A Guide to Comedy Podcasts part 1; Damon Blake

Welcome along readers, to a special post here on No Punchline taking a look at some of the best comedy from the world of Podcasting. Speaking as someone who only in the last few months received his first MP3 player (donated kindly by someone who wasn’t using it due to having bought an iPhone), I’m eager to get stuck into some top quality comedy on the long road journeys around the country. But as someone who honest-to-fuck once believed that HTML was short for Hotmail, how am I to know where to look for the best podcasts? If you’re in a similar quandary, worry no further as we get the guidance we need from the weeks guest contributor; fellow comedian, cake eater and all round comedy boffin- Mr. Damon Blake.  Giving thanks to Damon for taking the time to write up this list, I hand over the mic…

I take a lot of public transport as I am very conscious of the environment and because I have yet to find a car that runs on fawn’s blood. Until the day this happens (it won’t have a petrol cap, instead there will be a modified wood-chipper that you can push their faintly breathing bodies in headfirst) I will throw my coins in, not get any change back unlike every other country in the world and sit upstairs, waiting for the inevitable confrontation when a drunk will try to kiss me on my pretty lips.

To get through this I usually listen to comedy podcasts.

The first podcast I listened to was the Ricky Gervais XFM podcast  where he and Stephen Merchant make fun of mentally-different man-child from another planet, while also slowly making my way through Jimmy Pardo’s Never Not Funny podcasts. Both of these, from either side of the ocean that separates America and the UK, were at the forefront of podcasting in their respective countries and as such you will now have to pay to listen to them. However, there’s enough other free options out there that you won’t be stuck for choice. I am going to focus on my favourite three and use them to talk about comedy in general.

COMEDY DEATH RAY RADIO

Comedy Death Ray is the Mecca for comedy nerds. It’s a weekly show that happens live in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles (in this analogy the UCB Theatre is the Saudi Arabia for comedy nerds). All of my favourite alternative/indie/hip comedians play there. Its producers are Scott Aukerman and BJ Porter, alumni of Mr Show with Bob and David, the cult comedy show of David Cross and Bob Odenkirk which if you have not heard about before, check it out as it will make your life fuller, richer and higher in Omega 3. All of this means that when it came time for Scott Aukerman to put a show together, he had a vast repertoire of talented people who could come into the studio and be interviewed, riff with him or try out a range of insane characters.

Ah, the characters! When CDR first came out (as people abbreviate Comedy Death Ray Radio) I was quite hard on it (as in, severely judging it, not poorly choosing my words in a sentence to make a weak innuendo) as I didn’t realise how much CDR has it’s own rhythm. In one episode there could be Jon Hamm talking about a new movie he’s in in when suddenly Paul F Tompkins playing Ice-T as an entrepreneur who is always investing in poorly named products or Nick Kroll as El Chupacabra, the Mexican Radio DJ, could interrupt and begin tangents based on Scott Aukerman’s deliberately obtuse and semantic interview style. There’s a feeling you never know where it’s going to go that’s exciting.

It’s not Mock the Week with gags re-edited in advance and tightly edited after the show, it’s a loose conversation which has it’s own tone and pace like a conversation. Because that’s what the ideal of
comedy is now, it’s a conversation, not a barrage of one-liners assaulting your brain. I’m told the key to comedy is making what you’re saying sound as natural and off the cuff as possible. So I guess a comedic conversation is the most natural thing you could have.

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made – Jean Giraudoux.

It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid – George Bernard Shaw.

This comedy is stupid – drunk woman in a comedy club who will die unknown and unloved.

One to listen to:

http://www.earwolf.com/episode/best-2009-paul-f-tompkins-nick-kroll-james-adomian

A best of episode from 2009. There’s also a 2010 episode. It’ll give you an idea of the conversations, the different kinds of characters and the back and forth flow of the shows. Once you get into the rhythm they’re great to listen to. It’s like jazz, with less opium. Check out

http://www.earwolf.com for further episodes.

For people interested in making their own podcast they also make one called The Wolf Den – it’s a good insight into how to market the comedic content that you’re making…

DOUG LOVES MOVIES

Because that’s what comedy is. It’s a form of content that people indulge in to keep themselves interested or satisfied while we burn out our bodies and then dissipate into silent motes of dust. A lot of people make podcasts either because they love talking about what they’re doing or to get themselves better known. Ideally it’ll be both of these things. You have to regularly make your podcast or else people forget to come back and listen to them AND they need to be of a high quality. It’s hard continually making new content, however, so the best way to do this is to have funny friends who are happy to come in and work with you to make the heavy lifting easier. Like this blog! I am writing this blog which gives Gerry a week off from writing something and I do it in the hope someone reads it that doesn’t know who I am. If you haven’t, surprise suuuuckaaaaz, I’m in your brain now.  But getting involved in helping others is always to your own benefit.

I started listening to Doug Loves Movies when it available through a now-defunct website called Handheld Comedy. The show is recorded in front of a live audience in the UCB Theatre (yes!) for free before Comedy Death Ray (oh my!). Doug Benson, apart from being a huge stoner, is also a massive movie fan and he has comedy friends come in and talk about their careers, movies they’ve seen and generally have a funny conversation. There’s a lot of crossover with guests with CDR so you’ll figure out which people you like the best and can look out for them in future episodes and other podcasts.

You can listen to them on http://douglovesmovies.com.

One to listen to:

October 1st – Jimmy Pardo, Paul F Tompkins and John Lithgow. After hyping it up for about a year, Doug Benson finally gets the Trinity Killer into the UCB Theatre for the episode. Joining him are two of the funniest and quickest people in LA, Jimmy Pardo and Paul F Tompkins. It’s a great conversation with Lithgow being able to contend with the three comics in banter and stories. It shows the best way to make a podcast is to not do it on your own.

WTF MARC MARON

Which brings me to WTF. Marc Maron is a verbosely opinionated comedian who has had a long career by making his comedy as truthful and searing as he can. I first heard him years ago when somebody put online interviews he did with comedians for a radio program he did (maybe Morning Sedition). He came across as unnecessarily brusque towards people like Mike Birbiglia so I didn’t warm to the chap. However years later on the recommendation of fellow comic Jim Elliott I listened to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. He was interviewing some of my favourite comedians (Patton Oswalt and David Cross) and generally he starts his conversations with people by apologising for being dismissive in his interactions with them in the past. This shows one thing: I am a keen judge of character.

His interviews are frank, truthful and funny. Nobody forces a point of view, instead as Marc shares stories of his past problems with drugs, his anxiety about interacting with society and his sexual hangups, so too does the person being interviewed. It means at the end you get an idea not only why somebody is funny but what drives them to be funny in the first place. Most of Marc’s audience aren’t comedians so although the show does talk a lot about the mechanics of comedy, it is never done in a way that’ll distance a person who is not a comedian.

The show has received a lot of press lately for getting people like Robin Williams to speak honestly about their careers and drug use or, more famously, accused joke-thief Carlos Mencia to first be interviewed and give a well polished speech about how haterz gonna hate and then in a follow on interview (after Marc spoke to people who used to be close to Mencia) semi-fall apart in his lack of answers for his sociopathic behavior. For me, the show has justified getting into podcasting on lonely bus trips all those years ago.You can listen to them at http://wtfpod.libsyn.com

One to listen to:

http://wtfpod.libsyn.com/webpage/episode-130-mike-de-stefano

Mike DeStefano (sadly passed away since this was recorded) was a comedian on the most recent season of Last Comic Standing. To many viewers he would’ve been the most working class comic on the show, easy to pigeonhole, however in this episode you find out about his history with drugs, being a widower and why he does comedy. It’s an emotional tale that is often funny. It’s not the lightest interview (for example the Paul F Tompkins episode has a lot more banter) but you do get a real idea of why people say “truth in comedy”.

GO BETAMAX!

Now, finally, the reason why people are happy to go on all these podcasts is the same reason actors to talk-shows: exposure. The more you find out about someone, whether it’s their opinions or styles or simple familiarity, the more likely you’ll be to check them out in the future. In the Republic of Ireland the only comedian that I know of who has produced a regular comedy focused show has been Colin Chadwick with Laughter Tracks. Colin (twitter.com/colinchadwick) would record the show live on Dublin City FM where it would be heard by 10 people and the next day put it up online where it would be heard by at least twice that (I kid, I saw the visitor numbers for episodes I was on and boy, am I popular). He has since stopped the show and instead now does a movie based show with two comedians, Simon Mulholland and myself. What links us is that all three of us rarely gig, we can never get all three of us to agree on the same thing and we spend most of our time watching films. People seem to enjoy the show (or just my bullying Simon) and we’re set to do another live one at @rcade Con in July.

You can listen to older episodes at http://www.gobetamax.com or on iTunes. Colin has moved to London but thanks to the amount of brains in my head we’ve figured out a cool way to keep recording the episodes. If you have any recommendations for podcasts I’ve love to hear them, you can check me out on Twitter at twitter.com/Damon_Blake and I hope you’ll check out some of the shows recommended above. It would really justify the amount of time I’ve spent procrastinating listening to older episodes.

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  1. Hi Damon

    Great post! I was already familiar with CDR (Comedy Bang Bang), Doug Loves Movies and WTF but not with Go Betamax or the Wolf Den so I’ll be giving them a listen.

    I’m sure you are already familiar with these but other podcasts I like to listen to are Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist, Jimmy Dorre’s Comedy and Everything Else and Eddie Pepitone and Sean Conroy’s The Longshot all available on iTunes.

    What the hell I’ll even give a cheeky plug for my own podcast Failed Human which is a series of interviews with comedians from Northern Ireland, including one soon with Gerry McBride.

    Cheers

    Morgan

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