There is one podcast that is compulsory listening to anyone with even a remote interest in the wacky US of A.

This American Life is kind of like Australian Story, except with more original ideas, a fascinating and interesting host and all the crazy weirdos of the US. TAL is hosted by the slick Ira Glass and is made by Chicago Public Radio and played on NPR. It’s where my all-time favourite author, David Sedaris, got his big break and opened my eyes to writers like sex columnist Dan Savage and history buff Sarah Vowell.

Basically, it’s a one hour-ish podcast focused around one particular topic. That topic can be anything from the story of two children accidentally swapped at birth to the clearest explanation I’ve ever heard about the roots of the global financial crisis.

My favourite one ever is Break-up, in which the writer Starlee Kine becomes obsessed with listening to Phil Collins songs after a messy break up, decides to write her own break-up song and then actually chats to Collins, plays it to him and asks him for advice on her heartbreak.

The first story on A Little bit of Knowledge had me giggling out loud as it recounts the childhood myths that somehow make it into adulthood, like the university student who was unaware that unicorns didn’t exist.

Whenever I talk to my 11-year-old step-sister, I am always reminded of the How To Talk to Kids episode, where kids lament that adults always ask boring questions, like “how’s school?”.

Another genius episode is called Special Ed, covering a few different aspects of people who suffer mental illness or disabilities. My favourite segment is the first one, which includes a heartfelt song by a group of young disabled journalists, singing about their trip to California to visit the set of General Hospital.

I’ve laughed out loud to This American Life and bawled my eyes out to it too many times to remember. It is incredible. Start listening tonight and get swept up. The entire podcast archive can be streamed free from the website, or downloaded for a bargain US 99c.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey