There is no shortage of comedy podcasts. At their best, they do more than just make us laugh. Some of them at times can even feel like free therapy. They’re a quick way to distract us from our own thoughts and the world around us. And if there was ever a time when we needed a distraction from our own thoughts or the world around us, it was 2016.
It’s been a year where politics and comedy were hard to separate. So it’s no surprise we got new podcasts from Earwolf like Hard Nation and Fake the Nation. Or that the “Closer Look” segments from Late Night with Seth Meyers are now available on a podcast. Or that Maeve Higgins brought us Maeve in America to try and change the conversation about immigration. Even if you tepidly dipped your toe into the world of non-comedy podcasts to try and keep up with politics there was Keepin’ It 1600 to keep us educated and entertained. While it seems like a distant memory now, it was only a year ago when Marc Maron landed arguably the world’s biggest guest and had President Obama in his garage, and let us not forget that he also got his white whale – Lorne Michaels.
2016 is going to be remembered as a year we’d all like to forget. But let’s take one last look at everything that kept us laughing and distracted this year.
Best New Podcast - This Week Had Me Like
Leigh: Celebrity news. It used to be something reserved for trashy tabloids, and you’d never admit you paid any attention to it. But in today’s world, where a reality television game show host can become the president, it’s hard to escape celebrity news. Enter Caroline Goldfarb. You’ve probably seen her Instagram account, @officialseanpenn, so you’re already well aware of how skilled she is at curating bizarre celebrity updates. Listen for five minutes, and you’ll find yourself wishing you were her best friend. This Week Had Me Like is like candy for your earholes. Now that fake news is an epidemic and the real news is too terrifying to follow, we need celebrity news like who’s partnering with paper towel brands (a surprisingly high number) or the celebrity Lyme disease pandemic more than ever. If you’re not sold yet, she also has, hands-down, the best coverage of all things Ivanka Trump.
Pablo: It probably wasn’t the first episode of Beautiful/Anonymous to be recorded, but the first released episode of Chris Gethard’s one-on-one conversation podcast serves as a mission statement, not just for his intimate show, but Gethard as a person. In “Ron Paul’s Baby,” Chris talks to a lonely, depressed Texan so bored with his life that he hopes the hour he spends gabbing with Chris will get him fired. But as the Texan slowly reveals his disadvantaged upbringing, including a mother who gave birth to him while under temporary release from prison, Chris tries to pry the caller from the stable but unfulfilling malaise that is his life. It’s in this episode’s last 15 minutes where we get the heart-on-his-sleeve Chris Gethard showcased on his eponymous TV show: The cool older brother. The young English teacher all the girls had a crush on. The unofficial king of the geeks, losers, and overlooked outcasts of society. After pledging to Chris that he will perform at the open mic he drives by every day, the caller marks his decision to finally seek happiness by unleashing a bout of primal screams with Chris. In a Perks of Being a Wallerflower-type movie, it’d be a cheesy moment. But here it is genuine because there is nothing disingenuous about the hour Chris Gethard spends with his callers. They sound like conversations between two old friends who know these are the last sixty minutes they’ll have together.
Best Podcast That’s Most Likely To Be Banned Under President Trump - Hard Nation
Mark: Spring of 2016. Flowers were still blooming, hope was in the air. “Cuck” was still just the sound a chicken makes. We were all so naive. When UCB’s Mike Still and Paul Welsh started a political talking head parody this spring, they probably thought its future would be far different. Before the election, Hard Nation’s absurdist look at the political landscape was a welcome respite from the standard satire. Now, post-election, it’s a necessary cleanse. Mark and Pete Hard are more than just faux-Hannity & Colmes, they’re Hannity & Colmes-meets-Comedy Bang Bang-meets Frankenstein. The guests choose their subjects perfectly – John Gemberling as Roger Ailes is joyously perverse, and Paul F. Tompkins’s take on Ted Cruz is predictably fresh and hilarious. While obviously leaning left, the hosts still take digs at both sides with fervor. It’s a blast to hear them hyperbolize actual superhuman Michelle Obama in an episode with Ego Nwodim. Let’s hope that if our president-elect ever finds some free time between tweeting, watching SNL, and shirking his presidential duties, he doesn’t listen to Hard Nation. It would surely be at the top of his list of free speech crackdowns. And that’s what makes it great.
Noah: The humor of Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy can be dry and academic, but Oh No Ross and Carrie hit an incredibly funny stride in 2016. Much of that can be attributed to their nine-part fifth anniversary episode, which contributed to them releasing more episodes in a calendar year than they ever have. And with good reason – Scientology was a big get for Ross and Carrie. A less confident pair of investigative journalists might have gone in under cover of anonymity – and before developing a reputation for upfront, in-plain-sight methodology – but the five years they spent honing their skills together paid off in spades. Ross, for his part, can now boast that he’s been certified Personally Efficient (or, rather, Ross Blocker can) after diving headfirst into the academic side of the Church. His newly acquired collection of textbooks and pamphlets are the foundation of some of the series’ funniest asides, as Ross’s eye wanders to stray sections of the page that spark a memory of a ridiculous and often pedantic exchange at Big Blue. Carrie, too, shows her social cunning in story arcs that find her at a jolly black tie New Year’s event and afford her entry to minor get togethers that Ross has long since been barred from. This batch of Ross and Carrie, unlike the real-world return of L. Ron, was worth the wait.
Best Recap Podcast/Best Podcast to Launch a Thousand Secret Facebook Groups - Bitch Sesh
Elizabeth: Most podcasts enter your life for an hour or so and then don’t come up again until the next week. But Bitch Sesh is not most podcasts. Danielle Schneider and Casey Wilson’s weekly breakdown of the Real Housewives franchise took on a life of its own this year, both on the podcast and off. The show itself spawned live shows and a bevy of catchphrases, while an unofficial secret Facebook page brought together thousands of fans of the housewives and the podcast for 24/7 discussion and first-hand stories from the “boots on the ground.” Then came the regional groups and themed spinoff groups with something for everyone, whether they’re liberal, conservative, passionate about HGTV, or obsessed with true crime. With drama equal to that of Real Housewives of New York, the Bitch Sesh community provided a much needed distraction this year. While the original group Bitch Sesh by Alene Too: A Real Podcast Breakdown, like plenty of other wonderful things, did not survive 2016, the subgroups remain for those who are lucky enough to find them.
Best Advice - Ronna & Beverly
Leigh: Ronna and Beverly (Jessica Chafin and Jamie Denbo) are not afraid to voice their opinions. And I hope they never stop. Whether you want to hear it or not, you can count on these two straight shooters to tell it like it is. Whether it’s a guest who didn’t ask for it or a listener who wrote in and asked, we can always count on these two women to confidently speak their mind and help you out. In fact, they dedicated three whole episodes (here, here, and here) this year to just giving advice to listeners. But their best advice this year came in the form of a bonus episode following the election.
Kathryn: What a sad but fitting Paul F. Tompkins episode to highlight – one from back in February in which he played two classic TV giants who would pass away later this year. Of course, he reprises his long-running role as alien/monster hunter Garry Marshall, who first appeared on CBB in 2010 and first laid eyes on his gold-digging future bride, Gillian Jacobs, in 2012. This episode caps off their turbulent romance with the death of another long-running PFT character, Alan Thicke, wish-granting genie and wedding interrupter to the stars. This is a standout episode, with PFT, Aukerman, Jacobs, and Rust all turning in stellar riffs, which was good enough to make it on this list before it became a podcast eulogy for real-life Marshall and Thicke. If there’s one thing our favorite comics honoring our favorite TV stars teaches us, it’s this: Love IS thicker than water. RIP.
Best Limited Series - The Scary Secrets of Stasis PA
Marc: Now that podcasting has been around a bit, a lot of people are realizing they don’t have to just produce an endless parade of episodes for years and years. (Other podcasters might want to pay heed to this particular lesson…) And it’s beginning to really pay off in the form of very binge-able fare that’s both well-produced and well-acted in the case of the narrative offerings. One recent entry is The Scary Secrets of Stasis PA. This is a 3-part series that was produced as a run up to Halloween this year, with a story based in a town where the population number never changes — so if someone new moves into town, someone usually ends up dying. The host for the show is the creepiest version of Santa Claus ever and the main characters are all pretty memorable. And, thanks to the internet, you don’t have to wait until next Halloween to enjoy it. Written and directed by Brett Boham, the talented cast features Allison Brown, Taurean Hill, Gabi Van Horn, Michelle Thompson, Amy Holt, Brett Boham, Alex Ramsey, and Joe Cilio.
Best Podcast We Said (A Temporary) Goodbye To - Buzzfeed’s Internet Explorer
Noah: Is it reductive to say that memes played a huge part in 2016 and its effects on the future? The death and subsequent redemption of Vine, the death and subsequent veneration of Harambe, and the parallel rise of Pepe the racist frog and the freewheelin’ Dat Boi all had their place in the mainstream. For the first eight months of the year, Ryan Broderick and Katie Notopoulos were on the front lines cataloging memes on the rise in Buzzfeed’s co-flagship Internet Explorer, a weekly roundup that was alternately fresh, gross, and stupid in a good way. It was a safe haven for novice Web 2.0 addicts to find the in-depth profiles they wanted of phenomenons like the idiot gangster Bryan Silva and the iTunes catfish Lucia Cole. It was a meeting place for lifelong indoor kids to reminisce together in their Years That Changed The Internet trilogy – figuratively and then literally when Katie and Ryan set up a Slack channel for fans of the show soon after. It was even a platform for honest and important journalism, like when Doreen St. Felix and Niela Orr joined the show to talk about “Blackness and the meme cycle.” The show is on a hiatus while Katie is on maternity leave and Ryan, I don’t know, flies to Belarus to instruct some teens to tag themselves in his new My Immortal illustrations. One thing’s for certain: they’ve got a lot of catching us up to do.
Best Sophomore Season - My Dad Wrote A Porno
Marc: One of podcasting’s sensations last year was My Dad Wrote A Porno, probably starting with the clickbait-y title and following through with the real-life premise of a young British man, Jamie Morton, discovering that his 60-ish father (Rocky Flintstone – not his real name) had written an erotic novel, Belinda Blinked. He decides to read the book to two friends, James Cooper and Alice Levine, and they provide hilarious commentary. Fortunately, it turns out that Rocky wrote a sequel focusing on the continuing erotic adventures of Belinda so we get treated to a Season Two of MDWAP. This sophomore entry is enhanced with special Footnote episodes in between the chapter readings, featuring visits with celebrities that have discovered the series and have become huge fans. Folks like Elijah Wood, Daisy Ridley (star of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens), and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) join the cast to sing their praises and to talk in-depth about everything from Belinda’s questionable motivations to Rocky’s curious knowledge of human anatomy.
Best Podcast That’s Slowly Killing Its Two Hosts - Doughboys
Mark: After listening to this past episode’s historic blowup with Evan Susser, fans may fear that if the constant fast food doesn’t kill our beloved Doughboys hosts, they’re going to kill each other. Much of what keeps Doughboys so consistently entertaining is Mike Mitchell and Nick Wiger’s contentious relationship. Spoon Man & Burger Boy are the ketchup to each other’s french fries, the very same french fries Burger Boy so emphatically defended his love of recently. At this point, once an episode they complain about having to continue the show. The two are being held hostage, not by their G-level celebrity status, nor by the dozens of dollars made off the podcast, but in fact us, Spoon Nation & the Burger Brigade. The fans want Doughboys to soar past its continually threatened end dates. We will cheer Mitch on as he valiantly attempts to follow Weight Watchers while hosting a podcast about chain restaurants. We want the death threats, the blowups, the good themes (Tournament of Chompions) and the duds (Doughlympics). Consider these to be dishes in a hearty meal, to be followed by a satisfying dessert of reconciliation. In the recent Hooters episode, Wiger makes an uncharacteristically sentimental speech about how he really values their friendship, no matter how heated the two may get on-air. It was a much-needed moment of post-election levity. How fitting it is that in the year Mitch’s favorite pejorative, “cuck,” entered the mainstream, Doughboys turned into one of the best weekly listens.
Elizabeth: There are plenty of sob-worthy moments on Crybabies, Sarah Thyre and Susan Orlean’s excellent podcast about the things that make us cry, but rarely do the tears start to actually fall. But a recent episode with Natasha Rothwell, a comedian who had a pretty amazing 2016, made everyone turn on the waterworks. Natasha’s cues—Cynthia Erivo singing “I’m Here” from The Color Purple, a Wells Fargo commercial about adoption, a scene from Cheers, and Kara Walker’s exhibit at The Broad—had her, Sarah, Susan, and this listener all in tears. (Even thinking now of the Cheers scene she played between Coach and his daughter makes me want to cry.) If you need a good cry this holiday season, just turn this episode on and let the floodgates open.
Best New Podcast from a Magazine and a Musical - Found
Marc: Okay, so there is only one contender in this category this year (surprise!) and that is Found, hosted by Found magazine’s creator Davy Rothbart. The magazine has been around for more than a decade and a half, consisting of material that has literally been found — on the street, tacked to bulletin boards, in dumpsters, under windshield wipers, etc. (It was recently the subject of Found, The Musical as well, which recently played in Philadelphia.) What Rothbart has done is take bits and pieces of the bits and pieces and use them as jumping off points to flesh out grander stories. The debut episode has him tracking down the author of a kind of unsigned open letter to Hollywood’s TV producers that was found in a parking lot in LA. And he manages to backtrack the thing until he gets his interview with a Chicago dentist who once dreamed of becoming the Asian TV host version of Oprah. Every episode is very different – they aren’t all tracking down the folks behind the notes — and Rothbart himself is a very affable host.
Best Podcast That Might Offend Some, If Presented Out of Context - Tuesdays with Stories
Mark: Just saying the phrase “PC” can be a trigger these days. Not only has most of the country moved on to Apple products, but criticism of political correctness has reached max capacity. Take Colin Jost’s recent SNL joke about Tinder’s gender identity options – a joke about conservatives’ lack of understanding of gender norms brought him a lot of heated tweets. We’re all guilty of spending time attacking the “good ones,” which seems to have pushed many average voters away this election. Here’s where Tuesdays with Stories fits in - if you’re easily offended by incendiary language, out of context, this podcast may offend you. But within context, Joe List and Mark Normand are two polished, gifted standup comedians who are bridging gaps and bubbles not many podcasts do. As working comics and opening acts for Louis C.K. and Amy Schumer, respectively, List and Normand are on tour seeing crowds across the country and the world. They’ve been in alt-comedy rooms and even sometimes, alt-right rooms, as Normand recapped in a recent episode on Amy Schumer’s tour in Tampa. Between flights on Louis C.K.’s and Schumer’s private jets, these distinctly New York comics never lost their Comedy Cellar sensibilities. While it may sound like they’re making fun of every group out there, they’re really two down-to-earth, silly, socially conscious dudes. Joe List sums it up best in his first post election-rant on the December 6th episode: “I think for the most part, people are filled with love, and hope, and uh, cum.” Keep it up you crazy kooks, in 2016 we were all Tuesgays.
Noah: Andrea Silenzi was the talk of the town when Why Oh Why? burst out from the shadow of WFMU’s flagship comedy program Seven Second Delay, providing a crucial blurring of kayfabe to the newly displaced Friends of Tom in New Jersey and beyond. After laying low for a time, Silenzi’s Panoply revival has ridden audiences through a rollercoaster of emotions via the frayed threads of surprising characters from her longtime foil Randy to her own traumatic experiences in the dating game. The Dating Game, too, provided perhaps the highest high of Silenzi’s burgeoning reboot in the form of a live event at New York City’s Kraine Theater with her longtime friend, Sooo Many White Guys/2 Dope Queens producer Joanna Solotaroff. The stage was set like a classic episode from your parents’ youth, but Silenzi’s tee-ups and determined focus on Solotaroff’s sassy quips after each disappointing, hilarious, sometimes obviously stoned Tinder dude answer reclaim the format for a new generation of women who expect more. It could have been enough to end the experiment with the brief relief of Solotaroff’s choice of Bachelor, but Silenzi, as she does, takes it one step further and leaves the laughs gathered next to the dashed hopes of those same women.
Bravest Host - Courtney Pauroso, We Should Have a Podcast
Elizabeth: Comedians are used to laying themselves bare in public. In fact vulnerability is pretty much a job requirement whether you’re a writer, standup, or podcast host. But there’s opening up about your crazy family and then there’s what Courtney Pauroso, co-host of We Should Have a Podcast, did this year. On January 1, Courtney and co-host Corey Podell released “A Very Special Episode,” which was a response to fellow comedian Beth Stelling’s Instagram posts revealing that she had been in an abusive relationship. In the episode, Courtney shares that she was also raped and abused by the same man. While the episode is hard to listen to (I was crying on the subway), it’s incredibly important to listen to. In a year when you had a presidential candidate brag about sexual assault, Brock Turner in and out of jail in three months, and Kurt Metzger arguing about rape culture on Twitter, this episode is a reminder that there is power in telling these stories and backing each other up. So to Courtney, Beth, and all the other women who put their stories out there this year—whether it was on a podcast, on stage, or on Twitter—thank you for speaking up.
Cutest Couple - Sarah Joy Shockey & “The Big Guy” Ryback Allen Reeves, Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling
Noah: It was a year wrought with uncertainty pretty much everywhere you turned, but what truly dominated the water coolers from County Wicklow in Ireland to Fort Wayne, Indiana, was the will they/won’t they romance between Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling’s titular Sarah and former WWE Champion “The Big Guy.” At a glance, the two couldn’t be less alike. She wears business casual; he wears singlets. She enjoys the finer things, like NJPW World; he makes pizza by putting a slice of cheese on pita bread and warming it up in the microwave. She takes improv classes, he takes HGH. But the chemistry was there, and it was clear from the first time they locked eyes on one another from across Marty’s bedroom that these star cross’d lovers just couldn’t resist one another. For those in the know, Sarah and The Big Guy were a constant source of comfort and side splitting laughs earned mostly through their instantly classic improvised scenarios and Ryback’s lovestruck moments of candor. Can we wait to see what happens next between pro wrestling podcasting’s it couple? No, and!
BEST EPISODES OF THE YEAR
Noah: The interplay between Hollywood Handbook hosts Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements is something to behold as it is, but the boys truly made their entrance to the dance this year thanks in large part to their critically beloved, years-long series with The Best Show’s Tom Scharpling. At first it was an unlikely grouping. Hayes and Sean play as bombastic Hollywood men about town while Tom plays as a Jersey City also-ran. But their third episode as a trio, in which Tom attempts to lure Hayes permanently to New York City to start a competing showbiz insider podcast called Hollywood Handbook East (Big Apple Bible), managed to crystalize both programs into their best iterations. Sean is his goofy best calling in from a women’s restroom where he somehow cooks an egg – which is not coincidentally Tom’s nickname from a previous episode – and Tom shouts into the void for over five minutes when yet another big-time ally betrays him. What’s most thrilling, though, is the rare devolution of famed straight man Tom Scharpling into the very foible that he speaks to on a weekly basis. “Big Apple Bible, Episode 1” manages to set the stage for Hollywood Handbook’s best year yet, reinvigorate The Best Show for the times, and bring comedy podcasting itself along for the ride.
Pablo: It’s pretty likely that by 2017’s year end wrap up, at least one Doughboy will be dead at the hands of the other. So if we plan for the inevitable, my choice for new co-host would be frequent guest Nicole Byer. On both of her 2016 appearances, Byer showed why MTV execs were quick to give this uproarious comedic force of nature her own TV show: She’s a goddamn delight to hang out with, even if it’s just her yelling WOOOOOOOO in your earholes. Like most episodes, I don’t remember any of the actual food discussion because the other topics of convo are more interesting. Like Byer’s pop culture knowledge from 1980-2016 solely consisting of Whoopi Goldberg movies. Or her description of Chewbecca as the monster with a long weave. Or mistaking the balding, ugly lawyer in Jurassic Park who gets eaten off a Porta Potty for hunky 1993 in-his-prime Jeff Goldblum. In this 1st episode, Byer explains her and the African-American community’s love of Red Lobster which made her an obvious return guest for the Boys’ month-long Rocklobsterfest. Again, I don’t remember a single thing they said about the food, but Mitch does describe the room from Room as very nice despite “the whole rapist thing.” But what I do remember in these two episodes are the chemistry of this trio, two incredible drops featuring “Master of Puppets” and “Roundball Rock,” and an apocalyptic Last Meal segment for the ages. If you recommend Doughboys to any friends asking for new podcasts, these are the episodes to start with.
Marc: I enjoyed this episode of We Got This with Mark and Hal not only because of the fun interplay the hosts (Mark Gagliardi and Hal Lublin) have with their guest Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly) but because of the way it genuinely got me thinking about the topic of movie trilogies altogether. The trio covers a lot of territory – much of it dismissing some great movie series because there are more than the requisite three movies — and genres. By laying down certain rules, they are able to shave the list of contenders down quite a bit. Such as eliminating nominees that feature different people cast in the same roles. The one exception to that is the Godfather trilogy, which is allowed to slip into the running. Star Wars is broken into two trilogies: I-III (Boo!) and IV-VI (Yay!), but ultimately the final winner (“And now that I’m saying it out loud, it seems a little…anticlimactic,” says Fillion) is the Back To The Future trilogy. There’s no sense arguing if you disagree, because it is now an official We Got This! decree.
Noah: An earlier Splitsider review of this episode tried to stay in on the joke, only winking at the grand, gradual reveal of the true nature of this “lost episode” purportedly from 2006 WFMU. Here’s the version with spoilers: live in the Best Show studio, Tom Scharpling sat alone on election night and took calls from a cast of trusted contributors in an effort to make a standalone piece of comedy that wouldn’t “expire at midnight.” Dudio and AP Mike disguise their voices as best they can, with one of them setting Tom up for a nostalgic takedown of Stadium Arcadium that feels instantly like classic grumpy Scharpling. Jon Wurster calls in as Tom’s Consolidated Cardboard coworker Darren Ploppleton and subtly betrays the apolitical nature of the venture with a nod to the host’s caffeine-addled Vulture reviews of The Apprentice. DJ Terre T and producer Pat Byrne play themselves, though Pat is a time traveler. When the show screeches into a hangover with ten minutes to close, the signature sound collage gets even more political – Barbara Harris singing “It Don’t Worry Me” is a far cry from closing out with Jimmy Buffett’s “Good Guys Win” in 2008. For all its faults, 2016 was a banner year for The Best Show, and this episode ranks chief among the fifty two triumphs.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
Elizabeth Stamp is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.
Mark Kramer is a writer, comedian & human boy from Staten Island, New York, but please don’t hold that against him.
Kathryn Doyle is a science writer from New York.