This Week in Comedy Podcasts: Rob Kutner’s ‘Runaway Brains’
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.
Runaway Brains – Final Jeopardy
Marc: I know what you’re saying to yourself: “Self, now that podcasts have been a thing for more than a decade, isn’t it time that Jeopardy phenom Ken Jennings have his own show?” Get ready, Self. Kicking off this week is Runaway Brains, a comedy mini-series of a podcast dreamed up (as well as written and produced exclusively for Howl.fm) by Rob Kutner, a top-flight comedy writer from Conan, The Daily Show, and more. The aforementioned Jennings has been tapped to star as…himself. Or, more accurately, a version of himself who is forced to team up with a supercomputer named Watson, voiced by Weird Al Yankovic. As this opening episode kicks off the mini-series, Jennings and Watson are pitted against each other on Jeopardy, only to find themselves reluctant allies on the run when it’s discovered that the limbless robot (who must be carried in Jennings’ giant nerd backpack) is suspected of harboring nefarious secrets in his onboard hard drive. Being chased by government agencies and others, the duo is determined to elude capture, while trying to find someone canny enough to dredge the illicit intellectual cargo out of Watson’s database. Creator Kutner promises that there are guest voices onboard through the run of the series, including folks like Michael Ian Black, David Koechner, Mayim Balik, and more. But the real treat is the interplay between Jennings and Yankovic. Oh, hell, let’s be honest — this is Ken Jennings like you’ve never heard him before! (Even though this mini-series is featured on subscription only Howl.fm, you can catch the first episode as an Earwolf Presents installment for free!) [iTunes]
Judge John Hodgman – Grand Theft Risotto
Kathryn: As usual, food-centric cases make for the most enjoyable episodes of Judge John Hodgman – the judge and former food writer gets to discuss the best way to cook apex predators (again) and call on famous food industry friends. Of course, his good friend Alton Brown does not appear, as like the President and Vice President or the two guys who know the Coke recipe, Hodgman and Brown should never be in the same location lest a tragic event eliminates all the world’s knowledge. This week, to settle a case against a recipe pilfering mother-in-law, Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab, serves as one of the most helpful expert witnesses in recent memory and finds several dramatic cruxes in the case simply by googling recipes during the episode. In the best JJH installments, the litigants make a concise argument and don’t pull any punches, which is why older litigants are often the best ones. Why should they care what a podcast is or who is listening? In this case a series of Shyamalan-level twists and turns take us from a serious exploration of cookbook copyright law to a son who once placed his mother butt-first into a garbage can, to a serious exploration of the definition of a “prank” and even more butts in garbage cans. The whole system is on trial. [iTunes]
High and Mighty – Commando w/Ben Rodgers & Ryan Stanger
Mark: Long before Keanu Reeves was dodging bullets in a colonial dresscoat, there was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic John Matrix in the 1985 cinematic masterpiece, Commando. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the film (but if not, shame on you), Jon Gabrus and fellow “Lawn Guylanders” Ben Rodgers (Workaholics) and Ryan Stanger (UCB) are kind enough to cover each scene in painstaking detail – this week’s episode is only ten minutes shorter than Commando itself. This discussion acts as a comedic origin story of sorts for Gabrus and his pals. Their careful description of each close-up of Arnold’s rippling muscles elicits a gleeful enthusiasm that could have only been cultivated in a Nassau County basement. This isn’t the first 80’s action classic profiled on High and Mighty, but the hypermasculinity glorified in the genre informs a huge part of Gabrus’ comedic voice- just listen to five minutes of his Geno Lombardo on Comedy Bang Bang and you’ll understand. The three are instantly surprised at how different some of their views are today from when they first saw the film, when they didn’t care about things like gun violence, conservative “values”, or plot. Here’s to hoping Gabrus succeeds in his quest to “Chris Pratt himself” and one day star in Commando 2. [iTunes]
WTF with Marc Maron – Ali Wong
Sam: Marc has comedian and ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat writer Ali Wong in the garage to talk about her new Netflix special Baby Cobra and to discuss what it’s like to be a female comedian with a newborn baby. I will say this now, Ali holds nothing back in this interview. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. If you cannot handle hearing about the rawness of motherhood — from bloody nipples to broken pussies to the constant unending pumping of breast milk — then this episode might not be for you. But if you can handle the truth then please listen and enjoy Wong’s honesty, emotion, and fearlessness to record her special seven months pregnant. Marc makes sure we get to hear his favorite parts of Ali’s special, such as the satisfaction of sticking her fingers up a straight man’s butthole, her experiences with psychedelic drugs, and the real joys of being a housewife. Its great to hear a comedian who is a legitimate fan of another comedian. As Marc so eloquently puts it, “Ali is the real deal.” Go and watch her Netflix special Baby Cobra right now! [iTunes]
Gatekeeper – Jensen Karp
Pablo: Jamie Flam’s Gatekeeper is a podcast that asks decision-makers in comedy their reasons for saying yes and no. With that premise, there’s no better guest than Jensen Karp, whose pop culture gatekeeping podcast Get Up On This focuses on his and his guests’ current obsessions. It’s impossible to pin down Karp; he hosts podcasts and comedy shows, runs a successful art gallery, and writes for everything from award shows to sitcoms to the WWE. But the episode focuses on his short-lived major label rap career and the important lessons it taught him in how to function as a professional fill-in-the-blank. Karp was plucked straight outta USC and given a $1 million contract by Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine, an odd move given that the post-shiny suit, ultra hedonistic early 2000s era of hip hop were easily the worst time for a Jewish rapper from The Valley rapping about his real life. While his debut album was shelved due to intra-label conflicts, he quickly learned when to say yes and when to say no. Yes: When he feels strongly about a business or creative project, like Gallery 1988 or his latest venture, an online pin store. No: When Mack 10 walks into your mom’s house with $50,000 in a briefcase. [iTunes]
Tuesdays with Stories – Three Swipe Bumble
Leigh: I’m embarrassingly late to the game here. I’ve only just started listening to Tuesdays With Stories hosted by Joe List and Mark Normand, but it only took about five minutes of listening to get me on board. If you’ve heard their standup before you know they’re great individually, but together? Oh boy are these guys fun to listen to. This week there are stories from Normand’s weekend opening for Amy Schumer and List doing “one of the all time hell gigs.” They’ve got such an infectious style of banter that it’s hard not to try and get in on it. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself trying to say things like “humdinger” and “oooh baby” after listening. I don’t know if banter envy is a thing, but I’ve got it. [iTunes]
Chewin’ It – The NORAD Tour
Elizabeth: If Kevin and Steve don’t do a War Games re-boot or write a military comedy set at NORAD, then this episode of Chewin’ It will be a waste. The guys and fellow comedian Eric Levy go over the worst case scenarios as they head from Denver to the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, better known as NORAD or the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Major William Russell and Major Kevin Lombardo take them inside the facility’s blast doors, where they learn about the presence of Canadians, the false alarm in the 1970s that inspired War Games, and tracking Santa (they can neither confirm or deny his existence). Russell and Lombardo also tell them about bear fights and pitch some ideas for Super Troopers 3. They make it back out without accidentally pressing any important buttons or blowing anything up which is really all you can ask for in a podcast. [iTunes]
2 Dope Queens – Shequoia
UCB Long-Form Conversations – Frank Garcia-Hejl/Natasha Vaynblat
Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People – 4 Kids 0 Sex
Stop Podcasting Yourself – Gabe Liedman
Scriptnotes Podcast – How to Introduce Characters
We Got This – Calling Or Texting with Paul F. Tompkins
The Todd Barry Podcast – Jim Tews
Hound Tall with Moshe Kasher – History of Baseball
Human Conversations – Herschel Moskowitz
Who Charted – CheeseDrake Factory
Got a podcast recommendation? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Stamp is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Pablo Goldstein is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.
Mark Kramer is a writer, comedian & human boy from Staten Island, New York, but please don’t hold that against him.
Kathryn Doyle is a science writer from New York.
Sam Jae is a writer and comedian based in LA.