10. The Flop House
Hosts: Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington
There is no shortage of bad movie podcasts on the market. The Flop House stands above its peers mainly due to the power trio that are its hosts. Prone to tangents, the three will often riff on a joke until they end up coming up with an absurd idea that feels infinitely more inspired than the films they’re reviewing. Also, unlike other similarly themed podcasts, the three hosts display a deep knowledge of film beyond the schlock that they wallow in for the sake of our entertainment. As such, every episode ends with each offering up a better alternative to the creative bankruptcy they just watched. This way, you get an hour of great entertainment, plus a chance to lord some newfound film knowledge over your friends.
Episode to Check Out: “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (#139)
and Jeff Davis
Let’s get one things straight—Dan Harmon is, by all intents and purposes, a creative genius; however, like most people of this ilk, he’s also kind of a crazy person. The premise of Harmontown is as simple as you can get: Harmon gets in front of a live audience at the Nerdmelt Theater in Hollywood and talks about whatever topic happens to pop into his head. It can be about the creative process, alcohol, sexual politics, or a movie that he just saw and really wants to talk about (one of the first episodes has him delving into Inception). Often, Harmon will bounce ideas off of fellow co-host Jeff Davis and their rapport will lead into surreal, yet brilliant tangents. Sometimes distinguished guests like Patton Oswalt, Eric Idle or Arrested Development’s Mitch Hurwitz will even stop in for a visit.
In the wake of the drama surrounding his much publicized dismissal from Community, Harmon truly established a cult of personality via his Harmontown shows. Rarely do you get a show that offers informative, occasional profound insight into the craft of storytelling alongside crass freestyle raps and countless poop jokes. But that’s Dan Harmon for you.
Episode to Check Out: “Jim Belushi’s Basement” (#82)
8. Judge John Hodgman
Host: John Hodgman
Judge John Hodgman began life as a segment on the Jordan, Jesse Go! podcast. Now, having been expanded into its own full-length podcast, the program provides an excellent outlet for Hodgman’s brand of cerebral humor. Still known in some circles as the “PC guy” from those ubiquitous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials from years back, Hodgman—between his work on The Daily Show as well as his numerous books and excellent stand up special John Hodgman: Ragnarok—has carved out a great niche for himself as the thinking man’s stand-up comic. Judge John Hodgman takes on the format of a courtroom, with Hodgman—per the title—acting as judge while radio personality Jesse Thorn serves as bailiff. Each episode brings in real-life people with real-world disputes. It’s then up Hodgman to hear both sides of the (usually quite trivial) argument and make his verdict. One week the case can be over the ethics of sharing a DVR, the next can be how best to respond in a tornado warning. No case is too small or menial for Hodgman nor is there anything he can’t milk for maximum humor.
Episode to Check Out: “The Right to Remain Silent” (#134)
7. You Made it Weird
may have his own show now, but such a thing would never have been possible were it not for the burst in popularity this podcast provided. While he uses a format similar to Marc Maron’s famed WTF program (he frequently jokes about stealing Maron’s idea), Holmes nevertheless displays a more light-hearted, energetic interviewing personality than Maron’s darker, more morose persona. This infectious enthusiasm certainly brings out the best in his guests, whether they’re open books like Aziz Ansari or naturally guarded like Dane Cook. That said, don’t think Holmes avoids tough topics. During the Jon Hamm episode earlier this year, Holmes got the Mad Men actor to open up about losing both his parents at a young age. Likewise, in the course of his almost uncomfortably candid interview with mentor Chris Gethard, the host discovers that Gethard had lost the chance at having his own TV show when Holmes’ own show was picked up. While several episodes can run a bit long, Holmes comes from the position that there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Looking at the quality of his show, the proof’s definitely in the pudding.
Episode to Check Out: “Chris Gethard” (#173)
6. The Thrilling Adventure Hour
The premise of The Thrilling Adventure Hour pretty much sells itself. Presented by writers Ben Blacker (who also hosts the incredible Nerdist Writers Panel) and Ben Acker, The Thrilling Adventure Hour takes on the format of old-fashioned radio serials. Each episode, Blacker and Acker gather together a trope of actors (including Paul F. Tompkins, Paget Brewster, Marc Evan Jackson and Busy Phillips) to act out the various segments with accompanying sound effects. Popular shows include “Beyond Belief,” in which Tompkins and Brewster play ghost-hunting, high-class socialites, or “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars,” where Marc Evan Jackson portrays the titular character of a space western set on Mars. Frequently, the show will wrangle in great guest stars such as Neil Patrick Harris, Patton Oswalt, Nathan Fillion, Ed Helms, Chris Hardwick or Joseph Gordon-Levitt (among many, many others).
Episode to Check Out: “Beyond Belief, The Devil You Know” (#116)
5. How Did This Get Made?
Hosts: Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, Jason Mantzoukas
In the realm of bad movie podcasts, How Did This Get Made? stands as a giant among men. The basic gist of the show centers on the three hosts attempting to sort through the plot line of a specific bad movie, whether it’s a straight up stinker (Howard the Duck), a fun bad movie (the last two Fast and Furious installments) or just a baffling mess (the morbid 1991 comedy Nothing But Trouble). From the very start, the show has firmly established the roles that each of the hosts play. Scheer is the more levelheaded straight man, Raphael is the more compassionate, empathetic one while Mantzoukas is the loose cannon joke machine who blurts out whatever’s on his mind, regardless of how offensive it may be. Together, along with guests that range from The League’s Nick Kroll to Lost creator Damon Lindelof to comic-book maestro Ed Brubaker, the How Did This Get Made? crew proves there is indeed a silver lining to even the worst of movies. If nothing else, you can get a nice laugh out of them.
Episode You Should Check Out: “Howard the Duck” (#65)
4. By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin
Host: Jeff Garlin
Although recently known for his role as Larry David’s long-suffering manager on Curb Your Enthusiasm and the grumpy patriarch in The Goldbergs, actor Jeff Garlin has been in the business a long time. In the process, he’s amassed a vast network of famous friends and acquaintances that have served him well in putting together his own show. Recorded live at Largo in Los Angeles, By the Way… sees Garlin eschewing the traditional interview model in favor of engaging in a casual conversation with his guests. The results are alternatingly hilarious, insightful and inspiring. Just as with the best podcast hosts, Garlin excels at giving the audience a glimpse at the person behind the celebrity. Though less than a year old at this point, By the Way’s list of guests is astounding, from comedians (Larry David, Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler) to musicians (Colin Hay, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy) to today’s creative visionaries (J.J. Abrams, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan).
Episode to Check Out: “Vince Gilligan” (#16)
3. Comedy Bang! Bang!
Comedy Bang! Bang! launched in 2009 as Comedy Death Ray Radio. But while the name might have changed, the quality has remained the same. Like the best comedy podcasts, Comedy Bang! Bang! understands that sometimes all you need to do is place a bunch of funny people in a room together and, by the sheer force of one-upmanship, something great will inevitably emerge. Just to assist the process, however, the latter half of the show will feature colorful, albeit nonsensical, games—“Would You Rather?” and “Freestyle Rap Battle” to list a few— that never cease to give the last third of the show a killer conclusion.
Episode to Check Out: “Marissa Wompler’s Birthday Pool Party LIVE: Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham, Jason Mantzoukas, Brian Huskey, Melissa Rauch” (#238)
2. The Nerdist
Host Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, Jonah Ray
When the most negative thing you can say about a podcast is that occasionally the hosts sound like they’re having too much fun, you know you have something good on your hands. Positioned as an interview show centered around all things nerdy, The Nerdist long ago expanded its parameters by bringing in guests that, while not typical of the nerd stereotype, certainly made for essential listening (see this year’s Oliver Stone episode for proof). Even then, however, Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and Matt Mira certainly take great delight in exposing the nerdier sides of their famous guests, as in the episode where Thomas F. Wilson—best known for playing lumbering bully Biff in the Back to the Future series—revealed that he was the ultimate math and science geek in his high-school days.
Despite the typical jovial, high-energy tone of the podcasts, Hardwick and Co. do not deter from more serious matters when they present themselves. Case in point: one of the show’s most engaging episodes came earlier this year when Community actress Yvette Nicole Brown joined the boys on the podcast and proceeded to initiate a fascinating dialogue about faith and religion (Brown is a devoted Christian while the other hosts could, at best, be described as “skeptics”). In a world where nerd culture has now began to dominate the mainstream, Hardwick, Ray and Mira act as nerdom’s ideal, irreverent ambassadors.
Episode to Check Out: “Yvette Nicole Brown” (#317)
1. WTF with Marc Maron
Host: Marc Maron
Back in September of 2009, comedian Marc Maron saw the writing on the wall and decided to start his own podcast. As a former contributor to the liberal radio network Air America, he certainly had experience voicing his feelings and concerns in a public forum. Whereas his radio work was directed outward, however, WTF emphasizes the internal. Maron emerged into the podcasting world as a man with great baggage—drugs, broken relationships and marriages, career detours—as well as numerous bridges that he had burned in his darker years. WTF served not only as a way for Maron to talk openly with fellow comedians and share experiences but also to help reconnect with the colleagues and friends he’d lost touch with over the years. After more than four years and hundreds of hours of conversations, listeners can’t be blamed for thinking they know the man on an intimate level.
2013 has been a complicated year for the bespectacled host. After more than a decade of being a comedian’s comedian, he finally received his own titular show on IFC. What’s more, this year his podcast has attracted everyone from Mel Brooks to Rob Schneider to Iggy Pop (one of Maron’s dream interviews). Then, a few months ago, a heartbroken Maron announced to his listeners that he had ended his engagement with his long-time girlfriend. Despite this difficult setback, Maron soldiers on, never losing his edge, his honest insight or, most importantly, his sense of humor. Between the extended stream-of-consciousness monologues that occupy the first third of the episode and the in-depth conversations that constitutes the rest, WTF with Marc Maron not only makes for a great source of laughter but also encourages listeners to actively examine their own lives just as Maron does his own. It’s constructive talk therapy masquerading as a hilarious comedy program and listeners certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Episode to Check out: Carl Reiner (#359)