There is something to be said about the fact that podcasts are even getting a year in review. The medium, though about seven years old, has grown exponentially in the last year both in terms of artistic ambition and in mainstream media attention. The best explanation is that people are responding to the rare opportunity to experience these comedians artistic vision completely unfiltered. When podcasters are asked why they love doing it, most often they answer that it’s the ability to express oneself completely on one’s own terms. At this point, there are so, so many fantastic podcasts, far too many to fit in one yearly round up, or six. It's an exciting time for an emerging art form; this is what stood out from there.
Most Fun Podcast
It may not be the funniest or the most thought-provoking but there really is no podcast as purely enjoyable as Who Charted?. Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack are simply, wonderfully hospitable hosts. Kremer is a bit…let's say, off and Vilaysack, and most guests for that matter, tend be completely enamored by that. There’s probably no podcast where the hosts and guests themselves laugh as much. Paul F. Tompkins, a man who knows podcasts, has said it’s his favorite show to listen to—I think there is no higher praise than that.
Best Guest Booking
We all love famous people but they, like regular people, have only so many stories to tell. Jimmy Fallon is a delight but one doesn’t need to hear his origin story more than once (Spoiler Alter: It involves troll dolls). The smartest way around this is to book people that would never appear anywhere else. Julie Klausner seemed to get this immediately with How Was Your Week? Sure, there are the usual suspects (Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman) but they are mixed with people that are very specific to Klausner’s tastes. Paul Scheer has been around the block but his episode found him paired with Back to School star Sally Kellerman, a woman who is not going to show up on Never Not Funny anytime soon ever. The best example is Jackée, who is a wonderful guest choice but only Klaunsner has been able to see that. When Marc Maron was on The Nerdist, they talked about the arms race surrounding getting big named guests, yet Julie Klausner has shown it’s not about the names but how perfectly they represent your sensibility.
Most Unintentionally Funny Podcast
When it was announced that Alec Baldwin was starting a podcast, we all went, “Why?” and our parents went, “A pod-what?” and our grandparents went “Alec-who? Is that the square-jawed Irishman from Knot’s Landing?” Baldwin is arguably too big of a movie star for television and laughably too famous to host a podcast—it would be like if your Sunday school class was taught by Jesus. His podcast, Here’s the Thing, is often quite listenable as he is an uncompromising interviewer; however, more often it is hilariously serious—he spoke to Kris Kardashian Jenner like she was Warren Buffet (which she is not). His premier episode, where he interviews Michael Douglas, is so self-congratulatory that they might as well have spent the episode’s twenty minutes describing the various ways they masturbate to pictures of themselves.
Best First-Wave Podcast That’s Better Than Ever
The first wave of comedy podcasts was primarily made up of bros broing-down. And then there was Superego. With its edited improvised scenes, they created something that could only be done on audio and something that’s miles away from its peers. Since it started five years ago, there have been hundreds of podcasts to pop up, but still there is nothing like it. There are sketches the beautifully simple scene of M incessantly asking James Bond, “How British am I,” that stand out as some of the absolute funniest moments of the year across any medium.
New Podcasts To Watch Listen
Since a large portion of the best podcasts are less than a year old, it would be impossible to pick a best new podcast. Still, there are a bunch of very new podcasts that seem poised to be essential listens. Brett Gelman’s Gelmania, though only few episodes in, has already displayed a perspective completely unlike any other podcast. Gelmania is dark and absurdly vulgar, featuring scenes like Gelman turning an interview with himself into a VERY explicit acting out of him sexing himself. Quite a bit lighter is Pete Holmes charming You Made It Weird. It’s positioned as a less intense version of Marc Maron’s interviews, which causes Holmes to affectionately refer to his show as “What the Heck.” Breaking the relative monotony of interview shows, Matt Besser’s improv4humans fantastically fills the void of improv podcasts with weekly Twitter prompted long-form with guests like Ben Schwartz and Andy Daly. Veering into less traditionally comedy-nerd territory, The Comedy Cellar: Live from the Table is maybe the most exciting very new podcast of all. The show is exactly as it sounds, they mic a bunch of Comedy Cellar comedians like Jim Norton, Robert Kelly, Gottfried, and Sharrod Small and have them talk about whatever they talk about. The show is wildly funny and surprisingly successful at conveying what it’s like to be at that famous table.
The Paul F. Tompkins Award for Best Guest
Paul F. Tompkins has guested on about sixty podcast episodes this year. Sixty! I don’t know if you know this but there were only 52 weeks this year. Not only that but he is a wonderful guest—charming, always game, comfortable getting out of the way so the host can set the tone. As a result, he deserves more than the award for best podcast guest—he deserves to be the award. James Adomian has appeared on over thirty podcast episodes across fourteen different podcasts and he always brings the funny. When he does characters they are so lived in and so ready to go completely off-the-rails at a moments notice. Like when he did Alan Rickman on Comedy Bang Bang #98 and pushed it well beyond what anyone would expect (holding people hostage with testicle guns, etc.). When he’s himself he maintains the same infectious enthusiasm. I’ll never forget his performance, featuring impersonations of many of the leading alt-comedians, at the Del Close Marathon at the Benson Interruption show that eventually got included with the Morgan Spurlock, Craig Bierko, Matt Besster Doug Loves Movies; he was a force of nature—so incredibly funny, so unlike anyone I’ve ever seen or heard. It’s only a matter of time before Adomian is starring in some fancy schmancy movie and/or TV show, leaving him too busy to podcast, so let’s all revel in the time we have together.
On any given week, Comedy Bang Bang will likely be the funniest podcast. So when I was deciding upon a winner of this category, it really came down to which CBB episode made me flat out laugh the most. Comedy Bang Bang #129 was not a particularly good episode in terms of focus or pacing, but it was crazy hilarious. Maybe it had to do with it being a Halloween special, but the show was wholeheartedly, balls-to-the-walls silly. It also had everything that is specific to CBB’s comedic style pushed to its maximum. There were tons of bad puns (Huffington Ghost, New York Slimes, etc.), incredibly absurd characters (Brett Gelman and Jon Daly as the ghoul comedy duo Beuford and Messmore le Barron, Allan Mcleod as Ghost Boy, and Neil Campbell doing an excerpt from is one-man show about psychopaths), and a very specific brand of improv that both heightens the craziness yet consistently underplays. I’ve listened to upwards of 300 hours of podcasts this year and I never remember laughing harder than when Jon Daly as Messmore repeatedly tried to insert the “Monster Mash” into most conversations and every song played. As I said, this isn’t heady stuff but sometimes the simplest jokes—like calling Aimee Mann’s old band “’Til Booooosday”—is the best.
The WTF Award for Being WTF
This was a hard one but this goes to WTF with Marc Maron. WTF is just so singular in its achievement both popularly and creatively that it deserves its own category. It is through Marc that a great deal of people learned that Podcasts were not just that weird word below “TV Shows” on the iTunes library but a medium where serious art is being made. When people talk about the legendary episodes, it’s usually Judd Apatow, Dane Cook, Louis C.K., or Carlos Mencia, which were all from 2010 but this season had some less touted but equally as brilliant moments. The episode in which Todd Hanson describes his attempted suicide and his recovery since, was heartbreaking, inspiring, and unlike anything else in terms of its clear-eyed frankness. The Gallagher episode was tragic and weird and hilariously tragically weird. Maybe, the one episode that stands out above all this year was his interview with Norm McDonald. It was the perfect representation of one of the podcast’s main themes, that two comedians without really any previous relationship could sit down and have an instant kinship. Maron and McDonald went from strangers to seemingly great friends behind the very eyes (or, I guess, ears) of the listener. It was a special episode for a very special podcast.
For me, the best podcast had to go to a podcast that could only be a podcast. WTF is a fantastic achievement in its own right but inherently not different from what could be on radio (thus, it being syndicated on NPR) or television. The best podcast should do something that can only be done on a podcast in terms of content and how niche its market is. The Pod F. Tompkast is that show. A scene where one person plays all the characters can be done on video, as Eddie Murphy would tell anyone who’d listen, but not if the actor looks nothing like the people he’s supposed to be—there is no way Paul F. Tompkins could dress up like Ice-T and have it not be racist. No, the Tompkast is inherently an audio show. At the top of every show there is what amounts to a masterclass in comedic rambling, which is too meandering to ever be put on television yet is always a pure joy. Similarly joyful are his conversations with comedian Jen Kirkman, which display one of PFT’s other best skills, the ability to so effusively and audibly love when someone else is being funny. Then there are the sketches taped from his live show—like his “Chit-Chat Challenge” with Judy Greer—t hat I still remember and chuckle at many months later. It all works and it is all very Paul F. Tompkins. Sadly, the show has been on a tragically long second hiatus after the launch of the second season. I won’t pretend that part of the reason that I’m awarding him this is too guilt him into releasing more episodes like he promised this month’s “Updatetrisode.” So if you are reading this Mr. Tompkins, pwease oh pwease, get the gang get back together and put on a show. The Pod F. Tompkast is the best podcast and there are a lot of podcasts, as you know from appearing on most. It sets the benchmark of what can be achieved on the medium. Pwease oh pwease, Mr. F. Tompkins.
Jesse Fox is a freelance writer, podcaster, cat person, and Jew (in that order). He lives in Brooklyn. His iPod is broken.