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Want to Try Lecture Hall? Start Here.

Lecture Hall hosts Dylan Gelula and Broti Gupta. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos Courtesy of Lecture Hall

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.

In the autumn of 2020, clips from a new podcast called Lecture Hall began to trickle into the Twitter feeds of several popular comedians. Its hosts, Broti Gupta and Dylan Gelula, are from adjacent worlds: Gupta is a writer for television and The New Yorker, among other places, and Gelula is an independent-film stalwart best known for breakthrough performances in First Girl I Loved and Support the Girls. Ostensibly, the premise of Lecture Hall is that each host brings a new subject to “educate” the other about every week, like the origins of Tootsie Rolls, the truth about Havana syndrome, or the abject horniness of hermit crabs. But those early conversations were often punctuated by the long pauses and giggle fits of two co-hosts completely unprepared to broadcast, a fact both hosts warned listeners about in the first episode that September. Their clips appeared, like so many cultural artifacts of the pandemic era, to have been shot late at night on grainy webcams in sunless living rooms. And the show itself — released exclusively on Patreon (with monthly subscriptions beginning at $5) — was so difficult to find, let alone listen to, that it became a regular inside joke.

Regardless, Gupta and Gelula quickly became a popular presence among podcast fans like Cullen Crawford and Kate Jacobs, who loved the show so much she built them a subreddit. While promoting Lecture Hall, the hosts made hilarious appearances on podcasts like What a Time to Be Alive, Make My Day With Josh Gondelman, and Hollywood Handbook (Gupta and Gelula’s devotees now jokingly call them “The Girls” in reference to Handbook’s Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport). By June 2021, a hyperengaged network of over 140 patrons was interacting regularly on the podcast’s Patreon page and social feeds.

The two-host setup for a comedy podcast usually establishes one host as the anchor for the other’s more outlandish behavior, but on Lecture Hall, both hosts perform as symbiotically sarcastic blockheads. As soon as a new topic is on the table (Was Koko the Gorilla the Harvey Weinstein of her zoo? How small is too small for someone with a shrinking fetish?), Gupta and Gelula begin to self-flagellate, blaming themselves for being too lazy to do research or for stumbling into some ridiculous malapropism. Then they repeat the exact same “error” again in the next sentence. They play dumbasses like nobody’s business, which is perhaps why they often call Lecture Hall “the worst podcast in the world.”

But in reality, Gupta and Gelula have spent the time since Lecture Hall premiered quietly honing a bone-dry yet insane repartee that sneaks up on guests and listeners alike. Since those first episodes, they have become increasingly masterful riffers for whom a fully derailed episode supposedly about, say, betting on the deaths of celebrities is no longer a curse, but a bounty. While the tone of Lecture Hall remains dopey, each conversation thrums with wit and cultural curiosity.

Those intrigued enough by all this to consider subscribing to the Patreon (with an added caveat that full episode descriptions are only available to paid subscribers) should start by listening to episode 17, “daffy duck/the wizard of oz,” from February 7, 2021. It is both the funniest episode of the show to date and the most perfectly sustained, with Gelula and Gupta on the same dumbass wavelength for the full hour.

As usual for the show, it begins cold, with Gelula announcing that the recording has finally begun after being screwed up once already. “This is our return [episode] with no guest,” Gupta says. “Well, I would say that God is our guest, and his topic is friendship,” Gelula corrects. The hosts explain that the show will be “very low-energy” since they’re feeling mutually depressed. “Is it Super Bowl Sunday if we’re not feeling a little weird and out of place?” asks Gupta, faux mournfully. Gelula’s ears prick up at the prompt: “The closest I’ve ever gotten to the Super Bowl is the episode of Friends where Joey has to pee in an audition and it gives him a sense of urgency that they really like?!”

Instantly, they’re off and riffing — first about Joey Tribbiani’s urine, then his unexpectedly circumcised penis (and the deli-meat foreskin fashioned for him by Monica), and then the other Friends’ circumcision statuses (Ross: yes, Chandler: of course, Gunther: unspecified), and finally, how circumcision in general is probably a warning to men not to rape. Sensing that they’ve gone fully off the rails faster than normal, Gelula jokes, “Imagine this being someone’s first episode of our show.” “The One Where God Was Asleep All Week For Some Reason?” responds Gupta.

They spend 17 minutes going round and round like this (and for the record, things devolve even deeper, with Gupta ultimately pitching Gelula an episode of Queer Eye where Jonathan Van Ness gives an actual monkey a beehive hairdo) before the actual topics are introduced. Finally, Gupta sputters out that she’ll be discussing Daffy Duck, who Gelula instantly calls “my ex-boyfriend.” “Don’t ask me what happened with Daffy Duck,” she continues. “I’m not gonna talk about it. I respect his family, he respects mine, and it’s for our kids. Our kids have no eyes and cannot breathe. They are not allowed on American soil.”

Gupta tries to push the basics of Daffy’s history through Gelula’s unending jokes: He was introduced in 1937, she says, then upgraded to the main Looney Tunes company in the 1950s and given the middle names “Horatio Tiberius” and “Dumas.” Though valiant, her efforts are no use. (Gelula, in response to the factoid that Daffy’s signature lisp was due to his oversized beak: “Go off, king! Love is love. Science is real.”) Eventually, Gupta yells “I’m trying to present this like it’s a real piece of history!” at her co-host through wheezing laughter. “But,” says Gelula, “I’m trying to take over your topic instead of, like, hear it.”

Exhausted, Gupta finally abandons her topic at the 37-minute mark. Gelula says that she brought “one and a half topics,” one of which she held back on previous recordings to not “halt the conversation to be like, ‘Here’s something stupid I know’”:

Gelula: “So you’ve heard of Abe Lincoln?”

Gupta: “Of course! He’s so famous.”

Gelula, lightly annoyed: “And you’ve heard of the King of Siam, right? Because you’ve seen The King and I?”

Gupta: “Love that movie. ‘Getting to Know You,’ fantastic song.”

Gelula, now full-on pissed: “Okay, well, why don’t you ‘get to know’ what I’m about to tell you?!”

The “and a half” topic, it turns out, is simply that the real King of Siam tried to ship four elephants to President Lincoln to create the first-ever American-born breed. But, as Gelula says, Lincoln “fucking blew it” by not accepting the elephants, thus destroying her topic. “You know that song that Adele sings where she’s like ‘We could have had it all?’” asks Gupta, furious at this anti-climax. “We could have been ‘Rolling in Wild Elephants!’”

For her second educational subject, Gelula admits that she only had enough energy that week to steal random facts from a trashy internet listicle about The Wizard of Oz. Each is more surreal, and in some cases flat-out untrue, than the next: “Terry the dog was scared of the steam that came out of Tin Man’s hat. Join the fucking club!” “The snow in the poppy scene was made of asbestos!” “The Cowardly Lion’s costume was made of real lion skin. Apparently it weighed several hundred pounds. It’s a known fact that he sweated like a little pig.”

“In keeping with how depressed I am,” Gelula decides to give up on The Wizard of Oz completely after 15 minutes and end the episode. She reminds listeners one last time not to be surprised: “This is the worst podcast,” after all. Neither she nor Gupta make any apologies, however; in fact, both suggest that if someone listening is willing to pay each of them five measly dollars, they’d be fine to quit doing the podcast altogether. “Honestly,” Gelula says in conclusion, “I would love to find out that I was inhaling something that was making me dumb, and it’s not my fault.”

There is no final theme song or outro, and no true good-bye to the audience — instead, the recording simply stops. It is a fitting conclusion: a bit abrupt, vaguely surreal, and just chaotic enough to make you forget that you have spent an hour learning absolutely nothing, except for how funny Lecture Hall is.

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Want to Try Lecture Hall? Start Here.