Five podcasts to make your commute more bearable

Learn the secrets of life from the comfort of your subway car

Five podcasts to make your commute more bearable

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any broodingly intellectual commuter must be in want of a podcast to contemplate while flexing Airpods and staring out the train window. Or maybe not, but either way, podcasts can satiate the need to fill your brain with something other than Father of the Bride for the zillionth time, or strangers’ subway conversations.

Finding the right podcast can be a trying task; the perfect piece must combine a compelling subject, a tolerable voice, and a binge-worthy collection of episodes, so I’ve saved you some of the guesswork and highlighted a few of my favourites.

1. Revisionist History

Revisionist History, brought to you by U of T alum Malcolm Gladwell, is an authoritative dive into the unknown sides of familiar institutions, figures, and events. Though Gladwell introduces the podcast as a series of reinterpretations of the past, it is also equally a catalogue of his personal obsessions.

The podcast analyzes everything from Jesuits, to golf, to the evolution of McDonalds’ French fries with equal appeal and the pith of Gladwell’s numerous bestsellers.

The most entertaining segment of the podcast may be the endings, as Gladwell unravels the stories in full form and guides you to his central idea like it’s the innermost piece of a Russian doll you unpacked together. He can spectacularly and stealthily make a point; in several episodes, Gladwell shakes his head at Donald Trump without even saying his name — he has the good sense to let you get there yourself.

2. Great Moments in Weed History

Journalists David Bienenstock and Abdullah Saeed apply a quirky and unexpected lens to the past as they trek into humanity’s 10,000-odd year relationship with cannabis. The pair cover one historical cannabis moment every episode, with Bienenstock acting as the all-knowing storyteller and Saeed as the comedic audience that Bienenstock guides along.

They deliver both the standard weed tales — the origins of four-twenty and Cheech and Chong — and the surprising bits on cannabis’ often hidden role in the past we think we know. From Jesus to Maya Angelou, no figure is safe.

Each story is interspersed with their own annecdotes and the tangents of genuine friendship, as well as the necessary pauses to ‘roll one up.’ Regardless, rest assured that the podcast is more than just stoner fare — Bienenstock and Saeed enjoy destigmatizing cannabis and history equally as much as they like smoke.

3. Someone Knows Something

We all know true crime is overdone — this is where Someone Knows Something comes in. Away from the done-before, CBC Radio and our host David Ridgen investigate the mysterious Canadian crimes that no willing — or living — voice can elucidate for us.

This is the crux of the podcast — someone must know something, but their silence has let disappearances persist as haunting and seemingly unexplainable events. Ridgen chooses cases whose explanations remain clouded amongst numerous theories, each equally questionable.

He manages to make these cases so deeply personal that you will mourn and search for answers along with his main subjects — the families struggling for decades without closure. The first two seasons are the show’s best, though they are not for the faint of heart.

4. Modern Love

Yes, you’ve heard of this a thousand times. But that’s because this podcast is a collection of some of the most genuine, personal stories about relationships you’ll ever hear. You can choose from an arsenal of eloquent, heart-warming episodes, and hear an array of celebrity voices reading essays chosen by The New York Times.

5. Nothing Much Happens

Less of a podcast and more a collection of self-described adult bedtime stories, Nothing Much Happens is meant to guide you to sleep through simple short stories from Kathryn Nicolai. Her vivid descriptions and soothing yoga-teacher-esque voice will quickly make you feel cozy and relaxed — a good avenue to peace when struggling with anxiety or insomnia.

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Audio pleasures for science enthusiasts

10 science podcasts to feed your brain

Audio pleasures for science enthusiasts

Podcasts are one of the best alternative information sources to reach for when you’re too exhausted to read. Whether you are new to podcasts or are a long-time listener, or if you want an episode for your commute or before you fall asleep, there is something there for you. From the latest finds to improving your life, here are 10 science podcasts that could work for you.

60-Second Science

As the semester comes to an end, it may become harder to find the time to feed your curiosity about science outside of textbooks. While 60-Second Science is slightly longer than its name suggests, it usually takes less than three minutes for leading scientists and journalists to comment on noteworthy scientific findings, from genome-related health care to polar lightning on Jupiter.

Hidden Brain

Hosted by longtime National Public Radio social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain is about “why people behave the way they behave.” This podcast connects our everyday experience with research in the social sciences, including psychology, anthropology, and economics, to provide insights on how you can use this knowledge to change your own behaviour.


Co-hosted by U of T alum Elah Feder, Undiscovered is a seasonal podcast from Science Friday. In these documentary-style episodes, the undiscovered stories behind science — how and why the research is conducted, what the results mean, and what new questions they bring — is presented to the audience through a mix of narration and interviews.

Houston We Have a Podcast

The official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston We Have a Podcast is for listeners interested in human spaceflight. Perhaps the most relatable episodes are those featuring people in supporting roles, such as photographers and historians. While these individuals are usually not engineers or astronauts, they perform equally interesting and important roles at NASA.

The Guardian’s Science Weekly

The Guardian’s Science Weekly covers discoveries and discussions in all branches of science. Some episodes are accompanied by audio tours of labs and gardens in the UK.

More or Less: Behind the Stats

Numbers can be presented in different ways, some convincing while others deceiving. Living in the modern world means that our lives are largely driven by data, so it is particularly important for us to understand the statistics used in everyday life. This expertly produced podcast by BBC Radio 4 interprets numbers in survey results, research papers, and political campaigns for an accessible and engaging listen.

Nature Podcast

For a more serious take on science and research, Nature Podcast is the one for you. Through interviews conducted by Nature journalists and editors, listeners are privy to exclusive conversations with the scientists behind some of the most exciting research being conducted right now.

Raw Talk Podcast

Currently in its third season, Raw Talk is hosted by graduate students U of T’s Institute of Medical Science. In a recent episode, the production team presents an in-depth discussion about medical devices with patients, research students, and Dr. David Urbach, Surgeon-in-Chief at Women’s College Hospital.

View to the U

Another product of U of T, View to the U features research at UTM. In each episode, UTM faculty from different disciplines are invited to talk about their work and research on campus. The current season, “Women in Academia,” focuses on female professors and their research, from anthropology to psychology to geography.

Hello PhD

For all aspiring young scientists, this podcast provides handy advice on making it through a PhD program. You can find information about almost every stage of graduate school, including applications, research, dissertations, and career options after graduation. If your mind has been bombarded with hardcore knowledge, listening to someone share their stories of success and failure could be a good idea.

Comment goes vocal

Two new audio series will increase depth and accessibility of the section’s content

Comment goes vocal

Lest we be left behind in the digital age, we are pleased to announce two new audio projects in The Varsity’s Comment section.

First, a podcast series entitled Comment Up Close will go deeper into selected cover stories of the section through extended, moderated discussion with the authors. This will provide authors with the opportunity to elaborate on their stances and respond to any alternative points of view. Furthermore, authors will be able to clarify contentious points in their articles that may have induced confusion or concern, especially in comments published by readers.

We anticipate that an in-depth podcast series will allow for dialogue and accountability in the Comment section. Comment Up Close will be available on The Varsity’s website and on YouTube, Facebook, and SoundCloud. The first three episodes cover articles corresponding to the university-mandated leave of absence policy, Desmond Cole’s potential mayoral bid, and tax revenue allocation regarding marijuana legalization.

Second, in the footsteps of publications like The Atlantic and the Financial Times, an audio article series will feature authors reading out the articles they have written. All authors will be invited to produce an audio version of their articles, so that the readership has choice in how to access Varsity content. We envision that audio articles will illustrate the author’s personality and tone in the presentation of their content, which is not always clear through reading alone. Audio articles will be available on The Varsity’s website as well as SoundCloud.

The Varsity strives to make its content more accessible to the student readership, and in pursuing these audio projects, the Comment section is pleased to embrace digitization trends and mesh print sources with non-print. In a broader context of journalistic ambiguity and post-truth, it is important that we provide authors with the platform to authentically voice and defend their perspectives. And so, Comment goes vocal.

The Comment team

Alone: A Love Story is a tale of heartbreak and resilience

The Varsity speaks with the creator of the CBC podcast

<i>Alone: A Love Story</i> is a tale of heartbreak and resilience

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with sadness — the feeling itself, the comfort foods I associated with it, the Tumblr posts that resonated with me. ‘I’m addicted to a certain kind of sadness’ was my life motto for a while.

Two summers ago, I experienced a feeling of isolation and loneliness I had never known before. To say it was one of my darkest moments would be an overstatement, but at the time, I thought that I would never feel joy. By chance, I discovered CBC Radio’s original podcast Love Me during that summer, and I was hooked.

Even after the podcast’s first season ended, I listened to the episodes on repeat constantly, waiting for the hiatus to be over, immersing myself in its stories of hurt and loneliness. I needed more personal stories about “the messiness of human connection.”

CBC Radio released Alone: A Love Story this fall. It’s a podcast and memoir written by Michelle Parise, who recounts her life as a young journalist living in Toronto during the ’90s and early 2000s, and her passionate but complicated relationship with her husband, referred to as ‘The Scientist.’

Parise shares her journey from love through heartbreak and the aftermath of what she terms ‘The Bomb’ with such refreshing honesty that I found myself made uncomfortable by how much her story resonated with me.

A major theme Parise discusses in Alone is learning how to be alone. She reveals her experience with postpartum depression, the loneliness of maternity leave, and unhealthy attempts to cope with The Scientist’s ultimate betrayal.

When I asked her how long it took her to stop feeling lonely after The Fallout, Parise responded, “It’s still a struggle but definitely now, five years later, it’s not as profound. I can definitely go home and hang out by myself. And in fact, I look forward to that, where before, at least until this year… I still had trouble going home to an empty house.”

Parise’s talent for storytelling reeled me in to learning more about her, her story, and her feelings. But the production of the podcast — its mixing and soundtrack — also heightened and amplified my engagement with her journey through heartbreak.

“I wanted it to be cinematic, where [listeners] feel like they watched a movie even though they just heard something,” said Parise. “I wanted to immerse people in the story, and I wanted to tell this specific story so that it would draw out universal truths. Through these specific stories is how we understand each other and ourselves better.”

Even while listening to Alone for the second time, I was struck by the effect of her long pauses in between sentences, the hurt in her voice when recounting The Bomb, and her ability to make the listener feel as if a close friend were telling the story.

“These first 10 episodes are really just the first part of a larger piece that I wrote. I have enough material for three seasons, already written. I could keep on writing forever because it’s a living document. Because it’s my life,” she remarked, laughing.

Now when I reflect on my middle school self, I realize it wasn’t sadness I had been addicted to, but rather the shared and communal feeling of sadness and loneliness that the online community offered me.

Tumblr, despite its unfortunate tendency to romanticize mental illness, had introduced me to a community of people connected through emotional hardship who felt alone in their real lives and resorted to the internet to feel a sense of belonging.

I think that’s why I fell in love with Parise’s memoir. She reminded me of the power of vulnerability and storytelling, and the importance of using one’s craft and artistic expression to give voice to universal truths.

Parise’s story is not unique, nor is it the first of its kind to be shared. But the medium through which she presents it gives shape to a shared experience that offers a new perspective.

“As an artist, I feel like it’s my job to tell these stories because they’re other people’s stories as well,” said Parise. “Shared experience is really important in human existence.”

Season one of Alone is available on iTunes and CBC Radio. Season two is expected to release in spring 2018.

In conversation with the creators of Guys We Fucked

Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson discuss self-love, misconceptions of the show, and more

In conversation with the creators of <em>Guys We Fucked</em>

Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson are the comediennes behind the weekly, self-proclaimed “anti-slut shaming podcast” Guys We Fucked, a frank discussion about sex and relationships. The New York City-based duo have been performing together since 2011, and they started the podcast in late 2013. Past guests include Amber Rose and Dan Savage, as well as many of Fisher and Hutchinson’s past lays, lovers, and others in between. While in town for the Just For Laughs comedy festival last month, the two jumped on the phone with The Varsity to discuss free speech, the misinformation age, and practicing self-love — or even just self-like.

The Varsity: What’s the number one misconception surrounding your podcast? Are there people who misunderstand what you’re trying to do?

Krystyna Hutchinson: All the time. I think a big common misconception that… people perceive us to be, Corinne and I, to both be very kinky, and frequenting sex dungeons, and being bisexual. We’re really more vanilla people, sexually, with our own personal relationships, so people are always kind of shocked to know that we are quote-unquote more ‘regular’ than they think. That’s the feedback that we get a lot. 

I remember the other day we were talking to somebody, we were interviewing a guest, and she said, “I’m shocked, I thought you guys were bisexual!” We’re not — we’re open, we’re open to things, but we’re pretty straight. 

TV: Do you think it’s more your attitude in discussing sex that people find so refreshing?

KH: Yeah, the being able to go places that you don’t hear other people talk about. Usually it’s just within the privacy of your own home, with your friends, on a couch. The level of conversation that Corinne and I have with people is pretty intimate, so a lot of times people don’t get that we’re recording a podcast, and so I think people are always shocked at that level of honesty. 

Corinne Fisher: A lot of times the things that get aired are either the really quote ‘crazy’ stuff where people have sex swings in their houses, or a politician being like, ‘No one should be having sex ever, you should only have sex after you’re married, with your spouse.’

I think we’re speaking for the masses, the relatable amount of people: this is what most people are doing on the day-to-day. Probably pretty vanilla, but then you have a couple of fantasies that at one time in your life you would like to play out with either a partner or friend or maybe a stranger. And those are fantasies that everyone has, but a lot of more vanilla-y people don’t discuss them publicly because we’re taught to think, ‘Ooh, this is naughty.’

TV: You might be getting this question a lot, but have your goals in doing the podcast or your aims changed at all since last year’s elections? Do you find that your environment has changed, or are you still just trying to keep it the same process?

KH: Corinne and I were in Los Angeles on election night, and so we experienced the disappointment of every American that voted for Hillary, and the shock, but also just the disappointment. It didn’t change how we do the podcast in any way except that Corinne and I just realized, goddamn, this is much more important, to make sure that our message is heard loud and clear. 

Women are still struggling to get ahead in their various careers and struggling to be taken seriously, and we just saw it play out. Our whole country saw it play out on a stage, and we saw the guy [that we speak out against] win. And so that was just — phew! This honest conversation about what it means to be women, when it’s sexual, is just more important than ever. So if anything, that just kind of surfaced a little bit more after the election.

CF: We are obviously a very feminist podcast. Not everyone who listens identifies as a feminist, but [that] certainly is a large chunk of our listenership. We made a decision, Krystyna and I together, to officially endorse Hillary Clinton. Like, the Guys We Fucked podcast officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, and we got a lot of backlash from that from a lot of young women and it was really upsetting. 

You know, from people who even after Bernie Sanders was no longer in the running for President were really anti-Hillary and pro-Bernie. It’s fine to be pro-Bernie, but when… the only people running in the major parties are Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and there’s young women who are calling Hillary Clinton a cunt and attacking me on Instagram, I found that deeply upsetting. 

It caused a discussion about supporting other women, and we try to feature strong voices and talk a lot about free speech. A couple weeks ago we had Professor Nadine Strossen on, who is the former President of the [American Civil Liberties Union], and that was a really enlightening conversation. In fact, I actually just before was recognized at my dentist’s office today, and a girl came up to me — 

KH: Oh, really!

CF: Yeah, and she said, ‘I gotta say, I really appreciate that Nadine Strossen episode because it honestly changed my life.’ She said, ‘Now when I see someone who has a Trump t-shirt or hat on, I don’t get as angry. I think to myself, that person’s voice is allowed to be as loud as mine.’ 

And that made me really happy because I think — I love that millennials are speaking out, and I love that they want to have their voices heard, and they want to get politically and socially involved. I think that’s so wonderful, but I think it’s turned into not listening at all to the other side. And that, to me, is problematic. 

TV: There’s a quote from an interview you did with VICE where you said it’s actually younger audiences you find more annoying — “people who were in a super PC safe space and are hypersensitive.” What would you want to say to those people? Is there anything you think that they should know about dating and relationships? 

KH: Look, the PC thing gets frustrating; when we talk about comedy, it gets really frustrating because comedy is an arena that Corinne and I do every single night, it’s our lives. And so a lot of times when we talk about PC culture, we talk about it in the context of comedy, because Corinne and I both believe that you should be able to joke about anything. 

And sometimes a joke sucks and sometimes the joke makes you feel offended, and I like talking about this in the context of comedy because I’ve seen standup comedy that offends me, and I don’t go and bitch about it — not bitch, I don’t express my opinion about it other than that I felt at odds with the person speaking and I did not agree with what they were saying and then I left it there. 

I think that it’s important to have social commentary on certain things, like if a journalist wants to write an extensive piece on the art of Chris Rock’s standup or something like that, and they’re noticing some interesting patterns or something like that — that I think is interesting to critique. 

So just because I think something is offensive doesn’t mean that it should be silenced. In the world of comedy, our word is sacred, and if anybody tried to silence us, that would be the death of comedy because [the whole point] is the comedian’s voice. So understanding it in that context. The youth and the old… I don’t think it’s specific to any generation.

CF: I think especially me in particular, I’m a little older… not a lot older, but I think you feel old, especially as a woman, when you’re in your thirties. And I know that I am pretty tough on a lot of the young listeners openly on the podcast, in person, just all around. It’s more like a tough love for me because I don’t really care — older people, it’s not that I don’t care, but they’ve kind of lived their lives and given a lot of the contributions that they’re probably gonna be giving. Unfortunately, things slow down as you get older unless you’re like, Georgia O’Keefe. 

I’m really concerned because that’s the future, and so I think investing in the future of America, or of the world, is really important, and I love that more people are getting politically and socially involved. But I think in this age of social media… there’s a lot of clickbait out there. We’ve all fallen for it, I’ve certainly personally fallen for it. And so I think the advice I would give is to… put that extra five minutes of work into researching something or making sure something is true or that you truly agree with something before you retweet it or go on a Facebook post and rant about it. 

Because unfortunately there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet, and it’s important not to spread it because that’s where a lot of us are getting our information these days. You know, people aren’t going to the library like they used to. When I had a report as a kid, I would sit in the library for six hours; now if you’re doing a report, you just sit at your computer for six hours. You need to arm yourself with the tools to say, ‘What is the source that I am getting this from? Is it reputable? Is it biased? Is this true?’ ‘Cause you can just put anything on the internet. 

TV: Agreed. And people are still definitely going to the library, so that’s good. 

KH: Maybe in college, yeah. 

TV: Obviously you have a lot of people writing in to your podcast with various questions. Do you find there’s one piece of advice that ends up covering a lot of questions? Is it communication, or honesty, or anything like that? Is there a one-size-fits-all?

CF: Love yourself more. 

KH: I think a lot of things stem from insecurity. And loving yourself — not even loving yourself, ’cause I think that’s a tall order, liking yourself and respecting yourself. A lot of people don’t have the guts to communicate something because they feel like their voice — ‘should my voice be heard?’ or ‘does my opinion matter?’ or ‘should I tell my partner this?’ Respect yourself enough and respect your relationship enough and the other person enough to speak up and say something. I think that’s definitely the root of a lot of people’s issues, and mine certainly. [Laughs]

CF: I agree, a lot of women question themselves, or question, ‘Is it my fault that I’m feeling this way?’ I think to put an end to that will really help expedite the process of self-love, or self-like.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Coming to a podcast near you

A theatre company from the Distillery District is transforming their plays into podcasts

Coming to a podcast near you

When searching for theatre in Toronto, the Distillery District can be one of the best places to look. The neighbourhood is buzzing with artists and actors, and is home go some of the best production companies in the city. In the digital age, however, going out to see live theatre is far less common than going out to a movie or simply watching something at home.

One particular theatre company from the district has found a workaround they hope will get people back into stage drama. Expect Theatre, formed in 1996 by YorkU graduates Laura Mullins and Chris Tolley, is adapting to the tech driven times by creating PlayME, a series of podcasts intended to broadcast contemporary Canadian plays.

The idea for PlayME came a decade ago while writing a radio play for the CBC, explains Tolley. “We were present for the recording and found the whole process of creating an audio play really fascinating. With the rising popularity of podcasts, it made sense to us to pair our audio knowledge with our theatre skills.” This realization combined with the financial challenges that come with funding a production, forced Tolley and Mullins to develop a new way of achieving their goals; they did so by creating their own work and showcasing original, Canadian content.

As series’ like Serial have proven, podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular medium for listeners to absorb information and entertainment. Tolley and Mullins explain that their goal for PlayME is to publicize performances and make them available to podcast users. Needless to say, the visuals of a performance don’t matter in this context, as long as the actors’ voices are of a high calibre, the performance will allow for an enjoyable podcast. The two pledge to include both established playwrights and up-and-comers looking to find their voice.

With lack of diversity such a prominent subject in visual arts, Expect Theatre have made it their priority to represent Toronto’s diverse population. Tolley says that this has been their goal since the formation of Expect Theatre.

“From day one we realized we couldn’t engage our audience unless we reflected our audience… Since the very beginning, we’ve been dedicated to producing work that helps tell the stories of diverse cultural communities,” he says, citing their second play, Better Angels, which tells the story of a Ghanaian woman who moves to Toronto to become a nanny.

Tolley admits that the number of people attending theatre on a regular basis has been declining, as has theatre coverage from radio and TV news outlets. With the rise of podcasts and other new media formats, however, he hopes that more listeners from Canada and other parts of the world will rediscover the theatre industry, albeit in a different format. “In just our first two weeks, we’ve seen a massive number of people subscribing to PlayME, and we’ve had listeners from as far as Cyprus, Germany, and Ireland,” he says.

As this new venture grows, the entrepreneurs hope that it will increase interest in attending the actual shows. “They believe that the Internet can help Canadian theatre reach a global audience, letting people enjoy art in a more contemporary, ‘on demand’ way.”