2011: Andrew Beckerman
Two-thousand-and-eleven is the year I got sick of podcasts because a.) there were too many of them to listen to, and b.) I worked for a psychopath who would not let me listen to podcasts while I did menial labor. (The podcast thing isnít why sheís a psychopath, by the way; itís the tantrums, constant lying and manipulation.) Regardless, there were still a lot of great podcasts to listen to as well as a lot of great comedy albums that were released. Below I detail a few of my favorites. Of notable mention, but that I have yet to hear, is Eddie Pepitoneís A Great Stillness, which was just released. Iím willing to say though, sound unheard, that itís great. As well, I wonít go into detail about podcasts I wrote about last year, but those that I still think are great include Comedy Bang Bang (nee Comedy Death Ray), WTF, Superego, The Flop House and The Bugle.
Thereís a fairly distinct, wide line that divides political comedians into two camps: those who rant and those who write jokes. Ranters are fun, if shrill, and humorless soapbox standing feeds the angry part of your soul, but that tactic wears thin pretty quickly. Camp very obviously is a joke-writer, a funny one with a leftist point-of-view, but a joke writer all the same, and his manic energy, one liners and political ideas make Chaos for the Weary smart and enjoyable without being pedantic and soul-grating.
Like Camp, Cenac is a smart guy, but instead of shoving his smarts in your face like a sandwich made of diplomas (there are a number of New York comics Ė who will go nameless Ė who seem more interested in letting the audience know about their scholarly bona fides than they are in entertaining), his intelligence is simply part of who he is. So heís smart and a killer joke writer and has an enjoyable personality.
I hope itís not an insult to say that Jen Kirkmanís performance on Hail to the Freaks sometimes reminds me of Sam Kinison ó her passion and energy are similar without being derivative (I have no idea if heís even someone that inspired her). Kirkman can be super-sarcastic and explode with bursts of energy, but sheís also one of the most natural performers, and the combination of her genial, conversational tone and her sardonic sensibilities make her unique.
The enemy of comedy is being closed off and nervous and pressured down into a tiny little ball because to be truly funny is to be free enough on stage to be yourself, to talk to an audience as you would your best friend. Maron is one of the few comics that is truly vulnerable on stage; he can be open and natural with a group of people much like heíd be with one of his self-described few friends (who, like his audience, he may sometimes drain of joy and vitality). He is so vocally vulnerable because he has no boundaries; in the moment, thoughts flow out of him. But for whatever reason, it makes for emotionally satisfying and funny stand-up.
With the exception of shitty hipsters, who shun any displays of emotion like the trust fund autistics they are, most audiences want to see comedians have fun on stage, and Holmes is one of the most joyful stand-ups currently performing. He has a welcoming and friendly disposition thatís enjoyable to watch, and while his jokes are great, that joyful energy is really what makes him special. What a happy dude.
You Made It Weird
Holmes not only made one of my favorite stand-up albums of the year, but his new podcast You Made It Weird, while only a few months old, is one of the best to debut this year. The concept is that Homes interviews comedian friends about things he thinks are weird about them. This often leads to tangents, and the real joy of the show is the easy interplay. Plus, Holmes is an interesting person in his own right, filled with contradictions (for example, his genuine love of stand-up for stand-upís sake vs. his focused, careerist side), which make him a truly compelling host.
The Apple Sisters Variety Show
The Apple Sisters are The Earwolf Networkís resident anachronistic vaudevillians who host a radio show in 1943. While their characters can be one-note (Candy is an in-the-closet lesbian, Seedy is super-religious and Cora is man-hungry), the chemistry between the three is enjoyable to listen to and the fun moments they find while riffing are genuine. While early episodes were self-contained, that has given way to month-long episode arcs that take the trio on adventures, and like the Marx Brothers or a good BBC radio show, this builds more fun by having an episodic spine to work off of.
In terms of breezy affability, thereís no other podcast thatís as fun to listen to as Who Charted? The chemistry between co-hosts Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack sets the tone; Kremerís genuinely bizarre comments and asides and Vilaysackís overjoyed reactions to them are one of the most fun things on any podcast. The conceptís also unique, as each week, the two countdown music and movie charts and use those charts to get to know their guests. While it sounds like it could be shallow, counting down something like Billboardís top five chart jumpers gets a truthful, off-the-cuff response from their guests, one that standard interview questions often donít elicit.
Here to Help
While Here to Help may be a bit too New York City specific ó and more obscurely, New York City improv scene specific ó for a general audience, I think the concept is strong and host Andy Roccoís neurotic earnestness is compelling. Each week, Rocco invites a panel of local improvisers, nationally touring stand-ups and performers-as-characters to give advice on a number of topics, including Roccoís well-meaning but shambolic lifestyle, questions from audience members, and questions culled from newspaper advice columns. Moving at a swift pace, no segment ever devolves into awkward pauses or outstays its welcome. Essentially a British-style panel show, Here to Help just allows funny people to riff for an hour.
Best Show Gems with Tom Scharpling
I love The Best Show with every fiber of my existence, but also I donít have three hours a week to dedicate to listening to it. I feel guilty just taking three minutes to go pee when I could be doing something productive. Regardless, Best Show Gems allows me to hear Tom Scharpling, one of the best straight men in comedy, and Superchunk drummer and comedian Jon Wurster build the town of Newbridge, N.J. one character and event at a time in easy 30-40 minute chunks. These guys are incredible.
By Andrew Beckerman