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.
The Dead Authors Podcast – Jamie Denbo as Anne Frank
ZOE: This week, Anne Frank swings by Dead Authors to discuss her diary, Judy Blume, and the complications of living with your crush while in hiding. The iTunes summary assures us that “It’s not as offensive as you’re thinking,” which is very true, thanks to Jamie Denbo’s sharp and subversive portrayal of Frank. She avoids the expected victim angle by playing Frank like a memoirist on the New York Times bestseller list: she’s way smarter than her audience but begrudgingly panders to the common denominator. One of the funniest moments is when she recites the famous quote, “I still believe that people are really good at heart,” then quickly adds an angry, “Who the fuck would believe that after what I’ve been through?” She regards Tompkins’s H.G. Wells as just another dumb interviewer to entertain, punctuating her answers with a condescending “You understand?” It feels well-deserved because at the end of the day, she’s Anne Frank. But Denbo also provides a relatable contrast to the author persona by tapping into the realities of being a teenager. The episode ends up being an extremely funny and poignant way to comment on how rarely we think of Anne Frank as a real person instead of a symbol of tragedy.
WTF with Marc Maron – Ron White
PABLO: The problem with labeling standup comics is that you can pigeonhole a really great talent based on nothing but your misguided perception. Before watching Ron White’s special You Can’t Fix Stupid nearly a decade ago, I was guilty of thinking he was just another Blue Collar Comedy Tour act, albeit one with a much better fashion sense. But as he tells Marc Maron, the innate independence that forged his post-Blue Collar career has been the foundation for his entire life. White’s act is storytelling in its purest form, and he doesn’t disappoint with tales of doing LSD in the Navy and opening a pottery factory in Mexico after quitting comedy for a stretch. The brash Texan also tells Maron why he hates his former Blue Collar manager, why he loves his son’s stepdad, and how Larry the Cable Guy was a last-minute replacement just before Blue Collar hit it big. This episode is also must-listen for Maron’s opening monologue, detailing the 20 years it took for him and current girlfriend Moon Zappa to find themselves both single at the same time.
Topics with Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter – Is Life a Dream?
JOSH: While my esteemed colleagues review various laughs and gaffes of the audio variety, I, with the help of Topics co-hosts Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, will attempt to discover the meaning of life. The only rule on Topics is that there are no rules, and with that in mind Michael and Michael attempt to tackle some of life’s most important questions. Is life a dream? Is all existence nothing more than the imaginary projected dream of God? What does the music of Radiohead truly mean? Showalter and Black basically answer these questions, but just in case you didn’t come to this website to have your entire ethos rocked to the core, I won’t ruin the ending of the universe for you like a House of Cards spoiler. There’s a variety of reasons I enjoy Topics. I appreciate the continuous agreement between the hosts (yes, mmm-hmm), the extremely subtle humor, the soundtrack that makes you feel as though you’re stuck inside a Nintendo cartridge, and to me, the most impressive attribute of them all, the fact that MIB and Showalter can walk the delicate verbal tightrope of the rarely attempted feat of modest arrogance. I’m not sure if it’s accurate to refer to Topics as an innovative form of anti-humor, because so many segments of the podcast possess a droll comedy that’s unambiguously funny. At one point in this week’s episode, Michael Ian Black suggests jumping out of his 15th floor hotel window on the off chance that he may be able to fly. Showalter, without missing a beat, replies, “You should do it,” with the casual demeanor of a friend urging you to order a side of french fries. This week provided yet another in a long line of clever episodes for the Topics podcast.
What Say You – I Have Your Pants
MARC: This conversational podcast between hosts Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano just took home the 2013 Stitcher Award for Best New Podcast. If the hijinks described by Vulcano in this particular episode are any indication of the contents to be found on the show, you can see this one sticking around awhile. If the hosts are familiar to you, it’s likely because they constitute 50% of the hosts for TruTV’s Impractical Jokers prank series, as well as the Jokers After Party spinoff. Quinn is also one of the co-hosts of SModcast’s Tell ‘Em, Steve-Dave! podcast. WSY? is very unscripted, to the point that it’s hard to tell if Quinn and Vulcano have any idea what they’re going to talk about when the mics go on, or even how long they might talk. In this edition, Vulcano goes into graphic detail about a pair of women’s pants that was accidentally FedEx’d to his home. Both the escalation of the story — including fashioning a 20-page random note out of letters cut from magazines, then sending that and a photo of himself wearing the too-small pants and a ski mask to the intended recipient — and the resulting hilarity makes this a show worthy of a listen. Funny? Suffice it to say that Quinn is laughing so hard by the story’s end that he literally throws up. Now THAT’S podcast gold.
PABLO: The latest in a wave of tributes to comic legend Sid Caesar, who passed away in Beverly Hills last Wednesday at 91, occurred on Conan this week when Mel Brooks was invited to reminisce about his late friend and former boss. But Brooks wasn’t the only young writer to get his start under Caesar, a list that includes Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, and this week’s guest on Writers Bloc, Bill Persky. Persky played a major role in the early days of television comedy as the co-creator of That Girl, the first “single girl in the big city” sitcom and a major influence on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But before that, Persky and his longtime partner Sam Denoff were just a couple of radio station joke writers. Persky tells host J.R. Havlan a barrage of stories about his time in show business, from comedians literally dying on stage to what it was like working in an era where notes didn’t come from executives but from the program’s one sponsor. Having created one of the first female TV characters that wasn’t just independent (he considers Lucy Ricardo TV’s first feminist) but also not a housewife, Persky speaks at length in this episode about modern sitcoms centered on single women. While he thinks Lena Dunham is talented, he’s not a fan of Girls. One of the reasons? They never seem to wash their bed sheets.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
Zoe Schwab is a writer/fraud living in NYC who is somehow up-to-date with ABC Family’s Melissa & Joey.
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.