
While this isn't strictly an interview podcast, they occasionally invite a guest or two to offer up their own fun facts. Past guests include special comedian guest Robin Ince, National Geographic explorer, paleoanthropologist and master of handshakes, Ella Al-Shamahi, plus journalist and author Mary Roach, who talks about defensive vomiting.
Recommended for: Listeners who like their facts with a side order of comedy. Each episode is packed with laugh-out-loud moments and interesting info from people who genuinely know their shiz. Expect moderate swearing, talk of IKEA sofa hippos, puns, and a lot of giggling.
The TED Interview
The premise behind the TED Interview may seem like something that we've heard a billion times before. But, as we see it, it offers something a bit more intellectually exciting than the usual interview format.
Yes, host and founder of TED, Chris Anderson interviews guests. But, there's often a push and pull within the conversation. While this could seem like the perfect formula for conflict on paper, it achieves quite the opposite. There's often a drive from both parties to explore how we, as a species, can evolve our collective consciousness and positively impact our world.
Having these kinds of narratives at your fingertips is, quite frankly, incredibly empowering.
With episodes circling topics like "The science and ethics of rewriting our DNA," "Can planting trees really stop climate change?" and "Reckoning with racial injustice in the US," anyone tuning in can expect to hear challenging, complex topics explored in a simple, quiet way.
Recommended for: Information addicts looking to take on the more challenging questions. While the conversations can be deep, you end up coming away from each episode more enlightened on subjects you wouldn't ordinarily seek out.
The Turn Around With Jesse Thorn
If you're a podcaster striving to be a better interviewer, this podcast is a virtual master class.
As we've established, the world is saturated with celebrity interview shows, so it can be easy to avoid the format altogether. But, there is a shining light among them. What if the tables were turned and the interviewer became the interviewee? Well, ponder that conundrum no more because we have The Turn Around hosted by Jesse Thorn.
What makes a good interviewer a great one? That's what Thorn's trying to figure out with The Turnaround. So, in his quest, Thorn interviews professionals that are usually on the delivering end of the questions. This includes a varied range of guests from the likes of the infamous Ira Glass and the master of conflict Jerry Springer to the legends Larry King and Dick Cavett. Jesse brings us into his "weird form of journalism school" as he scrambles to learn all he can from the best in the biz.
There's a wealth of takeaways for anyone to consume with these candid conversations. Full of insider gossip, celebrity diva, backstage shenanigans and true insight from the titans of media.
Recommended For: Anyone who wants to ask better questions—whether that's in podcasting or life. Peek behind the curtain and get a sense of the lives and careers of some of the world's greatest interviewing legends in this limited series about the art of interviewing.
Closing Thoughts on the Best Interview Podcasts
The humble interview isn't going anywhere. There is always a conversation to be had, no matter the subject. Podcasts are the ideal way to get wise on the world around us and hear from some of the planet's most interesting people.
However, with more and more options available, it's hard to filter through and find good interview podcasts. Hopefully this comprehensive and diverse list will provide some kind of guidance to help fill your time.
Note from the author: This is a list that will continuously evolve and change as more and more podcasts grace our airwaves. If you have any suggestions or comments, send them our way!