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It’s almost the holidays and COVID-19 season drags on. There won’t be any traveling to visit relatives or sitting down over a ham to debate your extended family over something trivial. Time off with nothing to do is a recipe for boredom.

How to remedy the yawning and dead-eyed stares that are sure to come? One word: Podcasts.

If you’ve ever listened to a good podcast before, you know that just one series can be a wealth of entertainment. You have the potential of dozens of hours of enjoyment at the tap of a finger.

Podcasts, like music, are great because they’re versatile. Cleaning the house? Put on a news and politics podcast, or an audio drama. Maybe it’s late one dreary winter night and you want to feel your heart race to a true crime thriller. Or you could be looking to relax, whether it be by laughing the tension away with a comedy podcast or by mellowing out to a meditation exercise.

Here are a few of my favourite podcasts which I think have something for everyone during this in-isolation holiday season and can be found on most podcast and music streaming services.

It’s true what they say: laughter is the best medicine. Laughing releases endorphins and can strengthen social bonds if you and someone in your household listen and laugh together. It can even have an anti-inflammatory effect by lessening the body’s stress response.

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend is a true gut-buster. Late-night talk show hosts might not be everyone’s first thought for creative comedy, but Conan O’Brien lives for the space podcasting provides—jokes or topics unfit for TV are welcome and there’s no time constraint.

The 28-year veteran of hosting late-night shows sits down with guests that are surprisingly wide-ranging. Notable episodes include fellow comedians like Jim Gaffigan, Bob Newhart, and Hannah Gadsby, actors Lisa Kudrow and Jeff Goldblum, and bright minds like Michelle Obama and journalist Malcolm Gladwell.

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend has received strong reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and Variety, and is currently in its third season.

Sometimes, you’re looking for a podcast that’s not just a distraction and engages you in an interesting story. The next suggestion takes the unexpected and unexplored and sees what lessons lie within.

I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell as a guest on Conan’s podcast. He has his own, Revisionist History, where the author and journalist re-examines a piece of history, sees how people reacted, and asks if they got it right.

Gladwell’s calling card is finding meaning and connection in seemingly trivial and unrelated things. In the episode “Food Fight,” he compares neighbouring colleges’ cafeteria menus and extrapolates to addressing the problem of rich and poor in American society. In “Hallelujah,” Gladwell talks about Leonard Cohen’s hit song and it’s long, winding journey to success and asks us about the different ways genius can emerge.

Revisionist History currently has five seasons to explore, with more on the way.

Lastly, there’s no competing with pure comfort.

The late Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café is as relaxing and heart-warming as it comes. Whether you’ve listened before and are drawn back by nostalgic sentiments, or you haven’t and need to find something that takes the stress away this winter, The Vinyl Café won’t disappoint.

Technically not a podcast, the program was a radio variety show broadcast by CBC that ran from 1995 until McLean’s cancer diagnosis in 2015 and is found primarily in album form on streaming services.

Often in front of a live audience, he tells fictitious stories of Dave and Morley, a couple from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and their kids Sam and Stephanie. The stories are often very sweet and full of eccentric behaviour. The show seems to embody the motto of Dave’s titular record store The Vinyl Café—“We may not be big, but we’re small.”

Required material for this holiday season is, of course, the Christmas episodes—found on Vinyl Café—Christmas Collection and Vinyl Café Christmas Pack on Spotify, which feature classics like “Dave Cooks the Turkey.”

Stuart Mclean’s folksy delivery and kind, personal, often hilarious stories are a great way to set the mind at ease during this tense time.

These three suggestions obviously barely scratch the surface. The podcast world is a saturated place, and while that means there is a lot to sift through, it also means there is truly something for everyone. We all need distractions now and then—decidedly now. Look no further than the podcast.

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