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.
Comedy Bang! Bang! – 5th Anniversary with Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parnam, Jason Mantzoukas, Lauren Lapkus, Paul Rust, Neil Campbell, Matt Besser, Paul F. Tompkins
ZOE: In the spirit of a favorite Comedy Bang! Bang! reference, this review is to be sung to the tune of “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies: It’s been five years since Scott Aukerman launched Comedy Bang! Bang!, originally named Comedy Death-Ray, and here to celebrate are some of its most beloved characters. Frequent guest Jason Mantzoukas and frequent ear-piercer Traci Reardan (Lauren Lapkus) hold down the fort for most of the episode but are joined by the likes of Marissa Wompler (Jessica St. Clair), Miss Listler (Lennon Parnom), the Bachelor Brothers (Paul Rust and Neil Campbell), Mike the Janitor (Paul F. Tompkins), and JW Stillwater (Tompkins yet again). The in-and-out shuffle over the course of the two-hour special allows for some amazing new character interactions and keeps the energy on a constant high: we go from teenage rivalry between Wompler and Rearden to collective delight in discovering the Bachelor Brothers’ latest venture of cars shaped like musical notes. And though Rearden’s grandma has passed (don’t worry, she’s getting the Weekend at Bernie’s treatment), this episode marks the birth of Mattilda Besserina Smith, a 12-year-old girl whose spot-on impressions of Matt Besser will blow your mind. Whether you’ve been been tuning in for the past five years or are a newcomer to the show, it’s a wonderful celebration of one of the most influential and innovative comedy podcasts around.
Totally Laime – Paul Scheer
LEIGH: "Want me to creep you guys out even more?" is a question guest Paul Scheer asks this week on Totally Laime. The story he then goes on to share will consume your thoughts for the rest of the day. Without giving too much away, it involves a baby, an orifice and a medical procedure you probably never even knew was a thing. Speaking of baby stuff, there's plenty of it in this episode considering host Elizabeth Laime and Scheer's wife, June Diane Raphael, are both pregnant. But don't let that scare you away, especially if you've stuck around after the first three sentences of this paragraph. Based on the baby discussion, we learn there are two types of parents: those who will let their kids play in ball pits and those who don't. Baby stuff aside, one of the highlights of the episode is Scheer's recommendation to invest in a Squatty Potty, which you should definitely take the time to look up. Scheer also shares his philosophy on undershirts and how long you should be keeping them in your rotation. And, while he's no Steve Harvey, the best-dressed man in entertainment and possibly the world according to Laime, he makes some pretty valid points.
The Champs – Cristela Alonzo
ZOE: It’s a running joke in this episode that guest Cristela Alonzo’s life sounds too cinematic to be true. It reads like an IMDb blurb that would have you thinking, "Someone's gunning for an Oscar." Born to a single mother who raised her children in an abandoned diner with almost no electricity or running water, the mere facts of her childhood are interesting enough. But even more interesting is the way she's emerged so remarkably hopeful, upbeat, and, luckily for the hosts, more than willing to joke about it. There are moments when Brennan and Kasher riff on a subject like her mother's death where you think they may have just gone too far, but Alonzo is right there riffing with them, laughing as if they were making fun of an unfortunate high school photo. In a notably cinematic moment, unlikely hero Carlos Mencia finds her notebook at a club, asks whose it is, then recruits her to open for his tour. While grateful, Alonzo doesn’t sit and praise him either and very diplomatically discusses her decision to quit touring with him. To drive the movie theme home, the episode ends with the cliffhanger: she's waiting to hear whether or not her pilot has been picked up by ABC. It's hard to imagine a sequel where that doesn't happen.
SModcast – SModcast 300 Pt. 1
ROB: If you’re dipping back into Smodcast for its special live 300th episode for the first time in a while, there are a couple of things that make this one unusual. First, it’s not technically Smodcast 300, but fine, close enough. Second, they had some early unedited audio issues, which seems strange to leave in, but such are the risks of doing it live. But the third odd element this week is awesome: In this live episode, co-host Scott Mosier absolutely kills. Kevin Smith usually drives the show because, as Smith would probably concede, he talks so damn much. In previous live shows, Smith would take the lead that much more because unlike Mosier, he’s impossibly comfortable in front of an audience. But Smith mentions early on that Mosier once never thought he could do the podcast on a stage, as if hinting that “300” would be his showcase. And it is. It helps that Mosier had gone to a proctologist that week (perfect Smodcast material if there ever was) and that Smith had prepared a bit starring Mosier’s Canadian character. And at the end, Mosier happened to remember a great (absurd but true) story that the conversation segued into perfectly, which became the episode’s closer. But beyond the material, Mosier has clearly adapted his style and timing for live audiences. Also, he was simply on point: Even in bits led by Smith, Mosier contributed most of the best laugh lines, while Smith seemed delighted to be overshadowed by his longtime, and usually less-outspoken, companion. This week is only part one, and it’ll leave you wanting to hear more Mosier in the next installment of the Smodcast 300special.
No Pressure to be Funny – Series 7, Episode 4
MARC: The live and lively monthly panel show from The Phoenix theatre in Cavendish Square, London, gets pretty heated when the guests, Daphna Baram, Don Biswas, Matt Forde, and Chris Neill, start in about former Prime Minister Tony Blair being plopped into the Israel-Palestine hornets’ nest. It’s all fun and games up until that point, with the panel taking potshots at the royal family and the Manchester United soccer team. But once host James O’Brien brings the Middle East up, conservative and liberal hackles go up and things get a little bristly. Show co-creator Nick Revell manages to smooth the waters by getting everyone focused with his monologue on KFC’s re-introduction of the horrific Double Down sandwich. And Steve Gribbin’s musical interlude about giant rats on a fast food diet is the perfect remedy for the episode’s runaway political discourse. NPTBF remains one of the most intelligently funny podcasts around.
WTF with Marc Maron – Alan Bursky
PABLO: Near the end of his interview with one-time Comedy Store paid regular Alan Bursky, Marc Maron asks the comic if he's okay with how his career turned out. And from that query it becomes clear why Maron is so obsessed with the famous Sunset Strip club: It revives the anxiety that Maron must have felt on his decades-long journey from Comedy Store doorman and NYC alt comedy forefather to his stint as a liberal talk radio host and his career resurgence as a highly-respected elder statesman and writer/star of his own sitcom. Bursky answers the question truthfully, that of course he had some regrets and wishes things turned out more like Jerry Seinfeld's career, but you can almost hear the flapping wings of the butterfly effect inside Maron's head asking himself, "What if Sam Kinison never died?" Would Maron have started the difficult but ultimately rewarding path that led him to where he is now at 50 if his close friend was never killed by a drunk driver? Bursky essentially serves as a surrogate to this second question given his similar misfortunes with Freddie Prinze Sr., who was Bursky's best friend prior to taking his own life at 22. Prinze plays a large role in the episode given the rumor, corroborated by Gallagher of all people on his own infamous WTF episode, that Bursky gave Prinze the gun he used to kill himself. Respectfully, Maron doesn't dwell on the details on how Prinze obtained a gun considering how easy it is to do so in the United States and instead focuses on Bursky's many stories about The Store's founding, his experience with both Sammy and Mitzi Shore, and his time working as an agent in between comedy stints. For fans of Maron's unofficial oral history of The Comedy Store, the host helpfully starts the show with a recap of every installment featuring a paid regular. The episode also begins with a tribute to the late Otto & George and a mini-interview with pop culture historian Kliph Nesteroff.