7 podcasts to comfort and connect

Listen to 7 of these podcasts to help you feel connected.
Listen to 7 of these podcasts to help you feel connected.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - It's almost time to bid goodbye and good riddance to 2020.

If you are feeling unmoored this December, or just burned out from the past year, these podcasts will help you feel connected.

1. Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People


PHOTO: BEAUTIFULSTORIES/EARWOLF

The premise of Chris Gethard's innovative interview show is deceptively simple, rooted in the comedian's many years in talk radio.

Each week, he has a phone conversation with one anonymous caller, with whom he will speak for an hour about any subject the person chooses.

When the show began in 2016, Gethard figured the end result would be a mostly comedic series of prank calls; instead, it has been a remarkably intimate series of confessionals.

Some calls do offer fun slice-of-life musings, but others are bracingly intense - a recent caller revealed she had barely slept all week after discovering that a close friend had murdered someone.

Empathetic and thrillingly unpredictable, Beautiful Stories makes ordinary life as captivating as any scripted drama.

Starter episode: Love In The Time Of Coronavirus

2. This Is Love 


PHOTO: THISISLOVE

After four years of telling engrossing, disturbing stories about the worst of humanity in the hypnotic true crime podcast Criminal, Phoebe Judge and her colleagues in 2018 began applying the same rigour and nuance to telling stories about love.

As warm as Criminal is chilly, the offshoot podcast, aptly called This Is Love, explores its central concept through wide-ranging narratives that are sometimes about romance, but sometimes about subtler kinds of love.

One episode details the bond between a blind man and his guide dog; another, the extraordinary saga of two wolves at Yellowstone; another, the story of a dive team venturing inside an iceberg.

Other episodes explore acts of collective love, like the Italian city that voluntarily fell silent to preserve the sound of a treasured violin. A soothing and inspiring counterweight to doomscrolling.

Starter episode: Roselle And Michael

3. Griefcast 


PHOTO: GRIEFCAST 

For anyone grappling with loss, Griefcast is a cathartic listen.

The host, Cariad Lloyd, lost her father to pancreatic cancer at 15 and for many years was unable to express the effect it had on her. That experience inspired her to create a show that is all about speaking the unspeakable.

Lloyd sits down with fellow comedians and performers to "talk, share and laugh about the weirdness of grief and death".

Blending gallows humour and searing compassion, the show cuts through the isolating haze that often makes grief unbearable. Starter episode: Aisling Bea

4. Stuff You Should Know 


PHOTO: STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW/IHEARTRADIO

There is no shortage of "explainer" podcasts that play like a kind of audio encyclopedia, delivering 101 summaries on a variety of topics. But the appeal of Stuff You Should Know, one of many shows from the prolific HowStuffWorks brand, lies mainly in the amiable and genuine rapport between co-hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant.

Each week, the duo delve into the inner workings of subjects as varied as sneezing, black cowboys and the Bay of Pigs disaster, peppering their curious conversations with pop culture references, life anecdotes and the odd dad joke.

Even in episodes that explore unsolved mysteries like the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the tone is always level- headed. A down-to-earth treat that will also teach you something. Starter episode: The Disappearance Of Flight MH370

5. Comedy Bang Bang: The Podcast 


PHOTO: COMEDY BANG BANG/EARWOLF 

Laughter is a scientifically backed antidote to stress and anxiety, and listening to this long-running podcast can prove a helpful coping mechanism.

Having started life as a radio show in 2009, Comedy Bang Bang has evolved into a podcasting institution whose appeal is rooted in its unpredictable format.

Each week, Scott Aukerman welcomes comedians and celebrities for what are ostensibly interviews, but quickly descend into a surreal blend of character skits and improv segments.

Starter episode: Small Claims Cyborg"

6. This American Life 


PHOTO: WBEZ 

This beloved titan of audio journalism celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and marked the occasion by rebroadcasting some of its most memorable episodes.

The reruns were a reminder of just how timeless the show is, illuminating different nooks and crannies of the American experience and drawing unexpected lines between them.

Anchored by Ira Glass' inimitable wry, halting voice, each episode - usually a prologue and three acts - introduces a central theme that is explored through different types of non-fiction storytelling, including reportage, monologue and verse.

This American Life (which now has a "creative and strategic" relationship with The New York Times) is not a news show, but it excels at taking a timely story and boiling it down to an essential theme.

Starter episode: 129 Cars

7. Kind World


PHOTO: WBUR 

It is no secret that bad news travels faster (and further) than good news, and as its title suggests, this show from Boston-based WBUR is all about redressing the balance.

Each episode of Kind World focuses on an instance of human decency - an act of charity, a chance encounter that sparks a connection, somebody going above and beyond for their community.

As lockdowns descended in the spring, the show ran a series of bite-size episodes titled A Moment Of Kindness, in which listeners called in to share their own memories of everyday empathy.

The podcast wrapped up in the summer, but the back catalogue has enough life-affirming gems to keep your faith in humanity strong for months.

Starter episode: Glimmers Of Light Amid Darkness