A Fairly Comprehensive Guide to Comedy Podcasts: Keith and the Girl

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It was clear in reading through the comments section of the first Guide to Comedy Podcasts that I had inadvertently ignored a lot of tenderly beloved podcasts. In an effort to rectify the oversight, I am now taking a weekly look at which of these are worth your valuable time and which ones are audio abominations. This week’s featured podcast is Keith and the Girl.

Keith Malley would probably say that he gives 17 shits about how many people read this write-up of his podcast. The reason he might say that is because giving a very specific number of shits is a trademark line on the show he co-hosts, and also because that show already has enough listeners that a few more or less isn’t going to mean all that much for his bottom line.

Keith and the Girl is an example of podcasting as the American dream manifested. Keith and his co-host, Chemda Khalili, started the show in March of 2005 as a means of creating a steady trickle of publicity for their stand-up and singing careers respectively. Since then, the show has quietly grown into a juggernaut, snaring 50,000 listeners five days a week and over a million downloads from the archives each month. Through merchandising, donations, and a book deal with a major publisher, Keith and Chemda have managed to turn their side-gig into a full-time job.

Each show begins, rather jarringly, with a multi-denominational prayer. Although Jesus Christ is frequently mentioned, these prayers always end with L’chaim, a Jewish blessing. This bit of spiritual inclusiveness is a fitting way to open such a New York-centric show since New York City is nothing if not the land of plurality. The hosts live and record in Queens, and so NYC figures prominently into a lot of their stories. When Keith tears into the MTA for his dissatisfaction with a change in service on the C train, it is assumed that the listener will know what the hell he is talking about.

When a show runs five days a week, it’s probably going to be steeped in current events, and this one is no different. What distinguishes this show is Keith and Chemda’s personalities, their interaction with an unusually devoted audience, and their relationship with each other. Keith has a total guy’s-guy point of view but he’s a solid comic and even when talking about hacky subjects, he finds a way to put a personal spin on things. (“As comedians are to rock stars, pilots are to public speakers”, he says on the topic of captains who tend to talk too much in-flight.) Chemda makes a good foil for Keith as she tends to be a bit more good-natured, but is not above ripping someone a new anus if she’s in the mood. Both of them read comments on-air from listeners writing in during the podcast, take calls, and have a poll at some point during each episode that fans can weigh in on.

Chemda mentions on air that they don’t aim for guests who will bring in the most downloads, but rather they have on comics they know and personal friends mainly because they like them and have fun talking with them. Some higher profile guests have come on the show over the years, though, including Marc Maron, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Keith’s favorite comedian, the late Greg Giraldo. Friends of the hosts frequently turn out to be funny too, and if you live in New York it’s nice to get exposure to some local comics like Jesse Joyce (who used to write for Giraldo), and John and Molly Knefel, a deceptively innocent-looking sibling act.

Another regular guest is the surname-less Patrice, who frequently visits the show to bring the latest celebrity gossip and a second female opinion. While it was rather macabre hearing the hosts complain about the celebrity outpouring over the disappearance of Andrew Koenig, knowing now that soon after the episode aired this past spring, Koenig’s body was found, most of the time Keith and Chemda’s sharp take on entertainment culture and famous people in general make Patrice’s appearances reliably enjoyable.

The show can get pretty Howard Stern-y sometimes, but the sex stuff is actually quite interesting because of the hosts’ particular circumstances. You see, Keith and Chemda are an ex-couple who still lives together, which gives a heated charge to their discussions on dating and relationships. What kicks this material up to an even higher level is the fact that Chemda is currently involved with another woman. Keeping all this in mind, then, a discussion about, say, whether penises seem kind of gross to a girl even if she’s straight suddenly has more dimensions. It’s this aspect of the show that helped secure a deal with Three Rivers publishing house, which put out the book, “What Do We Do Now? Keith and The Girl’s Smart Answers To Your Stupid Relationship Questions” this past spring.

As mentioned earlier, Keith and Chemda have an unusually dedicated legion of fans, and together they contribute to a thriving online community. Look on the website at just about any time of day, and you’re bound to find threads on the forums alive with discussions about the most recent episode or about Keith’s pet project, HUAR (Humans United Against Robots.) Over 60 people have gotten tattoos of the shows logo and catchphrases, sending in pictures of their handiwork. A few of them have even gotten branded, including a 19-year old intern on the show who took up a whole episode documenting the process. (I sort of wish it were possible to revisit this person at age 29, and hear his thoughts about the wisdom of this decision at that point.)

Such slavish devotion is not easy to come by – Keith and Chemda have worked hard to get to this point, maintaining the show, writing a book, and setting the record for Longest Non-stop Talk Show with their insane 75 Hour Marathon. Hard work or not, though, they have to recognize that they’re in an enviable spot right now, as career podcasters and comics, and they seem grateful for it. Perhaps that’s the reason behind the prayer that starts out each episode.

Joe Berkowitz edits books and writes stuff. He also has a Tumblr.