Ricky Gervais is the voice that launched a thousand comedy podcasts. The Ricky Gervais Show was a Velvet Underground-like lodestar of inspiration that also managed to put up Bieber/Gaga numbers. But when it debuted in 2005, TRGS was the only game in town. Six years later, the crowded field of comedy podcasting is now teeming with competitors. With hundreds of laugh care providers to choose from, it might be difficult to figure out which ones are worthy heirs to the erstwhile Podfather's throne. Here's a quick rundown of the 10 best comedy podcasts going today.
1. 'Pod F. Tompkast.' Host: Paul F. Tompkins
This show's clever premise is that it's nighttime on the Internet, and listeners are now privy to what goes on while normal people are asleep. That description translates to improvised ramblings, taped skits from Tompkins' live show at Largo in Los Angeles and excerpts from "The Great Undiscovered Project"—a series of imagined phone calls between B-list celebrities embarking on a collaboration (all voiced by Tompkins). You will be absolutely shocked to discover how badly the world needed a Buddy "Cake Boss" Valastro impression, especially in the wake of his series' cancellation, but in Tompkins' hands, such a thing feels utterly vital. Each episode also promises a visit with the host's fellow comedian and close friend, Jen Kirkman, which is always a hoot.
2. 'Pop My Culture.' Hosts: Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland
Launched just over a year ago, Pop My Culture is a series of loose, conversational interviews with a unique array of funny people. The subject matter bounces around from music to TV and movies, and whatever else makes up the guests' resumes. Each episode also manages to reflect the particular sensibility of its hosts. Both have backgrounds in improv and acting, although it's likely Stratton's experience organizing the San Francisco Sketch Fest that accounts for the show's carefully curated selection of guests. Recent episodes have included a Freaks and Geeks reunion and a visit from Savage Steve Holland, so clearly the hosts came of age in the Eighties.
3. 'The Nerdist.' Hosts: Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and Matt Mira
Don't let the deep roster of hip, hilarious guests fool you; this podcast is called The Nerdist for good reason. Chris Hardwick's very real obsession with Dr. Who, constant fascination with new gadgetry and penchant for silly voices show that he's truly a geek to the core. (Even his humblebrags are endearingly awkward.) Best of all, though, Hardwick and his amiable co-hosts have a way of drawing out the geekiness of guests like Nathan Fillion and Donald Glover until they seem like people the listeners might have dormed with in college. Also compelling are the "hostful" episodes without any guests in which Hardwick, Ray and Mira discuss some of the many things they're trying to achieve (a finished book, a television pilot and a discarded day job, respectively). These episodes are often doled out like servings of Chicken Soup for the Ambitious Nerd Soul.
4. 'How Was Your Week?' Host: Julie Klausner
The title of this podcast is the source of much of its content: It's the question the generously talented author-comedian asks each episode of herself and others. At four episodes in, listeners have already walked through weeks lead by author Natasha Vargas-Cooper, Twitter badass Megan Amram and actor James Urbaniak. The show earned its keep more or less immediately in the first episode, though, when Klausner asked her mom (!) what kindof crazy James Franco is ("I can't comment" was the inevitable, perfect response). At its casual best, listening to How Was Your Week is like eavesdropping on a super-fun slumber party.
5. 'WTF.' Host: Marc Maron
No less than Ira Glass referred to WTF as the New York Times of comedy podcasts, and that was before the New York Times itself wrote a flattering profile of the show in January. What more can be said about WTF? How about that the show's rising profile has not diminished the caliber of its guests in the least (Conan O'Brien is the most recent one) nor their candidness (O'Brien talks about his penis). The first 10 minutes of each episode, in which the confrontational comedian usually blows off a head full of steam, can be skippable at times, especially when he talks about his body issues. The interviews are uniformly captivating, though, and that's as much a credit to Maron as it is to his guests – often some of our greatest living comics.
6. 'The Smartest Man in World.' Host: Greg Proops
Like just about everything else about this podcast, the title is a provocation. One gets the sense that although he is very smart and no doubt aware of such, Greg Proops does not think himself the smartest man in the world. Here he is, though, in front of a live audience each week, bravely recording some of the boldest comedy on the podcasting frontier right now. Proops proved himself a keen improviser on Whose Line Is It Anyway over a decade ago, but his performance there only hinted at how nimble he is here, guiding seemingly steam-of-consciousness thoughts about current events right into jokes that appear handcrafted and fussed over. He may get political at times, but he's more Lenny Bruce than Bill Maher: occasionally not funny, but never boring.
7. 'Uhh Yeah Dude.' Hosts: Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli
The hosts of Uhh Yeah Dude are not professional comedians. Before the show began airing five years ago, neither had ever been paid to make people laugh (unless you count Romatelli's role in the Britney Spears flick, Crossroads, which he'd probably prefer you didn't). All of that is irrelevant, though – with the hosts' easy chemistry, quotable vocab and inimitable point of view, UYD is among the funniest podcasts ever. Considering they haven't had any guests in five years, their level of consistency is astounding. While the two could be funny talking about anything, they mostly specialize in the kind of news bites that don't make the front page, but would make for great dinner party factoids. Although they solicit voicemails from listeners to help procure this news each week, only one voicemail has ever been played on-air to date: the fan message left by Ricky Gervais.
8. 'Hype Men.' Hosts: Eric and Jeff Rosenthal, Jensen Karp
The best kind of hip-hop historically has had a sense of humor to it. (That's why punchlines in rap lyrics are called "punchlines.") When comedians who understand hip-hop take on the genre, the results can be hilarious. This is often the case for It's the Real—a hip-hop comedy group who, joined by Jensen Karp, have been putting out the Hype Men podcast since last fall. Much in the same way they've gotten brand name rappers to make appearances in their videos, It's the Real have welcomed guests like Freddie Gibbs and producer Just Blaze onto their podcast for insightful commentary on hip-hop happenings. Keeping things funny, though, they've also had comics like Joe Mande and Hannibal Burress and writers like Julieanne Smolinski (a/k/a Boobs Radley) as guests. By combining serious talk about hip-hop with jokes, Hype Men have carved out a niche that nobody can touch.
9. 'Jordan Jesse Go!' Host: Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn
Jesse Thorn is the digital magnate behind the entire Maximum Fun family of podcasts, but somehow his own show is the funniest of the bunch. Jordan Jesse Go! finds Thorn paired up with longtime friend Jordan Morris, a writer and comic performer. Each week the two go on a riff-a-thon with rock-solid guests – most recently the multi-talented Dave Holmes and Dana Gould. Very little actual interviewing is involved here, which is fine. Juicy tales are told occasionally, but the guests know to save their life stories for other venues. For the most part, the show consists of gloriously rambling comedic discussions, and the welcome participation of an unusually devoted fan base. Stressing this personal connection with the audience, Thorn had his wife as a guest recently so they could announce her first pregnancy on-air together (and so Morris, inevitably, could make fun of them for doing so).
10. 'Comedy Death-Ray Radio.' Host: Scott Aukerman
Mr. Show alum Scott Aukerman has taken to calling himself Hot Saucerman recently. He could probably call his podcast that too and it would still rank high on iTunes charts; such is the drawing power of Comedy Death-Ray Radio for both guests and listeners. In addition to the likes of Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt, CDRR frequently attracts gifted vocal contortionists like James Adomian, who recently posed as Alan Rickman holding the studio hostage like his character in Die Hard. (Yes, sometimes an episode will have a narrative arc.) The nearly two-hour length is padded out with features like What Am I Thinking and Jukebox Jury, which seem intentionally tedious, as though just to throw the guest a curveball. Discomfort comedy is Aukerman's stock in trade (he used to occasionally ask guests how much money they make), but like any other comedy podcast worth a download, the show never strays far from a laugh.