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 one 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.
WTF — Ted Alexandro
Ted Alexandro is no stranger to social justice. An active voice in the Occupy Wall Street movement back in 2011, Alexandro went on to fight for raises for NYC comics as co-founder of the New York Comedians Coalition. His well-documented set at the Comedy Cellar, where he railed against Louis C.K.’s return to the very same Comedy Cellar, should have been no surprise. Alexandro barely gets to plug his third stand-up special, Senior Class of Earth (recently named one of Vulture’s “10 Best Stand-up Specials of 2018”), during this substantial discussion with Marc Maron about the current stand-up scene. After Alexandro details his former career as a teacher, the two reminisce about living in the cultural hot pot that is Queens before diving into the Cellar drama. Alexandro explains his decision to post the video online, focusing his material on the broader discussion about #MeToo and the fear of backlash from peers, the audience, and the internet. He even alludes to private discussions with Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman about making the Cellar a safer environment for all. As Maron later admits, adjusting his material to the shifting cultural perspective while maintaining his own unique point of view has been a challenge. Luckily for comedy fans, these two land on the right side of progress. —Mark Kramer
Employee of the Month — Hannibal Buress and Marina Franklin Talk Consensual Sex, Chicago, and Stand-up
On the latest episode of Employee of the Month, host Catie Lazarus dives into consent, activism, and life in Chicago with comedians Hannibal Buress and Marina Franklin. She kicks things off with a live interview with Buress, who talks about his time as an obnoxious 23-year-old who lived as an uninvited guest at his sister’s home and how he moved back to Chicago so he would only have to compete with the Cusack siblings. As a fan of Buress’s Handsome Rambler podcast, Lazarus brings up the great episode with Chris Rock, and Buress reveals how he keeps his ads interesting, even if it means losing sponsors. The interview wraps up with Buress doing some meta freestyle rapping about cancellation culture and clickbait for the “Terry Gross T-shirt” crowd. Franklin joins for the second half of the episode, and they talk about the pressures of being female comedians in terms of wearing the right thing so you look sexy enough but not too sexy. They dive into Franklin’s Chicago childhood, from her need to code switch at school to her early work as a performer doing a portrayal of Huckleberry Finn while on the high-school speech team. They also talk about performing globally and creating an act that’s universal. The two really touch on all the questions swirling around in the heads of women in comedy, from dating fellow comedians to the potential backlash to the #MeToo movement. —Elizabeth Stamp
R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? — Slowing It Down (With Chris Bilheimer)
When R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? debuted, it seemed like it had a clear amount of episodes given that the titular band — unlike U2 — called it quits almost a decade ago. But since R U Talkin’ covered the band’s swan song in August, the Scotts have blessed us with episodes on R.E.M. covers, fan-club singles, best-of compilations, and a recent BBC box set. And with a new episode featuring R.E.M.’s in-house art director Chris Bilheimer, the podcast is doing the opposite of what the episode title implies. Bilheimer tells his incredible origin story of being an Athens, Georgia, college student who suddenly found himself designing art for the biggest band in the world’s latest album, 1994’s Monster (a.k.a. the scary one). With his close proximity to R.E.M. and other iconic ’90s bands, Bilheimer has tons of insider information to excite the Scotts, like the original title for Monster and Billie Joe Armstrong’s love of deadlock wigs. They spend so much time talking R.E.M. that they only have time to introduce one new sub-podcast about jerking off. Hopefully, the Scotts will remedy that when the band inevitably makes their guest appearance sometime in 2019. —Pablo Goldstein
The Soft Spot — Creek Porn in the USA (With Chase Mitchell)
This year, I am thankful for The Soft Spot! As a podcast, its main goal is to counteract the hectic, evil, stress-filled environment known as Al Gore’s monster: the internet. Here, guests bring cozy topics that help remind listeners that conversations between family and friends should feel like a warm sweater on a fall day, rather than a warm sweater on the beach in July. This week, hosts Julian McCullough and Meg Molloy welcome comedy writer and Twitter talent Chase Mitchell to the program. Like many suburbanites in their youth, Mitchell’s soft spot relates back to the days of building forts, riding bikes, and stumbling upon piles of porn in the woods. Regardless of geographic location, that last example proves to be a thing that happens throughout the entire United States. From exploring abandoned houses on the outskirts of town to befriending that one older teen who doesn’t have friends in his own grade because he does karate down by the creek, Mitchell really encapsulates what makes growing up in a rural area so special. —Tom Rainey
Master Manual — Stancho Polaris
First off, apologies that I have no adequate definition of “Stancho Polaris,” the title of the latest episode of Master Manual. It’s one of a number of joke names tossed out along the way by Spencer Crittenden as he and fellow co-host Cohen Edenfield make their way through an hour of jokes, songs, obscure cultural references, and a lot of advice for both aspiring and veteran dungeon masters. Say what? Those who are citizens of Harmontown will recognize Crittenden as the “Dungeon Master to the Stars,” running that podcast’s crazy D&D segments. Edenfield is a long-standing game designer for What Pumpkin Studios, producer of Hiveswap, the popular game based on the Homestuck web comic. Together, the pair are full-on, dice-rolling, stat-looking-up gamer geeks, and they are itching to dispense useful advice to like-minded listeners. At one point Crittenden references the Improv Encyclopedia, a mammoth PDF available online, to pull out and adapt a improv game for creating role-playing scenes in the moment. In a segment called “Gamestorming,” they muse on the idea of turning the Mario Kart video game into a playable dungeon. They answer questions from listeners about handling players who just want to kill stuff and not really play the game. They even try to think of ways to hack a standard vampire to turn it into a beach-loving surf bum to surprise your players. Admittedly, this is all very niche stuff, but between their crazy repartee and Crittenden’s deadpan delivery, one might very likely find this entertaining even if they’ve never tried to kill an ogre. —Marc Hershon
Other Podcasts We’re Listening To:
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