It’s a complicated time for the comedy community, as it is for the entertainment industry at large. Old guards are collapsing as fans are looking more and more to fresher voices with a better grasp on the current moment. You know: let the past die! You know: kill it if you have to! Even in the relatively young medium of podcasting, this has proven to be true. In general, the best podcasts of the year counted themselves among the stellar debuts and young shows ascending in status. Here are ten of the best.
Not many podcasts can sustain such a unusual concept for as long as My Dad Wrote a Porno has. For three seasons, Jamie Morton has read a new chapter from the series of erotic novels his father has actually written, with cringe-inducing results too graphically horrible to get into here. The podcast’s surprising longevity is in-part thanks to how Morton and co-hosts James Cooper and Alice Levine has capitalized on the show’s celebrity fanbase, resulting in equally entertaining “Footnote” episodes with the likes of Nicholas Hoult and Mara Wilson.
The only podcast to make this list despite only airing one episode this year, J.D. Amato and Connor Ratliff’s 12 Hour Day continues to be the only podcasting experience of its kind. It’s the rare show that is so goddamn long, mistakes truly don’t happen. If the hosts get bored, or off-track or actively aren’t enjoying hosting their own show—that only fuels the next few hours of discussion or meditative silence moving forward. Reoccurring technical difficulties only lead to increasingly creative workarounds. Still, it was satisfying to see the hosts take a simple approach to their first episode in seven months, retreating to an apartment for twelve long hours like an endless, existential, hopeful ‘80s sitcom.
We lost a great podcast on its own terms this year, as Anthony King and Will Hines decided to quit Don’t Get Me Started—in which they invite writers, actors and comedians to share their obsessions outside comedy—while they were ahead. Still, they made their last year count, with a genuinely moving goodbye episode, an insightful rule-breaking episode with Matt Walsh on improv, and an immediately iconic podcasting moment when Search Party’s Charles Rodgers revealed he was the creator of the fictional Brooklyn Podcasting Festival and had sent them the invite to a panel on “Comedy and Race” that had been stressing them out during his episode on brilliant long-form pranking.
I still haven’t started watching any of the reputable entries in the Real Housewives series, but that hasn’t prevented my enjoyment of Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider’s Bitch Sesh an extreme and dedicated bit of fandom that far outruns its own nominal “recap” status. Wilson and Schneider’s real coup is in using Real Housewives as jumping-off points to their own thorough discussion of their own relationships with others, making Bitch Sesh essential listening in an age when we’re increasingly using what we watch to define who we are.
Here are two comedy film podcasts that both adopt specific parameters for what they cover and then cover it in extreme detail both had fantastic runs this year. Blank Check—hosted by The Tick’s Griffin Newman and The Atlantic’s David Sims—settled into a real groove in covering the filmography of directors with enough early success to make whatever they want for the rest of their careers, while still boasting the best secret sauce in podcasting thanks to their everyman producer Ben. Meanwhile, James III, Jerah Milligan and Jonathan Braylock’s Black Men Can’t Jump In Hollywood did more sterling work discussing films with leading actors of color in a year flush with Hollywood controversy on all fronts. If you’re a fan of both shows, you were also treated to a delightful crossover adventure as all six hosts got together to discuss Katheryn Bigelow’s incredibly problematic Detroit.
Transplanting their razor-sharp satire from one medium to another as effectively as The Onion and Clickhole before it, Reductress’s relatively new podcast Mouth Time also burst onto the scene without any of the usual growing pains for a show of its kind. Hosted by women’s magazine editors Quenn (Nicole Silverberg) and Dikota (Rachel Wenitsky) in a feat of sustained character work that would make any self-respecting Comedy Bang! Bang! guest blush, Mouth Time still manages to cover absurd topics like “would Lorde think you’re cool?” with a significant love and attention to detail. Stick around for the best episode titles in recent memory (“Beware the Ides of Merch!”).
Does a bottomless well of contempt for its own concept prevent a podcast from succeeding? “No!” posits Hollywood Handbook, Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport’s guide to becoming real Hollywood A-listers like them. An increasingly aggressive satire of Hollywood’s self-serving instincts (every guest is given the title “Our Close Friend”), Hollywood Handbook’s smarmy backstage pass attitude succeeds so thoroughly thanks to Clements and Davenport’s unparalleled commitment and a rotating door of game guests. Plus, it’s never too late to join the rabid cult of fans this show commands.
Lauren Lapkus’s growing fame can only be a good thing. Unless it gets in the way of With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, a singular character podcast that casts Lapkus as the different guest of a new show each week. This premise would fall apart in a matter of episodes if the “host” was anyone less generative and talented than Lapkus, but she not only matches the ambition of the show’s core concept, she blows it out of the water. This year saw Lapkus finding new ways to flex the show and capitalize on its strengths, especially in the Handmaid’s Tale episode “Republic of Gilead Radio.”
It was a mixed year for podcast-to-television adaptations, with the Seeso situation putting the futures of the small screen versions of Harmonquest and My Brother, My Brother and Me in flux, while the adaptation of Throwing Shade debuted confidently on TV Land. But the real test of this new format will come next year, when the hugely popular 2 Dope Queens makes its way to HBO. Has Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams’s momentum slowed on the podcasting front? Not at all. Their second year improved on everything that made their first great, while the time given to up-and-coming female comics and comics of color cements 2 Dope Queens’s essential status in the cultural landscape beyond just comedy podcast or podcasts in general. There is no other work of art currently produced that is doing more to bring the future of its medium to you today.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.