start here

Want to Try Best Friends? Start Here.

Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata. Photo: Mark Von Holden/NBC via Getty Images

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.

Individually, comedians Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata are already bright-burning comedy stars: Byer is the three-time Emmy-nominated TV host of shows like Nailed It! and Wipeout, and Zamata is a Saturday Night Live alum with a starring role on ABC’s Home Economics. But as fans of their bubbly, buoyant Earwolf podcast Best Friends know, they’re at their funniest when they work together.

Best Friends emerged in June 2019 from the hosts’ real 12-year-plus friendship, which began at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York and hit full bloom when they co-created the underappreciated 2013 Above Average miniseries Pursuit of Sexiness. The podcast is composed of three segments: Byer and Zamata catching each other up on their personal lives; “testing” their friendship in some way, usually with a “How Well Do You Actually Know Your Best Friend?” quiz or some kind of semantic debate; and responding to listener calls and emails about how to maintain long friendships. Occasionally a pair of guests shows up, like Office Ladies co-hosts Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey or drag queens Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova, to share their own stories about becoming besties.

Unlike many popular podcasts, each episode is delightfully compact, normally running a tight 45 minutes without ads — a veritable Ferrero Rocher of comedy. It’s also emotionally breezy: Though the final segment occasionally veers into heavier “Am I the asshole?”–style fan questions, Best Friends isn’t so much the straight-faced advice show it is billed as on Stitcher Premium as an extended improv session between two goobers highly attuned to — and constantly pressing — each other’s buttons.

For Byer, whose balls-to-the-wall approach takes up much of the show’s oxygen, Zamata’s withering deadpan is an immediate trigger. Longtime listeners are accustomed to Byer’s laugh sounding out before anyone has a chance to speak, usually followed by an apology. But she also makes herself giggle constantly, typically at some kind of brain fart or ignorant question, and when she starts to lose self-control, Zamata quickly spins out, too. As a result, even in episodes centering on intense subject matter in friendships — like how the inequities of America’s prison system sometimes destroys them — the most palpable vibe is contagious joy.

If getting a viral load of infectious happiness sounds appealing, then episode 23, “Nicole Wants to Know How You Put Your Bra On,” is the closest that Best Friends ever came to a superspreader event. The episode opens with Byer belting out the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” — “Best Friends back, all right!” — with her signature flair. Zamata tries to jump in, misses Byer’s cue, and recovers by sharing a secret: She, Lance Bass, and Joey Fatone danced to “Bye Bye Bye” together once. Impressed that Bass and Fatone still knew the NSYNC choreography, Byer challenges Zamata to guess when the song actually came out. But Zamata gets it wrong, which her co-host suggests is actually just part of a larger inability to calculate anything correctly, including the basics of a dinner check. “I get it wrong all the time and you get so mad at me,” Zamata says, embarrassed. “Because you don’t take things into consideration!” Byer semi-faux-scolds. “We’ll have two bottles of wine, two entrees, and a dollop of ice cream, and you’ll be like, ‘I don’t know, $60?’”

The speed of the jump from boy bands to dinner fun to a full-blown rant leaves Zamata whiplashed and wheezing with laughter. So just over five minutes in, Byer steps up with an even funnier story of a recent Benihana dinner while her BFF catches her breath:

Byer: “What a great fun time. It’s hibachi, so someone entertains and grills for you on a … hot hot … not-grill? A hot, hot … plate? Hot big hot plate? A big hot plate?”

Zamata: [Laughing.] “Like a stove, right?”

Byer: [Furiously.] “No! It’s a Big. Hot. Plate!”

Zamata: “Like … a table?”

Byer: “Yeah, big hot table to cook on. ’Cause there’s no divots like a stove.”

Zamata: “… Divots?”

Byer’s voice twists and lilts as she imitates first her Benihana server (shoutout to Miguel), then switches to playing each of her four dinner guests and obnoxious table neighbors, including a woman sick of getting “chicken fried rice eaten out of her titties.” It’s a tour de force performance made all the more impressive when Byer swerves suddenly back into her own voice, demanding Zamata commit to a vacation in Cabo together. This time, it’s Zamata who lectures Byer: “You ask me to do stuff, and I’m always saying yes! I’m never the one holding us back. So open up your goddamn planner and tell me when you’re available!”

As their bickering gives way to some very loose riffing on the best Italian ice (which Zamata has never had) and their dream acting roles (Zamata: Vernita Green’s daughter; Byer: Storm’s best friend), the episode truly hits its stride when Byer mentions that she hurt her thumb so badly while “opening a jar” (or so she says) that she couldn’t put her bra on correctly. Flummoxed, Zamata asks, “Do you latch it in the front and then twist it around?” Byer again grows incensed: “Are you kidding?! No! Wait, do you do that? Does everyone do that?” Zamata and producer Kimmie Gregory both say yes, but sound engineer Jordan Duffy says that, no, she latches it in the back, like Byer. “Honestly, I have never been more shook in my life,” Byer declares, and segment two is suddenly on like Donkey Kong. Gregory leaves the studio at 26 minutes to wrangle all the “the ladies of Earwolf” for a first-of-its-kind debate on bra etiquette. The chaos as they return is instantly palpable. “Bras! Bras! Bras!,” they cheer. “State your name and age and how you put a bra on!” Byer bellows.

The first employee, Dana (“I’m 31!”), agrees with Zamata: hook in front, twist around, flip the cups. “That is the correct way,” Zamata laughs. “One for the insane way,” Byer spits back. The next, Mindy, complicates things when she says she takes her bra off over her head without undoing the hooks. (Zamata, incredulously: “So you take it off like … like a shirt?”) Kristen notes that she rarely uses hooked bras at all, but when she does, she employs Byer’s method. Then Hannah breaks the stalemate by confessing that she, too, hooks her bras at the front.

Byer is forced to cede defeat, and does so with delicious smarm. “So I guess Kimmie and Sasheer win. Thank you very much for sharing with us.” But the segment closes on a note of genuine unity between the hosts, with Byer petitioning fellow plus-size women to call and write in as a sign of solidarity: “Hey, if you’re a real big fuckin’ fatty and you wanna let me know how you put on a bra, you can email us. And please preface it by going, ‘Hi, I’m fat as fuck!’”

The advice segment shows just how hard it is for Byer and Zamata to stay serious when a listener leaves a tormented voicemail looking for tips on how to break up with the “best friend” she walked down the aisle despite fully despising her. Their suggestions are honorable and earnest at first. Byer suggests she “just let it fizzle,” while Zamata argues there should be “an official breakup.” But as is their wont, things quickly devolve into silliness again. “How can this other girl not sense it?” Zamata wonders with a perceptible smirk. Byer instantly picks up what she’s putting down: “Maybe she’s … doofy? A real fucking Doofus and Gallant situation!” Exhausted at the effort of being real, Byer decides to throw in the towel:

Byer: “I had a great time, but I gotta go. Wanna come to my house later?”

Zamata: “Yeah!”

Byer: “But I might be too drunk.”

Zamata: “Okay. Then no.”

As with many other episodes of the podcast, this one fades out with the co-hosts giggling together after 63 uncharacteristically outrageous minutes. The sound is so pleasant that you almost forget how shitty it must be to attend a wedding for someone you hate without any guidance on how to avoid it in the future. That’s the power of Best Friends.

More From This Series

See All
Want to Try Best Friends? Start Here.