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A Fairly Comprehensive Guide to Comedy Podcasts

UPDATE: Come check out the newer, much-expanded version of this guide: A Seriously Comprehensive Guide to Comedy Podcasts. It’s this guide, plus tens more podcasts with in-depth reviews!

With the recent explosion in podcasts, it seems we are in the midst of a new comedic golden age. The distance between performers and fans has never been smaller, and more and more comics are taking advantage by increasing their output, like an army of Lil Waynes armed to the teeth with mixtapes. The market is now saturated with comedy podcasts containing trace elements of late night talk show, sketch fest, improv exercise, intimate stand-up session, and backroom history lesson — all coming together in a perfect storm of chuckles. And like so many other forms of entertainment lately, these transmissions are available by download at your leisure.

An embarrassment of comedic riches is out there right now, waiting to be devoured for free. Unfortunately, there’s an embarrassment of garbage out there too, waiting like a field mine to bore you senseless. This guide will sort through which is which and help you find just the right podcast to soundtrack all your oblivious street-crossings in the future.

Before getting to the guide, I’ve got to mention perhaps the most famous podcast: The Ricky Gervais Show. Debuting in 2005, TRGS went on to grace the pages of the Guinness Book in 2007, setting the world record for “Most Downloaded Podcast.” This beloved program introduced millions around the world to the hilarious, potentially autistic ramblings of Gervais’ spirit animal, Karl Pilkington. In fact, this is the one podcast that pretty much everyone reading this will have already heard of. Let’s not waste time going over it in detail. Besides, Gervais’ podcast costs money to download, and ‘costs money’ is the opposite of ‘free’, which is famously the best price of all. Now that that’s taken care of, on to the list.


Host: Chris Hardwick, with Matt Mira and Jonah Ray
Podcastin’ since: February 2010
How often: Weekly
Format: Funny people hanging out, tagging each others jokes, and talking with guests
Recurring features: Lengthy, loose, interviews
Typical guests: Eugene Mirman, Mythbusters, Alison Brie
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? Yes
What’s different about this one: Because it’s called Nerdist, conversations will frequently delve into Second Life, 4G networks, Winger, and Dr. Who
Live shows: Sometimes. You can catch them at Largo in LA or Comix in NY
For Fans of: Esoteric things, the lives of comedians, old-timey voices, snappy banter
The Verdict: Highly recommended. Even though Chris Hardwick is an in-demand multi-hyphenate whose career has been steadily rising, he considers himself a nerd for good reason. It’s touching, for instance, to see his genuine affection for and hero-worship of Weird Al Yankovic. Although the podcast originally aimed to talk about only nerdy things, since most of the guests were comedians the focus shifted pretty radically toward that end. Most of the interviews focus on comedy history, what it’s like being a comic, what it takes to make it, and the answer to the question, “what is your process?” Hardwick’s affability and energy keep things moving in between breakdowns of SNL skits that never made it to air, and discussions about how, once upon a time, appearing on The Tonight Show could change your life overnight (if your name was Drew Carey.) The wide range of interesting guests bodes well for Nerdist’s longevity.

Host: Marc Maron
Podcastin’ since: September 2009
How often: Twice weekly
Format: One-on-one interview, with very few holds barred. Excuse me, I meant none — no holds barred.
Recurring features: Comedians talking about therapy
Typical Guests: Bob Odenkirk, Robin Williams, Maria Bamford
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? No
What’s different about this one: Marc’s style is confrontational, intense, and almost intrusively personal.
Live shows: Sometimes. You can catch them at Comix in NY
For Fans of: The book, “Here’s the Kicker”; the Metallica film Some Kind of Monster
Verdict: Highly Recommended. WTF has become the go-to forum for setting the record straight and clearing the air in the comedy community. Marc Maron famously confronted Carlos Mencia about his alleged joke-stealing head-on, and ended up doing a follow-up podcast because he didn’t believe what Mencia said the first time and he wanted to investigate further. Marc Maron, Comedic Detective, etc. These interviews together comprise a Director’s Commentary track about comedy itself, and the individual stories of everyone who works in the field. Marc and his guests often end up exploring what it is that drives them to do what they do. The two-part Judd Apatow episode, especially, served as a master class in comedy, ambition, and what makes comedians tick.

Marc Maron has a reputation for filling a room with tension when doing a set, and that strategically tactless approach is put to ballsy use in these recordings. You can pretty much hear the air being sucked out of the room when Marc asks Dane Cook about why Dane seems like such an asshole all the time. With so much drama in the LBC, WTF occasionally has a soap opera feel to it. The revelations come at you fast as lightning: Patrice O’Neal sort of hates women and white people, Bob Odenkirk comes off as cranky and maybe a dick, Dane Cook seems like a control freak, but a basically decent guy. People tend to say things to Marc Maron for some reason that they might not say elsewhere. And despite everything stated in this description so far, WTF is actually really funny, too. If you only listen to one comedy podcast, this should probably be the one.

Pod F. Tompkast
Host: Paul F. Tompkins
Podcastin’ since: July 2010
How often: Monthly
Format: Well-structured blend of extended riff suites, sketches, and “award-worthy” character scenes
Recurring features: A series of phone calls mockumenting a secret project between Andrew Lloyd Weber, Ice-T, and John C. Reilly—all of whom are voiced by Tompkins; a real phone call to comedian Jen Kirkman
Typical guests: Jen Kirkman
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? No
What’s different about this one: A lack of co-hosts and guests; an absurdist tone
Live shows: No
For Fans of: Showing up at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre randomly
The Verdict: Highly recommended. Although we’re only two episodes in, these dispatches are shaping up to be the purest distillation of Tompkins’ loquacious brand of humor yet. He really uses the freedom of not being in front of a live audience to tap into his gifts beyond stand-up.

Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show
Host: Kevin Pollak, frequently joined by Samm Levine
Podcastin’ since: March 2009
How often: Started off twice-weekly, but the podcast is now weekly
Format: Very conversational. Like a talk show. Duh.
Recurring features: The Larry King Game, wherein fans of the show do impressions of octogenarian sea creature, Larry King. In character, players of the game give away highly sensitive personal information that Larry King would probably not disclose, and end by throwing over to the phones in another city. Basically the best game ever.
Typical Guests: Jim Gaffigan, Martin Mull, Neil Patrick Harris
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? Yes
What’s different about this one: Considering the movies Pollak has been in, the roster of guests is deeper than most other podcasts (his director in The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer, was scheduled to appear at one point.)
Live shows: Not yet.
For Fans of: The Dick Cavett Show; deep, probing interviews; old showbiz tales
The Verdict: Recommended. Pollak may be most famous (to me) for his role as Phillip Green in Casino, but he is also a respected old-school standup. He has a relaxed, patient interview style, and a canny selection of guests. His long-form interviews tend to creep toward the two-hour mark, but if you’re into that sort of thing, this is your jam.

Doug Loves Movies
Host: Doug Benson
Podcastin’ since: February 2008
How often: Weekly
Format: Half talk-show, half game-show, all about movies.
Recurring features: The Leonard Maltin Game: an elaborate, difficult version of Name That Movie.
Typical Guests: Adam Scott, Morgan Murphy, Matt Besser
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? Yes
What’s different about this one: The game show aspect and the focus on movies
Live shows: Yes — usually at the Upright Citizens Brigade in LA
For Fans of: Movies (duh), funny people talking about movies
The Verdict: Recommended. In addition to just being fun to listen to, Doug Loves Movies is also a great example of how podcasts differ from, say, late night talk shows with regard to plugs. The guests’ upcoming projects are not treated with that fake-casual “You just happen to have a movie coming out I heard through the grapevine” approach native to TV talk shows. The plugs are obligatory, and here they are acknowledged as such, in a mutual back-scratching way that doesn’t take anything from the friends-hanging-out vibe. Rather, at the end of each episode, Doug will simply ask, “Got anything you need to plug?”—and be done with it

The Adam Carolla Show
Host: Adam Carolla a/k/a Ace Man (cool nickname alert!) and co-host, Teresa Strasser
Podcastin’ since: February 2009
How often: Several times throughout the week
Format: News, listener call-ins, guest interviews
Recurring features: Games such as “What Can’t Adam Complain About,” which are more or less self-explanatory
Typical Guests: Jay Mohr, Olivia Munn, Ralphie May
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? No
What’s different about this one: Opinionated, right-wing slant; lots of news; very high episode frequency for a podcast
Live shows: Sometimes, when Adam is on tour.
For Fans of: Terrestrial radio, hostility, political incorrectness of the Look-Ma-No-Hands variety
The Verdict: Not recommended. If you’re a fan of Carolla’s old radio show, you’re in luck because this couldn’t be any more like a radio show. Random noises are frequently beamed in from the producer’s booth—a Will Ferrell Anchorman line, apropos of nothing; a 1990s techno beat meant to evoke ‘gay’—and presumably in an effort to kill time, jokes are beaten into the ground mercilessly. The success of this #1-rated podcast just goes to show you how far a loyal following will get you.

Comedy Death Ray
Host: Scott Aukerman
Podcastin’ since: May 2009
How often: Weekly
Format: Chatting with a “co-host” and a “special guest” who basically serve the same role, interspersed with improv, songs, and sketches.
Recurring features: At least one visit each week from a fictional character; Doug Benson phones in from Doug Loves Movies
Typical Guests: Nick Kroll, Tom Lennon, Garfunkel & Oates, Sarah Silverman
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? Yes
What’s different about this one: The format of this podcast is completely bonkers—there’s blessedly zero scheduling consistency. The songs played are all funny, either intentionally (The Lonely Island) or otherwise (Joe Pesci put out an album quite recently.) There’s considerably more improv at work here than in any other podcast.
Live shows: Sometimes, at Upright Citizens Brigade in LA
For Fans of: Mr. Show, silly things, funny voices of all stripes
The Verdict: Highly recommended. This podcast evolved out of a famed weekly comedy show in LA that host Scott Aukerman founded with fellow Mr. Show alumnus, BJ Porter. Each week’s co-host and special guest will usually be a friend and peer of Aukerman’s in the comedy world, but if the guest happens to be a personal hero like Weird Al Yankovic (that guy gets mad love from everyone), a full-on interview will commence, complete with a question about ‘process.’ Some guests appear anonymously as characters like the observational comedian who only talks about disgusting things nobody can relate to, or the uber-macho novelist who writes “poetry for men”. You never know what you’re going to get from episode to episode, which raises the likelihood that any given podcast will contain something amazing.

FitzDog Radio
Host: Greg Fitzsimmons, Mike Gibbons
Podcastin’ since: August 2009
How often: Weekly
Format: Interviews and news, with the occasional game
Recurring features: Half-a-Man (listeners and guests list off celebrities who seem similar and who are similar-looking), Liar’s Poker (guest tells two stories; host guesses which is false)
Typical Guests: Tom Arnold, Zach Galifianakis, Lisa Lampinelli
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? Yes
What’s different about this one: More frank sex talk than most comedy podcasts
Live shows: No
For Fans of: Howard Stern, sex
The Verdict: Recommended. Greg Fitzsimmons is a funny, genuine-seeming guy, and a true veteran of the comedy circuit. The interviews he conducts with his fellow survivors of early 1990s HBO specials are lively and interesting. The world might not have needed to hear so much about Susie Essman’s boobs in her episode, but I guess that comes with the turf when you’re also on Howard Stern’s radio station, and at least she got an episode.

Host: Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier
Podcastin’ since: February 2007
How often: Weekly
Format: Loose, rambling, all too personal. The two men shoot the shit in front of a live audience
Recurring features: Do self-deprecating fat jokes count as a feature?
Typical Guests: Cast and crew of Kevin Smith films
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? No
What’s different about this one: The focus is usually localized around Smith’s personal universe.
Live shows: Yes, always. Smith owns a theatre in LA where he records these in front of an audience that laughs appreciatively at every single remark, it seems.
For fans of: The filmography of Kevin Smith, sex (but not necessarily having it), dick jokes
The Verdict: Not recommended. SModcast is a house built on even more crude sex talk than Fitzsimmons’—only this talk often includes hypothetical gay sex with Kevin Smith. The behind-the-scenes tales of how various Smith productions came together should hold plenty of appeal for die-hard fans, but nearly everyone else might find them tedious. The director also makes so many self-deprecating jokes about his own weight that it crosses a line beyond uncomfortable and becomes apparent that we’re listening to a person who sort of hates himself (but who clearly does not hate not wearing jean shorts all the time.)

Kevin Smith has expanded the SModcast universe beyond just one show. His audio network now includes five programs, almost all of which are weekly and feature Kevin Smith. There’s Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, Hollywood Babble-On, and there’s also Tell ‘Em, Steve-Dave!, which is hosted by two of Smith’s boyhood friends, and which I have not listened to because, when it comes down to it, each of us is allotted only precious few hours to dwell upon this island Earth. Finally, one of the sponsors of SModcast is noted men’s masturbation aid, the Fleshlight. Kevin Smith is actually paid to give out samples of these things to audience members during live tapings of the podcast. Gross. So gross. And also creepy and just yuck.

Sklarbro Country
Host: Jason & Randy Sklar
Podcastin’ since: August 2010
How often: Weekly
Format: Sports and pop culture news, a long interview, and some well-chosen indie rock in between.
Recurring features: Douchebag of the Week; a parody of sportscasters, “Racist Vin Scully”
Typical Guests: Glenn Howerton, Nick Thune, Janeane Garofalo
Has Jon Hamm been a guest? Yes
What’s different about this one: The focus is on sports. Also, of course, the hosts are identical twins with cartoon animal voices and impeccable comic timing
Live shows: Not yet.
For Fans of: ESPN’s Cheap Seats, overlapping sentences
The Verdict: Recommended. The Sklars definitely have a unique style, and they know just how much sports talk they can get away with before zooming right over the average comedy nerd’s head. Also, just try to think about the words ‘Sklarbro Country’ and not crack a smile. It is very difficult!

Update: Think I missed some? Me too! I’ll be doing a profile of a new podcast every Monday so as to be as complete as possible. Here’s the first new one, on Jordan, Jesse, GO!.

Joe Berkowitz edits books and writes stuff. He also has a Tumblr.

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