Are you new to comedy podcasts, overwhelmed by the array of options, and wondering where to begin? Then welcome to Start Here, a recurring guide to the best comedy podcasts available — and our recommendations for which episodes are the best entry points to your next auditory obsession.
The first thing to understand about Pete Holmes’s interview podcast You Made It Weird — which has released 415 episodes dating back to October 2011 — is that while the guest might change and the conversations might range from comedy to God to soup, the subject is always, at least in part, Pete Holmes.
This is not an insult; in fact, it’s the best thing about You Made It Weird. As a form, interview podcasts almost always tend to botch the balance between interviewer and guest, partly because it’s such a subtle equation — too much interviewer and it turns into either self-aggrandizement, confessional theater, or, worst of all, mansplaining; too little, and you end up with the guest giving the exact same interview they’ve given to a hundred other outlets around the recent release of their movie/show/book/special. But regardless of where on the scale a particular podcast falls, it almost always tries to find some equilibrium.
On You Made It Weird, however, Pete Holmes … does not. The podcast doesn’t have a rigid format, though Holmes usually tries to touch on a few particular subjects with every guest, including their work, upbringing, and probably most uniquely among comedy podcasts, spirituality. But rather than try to act as if there’s some sort of objectivity or persona of an Interviewer that he should be inhabiting, Pete implicates himself in every second of You Made It Weird. He discusses his thoughts about the guest and their work, how what they say makes him feel, and how he relates or doesn’t relate to their experiences; oftentimes, and very much by design, it can be like overhearing a sort of mutual Jungian talk-therapy session. (While this might sound on the surface like WTF, it’s a very different sensibility.) Listening to You Made It Weird is kind of like listening to an interview podcast hosted by a dog, and I mean that in the absolute nicest, best way: Pete is earnest and open and attentive to a fault, perpetually eager to bond with his guest. By passing the conversation through his personal filter, he provides an interview that could only come from him, separating his show from the pack of generic, paint-by-numbers two-people-talking podcasts.
These qualities are best illustrated when he brings on a bud, and no episodes work better as a testament to the show’s potential than the ones with John Mulaney, comedy wunderkind and a “close and personal friend.” One of the delightful aspects of Pete being a constant subject of the interviews is that, by extension and once again by his own design, he becomes a kind of exercise bag for the comedian opposite him — hence the “close and personal friend” riff, Mulaney insists, is how Pete refers to people now that he’s gone showbiz. When Mulaney first appeared on the podcast in 2012, he basically went on a Pete Holmes safari, riffing on his move to Los Angeles, how divorced he was, how hard he laughed, and so on.
One of the great clichés of comedy is that comedians are funny, but comedians talking to other comedians is funnier — if only you could hang, you sensitive PC goof — and when you hear Mulaney and Pete talk, you might actually believe it, at least if the two comedians happen to be such seemingly kind, gentle, mature people (who are also funny). A great bit from the first episode has to do with Mulaney and Pete discussing Pete’s divorce, which Mulaney learned about in the same room they recorded the podcast in, and the terrible times leading up to it. “Your birthday was the day your wife wouldn’t hang out with you,” Mulaney says. They then both unpack and riff on the fraught emotional experience of that time in Pete’s life — a comedic tightrope walk if there ever was one, and one that wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t actually friends.
The obvious love that both men have for each other colors and informs their entire conversation. Pete’s done years of research for this episode by having a real human relationship with Mulaney, and he’s constantly remembering things about his guest that his guest doesn’t even seem to know. Another highlight has to do with Pete recounting a dream that Mulaney supposedly had, in which Johnny Carson told Mulaney that he was “one of the greats.” Mulaney’s deep revulsion makes the story about a hundred times better, but it’s just one example of the type of stories Pete dredges up over and over across the two hours of the podcast.
But Mulaney’s first episode is even better when you consider it in relation to his return visit to the show in 2016 after the cancelation of his network sitcom Mulaney. Because they’d already covered much of the personal and emotional ground that Pete likes to hit during episodes, they jump right into unpacking Mulaney’s experience on the show, and what follows is one of the most clear-eyed, introspective, honest discussions I’ve ever heard about trying to make television. Mulaney recounts hard-earned lessons, including the idea that you shouldn’t be on every call, how he regretted backing down over the theme song, and the strange phenomenon of people trying to avoid talking to you about your failing TV show. Most of all, he’s remarkably frank and forthcoming about the process of making a show that didn’t work, and it’s hard to imagine such an open conversation with many other interviewers.
Part of the reason why I love these episodes, though, is because I’m a big fan of John Mulaney. You should start with whoever your favorite comedian is, since chances are they’ve been on the podcast, or you should start with one of the Buddhist teachers he brings on, or the musician or athlete you like, or, I don’t know, Pete’s childhood friend. At the very least, you’ll get a sense of the generosity and desire to connect that Pete approaches the interviews with, and it’s this quality more than anything else that makes You Made It Weird special.