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. Also, we’ll keep you posted on the offerings from our very own podcast network. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.
How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner – Dana Gould
JOSH: Julie Klausner is an American podcasting treasure. In this week’s episode, Klausner, whose efficiency with entertaining rhetoric rivals only the legendary Paul F. Tompkins, discusses the least necessary internet article in the history of humans and briefly reminisces about the time she was kicked out of an award show for dogs in film. Eventually, she transitions into a few observations involving the television series Bones. I won’t go as far as to say you haven’t lived until you’ve listened to Julie Klausner deconstruct the intricacies of Bones, but I will say that you may not be living up to your full potential as a contributing member of society. Honestly, a podcast where Klausner just describes various television programs would be 22 minutes well spent. Later, comedian Dana Gould drops by to discuss his favorite serial killer, the sexiest President of the United States, and why people go crazy living on the west coast.
The Nerdist – B.J. Novak
MARC: B.J. Novak, best known for his acting and writing on NBC’s The Office, has spent his time since the show went off the air last year cobbling together a book of short stories, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. It just came out this week, so what better time to visit old open mic and standup comedy pals Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray? (Matt Mira is there too, but he’s a “new friend” to Novak.) Before he gets to plug his book, he’s conversed into revealing his days on the staff of The Harvard Lampoon, which was “both hated and envied by everyone at the school,” says Novak. And devoting so many seasons to The Office as he did – one of the only staffers to be hired as both writer and performer – Hardwick and company had to be reminded that their guest was once part of the staff of stooges on Punk’d, most famously remembered as Hillary Duff’s driving instructor on an episode. The hour-and-a-half is an excellent and humorous glimpse into the background of someone almost everyone knows but that most people don’t know that much about.
ZOE: This week, Alison Rosen interviews one of the most lovable and down-to-earth guys in comedy, Paul Scheer. He proves to be just that as he describes his journey from Catholic school in Long Island to the new frontier of the LA comedy scene to the realities of baby registry (if you didn’t know that a snot straw was a thing, now you do). Rosen’s interview style is laid-back and astute, allowing the spotlight to stay on Scheer while asking questions that dig into the nuances of decisions and emotions that have shaped his very successful and eclectic career. One of the most interesting parts is when he describes his relationship with wife June Diane Raphael — yes, it’s just as adorable as you would hope — and it’s a little hard not to go “aww” at how sincerely and adoringly he talks about their “courtship” days. At the end, the two do a round of the “Just Me or Everyone” segment, where Scheer teaches us what to include in a respectable emergency sack, where the best place for cheese in a sandwich is, and why petting a stranger’s dog is never worth the inevitable conversation with the owner.
PABLO: The Champs has had a strong start to 2014 thanks to to three straight gut-busting episodes featuring a trio of ‘80s/early ‘90s rap legends. But the latest episode to showcase a ‘90s icon, Arsenio Hall, tops them all due to the talk show host’s lively account of his early life and groundbreaking career. Arsenio is an open book, telling hosts Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher about growing up as the son of a no-nonsense Baptist preacher and discovering his knack for performing during stints as a drummer and magician. But it was only after noticing an audience’s reaction to Franklyn Ajaye that led Arsenio to try standup. Arsenio’s journey from a nobody to Johnny Carson’s most serious competitor hits familiar beats to anyone knowledgeable about the late night wars, but the episode also contains colorful details like the time a young denim-clad Jay Leno stayed true to his promise to help Arsenio find his footing on his first day in Los Angeles. Later, The Champs dip deep into Arsenio’s personal life, namely the decade-plus he spent shunning show business to focus on being a single dad. This week’s Champs is one of the best podcasts of this young year, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s watched either incarnation of The Arsenio Hall Show and seen its interviews that feel less like someone promoting a project and more like friends having a conversation.
ROB: Coming out of the Midwest, History Bluffs is a relatively young podcast where guests take on the role of famous historical figures and co-hosts Bob Nugent and David Britton quiz them about their life, in the form of an interview. It’s not unlike The Dead Authors Podcast, except there’s a twist: guests are only told whom they’re impersonating at the start of the show – hence the “bluffs.” This week’s episode features Todd Glass playing Ronald Reagan. Throughout the show, it becomes clear what Glass actually knows about the late president: that he was an actor with nice hair, invaded another country, was married to Nancy, developed Alzheimer’s disease, and took down the solar panels that President Carter had installed on the White House. Fans of Todd Glass have probably heard him talk about the latter before, and here he really lays into Reagan (or, himself) for how embarrassingly childish that was (though unfortunately for fans, Glass only slips into his Reagan impression briefly). The rest of Glass’s Reagan interview is delightfully full of bullshit, in which Red Lobster plays a bizarrely big role. The second half of the show has Glass out of character for a blended interview/scoring how accurate his answers were. Of course the points don’t matter, but in revealing the correct answers, Nugent’s listing of Reagan’s actual filmography is surprisingly hilarious and makes it worth listening all the way through. Only on its 30th episode, History Bluffs is built on a solid, funny premise, and it’ll be interesting to watch how the show develops going forward.
SCOTT: It’s a You Made it Weird first when Pete Holmes immediately calls out the guest, Mark Normand, for making him start the episode over. The standard practice of recording all of the conversation from the beginning rather than “starting” the episode, apparently surprised Normand and led to something being recorded that he didn’t want out there. Holmes spends some energy throughout the episode trying to allude to it and make it slip, but we never find out beyond a couple of hints. The two discuss penis size, joke stealing (Normand is clearly not a Denis Leary fan) and roast humor, with Holmes asserting that maybe nice people only seem nice because they aren’t quick enough to come up with good insults. Normand tells a story of a time he got fired from a gig for an “edgy” racial joke after the producers insisted that he be more edgy and racial — the news coming while he was dressed in full-drag for the next bit. Normand hates fantasy novels and movies, and the quote of the episode is “Give me a movie about a guy who has a job.” After a long discussion about the merits of lying, they breeze through relationships and religion so they can come back and finish off the penis size discussion before they run out of time, so listen all the way to the end to find out if size matters and where Holmes has a weird birth mark.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
Marc Hershon is host of Succotash, the Comedy Podcast Podcast and author of I Hate People!
Scott Reynolds is a comedian and writer in Brooklyn, NY.
Zoe Schwab is a writer/fraud living in NYC who is somehow up-to-date with ABC Family’s Melissa & Joey.
Rob Schoon lives in Brooklyn and writes about tech, media, comedy and culture.
Josh Sorokach is a comedy writer living in NYC who was once referred to as a “Poor Man’s Joshua Jackson” while on a date.