Last year, the podcast experienced not so much a revival as a reconsideration. The success of Serial—a This American Life offshoot that dissected a 1999 murder case—made us all armchair detectives and illustrated how, despite our withering attention spans, we still want to sit down and hear a good story.
The comedy podcast experienced its own refocus in the past few years. The Earwolf network spawned greatness with standouts like Comedy Bang! Bang!, and comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast has transformed the medium into another standup stage—and anchors the plot of his popular IFC show. In December 2014, fans of WFMU’s longtime call-in radio show The Best Show relocated to its new address; this was a big deal for fans, and the transition marked a bigger cultural shift, even as the “pod” in podcasting has become nearly obsolete. There are now podcasts about starting podcasts.
The Best Show is the essentially the best sketch show never on TV.
Shows like The Comedy Button proved crowdfunding can work for podcasts, creating a true community for listeners and creators, circumventing the comedy club. The podcast is another medium for established comedians to riff on jokes and work on material outside of the standup circuit, and there’s an intimate rhythm that can’t be found in scripted TV dialogue. Some of the best sketch comedy is happening on podcasts.
The comedy podcast ocean is vast, but here are a few you should definitely check out.
Over the last decade, this WFMU show created its own universe, as seen in host Tom Scharpling’s recent Adult Swim infomercial. He and cohort Jon Wurster have revamped the art of the prank call, and The Best Show is the essentially the best sketch show never on TV. Last month, that universe reappeared as a podcast, but not much has changed: Scharpling will still hang up on idiot callers, and Wurster still winds him up.
Julie Klausner is part of The Best Show’s supporting cast, but her How Was Your Week? podcast is the full Klausner. In past episodes, she’s been very open about the Hollywood side of comedy writing, and her pop culture explorations of Broadway musicals and serial killers are always eye-opening. In recent episodes, she’s eviscerated author Ann Rule and mistaken Anita Bryant as being dead, and these are just a couple of the reasons we can’t wait for her new show Difficult People, which will air on Hulu next year.
Another This American Life alum did a podcast this year: Alex Blumberg, who went meta with a podcast about starting a podcast business. The show isn’t necessarily supposed to be funny, but this approach to the frustration, elation, and confusion of starting a company plays out almost like theater, and it uses the Serial slowdown to hook you into the narrative. Reply All, StartUp’s sister podcast about the Internet, is also worth a listen.
Comedian and writer Benincasa told us she wanted her podcast to be like “Serial without the murder.” She also explained how the intimacy a podcast creates is a big draw for a lot of listeners. Her interview with Transparent creator Jill Soloway is a good starting point.
Not a sports fan? It doesn’t really matter on Obstructed View, a podcast from Zach Neumeyer, Matt Fisher, and Caitlin Bitzegaio. Their O.J. Simpson “If I Did It” episode is gold, Jerry.
This isn’t really a comedy podcast, but Ellis does have a sense of humor (see his takedown of “Generation Wuss,” for instance). The Less Than Zero and American Psycho author has become a polarizing figure on Twitter, but the podcast really lets his ego run free. His interview with Kanye West and the two-part Marilyn Manson chat are good starting points.
Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Scott Aukerman and Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott devoted an entire show to being human U2 encyclopedias and offer a different view on the band’s poorly received Songs of Innocence. The two also talk about non-U2-based music, and the conversation often yields some genuinely enlightening moments. Never forget: Comedy Bang! Bang! is also responsible for the now-classic Pepper Men sketch.
Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi are your new favorite “feminnasty” and “homosensual,” respectively. The two address issues relevant to women, gender, sexism, and the LGBT community, but they also take it to Raunchtown. Being able to watch Gibson and Safi crack each other up as they record live is the cherry on top.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Daily Dot on Jan. 3, 2015.
Illustration by Max Fleishman