If you’re like millions of Americans, you were there when a just a couple of years ago, Serial invented the podcast. A revolutionary mixture of talk radio and the free download of the day on iTunes, Serial divined a way for millions of Americans to walk around with spoken entertainment in their pocket and car and to discuss endlessly around the water cooler to sound hip.
And now you wonder…what if this could be funny?
Boy, do I have some great news for you! It is in fact entirely more than possible for podcasts to not tell admittedly gripping stories of unresolved murder.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, that thick-ass sarcasm speaks to the fact that while Serial had undeniably created the conversation of making podcasts a “popular” medium, podcasting is not only something that has existed long beforehand, but much of the structure actually comes from a much different tradition than true-crime radio.
In fact, many of the innovators, movers, and shakers in podcasting come out of the comedy world. Comedians have been some of the most prolific and popular podcasters for almost 10 years now, and I think it’s more than possible to argue that podcasting is perhaps the most important and innovative medium in comedy.
This is because podcasting allows multiple styles of comedy to come together and intermingle. The verbal constructions and personal nature of stand-up can be combined with the character work, interpersonal dynamics, and story creation of improv and acting (without the limits of physical presence) as well as the production value of radio. In addition, the space for conversation on comedy, understanding what comedy is and who those who make it are, has been opened wide through interview podcasting.
In short, comedy podcasting allows us to mainline the brains of comedians. Without the limitations of studio notes and television ratings, we’re able to get pure and unfiltered hits of the comedy drug.
You might be saying to yourself at this point, “I love to laugh, and that description is eloquent and super cool! But how can I ever get into this?” Well I have some good news for you, complimentary stranger. I’m about to give you a primer on the basics of listening to comedy podcasts.
WHERE TO BEGIN:
First off, you need to know the big 3 comedy producing networks. Podcasting networks are much like TV networks. They cultivate and curate creators and give them a regular space to do their podcast. Following these is an easy way to keep track of new shows. Below each, I’m going to talk about the shows that I listen to from that network. They are:
This is the granddaddy of them all. The big comedy podcasting network that inspired the others to begin. Founded by Mr. Show alum and Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifanakis creator Scott Aukerman and businessman Jeff Ullrich, this network is exclusively dedicated to comedian podcasting.
Generally, their shows are built around a premise or set of personalities, and feature informal discussion or (mostly) improvisational comedy. Earwolf comedy shows are particularly well-populated with complex mythologies, in-jokes, and characters that are often unafraid to go dark places. This is the Netflix of podcasts, the longest running and the best original content.
- Comedy Bang! Bang! : The flagship show of the granddaddy network, no podcast has made more influence in comedy podcasting (besides maybe WTF with Marc Maron). Host Scott Aukerman is ostensibly running an interview show with some of the best comedians and actors of our time. However, an open door guest policy leads to all manner of bizarre weirdos popping in. These weirds are, of course, fully improvised characters played by some of the best improvisers in the world. The mythology is intricate and the in-jokes fly fast and furious, but when this show is on, there’s almost nothing funnier.
- STARTING POINT: Episode 150: Time Bobby
- How Did This Get Made? : The most famous of the “mocking bad movies” subgenre of comedy podcasting, this is the podcast equivalent of getting all your friends together and mocking the worst or most insane films you’ve ever seen. Except you and all your friends are top-notch professional comedians. Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas have one of the best hosting chemistries in podcasting and listening to them ask “How did this get made?” is one of the best times you’ll have.
- STARTING POINT: Episode 48: Sleepaway Camp with Zack Pearlman
- Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins: Let’s get one thing out of the way. If you want to start listening to Comedy Podcasting, especially at Earwolf, you’re just going to have to get used to listening to Paul F. Tompkins. Out of the four podcasts under Earwolf, three of these episodes feature Paul F. Tompkins. He is a man uniquely suited to the medium, a consummate and professional entertainer with no dearth of quick and clever repartee and world-class improv skills. Spontaneanation is an unfiltered construction of Paul F. Tompkins, a fully improvised monologue then an interview then an improv scene based on the preceding interview performed by a small troupe of actors. It’s quick and light and constantly entertaining.
- STARTING POINT: Episode 3: A Secret Society
- The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project: I really can’t say enough amazing things about this podcast. The Citizen Kane of podcasts made by the Orson Welles of improvisers, someone who gets and pushes the medium more than anyone else ultimately has been able to. Based on characters that host Andy Daly created on Comedy Bang! Bang!, each episode purports to be a podcast pilot sent in by some deranged person to be put on Earwolf, and we have the unique opportunity to hear them. These podcast pilots bring us into the dark heart of the psyches of some truly disturbed people, all while maintaining some of the absolute funniest and cleverest jokes and riffing you’ve heard. Listen to this one now.
- STARTING POINT: Episode 4: The Travel Bug With August Lindt (My favorite podcast episode ever)
A podcasting network that prides itself on being independent, and founded by Dustin Marshall, a podcast producer, and Starburns Industries (the production company behind Community and Rick & Morty). These shows are often far more based in personality, usually giving a comedian a looser premise for a show that they fill with extended “riffing” with other comedians or audience and guest interactions. Feral shows are often the unfiltered id of their host.
- Harmontown: Any fan of Community is likely already familiar with the often brilliant, often trainwreck life of creator and writer Dan Harmon, but if you aren’t, there’s nothing to acquaint yourself quite like Harmontown. Always recorded live with a studio audience and a freeform and rotating panel of various co-hosts and special guests and friends of the show, the show ultimately ends up being whatever Dan Harmon wants to talk about. Whether it’s comedy-based riffing, serious discussions of his mental problems or life dramas, or the regular games of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s always personal and more often than not entertaining.
- STARTING POINT: Honestly, considering how freeform, you can really start anywhere in the podcast. If you want a more general overview of who and what this is, I recommend the doc Harmontown on Netflix.
- Call Chelsea Peretti: Chelsea Peretti is one of our most underrated and underserved comedic voices, and nothing really displays that better than her podcast Call Chelsea Peretti. You may have thought it was impossible to pull off a call-in show for a downloadable podcast, but Peretti does it with her signature irreverence and brilliant half-commitment that feels as funny as full commitment to any joke.
- STARTING POINT: Life Pod 1 to get an idea of Chelsea’s voice and mentality for this show. Then choose the one with the most interesting description.
- Kumail Nanjiani’s The X-Files Files: There’s a surprisingly common comedy podcasting trend of “comedian gets guests to talk about very specific piece of media, piece by piece.” Such subjects have ranged from the band U2 to the film Sex and the City 2 to the TV show Frasier. But this is by and away the most accessible of those shows. Kumail Nanjiani (Portlandia, Silicon Valley) leads us week by week through a discussion of The X-Files with his comedian friends and actual X-Files writers. Surprisingly entertaining and always enthusiastic, even for those who’ve never seen an episode of The X-Files.
- STARTING POINT: Episode 37 – Jose Chung’s From Outer Space with Dan Harmon
The lightest of the three networks, this is the local college station of podcasting networks. Founded by public radio broadcaster Jesse Thorne, these are often very loose shows. Maximum Fun is the most conversational and informal of the podcasting networks. There’s a level of light-heartedness or silliness that contrasts sharply with the other two.
- The Flop House: It’s another podcast talking about bad movies, but unlike the previously mentioned How Did This Get Made?, it’s a little less about the movie itself and more about the jokes it inspires. Hosted by Stuart Wellington, Dan McCoy, and Elliot Kalan (the latter are former The Daily Show writers and Kalan was head writer), the three use some of the biggest flops out there as a launchpad for extended and incredibly silly improv, riffing, and running gags that will make you groan as often as they will make you laugh. It’s a loose and ridiculous experience, but so much fun.
- STARTING POINT: Episode 161 – A Talking Cat!?!
- Judge John Hodgman: Consumately literary comedian and “eccentric millionare” John Hodgman (who you may remember as “a PC” from those old Apple commercials) has a mission. His mission is to settle the pettiest disputes that we all have, but feel like are the whole world. With a shockingly clear head and interest of the person in mind, even when that person is being insanely petty, Hodgman dispenses life advice (with help of baliff Jesse Thorne) that we all can follow.
- STARTING POINT: Episode 134 – The Right to Remain Silent
So, congratulations, you’ve received more information than you could ever want about the world of comedy podcasting. The only thing to do now is get out there and listen!