I’m always on my feet living in China; walking to the bus stop, walking to the store, walking to the school where I teach, walking, walking, walking. And riding on buses. And subways. And not understanding what’s going on around me most of the time.
The result? I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts. Over the years, living in China and Kazakhstan, I’ve found that podcasts have become my primary source of entertainment and information, replacing talk radio, the news, late-night television, and talk shows. It’s like the people hosting the podcasts have become a part of my expat community and my overseas experience. They’ve become one of my important connections back home.
Hasn’t the internet made everything weird?
Be that as it may, I’m particularly interested in podcasts that are somehow connected to the American entertainment industry, to screenwriting, to storytelling, to the culture, and how they all connect to the Christian faith. You’ll find these things reflected in my podcasts of choice, some moreso than others, depending on the podcasts.
And so, I’d like to introduce you – my faithful readers – to my top five favorite podcasts, for your consideration, and in no particular order.
1. The Phil Vischer Podcast
You might know Phil Vischer as the man who created Veggietales, and provided several of the voices of the characters, including Bob the Tomato. Phil has an amazing story, which you can read about in his book, Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About God, Dreams, and Talking Vegetables
In a nutshell, Phil created the wildly popular kid’s videos featuring talking veggies, and he had lofty aspirations to become the next Walt Disney – but in a God-honoring way – and then lost it all. Phil’s story is a real-life example of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, as he went through a very dark place but has come through a better man as a result, with an incredible perspective on life, success, faith, and culture.
I just discovered Phil’s podcast a few months ago, and have grown to really enjoy it. I appreciate that Phil has a great sense of humor (how could you create Veggietales and not have a great sense of humor?), but he can also come through with some really profound perspectives on faith and modern American culture.
Each week, Phil – along with co-host Skye Jethani and the occasional guest host – discuss cultural issues, the entertainment industry, and current events from a Christian point of view with a refreshing and healthy mixture of seriousness and silliness.
Now, if we could just get Phil to ditch that darned ukulele…
2. On The Page
Pilar Alessandra‘s podcast about “the craft and business of screenwriting” was one of the first podcasts I started listening to, and is the one I’ve been listening to for the longest time. I found On The Page while living in Kazakhstan sometime around 2006 (give or take) when I first became interested in screenwriting. I remember digging in my garden in Almaty while listening to Pilar talking about loglines and treatments, amazed that it felt like I was taking part in an online screenwriting class – with all the fantastic quality content I was receiving. For free! Actually, I feel like Pilar has been my unofficial online instructor for many years. I even took one of her online courses a few years ago, and enjoyed what I learned. I’m grateful for all that she’s taught me these past few years!
Pilar invites guests from all walks of life in the entertainment world to her podcast, but most commonly writers. She researches her guests well enough to tailor her interviews and bring out the most teachable moments from the lives and work of her guests, all with goal of helping her listeners to improve in their own writing. This is what I appreciate the most about On The Page – that I always get important new concepts and information that help me in my writing. If writing is your thing, particularly screenplays, then you should be listening to On The Page.
3. Steve Brown, Etc
While I’ve been listening to Pilar’s podcast for the longest time, I’ve actually been listening to Steve Brown for over 20 years, just not in podcast form!
In the late 1980’s, I attended King College with Steve’s daughter, and – as the audio technician in the college chapel – I had the pleasure to run his microphones during the chapel service when Steve visited and spoke. I was so taken by his focus on God’s grace that it led to me ordering cassette tapes (!) of his talks from Key Life, and always trying to find him on local Christian radio stations when I went from town to town. I also often subscribed to the Key Life newsletter, where I was encouraged and challenged by Steve’s written outlook on life and the Gospel.
I don’t know when I actually found out that the old white guy had a podcast but I was thrilled when I found out that he did, and even moreso that it wasn’t your typical Christian podcast. Thanks to the offbeat humor of producer Eric Guzman, and the wonderful variety of guests from all backgrounds, Steve’s focus on the grace of God really resonates. Steve Brown, Etc can be joyfully irreverent while diving into some very deep waters at the same time, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
You think about that.
4. Wretched Radio
My family was home for the summer, and we were driving across the south in a rented car that had SiriusXM radio.
Usually, we had to listen to the Disney station (thanks, kids) but every now and then – when everyone was sleeping – I would scan around until I found something interesting. I remember when I found Wretched Radio, and heard the voice of Todd Friel.
He was brusque, loud, and arrogant.
And the more I listened to him, the more I liked him.
When we returned to Kazakhstan, I immediately went and found Wretched Radio‘s podcast, and began to binge listen to past episodes. I couldn’t get enough, and considering that he uploads new episodes five days a week, I had plenty to listen to!
Typically, Todd unpacks events of the day, examining issues from a Christian point of view, also with his somewhat warped sense of humor (Todd was formerly a stand up comedian). But what I really enjoy are the Wednesday episodes, called “Witness Wednesdays”. In these episodes, Todd goes out into some public place with a microphone and talks to people about spiritual things. He will often go to a university campus and talk to students, and sometimes a state fair, and sometimes just out on the street. The more I listened, the more I realized that Todd is not actually brusque or arrogant, he’s just willing to say what he believes with conviction, and he challenges others to think logically about what they believe.
Todd and Wretched Radio have some sort of connection to Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master ministry (although you don’t hear as much about that these days), and so he is quite serious about challenging people to examine their Christian faith critically to see if they really understand what it means to be a Christian. It’s challenging stuff, and usually pretty entertaining.
5. Never Not Funny
Some people enjoy Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. Others spend hours watching grown men chasing balls all over a field. My guilty pleasure? A podcast. A podcast that is true to it’s name – Never Not Funny.
Hello, everybody, indeed.
Hosted by stand up comedian Jimmy Pardo, Never Not Funny is – by far – the most rated R podcast of the group, and it is also the most consistently laugh-out-loud funny.
Pardo and producer Matt Belknap (who used to also produce On The Page – which is how I found NNF), who have been doing this since 2006, have guests from all over entertainment, including comics such as Weird Al, Conan O’Brien, Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser, Sinbad, and many others who I met through the podcast. He typically has stand up comedians on the show, but not always, and the reason I like it so much is because I feel like I’m sitting around a table with some of the funniest people on the planet, just listening to them riff off of each other, tell stories, and bust each other’s balloons.
Ideologically, Pardo and I couldn’t be more different, but I would love the chance to get to know the man, and actually sit down and talk to him, because he’s just an incredibly interesting guy. In fact, with his wit and style, I’ve often thought Pardo’d be the perfect performer to voice the main character in my book, Thimblerig’s Ark, if it were ever made into an animated feature.
Let me make this clear: unlike the other podcasts I’ve mentioned, you don’t want to listen to NNF with the kids around. But if you can handle the occasional sailor-like outburst, and if you think it would be fun to hang out with some very funny people for an hour and a half, you should give it a try.
Well, that’s my five. What podcasts do you like, and why?