Comedy podcasts

29 Oct

I like comedy. I like comedians. Ever since I was a kid watching bad standups on Comedy Central, I’ve been fascinated by the whole thing. Not so fascinated that I’ve ever actually gone to a comedy club, but I think I’m more in touch with that world than the average man on the street.

I like your jacket Bill Maher

The internet has made the comedy world a very different place. I didn’t have HBO as a kid, so the only way I got long-form access to standup comedy was in edited reruns on the aforementioned Comedy Central. If I saw a short bit I liked, there was no way to learn more about the comedian presenting it. If I saw Fred Stoller or Andy Kindler do something funny on Dr. Katz, the best I could do was hope that they would be on the show again soon.

Now every comedian has a website that lists their tour dates. They’re all on Twitter. They’re all probably on Facebook.* Every comedian has clips, authorized and not, on YouTube. It’s very easy to keep track of comedy. It’s easy to find out about comedians that aren’t on TV a lot. There’s a whole little world of standup comedians and you can see them interacting with each other online. It’s very cool in a weird voyeuristic way.

*I wouldn’t know; I’m not on Facebook. I quit Facebook in 2006. You still needed a .edu email address to have a Facebook account then. Most people didn’t even know what Facebook was. Sometimes I’m so hip I don’t know what to do with myself.

One other new development in the world of comedy is the podcast. This is a way for two or more people to sit down and talk for an hour or so. There are a lot of podcasts devoted to comedy. Your favorite comedian has probably been a guest on five different podcasts this year. I don’t listen to a lot of comedy podcasts. This might be a bad decision, but I get such a negative vibe from a lot of them that the genre of “comedy podcast” holds very little appeal to me.

Long-time readers of TPY* know of my fondness for Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. There are a lot of people from that show who are still around. Louis CK etc. One of the old Dr. Katz guys whose career has been resurrected by the internet is Marc Maron. He hosts the apparently** very popular WTF podcast. This piece on Grantland  sums up my feelings about the show better than I could, although I don’t find any redeeming qualities in his schtick like the author of that article. I’m a big fan of a lot of WTF‘s guests. A lot of them are very funny and well-known. Much more so than Mr. Maron himself. I don’t like Mr. Maron’s style or demeanor as host at all, but I’ve listened to a few episodes. Sometimes the guest makes it worthwhile. The Grantland article makes a case study of an episode featuring Mindy Kaling, which I listened to because I like Ms. Kaling. It was excruciating to listen to. I felt sorry for Mindy.

*The Pensive Years. That’s my new blog shorthand.

**I say apparently because I don’t know of any way to measure how many people actually listen to podcasts. This one seems to get a lot of buzz. I assume it’s the most popular comedy podcast.

“Do you like dogs?” A true Dr. Katz classic. I’ve remembered that for fifteen years.

I think a lot of podcast hosts don’t use their show as a vehicle for interviews or conversation, but rather as a way to advance their own career and to put their own names on something–the guest is incidental to their agenda. I can’t help but think that’s pretty sad. Marc Maron is probably the most successful exponent of this practice, but there are a lot of podcasts hosted by people trying to do the same thing. They’re all annoying to listen to. They interrupt, they talk over the guests, they insert their own jokes and personal stories, they have their own monologues at the start of the show, etc. This only works if you’re an appealing host who people like listening to. Given the popularity of this kind of thing, maybe I’m in the minority but I find that extremely off-putting.

Much of my podcast-listening experience has come in the past couple of weeks. I’ve recently become a fan of one Chelsea Peretti. You may know her from the pilot episode of Louie. She has also been a writer for Parks and Recreation, which I think is terrific. She is very funny and she has appeared on a lot of podcasts. I’ve listened to several of these recently. It’s been interesting. Not only is Ms. Peretti consistently funny, listening to the same guest on a lot of different shows provides a sort of control, making the differences and similarities between hosts readily apparent.

This is the only clip from that episode on the YouTubes

This past couple weeks has highlighted one of the best things about the podcast boom. There aren’t very many clips of Ms. Peretti’s standup act online, so being able to listen to her on podcasts is a convenient backdoor to getting a sense of her comic sensibility without actually watching her do her act. It’s also a way for comedians to get out in the public eye without developing new standup material. Podcasts at their best are a terrific development for fans of comedy.

Ms. Peretti’s appearance on the Todd Glass podcast is a good example of the type of host obnoxiousness I hate. You have to listen to the whole show to get a good feel for it, but this bit is a decent example. The overlaughing, the interrupting, we get it: you, Todd Glass, are the star of the show. Hey Todd, shut up and let Chelsea do her Home Shopping Network impression.

On the other side, the Parks and Rec episodes of Comedy Bang Bang were brilliant and are a good example of how podcasts can expose people to comedians and comedy that are otherwise hard to find unless you’re a regular at improv theaters. The “Jack from the Lumberyard” bit is beyond hilarious to me. (Be warned, this kind of comedy is probably not for most people.)

I have a feeling that the podcast medium will evolve into something great. It’s still in its infancy, and hosts will get better. Shows will get better. Ideas will get better. It’s already happening. Ms. Peretti is at the forefront. She hosts a new call-in podcast that is hilarious and feels different from all the other podcasts I’ve listened to. This is the way to make a show about yourself. Instead of trying to attract other, more famous comedians to the show, Ms. Peretti can insert herself as much or as often as she wants with her callers–that’s what people tune in for. It’s a brilliant idea. I hope there are more brilliant podcast ideas on the way. Maybe I just have to look harder. In any case, I’m excited. And I can’t wait for a day when I can listen to my favorite comedians talk about comedy with podcast hosts who aren’t insufferable.

I wonder if she has a fan club I could join

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