Comedians once had a clear-cut path to success. They would hit the touring circuit, build up their buzz, make a few appearances on late night talk shows and—God willing—land a sitcom of their own. But with the dawn of the Internet, comedians have found new and exciting ways of selling themselves and their brands—from crafting popular Twitter personas (e.g. Rob Delaney) to producing their own web videos or shows (e.g. The Lonely Island crew).
One of the biggest trends in recent years is the podcast. Coined by The Guardian’s Ben Hammersley in a 2004 article, the podcast acted as a sort of downloadable digital radio show. Popularized by the likes of The Office star Ricky Gervais, the podcast provided comedians, performers and academics alike the chance to get their thoughts and personalities out in the open air and in front of a (potentially) international audience.
Today, everyone and their mother seem to have their own podcast, but as with anything, the great ones will always rise to the top. The following list highlights some of the best comedy podcasts of 2013. If you’re still a podcast virgin and happen to have a long trip ahead of you (it’s Christmastime after all), be sure to download a few and see what all the fuss is about.
Hosts: Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette
One of the oldest shows on this list (its first episode aired back in 2006), Uhh Yeah Dude is like an artifact of a bygone era of podcasting (in the best possible way). While the two hosts certainly have a hand in the entertainment industry (Romatelli is an actor with a few credits to his name while Jonathan Larroquette is none other than actor John Larroquette ‘s progeny), they don’t rely on special guests to zest up the proceedings. Rather, they get by on the sheer force of their personalities and their dynamite chemistry. Each episode sees the two hoping from topic to topic. It can be at times chaotic, dark or juvenile, but never fails to be funny.
Episode to Check Out: “Episode 371”
Hosts: Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi
Throwing Shade hosts Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi first met while performing together at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. Gibson, a comedian and actress who thrives on skewing the traditional stereotypes of women in comedy, found a natural banter partner with Safi, a gay writer and performer whose projects highlight and celebrate the gay community. Throwing Shade explores current cultural and political issues from both a feminist and gay perspective. All the while, Gibson and Safi crack provocative, extremely politically incorrect jokes that help bring a bit of levity to the conversations.
Episode to Check Out: ”Happy Thanksgivukkah, Curvy Girl Lingerie, Best Gay Advice, Oprah” (#112)
Hosts: John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman
When John Oliver moved to New York in 2007 to join The Daily Show, he decided to take a bit of his old British life with him—namely, his fruitful partnership with fellow comedian Andy Zaltzman. Back in wee old England, the two saw success with comedy-themed radio shows such as The Department and Political Animal. The Bugle represents the their attempt to replicate the magic in podcast form. In that regard, mission accomplished. Any fans of Oliver’s work on The Daily Show will find themselves quickly warming up to the program, which finds Oliver and Zaltzman discussing the latest in political news (with an emphasis on stories from the United States and United Kingdom, of course). The show’s brand of deadpan satire as well as Oliver and Zaltzman’s inherent dexterity with puns makes this a howling good time for comedy fans and news junkies alike.
Episode to Check Out: “The President is Not A Gremlin (#206)”
Hosts: Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland
At a certain point, it feels as though all entertainment-based podcasts have the same general description: a couple of comedians/actors get together to discuss what’s going on in pop culture. With so many options on the table, having great memorable hosts become all the more essential. On paper, Pop My Culture does not sound all too dissimilar from countless other podcasts; as such, it’s the rich chemistry between Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland that makes you want to tune in to each installment. Both Stratton and Ragland have backgrounds in improv, which lends their conversations a real sense of spark and spontaneity. While the podcast veers towards pop culture nerds, one senses that the two could talk about virtually any other topic and be equally as engaging.
Episode to Check Out: “Stephen Tobolowsky” (#105)
Hosts: Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman
As much as I like Kevin Smith (and I really do), I’ve learned there’s a limit to how much of his profane-ridden ramblings I can listen to before I reach a breaking point. With his encyclopedic knowledge of nerd culture and jovial, self-deprecating demeanor, Smith has his charms. Between his seemingly dozens of podcasts and multiple speaking engagements, however, one gets the sense that Smith is best in smaller, concise doses. Then, just when I think I’ve had enough, I keep coming back to Hollywood Babble-On, his recurring show with famed radio personality and fellow geek Ralph Garman. Their partnership works precisely because Garman has just as big a personality as Smith and can hold his own against the Big Man with an endless stream of hilarious quips and impersonations. Per its title, Hollywood Babble-On finds Smith and Garman recounting the week’s film and TV news while also regaling their live audience with juicy behind-the-scenes, insider Hollywood stories, whether its Smith describing his awkward encounters with various Hollywood celebrities or the difficult situation that soured the two’s relationship with former business partner Jon Lovitz.
Episode to Check Out: “Episode 126”
Hosts: Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack
For the film-and-music nerd who gets a kick out of analyzing the latest (and, in some cases, bizarre) trends in the industry, Who Charted? is a nice way to learn about what’s happening in the world while also getting a good laugh in the process. Each week, Howard “WieWie” Kremer & Kulap “KuKu” Vilaysack dissect their top five lists in relation to film and music, with a special guest also offering up their two cents. It’s a simple structure, but one that never fails to leave a smile on your face.
Episode to Check Out: “Surfing Rainbows: Steve-O” (#114)
Host: Doug Benson
Doug Benson can be hit-or-miss with audiences. While some find his stoner persona and lethargic comedic stylings to be endearing, others find it to be either a bore or only funny if you happen to be smoking the same stuff he is. Whatever your feelings, it’s hard to find too much at fault with his highly popular podcast, which offers up a distinguished panel of guests (Freaks and Geeks’s Samm Levine, Sarah Silverman and Paul F. Tompkins are frequent guests) who could make reading the phone book sound like a grand old time. Together, Benson and his guests shoot the breeze and talk about all things movies. Most famously, the podcast helped popularize “The Leonard Maltin Game” whereby Benson offers a brief description of a movie from Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and the guests have to guess what the movie is based on the actors involved.
Episode to Check Out: “Paul F. Tompkins, Chris Hardwick and “Werner Herzog”
Host: Janet Varney
While it’s certainly not my intention, the majority of podcasts on this list are spearheaded primarily by men. For those seeking a bit of an alternative, The JV Club is an excellent choice. Each week, Janet Varney, an actress best known for her work as the titular character in Legend of Korra, sits down with some of her friends and discuss that endless well of comedy that is adolescence. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, JV Club is an endlessly listenable show with tons of entertaining and relatable stories as well as valuable insight for anyway still going through the minefield that is being a teenager.
Episode to Check Out: “Jane Espenson” (#76)
Host: Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony
Walking the Room works almost as The Wire of comedy podcasts. No, it does not have the same depth or sprawling epic nature of that seminal HBO show. Rather, its ambition lies in how each episode builds on the one before it, with stories or anecdotes that stretch or evolve across multiple episodes. The show has even developed its own vernacular that necessitates the use of a glossary for new listeners. Luckily, unlike The Wire, it’s still possible to jump into the podcast now and still appreciate the comedy at hand. Recorded in co-host Greg Behrendt’s closet (it had better sound quality than the bedroom), Walking the Room presents an ideal example for how brilliant comedy and innovation can emerge from the most low-key of set-ups.
Episode to Check Out: “Dorse and Speedy Meats” (#139)
Hosts: Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap
For close to seven years, podcast pioneers Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap have entertained audiences with their ability to transform any topic into a free-form discussion that’s nothing short of comedy gold. Though Never Not Funny has seen many ups and downs over the year—including the departure of initial co-host Mike Schmidt due to creative differences as well as the death of Pardo’s brother-in-law/show videographer Andrew Koenig—Pardo and Belknap can always be counted on to keep to a high standard. The one disadvantage is that, unlike most podcasts, you are required to pay a subscription fee in order to hear full episodes. Given that we live in an age of extreme entitlement, such a prospect would no doubt cause certain uninitiated listeners to disregard the show completely. To this I say— rest assured, this is one podcast that more than deserves your hard-earned money.
Episode to Check Out: “Taking the Bus with Danielle Koenig” (#1308)