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. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.
Comedy Bang! Bang! – Jenny Slate, Merrill Gabrus, Jon Daly
LEIGH: How lucky are we that Jenny Slate seems to be everywhere these days promoting her new movie Obvious Child? The answer is very, very lucky. Even luckier for us, her latest stop was this week's episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! along with Merrill Garbus of the band Tune-Yards and drunk British roller-blading tree, Sappity Tappity (Jon Daly). Because Slate has been making her rounds promoting the movie recently, host Scott Aukerman makes sure they stick to asking her only questions she's never been asked before. Important questions like "Is it confusing when the director calls cut?," "What do you eat for lunch as a comedian?," and the one thing we all want answered, "Why isn't LeVar Burton in Obvious Child?" But this episode was more than just talk about Obvious Child (though I wouldn't complain if it were). There were some brilliant ideas including a Bourne Identity-type movie where Jenny Slate plays a half-car, half-assassin named Honda Slate, and Monocles Lewinsky, which are exactly what they sound like: monocles designed by Monica Lewinsky. After a lot of singing, the episode closes with a pretty hard round of "Would You Rather?" where Aukerman has his guests choose between shedding their skin like a snake every morning or involuntarily cat calling everyone in a grocery store. If you think you're having a hard time deciding, just hear how hard it was for Slate, Garbus, and Sappity Tappity.
Norm Macdonald Live – Fred Willard
PABLO: In the wake of last month's news that Craig Ferguson is leaving his 12:30 spot on CBS, the hashtag #latelatenormnorm burst onto Twitter in a viral attempt to nominate Norm Macdonald for the job. And while five hours of Macdonald each week would be a welcome addition to the late night landscape, does anybody think the show would actually be good? The ex-SNLer is without a doubt one of the funniest people alive, but having him make nice with CBS executives for the opportunity to interview actresses from The CW is like cutting off Kendrick Lamar's tongue and asking him to read out loud a Tucker Max blog. Instead, fans of the comedian should be grateful that Norm Macdonald Live has finally returned from its year-long hiatus with a murderer's row of guests that includes Adam Sandler, Carl Reiner, Ray Romano, and this week's visitor, Fred Willard. The video podcast format fits Macdonald like a sardonic, ultra-dry glove, allowing the former "Weekend Update" anchor to chat with people he (and comedy fans) actually care about. There are no projects to promote, no scholarly dissections of the craft, and definitely no soul-searching. It's just Norm being Norm, busting balls, telling stories, and dropping classic non-sequiturs like "Here's something you never hear: He made love to me in the ass." With lines like these, as well as his not-giving-a-fuck attitude, the chances of Macdonald landing the Late Late Show are pretty slim. But if you enjoy his acerbic style of comedy, why would you want to see him neutered?
You Made It Weird – Dave Stone
SCOTT: “I’m under no illusion that this is about me.” Comedian Dave Stone knows the drill when he joins Pete Holmes this week to talk about raw veganism and ruin Arby’s for you within the first 10 minutes. It’s a very diet-heavy show where the stated goal of not being preachy devolves quickly into full-on preachiness, but if you can ever manage to scrub the phrase “blood and pus” from your memories, maybe you can hope to enjoy dairy products again someday. It’s not all kale smoothies and hamburgers made from the ghosts of a thousand cows, though. Stone talks about living in a van in LA to lower his expenses while he pursues comedy and about the women who are fine with the van but not necessarily cool with the comedy. It’s an episode that epitomizes the thing Holmes often says about how people just want to be reflected back to themselves, and it’s refreshing to hear Holmes feel comfortable enough to let loose and talk about all the things he always wants to talk about without constantly feeling the need to apologize for doing so. Stone clearly listens to the show and plays his part perfectly. What we get as a result is an episode that feels like a conversation that both participants wanted to have without the pretense of worrying about we, the listener.
Kumail Nanjiani’s The X-Files Files – DC Pierson
MARC: Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang! Bang!, Analyze Phish), Doug Benson (Doug Loves Movies, Dining with Doug and Karen), and many other comedians are part of a growing phenomenon: Hosting multiple podcasts on an ongoing basis. The latest to join the fold is Kumail Nanjiani, who co-hosts The Indoor Kids and is a frequent guest on Harmontown, not to mention scoring major points with his role in HBO’s Silicon Valley. He recently unveiled Kumail Nanjiani’s The X-Files Files, a show with the simple premise of talking about each episode of TV’s long-cancelled sci-fi conspiracy fave The X-Files. This week hears comedian DC Pierson joining Nanjiani to talk about episode three, "The Squeeze." They spend a lot of up front discussing the kinds of TV shows they liked when they were younger and how they both gravitated to the show featuring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The analysis and review of the episode turns out to be a field ripe with comedic possibilities, which are fully exploited in the course of the show. Whether you’re an X-Files fan or, perhaps, just discovering it now, this show is a fun companion to enhance your experience.
SModcast – #300 Pt. 1
ROB: This is the 300th episode of SModcast, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s freewheeling conversational comedy podcast that launched seven years ago and eventually spawned an entire empire of online radio shows — along with an intense network of weekly fans that Smith has leveraged to launch independent movies like Red State and the upcoming Tusk (a movie which is based on a SModcast episode). To celebrate the big 300, Smith and Mosier dive into three signature aspects of SModcast: First, they take a long, random, absurdist tangent on pop trumpet player Herb Alpert, which also includes the silly juvenile sex jokes du jour — that’s a two-fer. Then, for the rest of the podcast, they listen back to episode one of SModcast and make fun of (the slightly) younger versions of themselves, much like the hilarious “Emo Kev” episodes in 2012, based on Smith’s discovery (and subsequent savaging) of his angsty teenage audio diary. It’s a particularly interesting way to mark an anniversary, and there’s a wealth of giggle-inducing self-criticism to be made from the just first 10 minutes of SModcast One. “I’ll say it: This is a terrible podcast,” remarks Smith about his first recording at one point, before cracking up. And while hilarious, it’s also a sympathetic exercise; no one is an expert on their first try. It also shows how far SModcast, and Smith in particular, has come in being consistently funny.
Topics – The Money Question
ZOE: Ever feel overwhelmed by the general concept of money and how it works? Let hosts Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter break it down for you in layman’s terms: Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, Thomas’s English Muffins. Remember when these things were in demand, consequently driving value up? There’s a lesson right there, so you can save yourself the money (which wouldn’t be worth anything if it grew on trees, by the way) and withdraw from that Econ 101 lecture. But the learning doesn’t stop at money; you’ll also leave this episode with a deeper understanding of language, as many important economic terms share Latin roots. Take “dichotomy,” for example, which Showalter generously unpacks for us: we have “di,” meaning “di,” “cot” meaning “sleep,” and “omy” meaning “love.” The hosts review the books Wealth of Nations (“such a great book”) and Capital in the 21st Century (“very big and seems to be single-spaced”), which both hosts definitely read. For those of you doubting this, Showalter offers, “I found the sentences to be descriptive… the writing has a literary quality to it.” Now, does that sound like someone who didn’t read them? Meanwhile, Black assumes higher status as usual, speaking with a calm, vampiric affectation. The episode concludes with a discussion of income inequality, which they decide is so stupid. “If Jay Leno sold five cars, this problem would be solved. And he’d still have cars.” Like I said, withdraw from that Econ 101 class now.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.
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.
Zoe Schwab is a writer/fraud living in NYC who is somehow up-to-date with ABC Family's Melissa & Joey.