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Listening to your favorite podcast host can often feel like they’re talking one-on-one to just you in an intimate setting. After all the weekly shows, you may think you know all there is to know about them. But there’s always a deeper, and sometimes darker, backstory about your favorite funny and informative podcasters, and the journey of how they got to where they are.
Though they’ve technically been around since the mid-2000s, podcasts have exploded in popularity in the past few years, growing from a new and misunderstood medium to seemingly everybody having one nowadays. Comedians like Ricky Gervais and Marc Maron were early pioneers in comedy podcasting, figuring out how to best use the new way of broadcasting to reach a wide audience, while shows and series like Serial expanded what a podcast could be, drawing the appeal of old-timey radio shows but for the modern era. Actual radio shows, like This American Life from NPR, quickly realized the direction of where the future of radio would be heading, and is currently the most listened to podcast in its entire history.
The Covid pandemic expanded podcasting even further, with entertainers (and first-timers) launching their own shows while stuck at home. It’s a form of media that allows anyone to get going and make their mark in a competitive field. If you’re thinking about starting up your own podcast, all you really need is a mic, headphones, and something to talk about. Watching your weekly listener count grow each week can be the best motivation of all.
These books are an overall inspiration to learn what obstacles and setbacks hosts have conquered to climb to the top of the podcast world. Every story is different, and chronicles how an event or idea can lead to a following of millions of weekly listeners, and launch the careers of podcasters to places they never thought possible.
1. Kasher in the Rye
The full title of this book — Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 — is a preview for the wild ride ahead.
Kasher’s story is like no other. Growing up in New York with deaf parents, he was already acting as their sign language interpreter as young as age four. After their sudden split, his mother brought them to the Bay Area, while his father joined the ultra-religious Jewish sect, the Satmars.
Kasher delved into drinking and drug use soon after, failing out of three Bay Area high schools, getting kicked out of multiple rehabs, and having little hope for the future.
Now, after 20+ years sober and numerous comedy specials, Kasher co-hosts a relationship advice podcast with his wife, comedian Natasha Leggero, providing answers to callers (while also lightly roasting them) and helping guide them from his own hard-earned wisdom.
2. Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat
Before this book even begins, it’s amazing to take note that Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams is even alive to tell her story – let alone make it funny.
Surviving a childhood in extreme poverty, loaded with abuse of every kind imaginable, then having two kids by age 15 (and later taking in four more children when a relative went to prison) and dropping out of school in eighth grade, she become one of the few female crack dealers in Atlanta, being shot twice, and run down by a truck. And that barely scratches the surface of her tumultuous story.
But as Ms. Pat always says on her hit weekly podcast, “If you can laugh at your trauma, it loses its power over you”.
There are positive moments too, as she recalls the teachers who would bring her clean clothes, food for lunch, and hygiene products she never had access to and was being relentlessly bullied about – then quickly realizing that words were her weapon to fight back.
Williams has done extraordinarily well, especially considering where she started, and Rabbit is a raw, real, and riveting read that’s heartbreaking while still somehow being raucously funny too – a line Ms. Pat seems to walk with ease. Her weekly podcast, “The Pat Down” covers it all, including current events, and endless old stories that she never seems to run out of.
3. The Meaning of Truth
Nicole Sachs wasn’t planning to be a podcast host, or for any of this to happen.
At age 19, she was diagnosed with a debilitating spinal condition that left her in severe pain, often unable to walk, and told by doctors she could never have children.
More than 20 years and three kids later, Sachs has defied all odds. She’s now a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist who hosts the “Cure for Chronic Pain” podcast, and is active, athletic, and virtually pain-free.
Despite the possibly misleading title, Sachs’ work is all based in neurology and pain research, specifically neuroplasticity – the ability to re-train set pathways in your brain and (literally and physically) change your perception of chronic pain.
She’s a former patient, and student, of legendary NYU doctor and professor John Sarno, and proudly carries the torch of everything he taught to those out there who are in a similar situation that she was.
4. Comedy Sex God
Pete Holmes comes from an entirely different direction than most other comics and podcasters.
Instead of getting into a life of substance abuse and then finding sobriety or religion, Holmes started out immersed in both. Growing up in an extremely religious evangelical Christian household, Holmes was taught early on that things like smoking, drinking, and premarital sex would send you straight to hell, and tried to live his life obeying and fearing God’s rules.
That is, until a devastating event broke up his marriage to his first girlfriend at age 22, and sent him on his own path of enlightenment and exploration; a soul-seeking quest that led to a meeting with guru and legendary author Ram Dass.
Much like his standup, Holmes’ read is uplifting, wise, and sharply funny.
5. Waiting for the Punch
Marc Maron may not have invented podcasting, but he did take it to new heights. His weekly WTF podcast has been going continuously since 2009, airing over 1,200 episodes, and interviewing everyone from the giants of music and comedy, to Barack Obama.
Maron’s interviewing style gets guests to open up in a low-pressure environment, and this book features more than 800 of the best excerpts from all of them. It’s funny, insightful, and an inside look into the minds and lives of your favorite celebrities, with reminiscing from Maron himself.