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.
ROB: Lena Dunham has no problem with expressing herself publically, and as with many WTF episodes, if you’re already a big fan, there’s probably little in this interview that you don’t already know. But for those who are just peripherally aware of Dunham – maybe you saw Tiny Furniture, some of HBO’s Girls, and some of the debate around her show – this episode of WTF is definitely engaging. There’s a lot of ground covered in this “fun, brainy romp,” as Marc Maron so accurately describes it at the end. The discussion winds through her upbringing in a two-artist household in New York City, her comedic influences, and lots of social and cultural issues (from a super liberal perspective, naturally). For example, Dunham’s view on the Woody Allen art/artist issue is incredibly nuanced and sophisticated, and she talks honestly about navigating through various controversies regarding feminism, privilege, and diversity – with alternating confidence and befuddlement, and an open heart comparable to Todd Glass’s. Of course, because this is Dunham talking to Maron, the conversation starts out on common ground: Anxiety. This is probably the funniest part of the show and the part where Maron has the most experienced, sage advice for Dunham. But throughout, laugh-out-loud or not, there’s not an instant in this conversation that’s dull.
ZOE: What do death, the iPad Air, and Dunston Checks In all have common? If you're part of a Topics study group, you should already know the answer. For less studious listeners, we'll clue you in: they're all examples of this week's topic. Paul Rudd joins Black and Showalter to unpack the idea made popular by the book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff, which suddenly seems like it was written to be on the show. Being the "funny man" he is, Rudd can't help but make a few (delightfully lame) movie puns, which the hosts politely chuckle off at first. But things go awry when he gets a little too carried away, threatening the show's objective of keeping things serious. The conversation, which is already comically similar to high schoolers ruminating on religion, becomes even more adolescent when Black and Rudd form an alliance at a sulky Showalter's expense. By the end, they go full-on meta, realizing they've been sweating the small stuff the entire episode. Rudd perfectly complements Black and Showalter the whole way through, making for another hysterical, if not incredibly enlightening, episode of Topics.
Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast – Jenny Eclair
MARC: Richard Herring is a British comedian, writer, and podcaster with a pile of podcasts that he does on a regular basis. One of them, Me1 vs Me2 Snooker, is the audio of him playing snooker against himself, while he also voices a pair of commentators. He’s like the Kevin Smith (podcast version) of England. His Leicester Square Theatre Podcast is a live affair with a big crowd and a guest who comes on after Herring does some crowd work, reads some email and generally gets the audience simmering. Episode 35 sees guest and fellow comedian Jenny Eclair hit the stage (“I’m just here because he couldn’t get Steve Coogan to show up!” reports Eclair.) Known in England for TV shows such as Grumpy Old Women and Loose Women, Eclair’s hilarious, especially recounting her beginning days in the early '80s, doing punk poetry and sharing a flat with Herring every year during the famed Ediburgh Fringe Festival. Some of their references will go over the heads of most Yank listeners, but, really, isn’t that one of the things we do best –laugh knowingly at English humor even when we don’t get the reference?
Monosodium Glutamate with Eddie Huang – The Authenticity Episode
PABLO: The indefinite hiatus of Desus vs. Mero has left a gaping hole in the podcast subgenre I just created of shows hosted by NYC funnymen who don't come from the traditional comedy worlds of sketch or improv. Filling that vacuum is celebrity chef Eddie Huang's new podcast Monosodium Glutamate, a show that comes strong out of the gate in its first episode, entitled "The Authenticity Episode." Along with his co-host, former ESPN writer Elena Bergeron, Huang discusses why he prefers authenticity in the culture he consumes and why he doesn't have time for Rick Ross, fake stripper butts, and the soul food of rival chef Marcus Samuelsson. Huang is an enfant terrible in the vein of Anthony Bourdain and not just because he isn't afraid to diss fellow chefs; both have sold sitcom pilots based on their memoirs, and the comedy seen in his writings, Vice web series, and now this podcast has a hint of that sardonic Bourdain-esque mistrust of authority that makes the elder chef a distant cousin of Marc Maron. The conversation here between the co-hosts has a natural ebb-and-flow that doesn't plod as it switches from serious topics like Harlem's gentrification to less controversial fields, like why they believe Drake and Reggie Miller are two of the most authentic tough guys out there despite having reputations for being soft. The theme of this episode encapsulates the appeal of Huang and his breakneck rise over the last few years, which is whether or not you agree with the chef's thoughts on food, race, or hip hop, you know he's not feeding you any bullshit.
The Dead Authors Podcast – Gary Gygax with Chris Tallman
ROB: This week’s Dead Authors Podcast is a slight deviation from the norm because the guest is Chris Tallman as E. Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons. So instead of talking about Gygax’s life and works, Tallman and Paul F. Tompkins (as the host, H.G. Wells) play D&D through most of the show. Dead Authors episodes have always been “semi-educational,” and this one is no different. Tallman appears to be fluent in the rules of D&D, so if you ever wanted to gain a cursory understanding of how it works without actually joining a game, this show kind of suffices – even if it’s sometimes hard to tell which D&D monsters Tallman is pulling from canon and which ones he’s making up on the spot. I’m pretty sure homicidal sentient stalactites aren’t in the game, though. In fits and starts throughout the show, Wells does get around to asking Gygax about his life. But the biographical details of the recently-deceased creator of D&D are plainly not as interesting as, say, a Shel Silverstein or Ayn Rand, so credit to Tallman for doing a lot with a little. By far, the best part of the episode is listening to Tallman as Gygax, leading Tompkins as Wells-as “the wily rouge Çextant Umberbill” through a series of ridiculous scenarios. But also make sure to listen towards the end of the show for a callback by Tallman to one of Tompkins’s Comedy Bang! Bang! characters.