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.
Marc: It’s been a good run – six years, 213 episodes, and dozens of guests – but the Pop My Culture podcast has switched off the mics following their final episode. That happened live this past Sunday as part of the 16th Annual San Francisco Sketchfest, of which co-host Cole Stratton is a co-organizer. He and co-host Vanessa Ragland welcomed a panel of guests (two returning and one first-timer) which included Samm Levine (Freaks and Geeks), Spontaneanation’s Paul F. Tompkins (“He’s doing seven other shows at the same time he’s doing ours,” announced Stratton), and musician Rhett Miller (The Old 97’s). Stratton and Ragland kicked things off by announcing to the 100 or so people in the audience at the Eureka Theatre that the show was shutting down, then Stratton unveiled the theme of the show: Talking about three things that were really good about 2016, and passing it down the line from guest to guest, before switching it up and talking about a trio of things that sucked about the just-past year. People’s picks ranged from sports (Levine’s beloved Chicago Cubs winning the World Series) to TV shows (Tompkins’ enjoyment of Netflix’s Stranger Things was quite enthusiastic) to the downer expressed over losing artists like David Bowie. Miller played an original song from a forthcoming tour, then sang a duet with Tompkins (Paul F. sings?! Quite well, actually. Who knew?). Then Ragland closed out the proceedings with her time-honored puzzler about the fact the guests have pissed off a wizard and now must choose between two bizarre punishments. As cluttered as it may be, the world of podcasts will be a bit dimmer without a little PMC fun around to brighten things up. [iTunes]
Mental Illness Happy Hour - Neal Brennan
Mark: Neal Brennan has a resume any comedian would envy. If you’ve already seen his excellent Netflix special 3 Mics, or were lucky enough to see it live, then you know there is a depth to his work that goes well beyond his numerable credits. Mental Illness Happy Hour is the perfect destination to explore that depth. As always, Paul Gilmartin shepherds his guest through a minefield of awfulsome trauma with care. After experiencing the two happiest days of his life at a silent meditation retreat, Brennan has an important message about ambition and wealth that podcast advertisers might not want to hear. The belly laughs are few and far between, which makes them all the more satisfying. Plus, Gilmartin and Brennan have two of the most mellifluous voices in comedy, so despite some heavy material you’ll come out feeling calm and refreshed. This episode is a fascinating look into the heart and soul of one of the most fascinating careers in the comedy world. We still miss The Champs, though! [iTunes]
High and Mighty - The Art of Confrontation w/ Matt Besser
Pablo: In 2016, more than a few episodes of Improv4Humans went like this: 30 minutes of hilarious improv by UCB co-founder Matt Besser and company… which would then be brought to a screeching halt so Besser could argue with an Earwolf forum poster/twitter troll over a laggy Skype call about the election or social etiquette or whatever was bothering Besser that week. This may sound like a complaint, but I come from a long line of grumps so hearing a world-class crank like Besser bicker with strangers is just as entertaining to me as a legendary improviser showcasing his talents. And just as improv is an art, Besser joins Jon Gabrus on this week’s High and Mighty to discuss the art of confrontation. As Besser explains, there’s two types of confrontation: asshole and righteous. “Asshole” would be the time he got in a fight for yelling “Short form sucks!” outside Second City. “Righteous” is all the other times in his life. From yelling at people filming concerts with iPads to sternly telling airport idiots, one-by-one, to get out of his family’s way, this episode is a goldmine of angry Matt Besser stories. But nothing tops his recollection of flying to a wedding and unknowingly getting into it with the Maid of Honor the day before the ceremony. Ezekiel totally had it right: the path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of airplane passengers who cannot understand the simple fucking concept of pre-boarding. [iTunes]
Noah: There have been a number of episodes of The Best Show in the past few years that focus on compiling best and worst lists in the casual spirit of 2008’s epic Order of Everything. Often, Tom Scharpling barely makes a dent into the list but uses the theme to make a larger point. The twenty-five best and worst robots of all time, remarkably, wraps up in the final minutes of the show – even as Tom reaches a bit and considers some robots he vaguely remembers from an old battery commercial – but also serves as the backdrop for a screed about technology dependency and AP Mike’s flip phone, an unbelievable depth of knowledge about obscure TV robots, and just how many times Dudio has seen Chappie. It also, for whatever reason, prompts the long-awaited second call from Matt Skiba. Jon Wurster locks in on a referential and instantly classic bit first as Bobby Blotzer, the drummer from glam metal band RATT, who obsesses over Andy Kindler’s yearly State of the Industry speech and is developing a semi-autobiographical show about a bunch of weird customers called Blotz’s Burgers, and then as Blotzer’s lawyer, who distracts everyone long enough for Blotzer to splice together an incriminating audio reel of Tom. The whole crew is allowing themselves to be happy while they do the work, and that joy shines through. [iTunes]
WTF with Marc Maron - John Larroquette
Marc: Although he might be appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF to plug Camera Store, a low-budget indie movie that’s making the festival rounds, John Larroquette only mentions the film briefly before revealing bits, pieces, and people of his past to the host. They talk about his being recognized most frequently as his character Dan Fielding from the NBC sitcom Night Court (which went out of production in 1992), but it’s clear he’s done tons of other work, such as TNT’s The Librarians and even winning a Tony on Broadway for his role in How To Succeed In Business. (The Larroquette name is perhaps more well-known to podcast fans of the Uhh Yeah Dude show, hosted by his son Jonathan and Seth Romatelli.) Maron and his guest delve into Larroquette’s New Orleans background, and how he taught himself how to lose his regional accent, as well as some enduring friendships from those earliest days. One of those ends up to be darkly tragic, as Larroquette relates the story of returning to his old hometown to visit a friend, only to find him several weeks dead in his apartment. There are also tales of alcohol and drugs, though now the star from mostly TV is decades sober. Maron points out how well Larroquette nailed the role of “the cranky funny guy,” starting with Night Court but showing up in other characters since then. All the while Larroquette deflects the praise by pointing out he never took any acting classes and that he pretty much lucked into some of his early stuff. When he describes the nervousness and fear of having to learn to sing and dance for Broadway, to result in an award his first time out, one realizes that Larroquette’s talents have been hard won, indeed. [iTunes]
Dumb People Town - Snowjob
Kathryn: Oh a new podcast, you say? Yes, apparently some people are bothering to start new endeavors, even at this late hour on humanity’s clock. Jason and Randy Sklar and Daniel Van Kirk make for an unlikely trio, in my mind, but they set out to podcast about dumb things dumb people do. It’s basically Leno’s “headlines” segment blown out into a full show, investigating and exploring a handful of the weirdest, most embarrassing recent new stories they could find. I won’t recap the stories themselves and I encourage you not to read the podcast description before listening, because hearing Van Kirk inch through each headline clause by clause, continually interrupted by the whooping Sklars guessing what the subject was thinking, or saying, or what their day had been like leading up to this point. It’s like a little mystery that will be solved by the time Van Kirk gets to the end of the sentence. It can feel a little bit like punching down, a la “Florida man” or “people of Walmart” jokes, but there’s some humanity in each tale. One takes place in a gas station, and the Sklars can relate to that because both worked in - separate - gas stations in 1990. Another takes place in Canada and guest Nick Thune can relate to that because for his father’s 40th birthday, he shit in a box. And there’s even some humanity in the Steven Seagal voicemail tagged at the end of the ep. We’re not so different after all. [iTunes]
Other Podcasts We’re Listening To:
Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood - Selma
I’m Still Right - Taxi Cabs & Condoms
You Made It Weird - Seth Rogen
Stop Podcasting Yourself - Christina Walkinshaw
Off Camera with Sam Jones - Rachel Bloom
The GOATcast - Katy Colloton
Why Oh Why - Randy’s Mema Died
Doug Loves Movies - Demi Adejuyigbe, Kumail Nanjiani, Jon Hamm
Got a podcast recommendation? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
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.