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.
Scriptnotes — Better Sex With Rachel Bloom
Did you know that Chernobyl creator and writer Craig Mazin has given a UTI to a sexual partner more than once? Well, you do now. Scriptnotes hosts Mazin and John August talk sex and its often unrealistic portrayal onscreen with frequent guest Rachel Bloom, and all three have strong personal feelings about how the sex scenes we see in media — and those we don’t see — can be truly damaging in real life for women and for the men who can’t make them orgasm. Particularly in a country where sex education lags woefully behind, most young people are introduced to the basic mechanics of sex in TV and movies (and also porn, which does a better job of representing the variety of people who have sex but still not a great job of portraying what sex is actually like for regular people). So the ways screenwriters are limited by networks, advertisers, and the FCC has implications beyond just narrowing your material: It’s also affecting viewers in a real way. Bloom walks though the aspects of sex that they could and could not talk about or demonstrate on a network show like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend compared to what is possible on premium cable or streaming services. And on less stringent platforms, what we do and don’t talk about still doesn’t vary that much, seemingly by choice. Whose choice? That’s not totally clear, because the Hollywood machine is vast and obtuse, but even on shows with the latitude to explore something like urinary-tract infections, you rarely see it. Bloom also gives basically a 101 lecture on female sexual biology, for listeners who might need that, and August and Mazin admit what they weren’t taught about sex and how they ended up finding out. —Kate Doyle
Fresh Air — Comic Ramy Youssef
This week, Terry Gross welcomes comedian Ramy Youssef to discuss his Hulu series Ramy, the pressures that come with providing a realistic portrait of the Arab Muslim experience onscreen, and his early auditioning days in Hollywood. In drawing parallels to Youssef’s real-life experience, Gross intersperses their conversation with clips from his semi-autobiographical Hulu series. Throughout, Youssef talks about how he can relate to his character, specifically when it comes to the “picking and choosing” of his approach to religion. Youssef cleverly describes the balancing of faith as “Allah carte.” If you’ve watched Ramy, you’ll definitely know where some compromises may have been made. In talking about his upbringing, Youssef surprises Gross when he mentions Donald Trump’s loose connection to his family. He even goes as far as describing him as a distant uncle. Like a lot of uncles, though, Youssef and his family definitely do not view him in the best light. Whether you’re familiar with Ramy Youssef or not, his star is certainly on the rise. For a good introduction to the comic, check out this week’s Fresh Air. —Tom Rainey
Gettin’ Better With Ron Funches — Pressure à la Carte With Dan Harmon
There may not be a guest better suited for a Gettin’ Better conversation than Dan Harmon. The Community and Rick and Morty creator remains the model for privileged men ownin
g up to their past misdeeds, while Ron Funches is the blueprint for building a more positive, self-actualized future. Harmon digs deep into his struggle against shame that begins every morning when he wakes up feeling “like I spilled a drink on God.” He documents the slow growth process he went through as he learned the extent of his privilege, a stark contrast to Funches’s inherent “privilege to the reality of society.” Funches plays his own version of the shame game, lamenting a recent performance where he got defensive about money and status onstage. Politics even makes a rare Gettin’ Better appearance in regard to the election and the small but vocal sect of shitty Rick and Morty fans. Harmon cites Norman Lear as a role model who used his platform to teach young people how to think without being too preachy. According to Harmon’s therapist, if he can finally learn how to be happy, we’ll be lucky to have many more years of thought-provoking television for the next generation. —Mark Kramer
The History of Standup — The Academy Awards
The informative series The History of Standup, featuring comedian-professor Wayne Federman and producer-protégé Andrew Steven, is well into its second season. In its freshman turn, the show focused on how stand-up comedy got its start, specific comedians, and styles of stand-up. This time around, the focus is on America’s comedy Meccas and venues. This week’s episode is all about how comedians have been appearing throughout the 91 years of the Academy Awards. The first was Will Rogers (a humorist who stretches the definition of stand-up a bit) as a very early host in a hotel ballroom. Federman and Steven then guide us through the 18 years that all-around entertainer Bob Hope held the hosting reins, then the five times that Johnny Carson (never a film actor) brought the show into our homes. Billy Crystal held the host role eight times. Some of the comedians made their appearances at the Oscars because they’d been in movies that year — such as Robin Williams, when he took Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting in 1997, and Whoopi Goldberg, who won in 1991 for Best Supporting Actress in Ghost. A highlight of this episode is that we’re not just told about these appearances but presented with some great, amazing audio clips: Jack Benny filling in as host a year Hope couldn’t make it, Jerry Lewis making his way through some jokes and not getting laughs, and a few others that you, like me, probably forgot about (if you even had known about them in the first place). —Marc Hershon
Disagree to Agree — Roombas Are People
Fans of Baskets, rejoice. The cult FX comedy’s secret weapon, Martha Kelly, has brought her delightfully droll sensibility to her own podcast. And given that her Baskets character (also named Martha) is more or less the real Martha sans a job at Costco, the podcast is like hanging out with Bakersfield’s most unflappable insurance adjuster. Joining Martha each week is co-host and fellow comedian Michelle Biloon, who acts as the foil to Martha’s constant self-deprecation. After openly wondering whether the existence of this young podcast is already too self-indulgent, Michelle lassoes Martha in to talk about the giant chalkboard to-do list in her apartment that she’s dubbed the “Transformation Situation Summer Goals.” While the to-do list includes staples like working on physical fitness, housekeeping, and writing new stand-up material, Martha needs to update it with “standing up to your lazy apartment manager” after she successfully got her overflowing toilet fixed with a threat to flush it over and over before moving out. Coincidentally, Martha reveals that her season-four arc involves Martha finally learning to stand up for herself. If Baskets continues the seemingly tethered existence of Martha the actress and Martha the character, then this season will likely end with Martha debating the mortality of Roombas on her new podcast.
Other Podcasts We’re Listening To:
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