Welcome to “Should I Listen To This?”, where we deep-dive into a podcast to find out what it’s about, what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not you need to make the all-important decision to hit subscribe and add it to your rotation.

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Podcast: FOUND

Network: Wondery

What Is it?: Have you ever picked up a piece of paper you just so happened to see on the ground? Maybe it was a discarded shopping list. Maybe it was a note someone wrote to themselves. Maybe it was a love letter professing undying love to another. From the heartbreaking to the benign, the things we find while go about our day might seem inconsequential but there was a time when every one of them had meaning to someone. Finding out what that meaning was and who the person behind the found item is the basis for the FOUND podcast.

I remember accompanying my wife on shopping trips to Anthropologie and making a beeline for the decor section where I could peruse the books strewn about for sale (and, I imagine, to amuse non-shoppers such as myself). I would almost always find a Found Magazine or book waiting for me. It was always a fascinating journey into the world of thrown away treasures. Sometimes the messages were funny. Sometimes they were poignant. Sometimes they were heartbreaking.

Over the years, the fascination with Found’s findings led to the creation of a musical and eventually this podcast, where they try to figure out the story behind the things we leave behind.

Photo: Bob Doran
Photo: Bob Doran

Who’s The Host?: Davy Rothbart, the co-creator of Found Magazine. As the story goes, Davy found a note left on his windshield that was meant for someone else and it spurred a fascination in the “meaningless” ephemera that we come across every day, oftentimes without paying much attention. He and Jason Bitner started the magazine and that eventually spawned the many incarnations noted above.

What’s A Normal Episode Like?: Rothbart will introduce a “find.” It can be a letter or a note or a human being (we’ll get to that). Along with a special guest, he will dig into what makes this find so fascinating, i.e. delve into the mystery and questions it generates. Then, the episode will begin a quest to solve those mysteries and answer those questions. Where the episode goes from there depends largely on what the specific find is and how interesting the people from which the find originated are.

Who Is It For?: Recently I broke down most podcasts into four categories and the one FOUND really fits into perfectly is the “Humanity Is Pretty Cool, Actually” group. These kinds of podcasts aren’t necessarily alike in topic but by the end of most episodes you’re likely to come away feeling better about the human race than you did before you listened. There’s a topic that makes the show unique, but the result is ultimately about delving into the issues and questions that we all want to know more about.

More specifically, FOUND is for people who want to hear stories. Stories about people. Stories about places. Stories about the forces that push us to make mundane and crazy decisions.

I’d say that if you enjoy listening to podcasts such as The Moth, Love + Radio, or Mystery Show (which, like, what happened to that podcast?), you’ll enjoy this.

Who Is It Not For?: Listeners who prefer their podcasts to be a bit more straightforward. If you’d prefer to listen to podcasts with a more dependable outcome (an interview show, discussion about a specific topic), you might not like this. It’s not the kind of podcast you can throw on in the background and absent-mindedly listen to.

How Many Episodes Are There?: So far there have been three main episodes and three mini-episodes. The first main episode ran 49 minutes but the subsequent two came in closer to 30. Guessing that’s something they’re likely to try to stick to. The mini-episodes really are mini, they usually only two-to-three minutes. They’re just meant to fill in the time between main episodes.

Any Special Guests?: There have been some cool appearances sprinkled throughout the first few episodes. The good thing is that, so far, all of the appearances make sense in terms of the theme of the show. They’re not just there to be famous people. Actor B.D. Wong (currently in Mr. Robot and Gotham) shows up in the first episode to discuss the plight of the Asian-American actor. Nick Nolte and David Cross make appearances in the second episode, which is all about finding love. Nick Nolte sounds especially Nolte-esque.

Can I Jump Right In?: Sure thing. Episodes are not tied to one another. We’re guessing that as time goes on they’ll probably make reference to episodes that have happened and perhaps even catch us up on the people in those earlier episodes, but for now each one is it’s own individual story.

What’s Not Great?: The mini-episodes really don’t have much meat on the bones, to be honest. Once you cut out the advertising, opening theme, and banter, you’re basically getting a minute or so of something fresh. Instead of just hearing one find, it might be more interesting to turn those into “theme” mini-episodes where they can share multiple finds that fit. As-is, they don’t feel all that necessary. 

Gimme Some Great Episodes to Get Started:

Asian Oprah: The Grand Dream – The first episode is obviously a good place to start. Because it’s the first one, of course, but also because it’s the perfect example of what this show is about. The found object is a letter written to a talent agency by a young Asian-American actor that is at once wildly-unrealistic but also unquestionably-brave. The letter-writer is looking for representation and sees himself as “The Asian Oprah” set dominate American TV screens. Obviously, that didn’t happen. So, the show tries to track him down and find out what happened. The result is an outcome who couldn’t possibly have predicted (but is possibly even more life-affirming than if he had become Asian Oprah)

Found Baby – One of those “you have to hear this to believe it” stories. This time, the find is a human being. A baby, specifically, that has been left in a New York subway station. A chance glance changes the lives of two men and that baby forever.

So, Should I Listen To This?: FOUND is a welcome addition to your podcast rotation. Each episode so far has been the worth the listen. They’ve found a sweet spot in terms of timing (once every two weeks) and duration (30-40 minutes). You never quite feel like you’ve heard enough and you’re glad to see the new episode pop up in your feed whenever it hits. If they can make the mini-episodes feel more worthwhile, all the better. Still, FOUND scratches an itch for great stories about humanity and the many wonders that make us who we are.

Previous Should I Listen To This? Reviews: 

The Flop House
The Jonah Keri Podcast
Alice Isn’t Dead
The Comedians of Wrestling
My Dad Wrote a Porno

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.