When the pandemic pushed people inside, it didn’t take long for podcasts to adapt. From intriguing pop-ups to coronavirus-focused shows, the medium, which benefits from its sparser production requirements, notably multiplied. And then, toward the end of April, a podcast that occupies the sweet spot between intriguing and informative arrived: Bananas, a show from Kurt Braunohler and Scotty Landes via Exactly Right, is a comedy podcast named for the sort of headlines that leave readers exclaiming, “That’s bananas!”
And fittingly for this strange year, Bananas unexpectedly wound up being one of the rare highlights of 2020, but the premise is built to last.
Set up so the host can discuss “the strange, fascinating, and just plain bananas news from around the world,” it would be easy to mistake this venture as a direct result of the pandemic, or as Landes recently put it, when “the world got extremely bananas.” However, Bananas was conceived of pre-coronavirus and has proven itself a strong comedy podcast with staying power. After all, there’s never a shortage of strange news.
Bananas cannonballs into the deep end while others tiptoe in from the shallows. Each episode begins by getting straight to business, with one of the hosts reading a hilarious headline, such as “This toilet recognizes your butthole and uploads photos to the cloud,” before the other exclaims, “That’s bananas!” This sense of urgency is a welcome respite from the shooting-the-shit sessions many comedy podcasts open with, which often drag. And while it runs the risk of sounding corny, or worse, becoming stale over time, the “let’s do this” attitude never fails to get listeners hyped. Consistently providing a much-needed and instant jolt of excitement, the intro is immediately followed by a banger of a theme song.
And what comes next is a dissection of the news that is as thoughtful as it is funny. Braunohler and Landes base their humor in smart commentary and the analysis they apply to each new absurdity. When combined with guests who are just as thoughtful — examples include Erin Brockovich and Phoebe Bridgers — and a perfect and instantly entertaining structure, it’s a welcome dose of considered comedy, an antidote to whatever doldrums might stem from current events.
And the headlines help, of course. With stories ranging from “William Shatner gets to keep ‘all the horse semen’” to “Hostage siege ends in Ukraine after president agrees to recommend 2005 Joaquin Phoenix film,” it’s easy to mine seemingly silly or suspect happenings for humor. However, Braunohler, Landes, and their guests elevate the conversation with a compassion that often takes us to surprising places.
Take, for example, the episode “Chainsaw Baboons With Atsuko Okatsuka.” A look at a Yahoo News U.K. report about baboons spotted with knives, screwdrivers, and chain saws in a safari park lends itself to a conversation about the questionable treatment of animals in captivity. It also calls to mind for Braunohler a possibly horrific incident from his childhood. Revealing that he may have accidentally killed an ostrich at a Six Flags Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure by throwing an apple at it; that apple was quickly swallowed whole by the ostrich, who appeared not to be digesting it well. “It was such a bad idea not only for the animals but for the human beings as well,” says Braunohler before adding, “I have no idea if I killed an ostrich that day as a 10-year-old boy.” This is par for the course on Bananas, to seamlessly bounce back and forth between wisecracks and concern.
And although this may seem like a simple feat, the number of podcasts clamoring for attention but failing to meet these standards prove it is not so easy. For every tightly run and perfectly paced podcast, there are multiple slogs of shows. Funny from start to finish, Bananas has become an essential news show, raising spirits in an otherwise bleak year.