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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


20. ‘Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction’

According to stand-up comics who don't curse, going blue is easy; so what happens when a comedian must work blue, crafting filthy material intended to violate an existing, fictional universe like that of Middle Earth or Mayberry? This is Bryan Cook's foul and outrageous celebration of "Muppet boners." The live event, which has only begun taping its contests last year, asks several comics to bring prepared material while others have only about 30 minutes to write based on audience suggestion. Its audacity alone is compelling enough, but in its best moments, the gross jokes transcend porn mechanics to become a titillating delight.

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19. ‘Put Your Hands Together’

There's nothing revolutionary about rising comic Cameron Esposito's decision to record her weekly stand-up showcase at the L.A. branch of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (and occasionally chat with her guests backstage), but the podcast proves an effective system to deliver the increasingly bi-coastal, supercharged alt-comedy scene to listeners' earbuds. Drop-ins from Dana Gould and Reggie Watts anchor nights of newer names including Aparna Nancherla and Jerrod Carmichael; Esposito, for her part, charms her audiences even when searching her new material for potential punchlines.

Bret Hartman/For The Washington Post

18. ‘The Indoor Kids’

Sure, married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon share their lives — but more importantly, they share of love of staring at a screen, smashing buttons and watching some pixilated character do their bidding. Every week, they justify video game addictions by talking not to famous people, per se, but people famous to a certain contingent of proud gamers, e.g. early Nintendo wizard Howard Phillips. Their ability to talk fluently about advancements in Halo character control or Bioshock spoilers gets the geeks onboard while inviting anyone who might be less familiar to chuckle at the minutea of their infatuations.

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17. ‘Improv4Humans’

One listen to original Upright Citizens Brigade member Matt Besser's podcast (one dedicated to scenic improvisation) makes it easy to divorce improv from the stage and plant any given sketch's action directly into a viewer's head. Collecting comedy all-stars such as Todd Glass alongside some of the UCB theatre's best and brightest alums — Andy Daly, Zach Woods, Lennon Parham — Besser helps inspire wacky bits with suggestions from the internet while making directorial choices which ensure the sketches don't spin out of control.

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16. ‘The Champs’

More than a pair of white dudes flaunting their street cred, comics Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher — who use their podcast platform to interview a "different black guest" each week — are nothing less than Caucasian ambassadors for African-American culture. Very few people could carry on as naturally as this duo does while talking battle rap with Big Daddy Kane and Denzel stories with director Allen Hughes; it makes sense, however, that the cocreator of Chappelle's Show and a hip-hop obsessed kid raised in Oakland would know their shit. As fascinated but knowledgeable outsiders, Brennan and Kasher make subjects feel at ease while teasing answers out for a wider (whiter?) audience.

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15. ‘Judge John Hodgman’

A kangaroo courtroom by design, the bench of Judge John Hodgman exercises extreme prejudice in trivial domestic disputes even Judge Judy wouldn't touch. Once the playfully officious Hodgman gets on his high horse — that is, immediately — even his mild-mannered bailiff Jesse Thorn can't keep him in line. And though the conversations with average, aggrieved citizens begin with their complaints, Hodgman uses the details about jaywalking or horn honking as an excuse to crack into the lives of his plantiffs and defendants. The more ridiculous the complaint, the more chances the erstwhile personification of PC has to poke fun at their hypocrisies.

Dave Dietz

14. ‘RISK’

Think of this podcast as The Moth's scrappier, freakier little sibling. The premise of the show — storytellers dishing tales they never planned to tell in public — means that the recordings are both honest and revealing. And while certainly touching on the heartfelt formulas one associates with The Moth, RISK encourages the comic mindset that makes all of the heartfelt bits serve a greater comedic purpose. (It doesn't hurt that the show tapes on each coast at a comedy theater once a month.) Former member of The State and exuberant "kinkster" Kevin Allison sets the tone himself, making sure that even pained tales of cancer or death contain one cathartic chuckle; more often than not, the laughs carry throughout.

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13. ‘StarTalk Radio’

The world has made an unlikely, and unexpectedly comedic, star of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Sometimes, he's fussy and fastidious, talking smack about sci-fi films that fail to adhere to the rules of science fact; other times, he's the dour doomsayer, imagining an earth trashed by asteroids or a human sucked through a black hole with a dark sort of glee. For each moment that gets too heavy or too dry, he's got cohosts who tell jokes for a living — most often the giggly, guileless Eugene Mirman — to ask questions about the subject matter at hand and play comic relief as necessary. The learning and laughing go hand-in-hand.

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12. ‘How Did This Get Made?’

Spice World, Pluto Nash, Leprechaun in the Hood: No matter how ignored or forgotten, some disastrous movies have it coming. The titular query of Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas' podcast is more than just a hook; it fuels an almost scientific study of cinematic catastrophe. The players and their guests (including very special appearances like Vanilla Ice during a talk about Cool as Ice) certainly don't mind getting lost in tangents, but they always return to the details of the train wreck in question, baffled but genuinely curious about the decisions that led to the horrors they've witnessed.

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11. ‘Throwing Shade’

Though hosts Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi claim to give the issues confronting women and gays "much less respect than they deserve," they are, in fact, chipper crusaders who point out instances of social inequality and knock the powers-that-be regarding antiquated perceptions. Also, there are jokes about vaginas transforming grains of sand into Tampax Pearls. The show tapes its episodes around the country, and it's no surprise that the podcast gets a video highlight every week on Funny or Die: Both performers, who met in an improv class, are photogenic and animated talkers who are as fun to watch as they are to hear.

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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. 

Jon Shapley/Getty Images for SXSW

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.

Lilly Lawrence/WireImage

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.

Jesse Dittmar for The Washington Post

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.

Noam Galai/WireImage

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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