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.
Off Book: The Improvised Musical — Rachel Bloom Live From Vulture Fest L.A.
Brush up on your 1930s, Disneyland, and Marvel references — it’s time for 2019’s best mash-up (so far). Fans of the pod, hosted by Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino, will appreciate the pair’s self-aware indulgence of guest Rachel Bloom’s (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) deep dive about Disneyland. Her assessment of the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride shoots them straight up into a cursed hotel elevator — a.k.a. this live performance of “Guardians of the Hollywood Tower of Terror.” It’s important you know the backstory of the Hollywood Tower of Terror ride, but don’t worry — Bloom will have already provided you with a flawless recap of its lack of a closed narrative! This 1930s suspense answers classic questions like, Why is this hotel elevator cursed? Do its riders need to die? Why is the weather in L.A. so good? Can a Waspy family of destructive weather forces share their feelings for the first time? And there’s no way those ragtag Guardians of the Galaxy with commercial appeal could EVER take over this hotel … right?? With Bloom’s legit harmonies, you’ll be jiving to hits like “STDs on the A-List” before you realize you’ve been witness to proof of the age-old saying: Elevators really do bring out the best in people. —Anna Marr
Dark Tank — Passing: Ben Wasserman Does His Best
Dark Tank has a simple premise that seeks to solve a complex problem: Every week, a white guest stops by to pitch their solution to solve racism. It sounds like something ABC would’ve spun off from Shark Tank had its heads Ben Sherwood and Channing Dungey not ordered their execs on the morning after the 2016 election to green-light shows for the dumbest of American voters. So instead, it’s up to Dark Tank to fix this country’s most deeply rooted problem. On this week’s episode, host Yedoye Travis and panelists Mamoudou N’Diaye and Eudora Peterson hear a pitch from comedian Ben Wasserman centering on racial passing. Ben, a Jew, is the right man for the job considering that he once unintentionally passed when he was booked on a show that he later found out only featured women and POC comedians. The idea he brings to the table is an augmented reality app in the vein of Pokémon Go, except instead of catching Butterfrees you use it on potential Rachel Dolezals in order to find out what they really are. And just like the real Shark Tank, Ben comes prepared with answers to the Sharks’ questions, like, If an ethnic minority is gradually deemed white by American society, will the app update accordingly? The relatively new Dark Tank is a solid addition to your weekly podcast subscription list. The only downside from listening is the realization that someone in Silicon Valley is definitely working on an app that they think will finally end racism. —Pablo Goldstein
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend — Adam Sandler
It turns out that Conan O’Brien has a friend — at least one — and his name is Adam Sandler. The two men profess their friendship for each other earlier on in this funny, revealing, and relaxed interview. But it’s not really an interview, and that’s how you can tell they’re pals. This is really more of a conversation. O’Brien and Sandler figure out that they’ve known each other for 30 years, dating back to when they met on Saturday Night Live. (O’Brien was already writing on staff when Sandler was hired.) They quickly took to each other’s company on the show, but they both talk about how much they really loved the late Chris Farley. Sandler credits his host with helping him figure out his style of doing comedy, which turned out to be embodied in a monologue O’Brien had written for him on “Weekend Update.” “When I performed that piece, I realized that it really was the way I wanted to be doing my act,” recalls Sandler. In their hour together, they share their insecurities as performers as well. O’Brien is superstitious about not seeing an audience before he does a live show, while Sandler has discovered that if he not only sees them but actually goes out and meets them before the thing starts, he’s way more relaxed. We even learn that the two guys live in the same L.A. neighborhood, and Sandler sometimes drops by unannounced, leaning on the doorbell and bellowing “CONEY!” until O’Brien lets him in. With friends like that … —Marc Hershon
Public Domain Theater — “Adolescents Only” by Irving Cox Jr. (with Nick Wiger)
Public Domain Theater delivered its 50th and final sidesplitting episode this week. Billed as “Masterpiece Theatre meets Mystery Science Theater 3000 in a podcast of highbrow readings and lowbrow commentary,” the show is hosted by Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai, who deftly rip on literature from the public domain. This week, Nick Wiger (Doughboys) joins in on the fun as they read the short story “Adolescents Only” by former (see episode 36) Public Domain Theater foe Irving Cox Jr. The continually problematic author is ripe for ridicule, bumbling on about a classroom full of characters such as “the buxom girl” with the low IQ — or as Wiger offers, a bunch of “smoking-hot idiots” — while the crew shouts him down with giggle-inducing gusto. The biggest scream comes when Cox glibly declares, “Children — adolescent minds — have wrecked our world.” The pure hatred they have for this hack is genuinely hilarious and provides a strong finish to the perfect limited run. The good news is that you can still hear Nugent and Katai comically critique literature on their YA-focused Teen Creeps, so feel free to binge all of Public Domain Theater without hesitation. —Becca James
WTF — Howie Mandel
You would never guess this based on his buttery scalp, but Howie Mandel is 63. Marc Maron is now and has always been 55. If you want to hear two men of this age bicker about lighting terminology and one-up each others’ various neuroses, then you are in for a treat. There is an interesting story in there about the son of a sometime strip-club owner in Ontario who was born clinically grossed out by the world and became the famously germ-phobic host of Deal or No Deal. Mandel has led a fascinating life and offers some good nuggets about doing insane (rather than funny) bits in elementary school, first by screaming at regular intervals and later graduating to calling contractors and asking for quotes on adding an addition onto the school. The story of his first time doing stand-up, like many first-time stand-up stories, feels charged with fate. Personally, I feel there is not enough talk about doing the voice of Gizmo in Gremlins and Beaker in Muppet Babies and too much describing of ancient episodes of Candid Camera With Allen Funt, but it’s still a pretty good deal. —Kathryn Doyle
Other Podcasts We’re Listening To:
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