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.
WTF with Marc Maron – Episode 500
MARC: Marc Maron chooses some interesting ways to honor his five years and 500 episodes in podcasting this week. Mostly by putting himself through a variety of emotional wringers that move him – and I dare say his audience –alternately to tears and laughter. The guest given the longest podtime is Steve Brill, a successful screenwriter and director who also happens to have been the person that Maron first faced his fears with to take to the comedy stage some 30 years ago in Boston. Their relationship has run the gamut from friends to enemies and back again, and Maron invites Brill in to attempt to bury the last hatchet thrown: A thinly-veiled and unpleasant caricature of Brill acted out by Eric Stoltz playing a movie director in the first season of Maron, the podcast host’s IFC TV series. While there are a few “cameos” by other comedians during this milestone installment, the real meat is served in the form of Maron’s family members. His brother, Craig, as well as his mother and, in a grand finale, Maron’s father appears via phone. Regular listeners to WTF are aware of the strained and estranged relationship between father and son, mostly fueled by the portrayal of the elder Maron on TV and in a recent book by the younger Maron. “We may never speak again,” Maron has been heard to lament in recent shows. Speak they do, and it is a tender and emotional conversation that serves to illustrate the measure of Maron’s growth as both a host and as a human being during these first five years of his show.
You Made It Weird – Bill Nye
SCOTT: ”I’d love to have my consciousness backed up and be able to have sex with old girlfriends electronically forever. That would be great. But I’m not counting on it. We got other problems.” Bill Nye (Bill Nye the Science Guy) said that about an hour in, and it was not even close to the weirdest thing on the episode. It ranks though, along with “Monogamy is set up to keep men from just killing each other” and a thought experiment wherein we learn that humans don’t live enough days to be able to sit in every seat in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium if we sat in one seat every day. This episode is weird. It’s the first one since Holmes found out that The Pete Holmes Show wasn’t renewed. It’s clear that Nye doesn’t know the format of the show and was expecting a more traditional interview, never more than when the questions turn personal and his shields immediately go up. There’s an undercurrent of tension throughout, as if they’re subtly locking horns to find out who’s really in the spotlight on the episode and who should yield focus. Nye intentionally tramples on Holmes’s jokes. He dodges most of the relationship topics where, on another day, Holmes might have found a way to coax it out of his guest. But despite it all, Bill Nye and Pete Holmes manage to turn in an interesting, compelling conversation that delivers on the promise of weirdness all the way to the end.
Comedy Bang! Bang! – Paul F. Tompkins and Matt Gourley
ROB: With the benefit of hindsight (and the rewind button), long-time Comedy Bang! Bang! listeners can sometimes pick out a few missed comedic opportunities or unexploited references that pass between host Scott Aukerman and some of his guests. That’s just an inevitability, given the show’s live-recorded, improvised format. But in this episode, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of those moments. In fact, you might benefit from a second listen because all of the references, tangents, and bits come flying at you nonstop. Obviously, this episode has a great guest lineup: CBB-style character veterans Paul F. Tompkins and Matt Gourley. But beyond that, it’s got something else. Something that calls to mind the legendary “Farts and Procreation” episode: It seems Aukerman (and possibly Tompkins) feel pretty loopy after the CBB TV show wrap party the night before. And on top of that — after the first segment featuring Tompkins’s Cake Boss (“Cake Boss!”) — the two guests introduce new characters. Gourley plays the recently deceased “narco-sculptor” H.R. Giger (who designed Alien’s xenomorph). It’s his character from the Superego podcast, but nevertheless it’s new to CBB audiences. And Tompkins introduces “Reverend Parsimony,” who makes a great Odd Couple match with the demonic Giger. Together, the three are loose, but so on-the-ball that they all capitalize on mispronunciations, unintentional references — pretty much anything that could be turned into comedic gold. This episode will probably be in the running for the year-end “Best Of” show because while it’s always a pretty good sign when Tompkins is cracking up off-mic, it’s even better when all three have trouble finishing sentences without bursting into laughter.
The Carson Podcast – Florence Henderson
PABLO: Over the last few months, the biggest story in comedy has been the shifting winds of late night talk shows. And with the debuts of Stephen Colbert on CBS, Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central, and Chelsea Handler anywhere else but E! in the near future, talk shows will continue to dominate the headlines in 2015, unless SNL hires a U-Haul filled with white dudes. So what better time than now to start a podcast devoted to Johnny Carson, the man responsible for making late night hosting the most prestigious gig in a comedian’s career. This week’s guest on Mark Malkoff’s The Carson Podcast is actress Florence Henderson. Henderson may seem like an odd choice at first, but listeners will be surprised to hear that the former Mrs. Brady was the first ever female guest host on The Tonight Show and a recurring favorite of Carson’s. Throughout her brunch interview with Malkoff, Henderson tells the comedian her long history in late night, from guest hosting The Dick Cavett Show to making dozens of appearances on the Jack Paar incarnation of The Tonight Show. This episode is another solid installment in the necessary oral history of a man whose shadow continues to loom large over modern late night programming, whether they be Jimmy Fallon’s viral, musical twist on The Tonight Show or a literal deconstruction of the format (and set) like The Eric Andre Show.
We Know Nothing – Episode 6
LEIGH: The best comedy podcasts have a way of making you feel like you’re in on a conversation between friends who are way funnier than you, so you gladly just keep quiet and listen. That being said, comedians Nikki Glaser and Phil Hanley’s new podcast We Know Nothing throws something extra into the mix. They want you to speak up. And not only do they want to hear from you, they want to hear your problems and try to help. The problems your real friends are probably all sick of hearing about. Each episode, they answer calls from listeners, and even though they claim to know nothing (and not that I do), I’d say they give pretty good advice. While the call they answer in Episode 6 deals with some pretty serious stuff, earlier episodes have featured callers with lighter, relatable issues. In fact, take the time to go all the way back to Episode 1 to hear how one caller is hilariously dealing with with an ex-boyfriend. It’s worth listening to and maybe even trying her tactic yourself. Callers aside, Glaser and Hanley talk pretty candidly about their own lives and relationships, including one pretty heartbreaking story from Hanley (in which he may or may not have met Colonel Sanders!). If there’s one thing you can take away from this podcast is that it’s pretty comforting to hear other people’s issues.
Never Not Funny - Tig Notaro
ZOE: When host Jimmy Pardo introduces guest Tig Notaro as a “friend,” she asks him to clarify whether the endorsement serves to reassure his fans or hers. Whether the topic is C. diff or dentist jokes, her ability to point out the absurdity of “normal” behavior with frank, take-it-or-leave-it delivery is what makes her humor so effective. It’s like turning on a fluorescent light; you can’t help but notice the sobering details you overlooked before. Her sensitivity to these details gives her an amazing ability to call out things we’d otherwise take for granted. Fans of Professor Blastoff, a fellow Earwolf podcast, see her do this with co-hosts Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger all the time, and she has a similar rapport with Pardo. When he asks her to guess the name of the sponsor, she replies, “Bungaloo pants or something?” The two have a great dyanmic, and the contrast in energy allows for some awesome riffs. It makes for a highly entertaining episode that plays equally to both senses of humor without sacrificing what makes each so unique.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
Scott Reynolds is a comedian and writer in Brooklyn, NY.
Rob Schoon lives in Brooklyn and writes about tech, media, comedy and culture.