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Some of the best sketch comedy isn’t happening on TV.
The podcast has 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 has enjoyed its own refocus in the last 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 the plot of his popular IFC show.
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 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. 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. She’s eviscerated author Ann Rule and mistook Anita Bryant as dead. These are just a few of the reasons to watch her show Difficult People on Hulu.
Photo by Mindy Tucker
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.
Improvised comedy on the radio is kind of a gamble, but not when you skillfully unfold an alternate universe every episode. That’s the foundation of Hello From the Magic Tavern, a podcast that uses a magical world called Foon, which lies beyond a Chicago Burger King, to indulge some hilarious world-building and blur the line between fantasy and reality.
Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport’s premise is simple enough: They’re two showbiz big shots with advice to give and names to drop. But Hollywood Handbook has become much more than that. It sweet-talks shortcuts into fame (guests are called “close friends”) and then satirizes them: Like the episode in which Davenport and Chris Gethard create an incredible backstory about a failed sitcom called Big Lake. Clements and Davenport met while writing for a quickly canceled Fox sitcom, which makes their “characters” even more entertaining.
Comedian Phoebe Robinson’s WNYC podcast will enlighten you on many subjects, and while there are a couple token white guys here and there, the interview-focused show is more concerned with elevating voices like Roxane Gay and Hari Kondabolu. See also: 2 Dope Queens.
A true crime podcast that doesn’t just focus on high-profile cases. Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff address well-known psychos like the Night Stalker and more modern tales like Elisa Lam, as well as their personal serial-killer obsessions and more obscure cases like the Zankou Chicken Murders.
Comedians Aparna Nancherla and Jacqueline Novak started this podcast as a way to discuss depression in a more intimate, personal setting. “We’d heard other podcasts about mental health but not as much on the daily, everyday, mundane basis,” Nancherla told the Daily Dot. Indeed, much of the comedy comes from intricate explorations of how depression manifests in something as simple as checking Facebook.
Pistol Shrimps is a basketball team, and a documentary, and a podcast. Mark McConville and Matt Gourley are the courtside announcers for the recreational women’s basketball team, which includes Aubrey Plaza. It’s not so much a podcast about women’s basketball (the hosts don’t know that much about it, adding a touch of Best in Show) as it is a way to do some experimental storytelling and build an absurd world around a recreational sports team.
Have you heard? Celebs have their own podcasts now. And one of the most engaging finds Anna Faris attempting to dole out relationship and love advice with comedians like Eric Andre and sometimes her hubby Chris Pratt. As the title states, she’s unqualified, but the advice celebs offer sometimes bests our friends’ or family’s.
Audra Schroeder is the Daily Dot’s senior entertainment writer, and she focuses on streaming, comedy, and music. Her work has previously appeared in the Austin Chronicle, the Dallas Observer, NPR, ESPN, Bitch, and the Village Voice. She is based in Austin, Texas.