DIY internet audio-broadcasting (sometimes called podcasting) has put the means of comedic production in the hands of the comedians. With no bosses, no corporate networks, no slimy producers, no viewers (only listeners!), and generally no profit motive, comedy has broken free of previous restraints to an unprecedented degree: as the world crumbles, funny minds and tongues run free (especially in Los Angeles, it seems).
Broke and with too much time on my hands in this the year of our Dark Lord 2011, I’ve had ample occasion to Occupy the 21st-Century Hilarity as I walked the streets or lay sleepless in bed, and here is my countdown of the six best comedy podcasts on earth right now (assuming of course the lingua franca of advanced capitalism, English).
Now 196 episodes strong, SPY was an early entry to the genre. The Vancouver-based podcast hosted by comedians Graham Clark and Dave Shumka remains the giggliest and least pretentious professional show going. Mostly unstructured, usually featuring young,
starving rising Canadian comedians as guests, and recorded over beers in Shumka’s East Van apartment, SPY has developed a loyal North America-wide audience — with voices from across the continent calling in every week for the popular “Overheards” segment. The conversations on SPY move quickly and laterally, riffing on popular culture, public transit, and… public transit (suggested entry point: any of the episodes with SPY-favorite Charlie Demers). The official podcast of underemployed millennials.
Among the best known improvisers in the world thanks to the TV series Whose Line is it Anyway?, Greg Proops is a bon vivant, raconteur, autodidact, wordsmith, marijuana enthusiast, and dazzling monologist. This show is all Proops. Recorded in front of live audiences, in LA or on tour, there’s no room for guests in Prooptopia, though audience questions are entertained. Digressive, tangential, and opinionated as fuck (Proops is an inveterate lefty) His Proopness offers a master class in holding court with a nasally effeminate voice, each episode. The official podcast of Lord Henry “Harry” Wotton’s parlor and/or Satchel Paige.
4. THE LONG SHOT PODCAST
Like many, I came to the LSP as a fan of manic middle-aged ranter Eddie Pepitone. But Pepitone is just one of four hosts here, and this show is all about interpersonal riffing and rubbing, like a little community. Sean Conroy is the bass note and even keel, quick to call others out on their BS; Amber Kenney is bright, young, and giggly, the soprano; and Jamie Flam…. well, he’s 34 and lives with his parents. We’ll call him alto (Pepitone is somewhere off the chart). Shifting analogies, if these four were a Venn diagram of personalities there would be almost no overlap, just four spheres united by comedy and “the general terrors of everyday life,” as they aptly put it. The Long Shot didn’t grab me immediately, but I’m now hooked on its raw honesty and dialogic humor (there’s also A-list guests like Patton Oswalt and Jimmy Pardo). The official podcast of
The Immacula false starts and train wrecks.
3. COMEDY BANG BANG (formerly COMEDY DEATH-RAY RADIO)
Host Scott Aukerman (writer on Mr. Show and co-creator of those billion-viewer Between Two Ferns videos) draws on an exhaustive A-list of alternative comics (see: LA’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater) to produce a consistently twisted and funny weekly podcast showcasing the best voice characters and skewed impersonators of our era (thanks to Paul F Tompkins, James Adomian, Nick Kroll, Thomas Lennon, Sarah Silverman, Seth Morris, et al). Name a brilliant alternative comic, and he or she’s been on the show and is likely a regular guest. In addition to interviews and genius-caliber improvised “radio” sketches, the show subjects its guests to absurdist games such as “Would You Rather” and “What am I Thinking.” Comedy Bang Bang is the flagship podcast of the Earwolf empire, and home to my favorite comedy character ever, Little Gary.
Paul F Tompkins is the humble, uncrowned king of comedy podcasting. If his dexterous and looney impressions of Ice-T, director Gary Marshall, John C. Reilly, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Danny Glover, Werner Herzog, and New Jersey’s Cake Boss on Comedy Bang Bang weren’t enough, he’s also the best guest just-as-himself on everyone else’s goddamn podcast (appearing several times on the aforementioned SPY, incidentally). And: he has his own monthly podcast that is so good it’s like Comedy Christmas each time an episode — or intermediary extrasode — drops. The Pod F Tompkast makes full use of the audio medium, with live piano accompaniment for the whimsical opening monologues, a serial radio drama peopled by Tompkins’ unlikely cast of impressions, live sketches recorded at Tompkins’ monthly cabaret in LA, and phone conversations with friend and comedian Jen Kirkman. Uniquely uncynical and original in his vision and execution, is it too much to say that Tompkins is to the age of digital audio what Chaplin was to the age of silent film? Who knows?! Maybe you hate the Pod F Tompkast and it’s not for you! (O haters, why must you hate, when the comedy is fresh and new?) The Pod F Tompkast is the official podcast of nighttime on the internet.
Where in Christ’s hot hellfire do I get off decreeing a podcast that’s less than three weeks old the best comedy podcast on earth, you ask (you are agitated, religious, and overly serious). Well, pour yourself a tall glass of liquid colon cleanser, straighten your swivel chair, and read on. No wait, I’m not Brett Gelman; Brett Gelman’s Brett Gelman. And perhaps you are not as serious as I said you are. Gelmania raises the bar, taking the sonic possibilities of digital audio further than others, while pushing the comedy into deranged, obscene, puerile, self-reflexive, and superlative zones beyond the norm. As with much absurdist comedy, there is an undeniable political valence to the madness, a political content estranged from commitment but less didactic than straight satire. Gelman finds humor in the very idea of pop radicalism in the digitally treated opening salvo of episode one: “The Revolution will not be televised! The Revolution. Will. Be. Podcasted!” (the little punch line in that -ed suffix — jokes, however minor, are best accompanied by parenthetical explanations, they say).
Gelmania is the official podcast of a fin de siècle that will not end, despite the rollover of the millennium. It’s also the sound, literally, of a gonzo Jewish comedian fellating himself in stereo. It’s the crazy energy of now trapped in a retrograde present. Except, funny.