The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We’re here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.
Nerdist - Paul Reubens
Zoe: This week, Paul Reubens visits The Nerdist to discuss the trajectory of Pee-wee Herman, from his conception at The Groundlings to the Saturday morning character on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. For those of us who grew up with Pee-wee Herman and have since become adult fans of comedy, it’s a fascinating listen. Watching these types of characters as a kid, we don’t always have the appreciation for the hard work that goes into creating these universes. If you were like me, your kid brain just kind of assumed these stories were designed with you in mind, end of story. But the more you learn about the industry itself, the more you see that these worlds are the culmination of many complicated processes, years of hard work, and acutely honed talent. Pee-wee is no exception; at The Groundlings, Reubens originally played him as a cheesy standup who would’ve gotten eaten alive at a club. He then explains how this character came to have a playhouse on an HBO special, which led to a movie (Reubens interestingly describes it as a rewrite of Pollyanna), and ultimately became a kids’ show on CBS. For an hour-long episode, it’s a very comprehensive view of the life of a character in all its incarnations. It’s so good, I forgot to recommend it.
You Made it Weird - W. Kamau Bell
Elizabeth: After both their talk shows were canceled within the past year, W. Kamau Bell and Pete Holmes sit down for a major commiseration session on this week’s You Made It Weird. Since very few people have had the experience of getting—and then losing—their own TV show, there’s a sense of relief from both men about finding someone else who understands what they went through. They cover the pain points including Twitter feedback, being your friends’ boss, and the awkward moment when someone asks how the show is going and you have to tell them it was canceled. Overall, they’ve both bounced back and there aren’t signs of bitterness, but they strongly agree on the importance of giving shows time to get their footing, citing the now forgotten growing pains of later hits like Modern Family, Seinfeld, and Cheers. But it’s not all network talk: Holmes still hits his big three—comedy, sexuality, and religion—with Bell explaining why he thinks comedians get funnier when they have kids, how his mother only dated when he was away for the summer as a child, and why his idea of Jesus is an old Denzel Washington with dreadlocks, although he’s raising his daughter in the church of Doc McStuffins.
Thrilling Adventure Hour - Jefferson Reid, Ace American, “Return to Castle Brunholdt”
Marc: There are so many fun segments included in the entirety of Thrilling Adventure Hour as a show that pretty much everything that gets shaved off of their live show to become podcast content is hilarious. The most recent installment “Return to Castle Brunholdt” features frequent guest voice Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) as the title character Jefferson Reid, a patriotic soldier/agent/everyman in the midst of WWII, assisted in his ongoing struggle against the Nazis by Agent Abby Adams (Annie Savage). Reid learns to his horror that his once-loyal (and dead) sidekick Brownie Finn has been brought back to life and turned by the Nazis, forcing him to head for Germany to fight the evil Herr Doktor Vitus Brunholdt, also recently returned from death. TAH specializes in creating loyal but dumb-as-a-post heroes (witness Captain Laserbeam and Sparks Nevada) and Fillion plays the part of Reid with appropriate addled aplomb. His butt is saved by the appearance of a new sidekick Lucky Appleseed (Colin Hanks), who, in a running gag of the segment – spoiler alert - is quickly dispatched by the episode’s end. And a special nod to the “vintage” commercials for Patriot Cigarettes and WorkJuice Coffee.
U Talkin’ U2 To Me? - Songs of Innocence Physical Release Special
Kaitlynn: It’s been a month since the last episode, but the Scotts are back talking about U2’s latest album and the online backlash of the iTunes digital release. You definitely do not have to like the band to enjoy this podcast. From the plentiful opening hellos, it is clear Scott and Scott are on their A-game. The conversational banter is interrupted by insults at any chance, but there is no doubt these two friends have a chemistry that makes any frivolous exchange instantly funny. You can almost hear Earwolf fans cheering as the ‘Engineer Cody’ drama reaches a hilariously dramatic peak. Fans of the podcast will be disappointed with the lack of sub-episodes. The second half of the episode is almost exclusively U2 discussions. In a podcast so full of comedy bits, it’s hard to believe they managed to speak at length about the iTunes download repercussions, the Definitive Biography, other album reviews and a song-by-song discussion. I would like to thank (Adam) Scott, and I would like to thank Scott (Aukerman) for the most educational and entertaining episode to date.
Writers’ Bloc - Doug Abeles
Pablo: Writing for a living entails a lot of rejection. Even if you get lucky enough to land a television writing job, rejection is something that comes with the territory. You probably won’t last if you lack thick skin, which is precisely why Doug Abeles has been able to have such a long career. The former ten-year vet of Weekend Update was fired from his first two jobs, The Magic Hour and Politically Incorrect, after putting in a total of 10 months on both shows. And those dismissals were preceded by months of faxing in jokes to Letterman and being told to stop because none of them were any good. But with a ton of persistence, Abeles landed a gig at Weekend Update thanks to his previous experience writing jokes for Norm Macdonald during his time at the helm. For anyone struggling with the notion that they have to “make it” by a certain age or else retreat to a real job, Abeles’s tale, which didn’t even start until his 30s thanks to six years as a futures trader on the New York Stock Exchange floor, is an inspiring listen.
Lies - Jenny Slate Likes Her Boys Young
Leigh: We already know how hilarious Jenny Slate is on practically all our favorite TV shows. We’ve seen how great she is starring in a movie. And we can’t get enough of her as Marcel the Shell. So it should come as no surprise that she’s also a delightful liar, which she proves on this week’s episode of Lies with host Sara Schaefer. Aside from an insightful look at her process when doing voice over work, sharing her preference for butt acting and reciting a few of her classic lines from her days as a soap star, Slate answers that age old question all women in comedy seem to get asked: Are men funny? Schaefer and Slate really break it down, looking at the success of groundbreaking all-male ensemble movies like Last Vegas and debunking the existence of the matriarchy. Only three episodes in, I already can’t get enough of Lies. I want to complain that the episodes are too short, but that only makes it easier to listen to each episode over and over again. And then again. And again.
Other Podcasts We’re Listening To:
WTF with Marc Maron - Martin Starr
Comedy Bang! Bang! - Natasha Lyonne, Paul F. Tompkins, and Mary Holland
Industry Standard - Gavin Polone
The Poundcast - Brent Weinbach & Andrew Michaan
Professor Blastoff - Books with Jen Hitchcock
Never Not Funny - Doug Benson
Going Off Track - Nikki Glaser
Pop Culture Happy Hour - Transparent and Pop Culture Debuts
The New Hollywood Podcast - Larry Hankin & Larry Hankin Extra
Elizabeth Stamp is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.
Zoe Schwab is a writer/fraud living in NYC who is somehow up-to-date with ABC Family’s Melissa & Joey.