The Year in Comedy Podcasts
2014. The year the podcast came back! What? Did it ever leave? Well, no. But with major ink from hoary old analog readers like New York Magazine and The Washington Post trumpeting “the return of the podcast!” it seems mainstream has finally figured out podcasting is a thing. Podcast impresario Kevin Smith even featured Justin Long portraying a podcaster who is transformed — painfully, and against his will — into a walrus in the feature film Tusk this year.
It seems that comedy isn’t the only main driver for the podcast medium any more. This year saw the rise of “must listen” shows like Startup, a podcast about a guy starting up a company to make podcasts, and Serial, a This American Life sort-of spinoff which got hot enough to garner mentions on television shows and sparked the interest of amateur sleuths across the country.
Before he exited the Earwolf Podcast Network as CEO, Jeff Ulrich helped to set the stage for a spinoff network, one focusing on pop culture, opinions, and celebrity insights. Unlike Earwolf, which focuses primarily on comedy, the baker’s dozen of shows to kick off Wolfpop aren’t necessarily laugh-driven. Fortunately, for comedy podcast fans, it’s hard to have a rack of shows hosted by comedian types that doesn’t offer up a whole lot of laughs along the way anyway.
Ironically, just as podcasting is ramping up to be bigger than ever heading into 2015, it was announced this last year that Apple is stopping production of the iPod. Maybe someone should do a podcast about how the device, which was the namesake of this industry, is being relegated to history.
Breakout Podcast Hit – U Talkin’ U2 To Me?
Kaitlynn: Everywhere I turn there are new podcasts and not enough time in the day to listen to them all. The truly hilarious podcasts always make me giddy when I refresh my iTunes and see a new episode downloading. This year, no podcast has made me more excited to listen to than a randomly released episode of You Talkin’ U2 to Me? Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman co-host this podcast that debuted in 2014. With 19 episodes to date, the initial premise was to discuss one U2 album per episode until a new album was released. The success of the podcast was instant as listeners discovered the U2-centric discussions were entertaining to lovers and haters of the band. These best friends can’t hide real life chemistry and the sarcastic banter is epitomized in the sub-podcasts throughout. Whenever the Scotts speak about something not band-related it usually turns into a new podcast within a podcast which now include, “I Love Films,” “I Love: I Love Films,” “Sick Burns,” and “Talkin’ Bout Money,” each with its own introduction music. The duo spiral into bits and still manage to fanboy over U2 aka “those lovable lads from Liverpool” more than most critics could. Special episodes and guests have included “Staind Glass” — discussing the band Staind with Todd Glass — and a commentary episode where the hosts and three guests literally conversing over their first episode. The late night recordings from two busy men find a comedic voice through a combination of their parallel personalities and exhaustion. Even when both were guests at the White House and about to meet the president, nothing stopped them from tossing up some U2 gang signs while taking selfies. I was excited when the new U2 album appeared in my iTunes because I knew another episode was heading my way.
Best Comeback – Mike and Tom Eat Snacks
Leigh: The biggest comeback people are talking this year is probably HBO’s The Comeback, but when they’re done talking about that they are most definitely talking about the triumphant return of Mike and Tom Eat Snacks. For over a year, those who are serious about snacking had nowhere to turn. But thankfully the biggest names in the snacking game are back! The reason for the hiatus is simple and understandable — they both thought the other one was dead. As we all know, 2015 is poised to be a big year for snacks so it’s comforting to know we’ll be going into with some expert guidance.
Most Underappreciated Podcast – Ronna & Beverly
Kaitlynn: Ronna Glickman (Jessica Chaffin) and Beverly Ginsberg (Jamie Denbo) are mothers, authors, and experts on many topics, or perhaps that is just what they’ll tell you. Like their best-selling book You’ll Do A Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Re-marriage for Jewish Singles, “It says Jewish in the name — but it’s for everyone!” Ron and Bev really are for everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, or age. They are two Jewish fifty-somethings from the Boston area who happen to be old friends, but the similarities pretty much end there. Ronna is sophisticated, upper-class and intelligent while Beverly is the exact opposite. The episode format plays very well to these characters’ strengths as the beginning and end is personal conversations where listeners can catch up on all the happenings in their lives. The filling is the interview segment with a variety of comedians, actors, authors, and personalities. They can get very politically incorrect, brash, dirty, and with many cringe-worthy moments (mostly by Beverly). The women behind these ladies have years of improv training and teaching and it shows. Hilariously funny, irreverent, and full of moments you never knew could make you laugh out loud. It is a must-listen for any comedy or podcast fan. (Psst! To know more about the women behind the characters check out their recent back to back solo appearances on The JV Club with Janet Varney— Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin).
Most Awkward Interview – Fitzdog Radio: Bob Zmuda
Pablo: Bob Zmuda is a troubling figure. On one hand, he played a pivotal role in helping his best friend Andy Kaufman become a legendary figure. On the other hand, Zmuda has only remained relevant (and earned a paycheck) by keeping alive the rumor of Kaufman’s fake death. In the same way that Jim Morrison’s Doors band mates became parodied by The Onion for the lengths they went to talk about their fallen bandleader (including writing a novel where The Lizard King faked his death), Zmuda’s media appearances always have a tinge of exploitation. His latest book, Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally, landed him on Fitzdog Radio, where host Greg Fitzsimmons initially gets some great stories out of Zmuda about the Carnegie Hall show and other essential Kaufman moments. But once Zmuda brings up the rumors of Kauman’s existence in an “aw shucks, it might be true, I don’t know!” manner, Fitzsimmons asks a simple question: For the sake of his family, can’t you let these rumors die? What follows is one of the most heated arguments you’ll ever hear on a podcast, ending with Zmuda storming out of Fitzsimmons’s home. What’s even more disgusting about the whole thing is that it felt, at least to me, that Zmuda’s outrage at Fitzsimmons wasn’t even real. I don’t believe Fitzsimmons was in on it (he has vehemently denied it), but I wouldn’t be surprised if Zmuda’s plan all along was to spring a blow-up at the slightest bit of push-back to drum up – what else? – publicity.
Best Short-Lived Podcast – The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project
Rob: The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project was one of the best podcast series in 2014, even though it only ran for nine episodes. Partially a way to promote Andy Daly’s Comedy Central premiere Review, this short-lived cult series arguably outshines the TV show, as hilarious as it is. The conceit of ADPPP is that Daly and co-producer Matt Gourley sifted through thousands of unsolicited podcast pilots to find and present nominees to add to Earwolf’s lineup. The eight finalists all just happened be created by characters Daly introduced on Comedy Bang Bang: Trainer to the stars Bill Carter, the exuberantly morbid German tourist August Lindt, and everyone’s favorite outrageously creepy sexual deviant, Don DiMello, among others. This is a delight for fans of Daly — one of the sharpest, most creative, yes-anding-est character improvisers in podcasting — as well as his all-star lineup of guest comedians, all playing characters (no exceptions, including musical guests), and all struggling not to break whenever Daly opens his mouth. Daly is especially impressive here, because there’s no “straight man” to ground any of the proceedings. He has to play host, keep the conversation relatively on-point, introduce segments, save guests’ occasional failed ad-libs, and improvise, himself — all while performing as the most ridiculous character of the group. In fact, Daly’s commitment is so rock-solid that you’ll hear some unusual, hilarious instances, like DiMello coordinating commercial breaks with the engineer in his low, pervy growl. To top it off, Daly ended the series as failed limericist and storyteller Patrick McMahon in an excellent barnburner of a live show, recorded at Molly Mallone’s Irish Pub. Season two of Review is coming back in 2015 — here’s hoping Daly feels the need to make another round of this series to promote it.
Best Podcast for Literal Podcast Nerds – StarTalk Radio
Pablo: Over the past decade, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has become the celebrity scientist America so badly needs. With dozens of credentials/awards/degrees and a passing of the torch from Carl Sagan, who personally invited a 17 year old Tyson to his laboratory, Tyson is the preeminent scientist of this generation. Whereas Sagan came off as a geek from Central Casting and Bill Nye the Science Guy gained the majority of his fans through a children’s show, Tyson has been able to promote science to people of all ages and demographics by sheer force of his personality: Strong, warm, deeply intelligent, and always with a robust sense of humor. That humor is shown off on his podcast StarTalk Radio, a weekly discussion of all things science-related where he is joined by one of two comedian co-hosts, Chuck Nice or Eugene Mirman. Whether devoting an episode to string theory, the existence of God, or Joan Rivers, you will always learn something new in the most engrossing way possible. It’s basically the best science class you never took taught by the best science teacher you wish you had.
Best Female Duo Making the Podcast Rounds – Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair
Kaitlynn: Counting the podcast appearances by Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair is an intimidating task. The duo appeared together on 11 podcasts— all between April and August alone. They included Nerdist, In Bed with Joan, Never Not Funny, and three separate episodes of Comedy Bang Bang. In addition to solo appearances, these women deserve recognition for their podcasting commitment which occured during promo for Playing House (the television show they created, wrote, and starred in together that was recently renewed). As real life best friends, their chemistry makes every conversation a joy to listen to and easily makes me wish I was the third wheel to their friendship. They speak freely about each other’s lives with sincerity, and without trying to be funny they are inherently comedic. Their recent appearance on improv4humans with Matt Besser engages their respective improv backgrounds and gives a glimpse of what it must be like creating, writing and producing their television show. On Comedy Bang Bang they inhabit two of the show’s most popular and entertaining characters— Marissa “Womp-It-Up” Wompler a pyramid-shaped intern who survives on DiGiorno pizzas and her special education teacher/Afghan sniper, Miss Listler. The only male duo with comparable chemistry is Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman of U Talkin’ U2 To Me? Without Parham and St. Clair having their own podcast, fans will have to wait for the new season of Playing House and of course— which podcast they will appear on next.
Most Influential Person To Step Aside – Jeff Ulrich
Marc: Podcasting has matured as a medium and as an industry. One of those who helped to shape what podcasting looks like today from a network-of-podcasts standpoint is Jeff Ulrich, the co-founder and former CEO of Earwolf. Working with Scott Aukerman, he and the host of Comedy Bang Bang figured out a formula for picking comedy podcasts that – collectively – spoke to a wide variety of tastes in comedy. He also kicked off Midroll, an agency designed with podcast advertising in mind, which has served to point the way for how podcasters and advertisers alike should consider the sticky proposition of creating advertising revenue in a medium where listenership and loyalty is not always an easy thing to track. Earlier this year, Ulrich stepped out of both the Earwolf and Midroll big chairs, wishing every one well and deciding what revolution he might be a part of next. On his way out the door, he helped to conceive – as well as gave his blessing to – the brand new Wolfpop network of podcasts.
Most Unexpected Celebrity Appearance and Spin-Off – “Mark Wahlberg” (Daniel Van Kirk)
Kaitlynn: Daniel Van Kirk is the multi-talented co-host of the Sklar brother’s second weekly show, the aptly named Sklarbro Country. What some people may not know is that Van Kirk does a spot-on Mark Wahlberg impression. First appearing on Doug Bensons well-known podcast Doug Loves Movies, he began the game “Doing Lines with Mark” where Van Kirk, as Mark Wahlberg recites a film quote as contestants try to correctly identify the movie. The Marky Mark persona is indemnified as he brashly exerts manly attributes over guests and audience alike. The numerous comments about his brother Donnie’s uselessness and general futility are comedic high points. His popularity instantly grew from initial appearance to welcome regular. He has even become a guest on the show seven times in the last year. There are now three spin-off episodes (debuting on Earwolf) called The Wahlberg Solution where Mark discusses politics and pop culture with other celebrity characters. The attitude and demeanor are so perfectly Mark that podcast fans are unable to tell the real from the impression. I hate to spoil the easily-Googled secret, but must give credit where it is due!
Best Podcast Guest Hosted By a Robot – Call Chelsea Peretti
Leigh: 2014 will no doubt be a year best remembered as the year an increasing number of robots tried their robot-equivalent-of-a-hand at podcasting. That being said, none shined quite as bright as the robot, sometimes known as Bianca Witherspoon, who filled in as host on Call Chelsea Peretti. As if we needed any more proof Chelsea Peretti truly is one of the greats, she didn’t let time away from the Staples Center stop her from posting new episodes while on tour this summer. While there have been plenty of comedians who have recorded episodes from the road, it usually comes at the cost of sound quality with makeshift solutions like recording on phones or the sometimes hard to follow live episodes. However, Call Chelsea Peretti, a show we know already takes advantage of technology in more creative ways than any other podcast, hilariously employed the services of a text-to-speech robot to create new episodes from the road. There are six of these episodes in total, five from this summer and one holiday episode posted recently. While they started just as updates from the road, that robot clearly had a natural knack for podcasting and they quickly evolved to include several different robot characters and even a robot version of the “Coffee Crankin” song. So, in the spirit of the show, and as a tribute to the show’s original robot, the most fitting way to end this is of course with a shoutout to Burbank Podiatry!
Best Podcast to Pull a Vanishing Act – You Had to Be There
Leigh: To be fair, we were warned that future You Had To Be There episodes would be sporadic. But that doesn’t make this loss any easier. In the last episode, recorded ten heart-wrenching months ago, hosts Sara Schaefer and Nikki Glaser announced that after their taken-too-soon-from-this-world TV show Nikki and Sara Live ended, Schaefer was moving to LA and they’d post episodes when they could. And while Schaefer and Glaser have both since started new podcasts separately (Lies and We Know Nothing — both great, both things you should listen to), legions of Hobots and Brobots across this nation still long for those emphatic “heeeeeyyyyyyyyy’s” (sp?) week after week. Do we know if and when there ever will be a new episode? I certainly hope so. Am I being dramatic? Who’s to say. Have I relistened to every single episode, including those mysteriously no longer on iTunes that you can easily find with some light googling? Again, we just don’t know the answer to these things. But what we can assume is that the lack of new episodes probably means they’re too busy making new things for our ears and eyes to love.
Best Female Podcast Host – Lauren Lapkus
Zoe: Lauren Lapkus was such a busy podcast guest that she launched her own With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus podcast. If that doesn’t prove it to you, just search for her name in iTunes, and you’ll get the idea. Fans of Comedy Bang Bang (which I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this list in the first place) probably know her best as Traci Rearden, Burbank’s favorite pierced middle schooler. But it doesn’t stop there; just take a look at her CBB wiki and you’ll see there’s plenty more characters where that came from. If 2015 looks anything like 2014, these characters might just start having podcasts of their own.
Best Tributes – How Was Your Week and WTF with Marc Maron
Elizabeth: The comedy community (and the world) lost two of the greatest performers of all time this year, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. As we dealt with these losses, it helped to hear them during better times. Julie Klausner shared an episode from 2011 featuring Rivers, and Marc Maron posted his interview with Williams from 2010. Both episodes were recorded in the stars’ homes (Rivers’ apartment in New York and Williams’ house in California) and there is a sense that you’re hearing them as they truly were—not their onstage personas—but comfortable and in their own element. These episode were fitting tributes to Rivers and Williams, created by people whose lives they changed. Above all, they showed that podcasts are more than funny things we listen to on subway commutes or at the gym; they are important historical records with impacts that be felt long after the next week’s episode is posted.
Funniest Guests with Most Serious Conversation – Comedy Bang! Bang!: Todd Glass and James Adomian
Zoe: When you think about Comedy Bang Bang, characters, improv, and hijinks (for lack of a less lame word) come to mind, but the serious autobiographical stuff is usually left to the likes of WTF. Episode 290 with Todd Glass and James Adomian, however, is an exception to the rule, and it leads to a really sincere, candid conversation about what it was like for Glass to come out as gay, particularly as a comedian already very established in his career. It’s hard to point out the most poignant moments of the discussion because it’s all very poignant. Glass’s discussion of his emotional state before, during, and after is so heartfelt and thoughtful; it’s also a very important perspective to hear during a time when public figures are being shamed and force-outed for not coming out “soon enough.” As friends and fellow comedians, Adomian and Aukerman are great touchpoints, who offer insight into Glass’s life at the time as well as the comedy landscape in general. This is a really moving listen.
BEST EPISODES OF THE YEAR
You Made it Weird – Harris Wittels
Kaitlynn: The hugely popular You Made it Weird is not the usual go-to podcast where a comedian reveals a big secret — as we all know, WTF with Marc Maron gets top prize. But this year saw Pete Holmes’s show delving further into the deepest areas of his guest’s lives. It is easy to pity Holmes, whose TBS talk show was cancelled this year, but it’s a comfort to know his podcast is gaining new momentum by breaking unexpected waves. Episode #236 with guest Harris Wittels is one of those landmark episodes that makes one reconsider what type of podcast YMIW really is. Harris is a familiar guest on comedy podcasts but speaks to Pete in depth about his very recent drug addiction and recovery. Deep subject matter is lightened by Pete’s frequent (and sometimes unnecessary) interruptions and effort to keep the comedy and positivity. As a comedy writer, Harris knows how to speak without alienation to an audience, and in his retelling of his own personal experiences he speaks with candor and vulnerability about life decisions and recovery. This is one of my favorite episodes of this podcast and is an engaging and inspiring story for any listener.
Hollywood Handbook – Dave Thomas
Pablo: If any podcast needs a video version, it’s Hollywood Handbook. I caught HH‘s live show earlier this year, and the lengths that Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport go to stifle their laughter would give the average person a hernia. But then again, average doesn’t describe these hosts, two showbiz big shots who laugh in the face of North Korean hackers (but cower in the presence of spooky skellingtons). So if you get off on hearing this duo muzzle guffaws, get out your headphones and listen to the episode with Dave Thomas, who instantly latched onto the premise of the show faster than any other guest in the show’s history. The SCTV vet starts by reminiscing about old school Hollywood, when Joel Silver could get the art department to pay for his home renovations and Bob Hope made millions by ridiculing soldiers to their faces. Soon the infamous Lothario is revealing secrets left and right during the Popcorn Gallery, where he finally tells the world why he hasn’t used condoms since his stint on Grace Under Fire. But the episode becomes a classic when Thomas says three simple words to Sean & Hayes: “Speak on that.” Dave Thomas just gets it.
Pauly Shore’s Interested – Andy Dick/Lucas Dick
Pablo: One of the more intriguing new podcasts of the year has been Pauly Shore’s Interested. While the episode quality is very hit-or-miss due to Shore’s lack of interviewing skills, the content is sometimes more mature than what you’d expect from the man-child who taught a divided nation how to weeze the juice. And the show’s two-guest format, where Shore and another comedian give commentary on the main interview, allows for moments you don’t normally encounter in podcasts… like a son listening to his old man reminisce about being tag-teamed by two dudes. But that particular memory from Andy Dick was from a better time in the comic’s life, before his drug and alcohol addiction completely consumed his ability to get work. In fact, this episode was recorded only because Andy, having been kicked out of his friend’s apartment for going on a cocaine and alcohol bender, bumped into Shore at The Comedy Store. While Pauly was unable to let Andy crash at his place, he finds a sympathetic ear in the form of his other guest, Lucas Dick, who knows Andy better than anyone. The young comic gives plenty of insight into what it’s like to be raised by a father plagued with addiction, and he clearly has a lot of love for his troubled pop. But with Andy being arrested yet again shortly after the release of this episode, let’s hope he can defeat his demons before it’s too late.
How Did This Get Made? – Gooby (with Nathan Fielder)
Kaitlynn: What is Gooby? A child’s orange, seven-foot tall teddy bear/monster and also terrible children’s film made. Earwolf’s How Did This Get Made is an icon for those of us who love bad, weird, and confusing movies. Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas watch a movie and then record their conversation about said movie. Gooby is a film I saw a trailer for and thought it was a Funny or Die sketch. As the episode description says, the guest is Nathan Fielder who is a “Canada Expert.” As a Canada Expert myself and fan of Fielder’s genius television show Nathan For You, this episode was a definite favorite. Although Fielder doesn’t speak as much as more extroverted guests do, his insights are so entertaining it barely matters. The group discuss the film’s crazy plot, Eugene Levy’s role, molestation innuendos, and how did this movie literally get made? The combination of a terrible film, enjoyable guest, and comedic conversation equals an exemplary episode this podcast always aims to give.
Getting Doug With High – Eric Andre, Jonah Ray, Harris Wittels, Steve Agee, Rory Scovel
Pablo: Getting Doug With High is a glorious mess. I mean that as the highest compliment. A show where stoner extraordinaire Doug Benson and his hilarious friends get blazed out of their minds should be sloppy and unpredictable. But in recent episodes, Benson has brought up the various suggestions his fans have made to alter the live version of his altered-mind podcast. Some think Doug should sit in the middle, while others advocate for the chairs to be re-arranged in a semi-circle. But in thisGDWH fan’s humble opinion, I think Live Show #1 was the best for an unintentional reason: Two of the five guests became catatonic after smoking, leaving Doug with a more manageable three comedians. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Jonah Ray and Steve Agee come back on a later episode if they feel they could vanquish the anxiety attacks that blanketed them in front of 200 people. But with Agee and Ray staring off into the void, the show resembled the studio incarnation of GDWH with just Doug, laidback smokers Harris Wittels and Rory Scovel, and wild man Eric Andre, who borrowed a pit bull from a friend moments before getting on stage. Altogether, when you factor in the dog, weed dispensary stories galore, and Gabe the Magician’s craziest trick yet, it’s one of the funniest podcasts of the year, especially since you can laugh at Agee and Ray knowing that they were OK the next morning. Make sure to watch the video version on Benson’s YouTube page for the best experience!
Never Not Funny – Sinbad
Steph: Most ’90s kids remember Sinbad from movies like First Kid and Jingle All the Way, but what was clear throughout this best episode is that Sinbad should be known by everyone as a wickedly sharp standup. From the start, Sinbad and host Jimmy Pardo had chemistry difficult for any guests to top. They reminisced about their early days on the road in the 1980s, their writing processes, Sinbad’s loss on Star Search, and how difficult it is for young comics to make it. Pardo even called Sinbad “funny to the bone,” but the episode wasn’t all accolades for Sinbad. Pardo was able to razz the 6’5” comedian about his height and his signature colorful pants. And when Pardo was giving Sinbad a hard time for shamelessly plugging his daughter’s new album, Sinbad said he was a pimp who took lessons from Kim Kardashian’s mom. The pair got serious when talking about British and Canadian comedies. They agreed that they are “just more cutting edge compared to American comedies.” Sinbad also offered advice to people trying new things: “If you suck at something, forget about what you are today, and think about what you want to become.” One of his mottos is just “ride em’ out” and that appears to be what the 58-year-old standup is doing. He tours every weekend and continues to produce specials including his most recent, Make Me Wanna Holler. And while Sinbad may never live down his crazy pant-wearing, kid movie-making days, it doesn’t matter because if this episode proved anything, it’s that the comedian is, as Pardo would say, “funny to the bone” and Sinbad helped make this episode one for the record books.
The Bertcast – Kyle Kinane
Kaitlynn: A conversational podcast is hard to keep entertaining, especially without a firm premise. When two or more people have an undeniable rapport and effortless communication, it makes you feel a part of the discussions. Bert Kreischer and his guest Kyle Kinane sit in his mancave and demonstrate how free-flowing conversing between two comedians should be done. The first thing that may strike you in this episode is how “bit-less” it is. They don’t start into familiar routines or material, or go down a string of tangents losing sight of a story. No, this podcast episode is straight talking. Perhaps it is Bert’s mancave atmosphere that makes it so open and friendly to guests. More likely is two confident and funny men who thoroughly enjoy each other. The topics come naturally as Bert asks questions. Instead they come from active listening (as much as he says he doesn’t listen) and a genuine interest in knowing the answers. How simple and perfect can a conversation be when each person cares what the other one is saying? It seems obvious, but in a world of comedy podcasting the conversations often seem like a competition of who is funnier. Bert and Kyle talking (without trying too hard) is a refreshing breath of fresh comedy air.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
Zoe Schwab is a writer/fraud living in NYC who is somehow up-to-date with ABC Family’s Melissa & Joey.
Elizabeth Stamp is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.
Rob Schoon lives in Brooklyn and writes about tech, media, comedy and culture.
Stephanie Simon is a writer from Boston, MA.