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Thursday, January 30th, 2014

This Week in Comedy Podcasts: Dan Harmon, Chris McKenna & More on 'Nerdist Writer's Panel'

The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We're here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. Also, we'll keep you posted on the offerings from our very own podcast network. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.

Nerdist Writer's Panel – Dan Harmon, Chris McKenna, Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, and Joe Henderson

SCOTT: Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna (Community), Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker ($#^! My Dad Says, Surviving Jack), and Joe Henderson (White Collar, Graceland) are on the panel, but let’s dispense with pretending, we’re here to listen to Harmon fly off the handle about Community. Host Ben Blacker (Thrilling Adventure Hour) does an admirable job including everyone, but by the end it was clear that Henderson, the lone non-sitcom, non-partnered writer on the panel, was the fifth wheel. Halpern and Schumacker talk about what it was like creating $#^! My Dad Says but not running the show. The way they put it, they were “allowed” to have staff jobs on their own project. Schumacker had the added inferiority complex of being “the guy who’s friends with the guy whose dad the show is sorta about” and never really found his feet in the room. Harmon and McKenna provide some interesting insight about what it was like coming back to Community, from trying to re-staff the show and create great TV on a limited budget to dealing with the very weird reality of the whole situation. One of the most poignant things Harmon says throughout (and there’s plenty of things Harmon says throughout) is that he looks back on the Dan Harmon that freaked out when they took the show off the schedule in the third season and laughs, because he later became the Dan Harmon that had to watch as they made his show without him. In the mix we get a glimpse at what good writing partnerships are like (odd-man out again, Henderson), what it’s like running a show versus writing on staff, and a fun running joke about the tropical paradise vacation that is apparently the Cougar Town writer’s room — but again, that’s all prelude to the main event. By the end, if you were listening just to hear Harmon take shots at the studios and network execs, you weren’t disappointed. He draws lines between the ideas of “making the show better” and “making people watch the show.” He jokingly answers a question about “how to pick your creative battles” when given notes. He insists that writers have lost the war. And, when asked about learning to work and coexist with the network this time around, simply states that nobody learned to work with anyone, he’s just the only guy they could find to make these last 13 episodes of Community. Classic Dan Harmon.

Getting Doug with High – Eric André , Rory Scovel, Harris Wittels, Jonah Ray, and Steve Agee

PABLO: Marijuana has been semi-legal in California for so long that most of the taboos surrounding the drug have faded away. Doug Benson has certainly done his part over the years to normalize a THC-infused lifestyle and the first live episode of his latest podcast definitely reflects the changing culture. Recorded last Monday in front of a packed crowd at the Largo theater in Los Angeles, Benson invited Eric Andre, Harris Wittels, Rory Scovel, Jonah Ray, AND Steve Agee to sip from the six Volcano vaporizer bags on hand. Also on hand, a boisterous pitbull brought by the tardy Andre! This live episode is easily the best GDWH yet due to the raucous/stoned audience and the vastly different ways that the notoriously fickle drug affects the guests. On one end of the spectrum you have noted Phish fan Harris Wittels casually joking about the overeager salesmen at his weed dispensary while an almost mute Jonah Ray admits getting high in front of 200 people was a horrible idea. The video of this episode was livestreamed on Benson's YouTube page and is recommended over the audio version because of the aforementioned dog and GDWH regular Gabe the Magician's most violent trick so far.

ManBuyCow Podcast – The Uncle in the Future

MARC: Podcast comedy content is finding itself in more and more unusual niches. ManBuyCow, out of Britain, is a delightful “sitcom and sketch” show that feels equal parts Monty Python and Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide) Adams, with alot of other odd bits sprinkled in. The hosts are identified only as Rufus and Howard, and they voice all the characters that populate the sketches. There are recurring characters, like their Uncle Norbert, and loopy devices. This episode it’s a “time phone” that can place calls back and forth in time (including a call back to John Lennon to talk him out of joining the Beatles.) Original music, the bizarre serialized mystery “Grett Binchleaf and the Adventure of People Turning in Books” after the end credits, and top-notch production values all help make this a delicious listen. And, at just 45 minutes running time, it runs out way too soon, leaving you wanting more of Rufus, Howard, Great Aunty Beatrix and even Professor Doctor Who.

This Feels Terrible – Mary Holland

PABLO: This Feels Terrible is a podcast about love. So naturally, much of the conversation in this podcast centers around the crazy and irrational things that people do when they're infatuated with that special someone. Hosted by Erin McGathy, each episode of TFT focuses on the relationship history of her guest, from awkward teenage years to the slightly less awkward but definitely more complicated years of early adulthood. This week's guest is comedian Mary Holland who shares tales of disastrous rendezvous in her past, like the time a fine gentleman declined to tell her about his court-ordered ankle bracelet before inviting her to his house for a date. What makes TFT so enjoyable to listen to is the honest and in-depth manner in which McGathy discusses dating, sex, and relationships. McGathy is warm and empathetic as a host, but also extremely revealing in the failings of her past (#45 with ex-boyfriend Steve Greene is a standout episode) and what she's learning in her current relationship with fiancee Dan Harmon. Whether you're a college freshman wondering if your chem lab partner like-likes you or an operating system scared that your human lover is growing tired of your twee ukulele love songs, TFT has something for anyone dealing with the most human of emotions.

The Fogelnest Files – Jake Weisman

ROB: If you’re not a long time listener to Jake Fogelnest’s Earwolf podcast, “The Fogelnest Files,” this is a particularly interesting episode to listen to. Fogelnest’s guest this week is LA standup Jake Weisman – part of the sketch group Women and maybe most widely known for a viral video in which he finds drugs on a heckler – who befriended Fogelnest when he first got to the city. The two Jakes first realized their compatibility over their mutual love of adding swastikas to retweets (long story) and you can hear them click comedically from the first minute of the episode. But Weisman has some sobering, thoughtful, and differing views on the nature of found footage, internet-based comedy: The very thing that Fogelnest’s podcast is based on. Several parts of the episode turn into fascinating meta-conversations about the clips Fogelnest brings up, why they’re funny, and how (or if) we should be laughing. The show is not all solemn heart and soul, though. The deep exchanges are punctuated by hilarity, and whenever the discussion gets too heavy, Fogelnest is there to steer it right back – and Weisman follows without missing a beat. Big fans of the show may not want to hear its premises questioned, but Fogelnest is open to it, and the rapport between the two Jakes makes what could have been an awkward show thought-provoking and funny.

Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.

Marc Hershon is host of Succotash, the Comedy Podcast Podcast and author of I Hate People!

Scott Reynolds is a comedian and writer in Brooklyn, NY.

Rob Schoon lives in Brooklyn and writes about tech, media, comedy and culture.

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