Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Funniest Kids in the Class: Podcasters

The first podcast I ever listened to was ours: After the Jump. Seriously. Before I was a writer for this site I was a huge fan of the site. My favorite installment was always the podcast, or as it used to be called, the podshot (what a great name). I didn’t understand what a podcast was back then. Was it free? Did I have to download each one individually? Could I burn it onto a cd? (Yes. Kind of. No.) And this, it seems, is the way it goes with podcasts. You either get it and love it and can’t keep up with all the great podcasts out there or you’ve never listened and the thought of diving into a new form of media seems too taxing.

Well, either way, if you’re a fan of comedy (stand-up and otherwise) you really need to be on the podcast train. Los Angeles has always been in competetion with New York for comedy kingship. But (in my humble opinion) in the world of podcast comedy only the L.A. guys are doing things the strange and experimental and hilarious and new way.

My queue of podcasts is long and daunting. I have daily shows, weekly shows, monthly shows and specialty shows. They’re not all comedy, either. For the more serious minded you can do no better than listening to NPR’s output. Who doesn’t love This American Life or Fresh Air? When you want to get nerdy Stuff You Missed in History Class fills in the gaps of your historical knowledge and The Tolkien Professor (amazing!) covers everything from Bilbo’s adventures to answering the question of Tom Bombadil’s true identity (sorry professor, I still don’t get who the hell he thinks he is).

But we’re here to talk about comedy. The best way for me to break it down for you is to explain my own trip down this particular podcast rabbit hole. It all started when I saw the documentary Super High Me by Doug Benson. I didn’t really know anything about Benson or his comedy or the fact that he loved movies. I was ready to shrug off the film as a pot-filled romp. But it ended up A. teaching me a lot about the California pot laws (and how backwards they can be) and B. got me way more interested in Doug Benson. Which led me to his fabulous podcast Doug Loves Movies. This is a great starting point, as it takes a theme (movies, duh) and always expounds on that theme. He has great comedian and celebrity guests, and he’s a great podcast host. It even films in front of a live studio audience, so there’s a bit of electricity already present in the pre-recorded air.

That show led me to one of my current favorites, Comedy Death-Ray Radio. Hosted by Scott Aukerman, it features the best talent in comedy today. The show is more than just interview, it’s planned chaos. Guests will come on the show and be interrupted by “visitors.” These visitors are other comedians playing fictitious characters. Cake Boss, Bob Ducca, Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber: these names may mean nothing to you now, but you’ll come to think of them as family if you listen to enough of this brilliant podcast.

Because I can never escape my nerdy side, even in comical pursuits, I then started listening to The Nerdist Podcast. Hosted by Chris Hardwick, this podcast covers a lot of nerdy goodness. Want to hear an in-joke about Dr. Who? You’re only going to hear it on Nerdist. Of all the podcasts I’m mentioning this one probably comes closest to After the Jump. So if you listen to us and haven’t branched out yet, start with Nerdist. My final recommendation I got into through Nerdist. One day they posted an episode where they interviewed a nervous sounding man by the name of Marc Maron. I’d never heard of him before (shame on me), but they kept talking about his podcast WTF and he kept cracking me up, so I had to check it out.

And this is where the true art of stand-up comedy shines through. WTF may have a light-sounding name, but you will find no better comedy interview forum on all the internet. It’s an Inside the Actor’s Studio for stand-up. He asks the hard questions to the right people. He’s asked Robin Williams, Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook about joke stealing. He confronted Gallagher about insensitive jokes (and dude straight up walked out of the interview on Marc). Start with any of these four comedy podcasts in any order and I bet you’ll eventually end up listening to all four of them.

On a closing note: I’ve considered covering this topic for a while now, but was really spurred to action with the release of this week’s episode of Comedy Death-Ray Radio. This episode had the funniest, smartest, and most impressive feat of improvisation I have ever seen or heard. 

Let me repeat that: As far as improvisation goes, this episode is the funniest thing ever, of all time. There.

It features an attempt to interview comedian Patton Oswalt and is immediately interrupted by “visitor” Don Demilo. We first met Demilo around the holidays, where he bust in on a recording to promote the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes which he directed. Voiced by Andy Daly, this character is a vile man. His catchphrase “bring out the girls” (pronounced more like “bring out da goiyalls”) only scratched his lothario surface. He was an instant hit, and his return shows some of the quickest comedic thinking I’ve ever witnessed. Daly is a master with this character. He underplays when he needs to underplay, he pushes it too far when he needs to push it too far (he explains that he wants the little boys in a children’s performance of Peter Pan to be played by sexy ladies, and that he wants the guy playing Captain Hook to literally get his hand bit off by a crocodile). Patton and Scott direct the conversation with the expertise of seasoned improvisers.

It’s times like this that make me wish that improv greats like Chris Farley were still alive. It would have been a great medium to show the depth of his comedy without being obscured by his physicality. And that, really, is why podcast comedy is so engaging. It cuts to the core. There’s nothing there but the joke, or the story behind the joke, or a joke about the story behind the joke.