Podcasting didn’t even have a name until 2005 when the term was first used by Aled Williams in The Guardian newspaper. Since then, many of the most popular comedy podcasts began as an introduction between a comedian and a previously untapped market. In years past, comedians needed to hone their act for years in comedy clubs before eventually getting a special and, for a lucky few, a career in movies or sitcoms. The recent explosion in comedy podcasts has provided fans with unfiltered access to their favorite comedians. Comedy, like most forms of entertainment, is extremely subjective. The recent proliferation of podcasts has given each listener the opportunity to find their comedy niche and share it with likeminded fans.
As Chris Hardwick, host of the popular "Nerdist" podcast, succinctly put it: “The comedy album is dead and podcasts are the new comedy album.” Many podcasts are released weekly (some even more frequently) and the creators simply don’t have time to produce fully polished material. The result is that most comedy podcasts seem less like an “act” and more like a casual conversation with a group of funny friends. Practically every comedy podcast can be described as “funny people talking” but, over time, many different variations have sprung up.
Each week, veteran comic and host of "WTF" Marc Maron moderates an uncomfortably personal interview with a guest comedian. Luminaries like Conan O’Brian, Robin Williams, Louis C.K., and many more have let their guards down with Maron to discuss the craft of comedy, personal insecurities, and any other topics that arise. "Doug Loves Movies" is a shaggy dog game show hosted by Doug Benson and featuring a panel of celebrity contestants. "The Paul F. Tompkast" is a variety show featuring improvised ramblings, pre-produced segments, and live comedy recordings. The venerable "Comedy Bang Bang" podcast (formerly "Comedy Death-Ray Radio") is nearly two hours of riffing, recurring characters and terribly awkward party games.
Comics benefit from podcasting because they are given carte blanche to create the show they want without fear of low ticket sales or network censors. Most comedy podcasts are still offered for free on iTunes but the featured comedians reap the rewards on the road where listeners flock to live shows. As a result, podcasts have become a form of advertising for working comics. If a comedian proves to be genial and funny on a weekly basis the average listener will be much more willing to buy a ticket to see them perform in person.
Most popular comedy podcasts come out of the alternative comedy Mecca of Los Angeles, California. A glance at the most frequent podcast guests shows a tremendous amount of overlap. Many of these comedians have been friends for decades and the casual one-upmanship and camaraderie between performers is readily apparent. Podcasting has also become a stepping stone to more commercial media. Marc Maron’s "WTF" was recently picked up for distribution on public radio. Chris Hardwick was recently given a deal to repurpose his "Nerdist" podcast for BBC television. Depending on the success of these projects, it is likely that even more podcasts will be made available to a broader audience. Whatever the future may hold for comedy podcasting, one thing is clear. There will always be funny people talking.