When you want to listen to a story, these voices are waiting for you.
Storytelling is a particular interest of mine. It is not just a way to entertain or communicate; sharing our stories is how we connect with one another. It is how people and a society create empathy.
And it is a growth industry. Many comedians have grown tired of the ‘laugh every fifteen seconds’ demands of their industry and moved into the storytelling mode. Some, like Louis C.K., merge the styles. Others have gone over entirely to the storytelling side. Dylan Brody for example, was once prominent on the comedy circuit, but now refers to himself as a humorist and a storyteller, with great success.
With the simultaneous growth of the internet, everyday individuals have gotten into the game as well. You don’t have to be famous to contribute your story to those of others for the benefit of all. Podcasts have become the cheap and easy medium for this genre.
So, for whatever it is worth, here is my compilation of just a few of the best storytelling podcasts.
One of my favorites is StoryCorps. Inspired by oral historian Studs Terkel and founded by Dave Isay in 2003, StoryCorps has recorded interviews among almost 100,000 people. The process is simple. Two people sit in a booth and one interviews the other for 40 minutes. The interviews are recorded and given to the participants. A copy is also stored at the Library of Congress.
StoryCorps has a number of special initiatives including one for veterans, one for those who suffer from memory loss, and another for survivors of the 2001 terrorist attacks. You can go to their web site to find out how to record your story and you can listen to their stories each week either via podcast or on National Public Radio.
Isay won the 2015 TED prize and used the winnings to create an app for StoryCorps. Now, you can download the app wherever you are, record your own story and share it with the world. StoryCorps has become the largest oral history project in the world.
Another popular choice is the Moth. It was founded in 1997 as a nonprofit dedicated to the art of storytelling. You can attend any of the Moth’s StorySlams in several major cities around the country. Put your name in a hat and you have a chance to be randomly chosen to tell your story on stage. Their mantra is “true stories, told live, without notes.” The Moth is a competition, and the stories run the gamut from humorous to adventurous. Stories can range from five to twenty minutes or so and some of the better ones are included in their weekly podcast.
Then there is Risk!. As might be surmised from the name, the Risk! podcast focuses on stories that take some level of risk. Hosted by Kevin Allison, the show encourages people to tell stories “they never thought they’d dare to share.” That theme can be interpreted quite broadly as stories can range from bawdy (some extremely so) to hilarious, to tragically sad.
Probably the granddaddy of these shows though is This American Life. Based in Chicago, where Terkel was famous for storytelling, the show is hosted by Ira Glass. It has been going strong since 1995. Each show revolves around a theme, often with three or four acts. For example, one recent show focused on the theme of changing one’s mind included a story about the rare instances in which people change their mind on political issues, another about a program that attempts to reform criminals, and a third that discussed a teenager adapting to changes in her life circumstances.
Each of these podcasts have their strengths. This American Life is extraordinarily well produced and almost always interesting and thought provoking. Both StoryCorps and the Moth have broad reach to average people. Risk! has a program that includes corporate storytelling workshop and training for people to improve their storytelling techniques.
There are others. The Don’t Tell My Mother (DTTM) podcast and StoryWorthy both tend to feature minor Los Angeles-based celebrities and creative types. DTTM is brief with only the story itself on the podcast, StoryWorthy has more discussion by the hosts as well as a fun feature called Shotgun StoryWorthy in which participants tell a one-minute story on a random topic. I’m sure there are many others as well.
Whatever your choice, listen and when you’re ready, or even if you’re not, tell your own story.
— An earlier version of this piece appeared in the Porterville Recorder on May 27th, 2015.