This is a golden age for comedy nerds. The open-mike boom of the 1980s gave way to the rise of alternative comedy in the 1990s and 2000s, and those progressive humorists are now blowing up in movies, TV, and online. If you love comedy, it’s never been easier to get the best of it. On top of all that, there are loads of comedy-centric podcasts out there, ranging from easygoing conversations to performance-themed pieces to interviews about the comedic process.
Comedy buffs tend to be, um, slightly obsessive, so hour-long radio shows about the history of specific jokes or bits become crazy addictive in no time. These ten are some of the best out there. If they’re new to you, get thee to the Internet. If you’re already listening, pass this list to an unfunny friend.
- 1. Nerdist: Chris Hardwick is a guy you probably forgot you knew: after DJing in Los Angeles in the 1990s, he gained fame as a host of MTV’s Singled Out, a dating show that’s downright quaint by Jersey Shore standards. He’s a stand-up comic, as well, and he alternates between solo gigs and musical comedy performances with Mike Phirman as the duo Hard ‘n Phirm. Hardwick is a true stand-up lover as well as a geek, and he co-hosts a podcast with friends Jonah Ray and Matt Mira that focuses on whatever they find funny. The guests range from comedians like John Oliver and Maria Bamford to actors like Donald Glover or all-around funny performers like Nathan Fillion. The conversations are always entertaining, as Hardwick walks each guest through their personal history to find out what got them into comedy and what influences them today. Solid listening all around.
Perfect place to start: Episode 33, with guest Paul F. Tompkins.
- 2. WTF With Marc Maron: Marc Maron has been doing stand-up for years, and he brings that depth of experience and comedy-world connections to his fantastic WTF podcast. But the podcast isn’t just a rundown of people Maron knows; it’s a chance for him to actually dig in and talk with comics about what’s happening in the industry for better or worse. One of his most riveting talks was a two-parter with Carlos Mencia (episodes 75 and 76) that addressed Mencia’s reputation as a possible joke plagiarist. It’s raw and uncomfortable, but totally engrossing.
Perfect place to start: Episode 156, with guest Kathleen Madigan.
- 3. Comedy Death-Ray Radio: Comedy Death-Ray got its start in Los Angeles in 2002 as a showcase for comics whose sensibility mostly clicks with that of co-creators Scott Aukerman and B.J. Porter. Pretty much every mainstay of modern progressive comedy has appeared at CDR, including Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K., and David Cross. In 2009, Aukerman added a podcast to the franchise, starting Comedy Death-Ray Radio. The format is a bit looser than that of podcasts like Nerdist: in addition to interviews and excerpts, comics also parody real-world characters for weekly bits. The CDR podcast is a great way to stay current on the modern alternative comedy scene (even though that label’s so vague now it’s not really helpful), and it’s similarly a boon for L.A. residents or anyone who wants to keep an ear to the ground on west coast comedy.
Perfect place to start: Episode 96, with guests Paul Reubens, Dave Foley, and Thomas Lennon.
- 4. Sklarbro Country: Comedy and sports usually go together like, well, nerds and sports. But Jason and Randy Sklar, who perform together as the Sklar Brothers, are so funny and quick-witted that their sports knowledge never feels daunting to casual fans who just want to hear something entertaining. They know what they’re talking about, too: from 2004-2006, they hosted Cheap Seats on ESPN Classic, which let them riff on old sporting events in a kind of MST3K take on old bowling reruns. The podcast is a perfect mash-up of the Sklars’ twin obsessions, with comics and athletes joining in the discussion on sports and pop culture. Nerds, don’t be scared of the basketball players.
Perfect place to start: Episode 31, with guest Patton Oswalt.
- 5. The Sound of Young America: The Sound of Young America is hosted by Jesse Thorn — who calls himself “America’s Radio Sweetheart” with a perfect deadpan — and covers a variety of things that tend to appeal to younger comedy buffs. Thorn’s a witty and gifted interviewer, able to keep the conversation moving right along but also allowing for pleasing digressions. His style is much more classic-radio-host than other comedy podcasts, largely owing to the fact that TSOYA is distributed by Public Radio International and is also broadcast on XM. The talks are intelligent but never stuffy, and they’re ideal for fans looking to learn more about the creative process.
Perfect place to start: March 8, 2011, with guest Bill Hader.
- 6. Never Not Funny: Jimmy Pardo needs to be a much bigger star than he is. He’s been doing stand-up for more than 20 years and is well-known in comedy circles — he’s currently the warm-up man for TBS’ Conan and held the same job when Conan O’Brien hosted The Tonight Show — but he remains a relative unknown. Hopefully the success of his fantastic podcast can change that. Episodes are loosely structured, revolving around a free-form conversation between Pardo, producer Matt Belknap, and that week’s guest; as a result, the show feels less like an interview and more like a bull session staffed by gifted comics. The show’s been rolling since 2006 and has logged more than 800 episodes, so jumping in can feel daunting, but don’t worry. It’s all good. Perfect place to start: Episode 813.5, Live at SF Sketchfest 2011.
- 7. Doug Loves Movies: Doug Benson, as you can probably figure out, loves movies. His podcast, which is taped weekly at L.A.’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, brings in actors and comedians to talk about entertainment, the work, and whatever else comes to mind. The podcast also popularized “The Leonard Maltin Game,” in which Benson selects a film from Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and reads the stars in reverse order of prominence to see which guest can figure out the movie first. Benson’s a much funnier comic than some might think, especially if you’ve only seen him on reruns of Best Week Ever. Tons of fun.
Perfect place to start: October 1, 2010, with guests John Lithgow, Paul F. Tompkins, and Jimmy Pardo.
- 8. Pod F. Tompkast: There are a criminally low number of episodes of the Pod F. Tompkast, hosted by comedian Paul F. Tompkins, but that’s because he only got started with the show last summer and has recently taken to posting one episode per month. Tompkins has been evolving his comedy for some time now — he did a one-man show on HBO in 1998 before transitioning to more traditional jokes and now personal material — and the podcast is a wonderful reflection of that stream-of-consciousness style he’s started to bring out on stage. Episodes included sketches, comedy performances, and interviews, making them an all-around comedy sampler.
Perfect place to start: Episode 6, featuring Maya Rudolph and Bob Odenkirk.
- 9. Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show: Easily the most honestly named podcast going today, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show is just that: Kevin Pollak chatting with people. The show is also one of the longer ones you can listen to — episodes are often well over an hour — so you’ll probably have to break up the listening over multiple commutes or during one really long afternoon at work. The long talks are definitely worth your time, though. These are some of the most in-depth and interesting interviews being done today, whether you’re talking podcasts or traditional media. A godsend for detail-driven comedy fans.
Perfect place to start: Episode 68, with guest Craig Ferguson.
- 10. ASSSSCAT! Podcast: The Upright Citizens Brigade comedy group started ASSSSCAT in New York before spreading to Los Angeles. The improv sketch show uses audience suggestions as fuel for spontaneous monologues that then form the backbones of the sketches. This podcast is a recording of that show, which makes it a great resource for improv lovers who don’t live anywhere near L.A. (or who live in SoCal but aren’t about to brave the traffic to get to the theater).
Perfect place to start: November 7, 2010, with guest Jon Hamm.