According to Apple, there are over half a million active podcasts. If you figure each one has one or two hosts at a minimum, that means there are more podcast hosts than residents of San Francisco. Imagine walking up and down the hills of San Francisco with each person — techies, homeless and military-grade, backflipping AI robots alike — asking you to listen to their podcast. No one could possibly consume all the content this fictional Podcast City exports, but we wanted to dig in and see if we could pull out some of the best new comedy podcasts of 2018.
Small disclaimer: We bent the rules a little bit to include some podcasts that started in late 2017, but relax, everyone knows podcasts take a little while to evolve and take shape anyways. It counts!
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
The premise of Conan O’Brien’s new podcast is simple but perfect: The iconic late night TV host has spent 25 years interviewing celebrity guests, but never created a lasting friendship with one. This podcast allows him the opportunity to invite back those guests for longer, freeform conversations — and to see if they could be friends in real life.
Watching a star change formats can sometimes be awkward — Soulja Boy’s recent transition from rapper to questionable-game-console salesman didn’t go great, for example. But Conan’s personality very naturally fills this new format.
Instead of the heavily choreographed late-night talk show conversations, listeners are treated to a much more vulnerable, behind the scenes vibe from O’Brien. The dynamic between him and his assistant Sona Movsesian helps with this. The relationship is endearing and serves as a springboard for the listener to get to know Conan better, by hearing how those around him see him.
His bit for reading ads — saying he needs to pay off his beach house or pretending that all the very specific ad copy just popped into his head — is hysterical, and proves he could read the dictionary and make people laugh. All episodes of this podcast are worth a listen so far, but the one-two punch of Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard stood out for the genuine warmth and discussion of Conan’s personal life.
Yeah, But Still
Remember that “dicks out for Harambe” meme? Brandon Wardell, a host of this podcast alongside Jack Wagner, started that. Well, at least that’s what someone whispered into my ear at an ultra-hip party called Emo Nite L.A. as he walked by, which should pretty much explain the general vibe of this circle. These guys are neck deep in Internet and Los Angeles young creative culture, but rooted enough to not take that life too seriously. They’re also the brains behind Like & Subscribe, a show on Funny or Die that parodies social media influencers with brilliant precision.
The duo — who harmonize absurd inside jokes, memes and quips as if they almost have their own language — have guests like rapper Chuck Inglish and Chapo Trap House‘s Felix Biederman, but this is far from an interview podcast. Many timely hooks and recent projects are utterly ignored, as guests and hosts just kinda kickback and bullshit, which allows for listeners to get to know the hosts in a whole new way. Instead of canned responses and worn-thin interview questions, listeners feel like you are just plopped down inside a L.A. living room, surrounded by talented creators trying to make each other laugh. It’s a thrill — and maybe that’s why one of their patrons continues to offer $1,000 just to fly out and hang with them.
Hollywood Handbook: The Pro Version
This 2018 premium spinoff show started as a years-long recurring joke on the popular satire podcast Hollywood Handbook, so we are cheating a bit by putting this on a “new podcast” list. But we’d argue that because this spinoff technically started in 2018, it counts. Plus, Hollywood is all about bending the rules to get ahead, right?
The Hollywood Handbook, which has been around since 2013, parodies and satirizes the entertainment industry by allowing Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements — two distinctly not famous people — give listeners advice on how to make it in Hollywood, joined by guests like Donald Glover and Ellie Kemper. During the show, they’d often dig into the ridiculousness of the podcast phenomenon as a whole. So when they decided to go premium, signing up to offer something to Stitcher premium customers who pay $4.99 a month, they turned that bit into The Pro Version — and created something completely original.
A Very Fatal Murder
This Onion podcast is perfect satire — a scripted comedy that embodies and amplifies the true-crime voice for satirical effect without ever becoming try-hard or hack. It pokes fun at the genre’s blemishes; a dark fascination with macabre violence against young women, a snobbish big city perspective of small towns, and a desire to find a miscarriage of justice that runs so deep sometimes you just invent one, all while also exuding a clear affection for the genre as a whole.
Any fan of Serial or S-Town will be rewarded. The laugh lines shoot out rapidly: “Do you know the girl who was shot then brutally stabbed over and over until her face was barely recognizable?” or “What elevates a murder from a routine ho-hum killing to a crime so gruesome and compelling it deserves its own podcast?”
The team was also somehow able to convince the business side of the publication to allow them to even satirize podcast commercials instead of running real ones — and those are real treats as well. Particularly when the podcast’s investigative reporter forces the grieving mother of a murdered teenager to do an ad-read for a service called Box Box.
Hearing her sniffle through the line “Enter in discount code ‘Hayley’” is comedy gold.
Why Won’t You Date Me?
Nicole Byer’s personality is so big and likable this podcast is impossible to not to enjoy. Some have argued the real reason behind the podcast boom has been we just want to be friends with the hosts — and Nicole is the perfect, gossip-y, too-much-information friend for a long car drive or commute.
Let’s face facts: we all like to gossip about relationships, but sometimes your friends aren’t down to truly spill the tea. Nicole throws the tea all over the fucking house, getting into the gritty details of everything from getting over penis size and how to go about scheduling booty calls to crazy tinder messages, sweaty guys, body anxiety and giant monster dildos.
The premise of the show is that Byer has been single for decades, and that she’s searching for the reason why — a setup that allows the actress and comedian to shed any shame and address the subject bluntly and with humor.
Raised by TV
These conversations between Lauren Lapkus and Jon Gabrus about TV they watched growing up may sound natural, but amateurs shouldn’t try this at home. These two are professional funny conversation-havers, with deep improv experience that makes this podcast a real treat.
Together on Raised by TV, the duo brew a strong kick of nostalgia for Millennials. Most episodes are a loud, loose-format conversation that look into the TV fare of the late 1980s through early 2000s, with dives into Family Matters, Oprah and why TV teenagers were so angsty in the Nineties.
The warmth between the two adds to the enjoyment of the show, as the topic leads naturally into childhood memories and other topics like commercials, toys and snacks from the time period. It’s just a straight up fun topic, but add in some great guests like Scott Aukerman, and you have one of the best new podcasts of 2018 — even though it started in late 2017.
Bubble is a scripted comedy sci-fi series set in a world where humans live in protective, corporation controlled protective bubbles. Outside the bubble? That’s the brush. Monsters, imps and all sorts of dangerous fanatics live out there.
Morgan, our star, is from the brush, but she was brought inside as a baby. After the corporation found out a small-time operation turning monster blood into hallucinogenics was headquartered in her residence, she was blackmailed into using a new Uber-like app called Huntr, which pays her to hunt down any monsters that make it through the bubble. Basically, she’s entered the nightmare that is the gig economy — only instead of picking up people from the airport, she’s clearing monsters from the town square.
Despite that dystopian capitalist tech nightmare, the hipster-ish characters feel fun, relatable, and young. As they fend off monsters they also fire off a barrage of jokes that sound a bit like L.A. alt-comedy twitter. Bubble may be set in a far off world, but the young and broke characters struggling to survive in the gig economy and find love in a corrupt-feeling big city makes it feel close to home.
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