Listen Up: The 20 Best Comedy Podcasts Right Now – Rolling Stone
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Listen Up: The 20 Best Comedy Podcasts Right Now

Laugh it up with the Internet’s funniest interview shows and stand-up comic showcases

20 best comedy podcasts

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Even in 2014, the podcast universe is in constant expansion. While the ears of many early adopters are full — they've chosen favorites, hunkered down and given themselves names like "blastronaut" — many more would-be subscribers are still searching for something to suit their particular brand of fandom.

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The best shows are those capitalizing on brands established early on, true, but there are others making their mark by toying with traditional talk-show formats, old-timey radio plays and rant-filled monologues. And as the popularity of podcasts grow, many producers find a helpful give-and-take between cloistered recordings made on a laptop at the kitchen table and big, live events in front of packed theaters. There are favorites here — each one accessible to the casual listener, sans glossary — but this list is also a glimpse at the podcast future. Listen up. By Matthew Love

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10. ‘Getting On with James Urbaniak’

Each carefully scripted segment of Getting On is its own weird, self-contained episode of The Twilight Zone — save for the fact that each 20-minute installment is essentially a monologue — that stars James Urbaniak and some foppish, fictionalized chaarcter named "James Urbaniak." The ostensible navel-gazing unfurls into a satire about technology and Hollywood celebrity, always playing to the actor's theatrical strengths and capacity for tossing off remarks such as "No one sets out to bang James Urbaniak!" with droll remove. Whether talking Halloween candy or the Google Wars of the future, each fantastical featurette matches a playwright's eye for detail to a limited attention span.

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9. ‘Professor Blastoff’

Beyond its crew's insistence that Professor Blastoff is a science podcast, the show explores any subject that implies expertise — including recent dips into the realms of the Tarot and midwifery. Beyond a recurring gag featuring the computerized voice of "the professor," the formula is simple enough: Kyle Dunnigan and Tig Notaro bounce bits and characters back and forth while David Huntsberger does his best to keep the guest interviews on track. Listeners can engage as they see fit, either listening closely to learn something from the subject at hand or simply floating along as Tig and Kyle goad one another to ever-sillier asides. 

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8. ‘Greg Proops Is the Smartest Man in the World’

It turns out Whose Line Is It Anyway? only hinted at its former in-house player Greg Proops' gift of gab, which is constantly on display in the weekly soliloquy he calls a "Proopscast." Armed with a lifetime of accumulated trivia, reckless tales of youthful adventure, exquisite diction, and an unflappable comic pomposity, Proops dissects both consequential and ridiculous news items while unburdening whatever is bothering him. From crowd interactions to any given newspaper headline, each bit of stimulus serves as a way to take a mad flume ride through the sluices of Proops' brain.

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7. ‘The Nerdist’

The flagship podcast of the Nerdist network demonstrates just how flexible the mind of a geek can be. Sprightly Nerdist CEO Chris Hardwick, alongside fellow comics Matt Mira and Jonah Ray, leads the charge; informed and always ready to feed their curiosities, Hardwick and his friends channel their obsessive qualities into chummy interviews with different sorts of artists. Sure, many of Nerdist's more than 500 chats court dork heroes — like Rick Moranis and Curtis Armstrong, the guy who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds — but they're also at home when quizzing Annie Clark about backstage rituals or Jerry Stahl about shooting up beside an Alf puppet. The show's spirit is lighthearted and genuine, as are the laughs that arise.

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6. ‘Doug Loves Movies’

Springing from its host's affection for Hollywood, trivia and dick jokes, this panel-and-game-show invites industry types to play a series of puntastic games while cracking wise about the good, bad and ugly in cinema's history. Behind the jocular tenor of the proceedings, though, the games are surprisingly rigorous — recurring features like the Name That Tune-inspired "Leonard Maltin Game" separate champs like Jon Hamm from chumps like, well, everyone else. And don't let Benson's glassy-eyed Sativa haze fool you: The affable stoner's ever-ready to disgorge his mind of its many factoids, and his quick wit turns even contestant's dull answers into opportunities to earn giggles. 

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5. ‘You Made It Weird’

More than just WTF with TMI, Pete Holmes' cheery, headfirst dives into the comedic, sexual and religious lives of his pals is the closest a listener can be to stand-ups tangentially riffing without eavesdropping at the bar after a show. Something more of a franchise now that The Pete Holmes Show is on TBS, Weird's friendly vibe and its host's wild bray of a laugh still carry the talks whether the guest is Holmes' abusive "worst best friend" Chelsea Peretti or the National frontman Matt Berninger. The best episodes, like that with cable access host Chris Gethard, still feature moments of bravery and uncomfortability, too.

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4. ‘Thrilling Adventure Hour’

Where many podcasts might be described as hastily assembled, rudderless fishing pontoons, Thrilling Adventure Hour is a showboat: Opulent, unhurried and delivering passengers to their destination in style. Ben Acker and Ben Blacker's tongue-in-cheek tribute to the bygone days of radio drama boasts witty wordplay, characters with names such as Sparks Nevada, occasional foley artistry and interstitial spoofs of classic advertising. The show continues to foster guests and regular partners-in-crime like Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster —who trade Algonquin-era bon mots as effete, drunken mediums Frank and Sadie Doyle — that share a similar sense of showmanship.

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3. ‘The Bugle’

Former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver and U.K. touring stand-up Andy Zaltzman's satirical "audio newspaper" may have the best combination of sharp writing and improvised turns of phrase in any podcast. Not only knowledgeable about the issues — elections in India, Syrian refugees or whatever is most exasperating in the news — but incisive in its analysis, the show combines Zaltzman's understated yet intricate wordplay with Oliver's incredulous rants. This news digest dismantles politicians, yes, but lest a potential downloader imagine it's all righteous bombast, the duo is not above the occasional odd item, such as the recently reported discovery of Napoleon's penis in New Jersey.

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2. ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’

With nearly 300 episodes and a TV spin-off running on IFC, there's no question that the quirky formula of Comedy Bang! Bang! — which interviews comic celebrities alongside peers who play big, goofy characters or do longwinded impressions — is one that works. Thankfully, even with host Scott Aukerman's undoubtedly busy schedule, the podcast's relish for absurd premises and bold performances has not flagged. As always, the former Mr. Show writer giddily plays the ringmaster, directing attention to his collection of oddballs including Seth Morris' allergy-prone Bob Ducca or Jessica St. Clair's 15-year-old intern Marissa Wompler, giving each their time under the spotlight while inviting in just the right amount of chaos.

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1. ‘WTF With Marc Maron’

WTF interlocutor Marc Maron is many things to many people: A confessor who won't balk at tales of excess or self-destruction; a bitter but persistent stand-up with whom many other comics have shared bills and breakdowns; and an alt-God who leveraged his podcast's popularity into industry success. Wrestling with and cackling at his own neuroses some 500 episodes in, Maron helps old friends, artists he's eager to learn more about about — Stephen Malkmus, Tool's Maynard James Keenan — and living comedy legends like Mel Brooks to do the same. Whether digging in the dirt or allowing subjects room to reveal themselves, Maron innately knows how to move a conversation along better than anyone else, and when getting a laugh might just get listeners closer to the truth.

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