To paraphrase a comment made about open-mic nights, the great thing about podcasts is that anyone can make one; the bad thing is that anyone can make one. Still, the best comedy podcasts feature some of the funniest people on the internet...
Comedians talking about serial killers: All Killa No Filla
Many podcasts seem to spring from a pair of people just having interesting conversations, and All Killa No Filla is one of the most unique and very best. Each week Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean read up on an infamous serial killer from world history and share their interest with the online world. Instead of slipping into a perverse kind of hero-worship, the pair regularly mock the mindset of their subjects, point out inconsistencies and lay into whoever it was who let them get away with it for so long. Put in a comedic context, each criminal becomes laughable and less scary, and when interspersed with stories from Fairburn and Pritchard-McLean’s own lives, they reach purely ridiculous status.
Listen to: Episode 9, Harold Shipman. An interesting case of medical negligence, extreme arrogance and investigative incompetence, with no goreish description and plenty of exceptional mockery.
Comedians talking about comedy: Comedian’s Comedian with Stuart Goldsmith
Billed as being ‘for anyone who writes comedy, makes comedy, loves comedy, or just has an interest in comedians and what makes them so annoying’, The Comedian’s Comedian fulfills all of its remit. This is comedian-on-comedian action like you’ve never heard it before: guests are honest, professional working comedians and the host is a sensitive and thoughtful chap (with great hair). Altogether, we get an idea of the community of comedians we often don’t see. The intricacies of developing a routine and the origin stories of most comedians explore comedy as the complex art form that it is.
Listen to: Episode 60, with special guest Susan Calman, for a perfect combo of comedic tickling and gut-punches of honesty as they discuss mental health and anxiety issues in front of a live studio audience.
Comedians talking about crushing the patriarchy: The Guilty Feminist
Each week a different area of life made shit by the patriarchy is discussed, and hosts Deborah Frances-White and Sofie Hagen take on challenges to go out into the world and fight back. So far they've examined our relationship with food and porn, with a few asides for stand-up and the confessional that opens every show (“I’m a feminist, but…”). The kind of stories which emerge are as likely to be heart-rending and personal as they are to be simply hilarious, making this an interesting listen with plenty of unexpected puns from guests and hosts alike.
Listen to: Episode 1 Nudity. With guest comedian Shappi Khorsandi, our hosts talk life drawing, body shape and how to avoid ever seeing yourself in the nuddy-pants.
Sofie Hagen and Deborah Frances-White present The Guilty Feminist
Comedians talking about the news: The Bugle
Any list of comedy podcasts would be incomplete without the original ‘audible newspaper for a visual world’. Hosted by bone-dry satirists Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver, the podcast has been reporting and ridiculing the week’s news for the last nine years, and has ballooned and changed along with its stars’ careers. Oliver, of course, now hosts a similar show for the visual world on late-night American TV, and Zaltzman is currently using his satirical chops to crowd-source topics for his live shows.
Listen to: Issue 292, mostly taken up by Zaltzman and Oliver swearing in bafflement at the 2015 General Election result.
Comedians talking about ethics: Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing sees a vaguely moral panel of comedians come together for games based around what’s right, whether that’s in response to a letter to an agony aunt or a long-winded hypothetical scenario drawn up by the host. Danielle Ward captains the ship with shameless punnery and fantastic delivery, so that the questions and segues between rounds are as breathlessly funny to listen to as the answers themselves. The overall feel is wonderfully slapdash, like an amicable barroom brawl with more than enough space for the panelists’ complete non-sequiturs and unrelated funnies.
Listen to: Series 5, Episode 4, to hear the woes of a bemused wedding planner who turns out to be unexpectedly hilarious.
Comedians talking about porn: My Dad Wrote a Porno
The world of self-publishing has opened up the possibility that your dad might, one day, write a piece of erotic fiction and sell it on the Internet. Writer Jamie Morton has experienced this very event, and here reads from his dad’s magnum opus, week by week, to the wild guffaws and literary criticism of James Cooper and Radio 1's Alice Levine. We move past the awkwardness of hearing a father's sexual fantasies surprisingly quickly, and get into discussing characterisation and plot as well as some very questionable anatomical descriptions.
Listen to: All of it. You don't want to miss a single moistened moment. Just maybe don't Google this one at work.
Comedians create their own town: Welcome to Night Vale
The twice-monthly podcast has become a phenomenon in the United States and most recently spawned a novel by creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. In the style of hypnotic local news announcements from the small desert town Night Vale, the podcast blends the nightmarish and surreal. The town is eerie and mysterious, like a comedic version of Twin Peaks, with a compelling cast of guest and recurring characters who are every bit as bonkers as their hometown.
Listen to: Episode 21: A Memory of Europe, for radio host Cecil's travel adventures where he is stalked by a beast in a 'land of arches', which he may have imagined.
Comedians answering questions: Answer Me This!
Two friends on a fact-finding mission from the internet, this is another show which seems to have stemmed from interesting chats shared over common interest plus some serious comedic chops. Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann field questions from all over the place, responding with well-researched and well-pondered answers before tearing apart one another’s opinions. The ghostly presence of Martin the Sound Man gives a surreal edge to proceedings, and we get just enough chat about Zaltzman and Mann’s lives to make it feel personal.
Listen to: Episode 330, for an explanation of why Scrooge McDuck is so nasty, and why Jacuzzi bubbles are so nice.
Comedians talking about facts: No Such Thing as a Fish
The wonderfully named 'QI elves’ have run away from Stephen Fry’s workshop to share the quite interesting facts used on the hit BBC show with you directly. The four fact-checkers-cum-comedians host tight half-hours of sharing and debating what treasure each of them has unearthed that week. The tone is much the same as its parent TV show, with disbelief feeding much of the comedy and the crowd dialing in as much for the factual as for the comedic content.
Listen to: Episode 86 to find out why there is no such thing as ghost nipples, and how to fill Westminster Abbey with spare toilets without affecting the hymns.
Answer Me This podcast's Martin the Soundman, Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann
Comedians talking about films: Doug Loves Movies
US comedian Doug Benson started his podcast six years ago with the simple idea of discussing movies with friends. Those friends, of course, now include some of the comedic and Hollywood elite, from Greg Proops to Ellen Page via Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler. As well as general conversation about cinema, Benson’s congregation play movie-based games: primarily the Leonard Maltin game. Since this is based on the reviews and descriptions to be found in the revered movie critic’s many books on film, it seems Benson has pored over these in life-long preparation for the show.
Listen to: 6th Annual 12 Guests of Christmas West Coast edition, featuring Sarah Silverman and Leonard Maltin himself for an extended edition. Pair with a mild hangover and a really comfy sofa.
Comedians playing games: Mr Gameshow
The panel show format has well and truly reached the podcast world, and in this sparkly parody of an old-school gameshow, hosts Mike Wozniak and Diane Morgan run wild. Produced by TV channel Dave, each episode promises 30 minutes of awkward anti-comedy and nonsensical games, delivered perfectly deadpan. This does leave us thinking we’re missing something, as often the live studio audience are in stitches at something we can’t see, and much of Morgan’s physical comedy is lost to the radio format. All in all though, Mr Gameshow is a great mockery of itself, with Wozniak never dropping his showbiz character.
Listen to: Episode 5 with Lucy Porter and Dane Baptiste. Listening to a pair of comedians describing their thought process in figuring out what's inside a closed box is surprisingly entertaining.
An entrepreneur and a novelist talking about death: Dear Hank & John
The names Hank and John Green should be familiar to anyone who has visited YouTube in the last eight years, and this podcast is just the latest in a line of projects the Vlogbrothers have fostered. Dealing primarily in handing out dubious life advice, the Greens talk about their own impending deaths as much as about their listeners’ lives, and despite never, ever, describing themselves as comedians, manage to do it in a hilarious way. Questions can range from the deep and insightful to scientific queries and debates on how to best eat crisps.
Listen to: Episode 23, Oh My God It’s Burning, for a great in-joke that will annoy the hell out of you if you listen to later episodes first.