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 kind of 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.
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