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.
Fresh Air - Billy Eichner of Billy on the Street
Leigh: Billy Eichner. Terry Gross. The Golden Girls theme song. What more could you ask for from the opening of this week’s Fresh Air? If you asked me to name two people I’d rather hear talk about their love of pop culture, I don’t think I could come up with a better duo. And they waste no time getting into it. As is often the case when Terry Gross interviews comedians, she delights in asking them about her favorite bits of theirs. This episode is no exception, as is clearly evident when she plays clips of Billy on the Street and asks Eichner about what is arguably the best part of the show – the prizes. Like the classic diorama of Claire Danes signing her contract for Latisse, or the memorable Brokeback Mountain oven mitts or those unforgettable marionettes of the cast of Transparent. They also cover the evolution of Billy on the Street from live show to TV show, his stint as a child actor, working on Difficult People with Julie Klausner, and the encouraging words he got from Joan Rivers. After singing The Golden Girls theme song, Eichner says this podcast better get him a GLAAD award. I hope someone out there is paying attention and makes that happen. [iTunes]
Industry Standard - Kevin Reilly
Pablo: To comedy fans, most network executives are generally nameless punching bags responsible for cancelling brilliant shows. But Barry Katz’s guest this week Kevin Reilly is the rare exec that comedy nerds should know by name. A quick recap: As President of FX from 2000-2003, he set the current basic cable template by establishing FX as a home for edgy, creator-driven fare. As head of NBC, he helped develop 30 Rock and vocally championed The Office during its low-rated early seasons. At Fox, where he greenlit New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and The Last Man On Earth, he used his clout to try and move the industry into the post-Netflix world by killing Fox’s traditional pilot season (Fox brought it back upon his ouster). And now as President of TNT/TBS, he’s spearheading the latter’s ongoing rebranding as a hub for critically-acclaimed comedies like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Search Party, and Angie Tribeca. To sum it up, he gets it. While not an artist himself, Reilly and Katz spend much of the interview discussing the importance of non-creatives in creating avenues for artists to succeed in an industry governed by money and ratings. And since Reilly’s been in the game for over three decades, he has tons of behind the scenes stories of your favorite comedies. Like Reilly overhearing the senior execs at NBC debating whether to kill Seinfeld after its pilot for being too Jewish. Or Reilly’s small part in Ray Romano being worth over 9 figures when he fired the comedian after NewsRadio’s pilot table read. [iTunes]
The Hilarious World of Depression - Peter Sagal Opens Up
Noah: Talking to professionally funny people about their experiences with mental illness and depression isn’t new ground – people like Paul Gilmartin, Chris Gethard, and Marty DeRosa have made beloved careers out of it. But the brand new American Public Media venture The Hilarious World of Depression is off on the right foot, thanks in large part to another excellent, if perpetually underrated, host. John Moe developed Marketplace Tech and the Twin Cities variety show Wits for APM, and he’s back in the saddle for this easily digestible interview show with some of mainstream public broadcasting’s heaviest hitters. First among them is Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! moderator Peter Sagal, who charms socks off while talking about his adulation for Ira Glass, how reluctant he’s been to finally catch those last four episodes of Parks and Recreation, and, of course, how his own depressive episodes manifest themselves. It’s not new ground to talk to professionally funny people about their experiences with mental illness and depression, but just like a sad song can hit you just right, more voices are always welcome. [iTunes]
We Got This! - Best Novelty Song with Jonathan Coulton
Marc: Taking on the overwhelming task of declaring which is the best novelty song of all time was so daunting for Hal Lublin and Mark Gagliardi that they bring in musician Jonathan Coulton to help settle their hash. And even though they are in a small Brooklyn apartment for this episode, they manage to cram one more guest on the stairs, John Hodgman, who brings a modicum of level-headedness to the proceedings with his encyclopedic knowledge (and googling ability). Much of the early going is spent mentioning and then dismissing a number of songs for not matching their novelty song purity test — parodies, it seems, do not count, which ends up dismissing a large portion of the hits in the Al Yankovic catalog. Some songs are too old to hold on, like Spike Jones’s “In The Fuhrer’s Face,” while others are simply too much based on “rhythmic repetition” (“John Jingleheimer Schmidt”). There are so many tunes in competition that it seems a final outcome is doubtful, but the quartet finally rounds on a timeless classic that was not only a hit song, but one born of audio innovation that’s a seasonal favorite still enjoyed to this day, which also spawned a TV and movie franchise. Now you just have to listen, don’t you? [iTunes]
Hound Tall - Pimpin’
Mark: Leave it to Moshe Kasher to get an entire crowd at SF Outside Lands to bask in awkward silence. This week on Hound Tall, Kasher brings on Fillmore Slim, a legendary pimp that appears to be straight out of a Dave Chappelle sketch. John Mulaney, Kaseem Bentley, and Natasha Leggero are also on hand to help navigate the problematic minefield that is Fillmore Slim’s life story. Slim talks about “the life,” how he fell into pimping, and attempts to justify why he would take 100% of the money his girls earned. As it turns out, Slim and Kaseem Bentley are old pals. Bentley shares a harrowing story from a few years ago, when Slim threatened to stab him backstage after subjecting him to crowd work at a comedy show. It’s truly fascinating to listen to an entire crowd and panel be disgusted by nearly everything a man says on stage, all while laughing uncomfortably in unison. Thank Natasha Leggero and various audience members for attempting to get him to see his business from another perspective, but as the saying goes, it’s hard to teach an old pimp new tricks. [iTunes]
Hayley & Ruth: Two Stars - Stefan van der Huis
Marc: The Brits continue to “get” podcasting on a level that often leads the way, whether it’s in originality of content or production quality. A recent entry in the comedy field is Haley & Ruth: Two Stars featuring critics Hayley Danks and Ruth Goodchild, who are up for reviewing anything -– films, plays, art exhibits -– without the onus of actually having to watch or see the thing. In their latest drop, the two are “out in the field” recording in an art gallery to talk with modern Dutch artist Stefan van der Huis. Hayley and Ruth are actually characters improvised by Susan Harrison and Gemma Arrrowsmith and they are terrific as a pair of, alternately, know-it-alls and know-it-nothings set loose in a world they only dimly understand. Their guest is voiced by actor Charlie Kemp, whose improvised Dutch artist comes up with some memorable lines like “in those moments when you feel crushed, there is always someone else nearby that you can crush instead.” The art they describe is weird and hideous, including a tribute to Brexit consisting of a Union Jack flag made of tulips which is ignited at the bottom and, once it burns its way to the top, will eventually set the gallery on fire. The improv dynamic of the show, which is really just an extended scene, starting out small and building into madness, eats up the half-hour episode in delightful bites. [iTunes]
How Did This Get Made - Grease 2 with Anna Faris
Elizabeth: How Did This Get Made hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Manzoukas head over to the Unqualified studio (AKA. Anna Faris’s house) to discuss a true American classic: Grease 2. The 1982 movie holds a special place in June’s heart, as it does for those of us who grew up with a VHS player and a Grease box set, but the rest of the panel isn’t sold. They tackle the role of feminism and sexual politics in the film and Paul declares it “Grease with a hard-on.” They also look at the allure of dreamboat Michael Caulfield, the ‘80s obsession with losing one’s virginity, and the bunker song, which is pretty much date rape. They also come up with some ideas for a Grease 3 reunion and try to figure out what makes teenagers cool today. [iTunes]
The Tokyo Hotel - Episode 1: A New Face
Kathryn: They should be right up my alley, but for some reason narrative podcasts aren’t usually my thing. Even The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium, fueled by Jemaine Clement’s inimitable star power, didn’t really grab me. The loose conversation is really the best form of podcast. But here I go recommending a new narrative show: The Tokyo Hotel. This one got me because there are enough simple, stupid elements to balance out the “sweeping epic” and “rich sound design” of it all. First off, it’s mostly Australian comedians stifling their accents as well as they can to croon about a decaying Hollywood hotel, a relic of Tinseltown’s golden age. Like if a few really elegant Crocodile Dundees were living in the Tower of Terror. That’s inherently funny. Plus a lot of the jokes are just delightfully simple. Piano player Carlos is haunted by ghost turds. The manager’s name is Con Cierge. The hotel is popular with bears – actual bears, who check in in the fall to hibernate. And, because it’s 2016, Werner Herzog is the elevator operator. What will these crazy, vaguely Australian-sounding characters get up to? You can listen to all eight episodes at once to find out. [iTunes]
Other Podcasts We’re Listening To:
Kill Me Now with Judy Gold - Josh Gondelman
Hollywood Handbook - Tom Scharpling, Our Christmas Show Architect
Chillpak Hollywood Hour - Forest Lawn Audio Tour
2 Dope Queens - Bonus Episode! White People at The Color Purple
Comedy Bang Bang - Xmas
Beautiful/Anonymous - Escape from a Cult
Drunken Church Ladies Podcast - The “We Still Here” Holiday Shade Episode
Puffin Publishing Podcast - Chapter Nine: “Tennessee Williams’ Soulful Song”
Got a podcast recommendation? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.