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Comedy podcasts

Los Angeles’ finest comedians have taken advantage of Comedy Bang! Bang!’s open door policy. Photo credit: Earwolf/Kevin Bartelt

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Another edition of Three Easy Pieces, another time for me to tell you about a corner of pop culture, from how it started, to how it looks today. This month: comedy podcasts. Podcasts have only existed for about 15 years, but in that time, have not only grown in popularity, but exponentially in passion. Descendants of talk radio, podcasts have the ability to connect hosts with listeners in a profoundly intimate way, providing almost direct person-to-person entertainment. Podcasts proved to be the great equalizer of the entertainment world, allowing anyone with access to a microphone and a computer the ability to create their own content, however niche the interest. Here, then, is a drastically curtailed overview of the arc of comedy podcasts.

BIRTH: Never Not Funny
Honorable mention: Jordan, Jesse, Go!; Superego; Keith and the Girl

The early days of podcasting set a standard for what would eventually become the utterly tiresome formula for most shows: two or three white guys sitting around and shooting the sh@#. Never Not Funny didn't differ from this mold, but it's stood the test of time and become one of the grandfathers of podcasts through the sheer likability of its host, his comedy nerd producer, and the years of in-jokes and goodwill they've fostered along the way.

Comedian Jimmy Pardo started Never Not Funny in 2006, spurred on by Matt Belknap, an LA comedy fanatic who saw potential in the podcasting model. Thirteen years down the line, listening to Never Not Funny feels much like visiting with some friends, with nothing much in the way of noteworthy events to dissect -- fans of the show are more than happy to hear the hosts talk about the minutiae of their lives, what movies they've seen recently, or even their experiences in airports. Never Not Funny was one of the first podcasts to monetize their show via a paywall, paving the way for a future where creators could make a living through podcasting.

DEVELOPMENT: Comedy Bang! Bang!
Honorable mention: Doug Loves Movies, WTF with Marc Maron, The Flop House, How Did This Get Made?

Started as an independent radio show called Comedy Death-Ray Radio, Comedy Bang! Bang! burst onto the scene as the preeminent, kaleidoscopic emporium of alternative comedy in the podcasting world. Hosted by Mr. Show alum Scott Aukerman, CBB drew from a deep well of Los Angeles comedians, encouraged by the show's "open door policy," which invited dozens of characters to make their way into the studio. Nowadays, CBB can be a bit of a daunting show to jump into, with the better part of a decade of world-building to wade through: Aukerman may serve as the lightly antagonistic straight man, for all intents and purposes, but the characters that stop by CBB have spent years improvising ludicrously complex backstories.

CBB's fans are legion, though; try shouting "Hey Nong Man!" in public and see who gives you a knowing nod. Aukerman and CBB were among the first to start a proper podcasting network, with Earwolf, and CBB itself had a hell of a run as an absurdist talk show on IFC, marking it as a watershed moment of old and new media coming together.

TODAY: Blank Check with Griffin & David
Honorable mention: Punch Up the Jam, Harmontown, Sponaneanation

As the glut of podcasts becomes more and more pervasive, creators have been tasked with coming up with something more than funny people doing bits. Conceptual podcasts have become the order of the day, and I can't help but spotlight one that shares two of my dearest interests: comedy and movies. For my money, Blank Check is the best film podcast going. Their conceit: film critic David Sims and actor/movie-obsessed nervous wreck Griffin Newman cover filmographies of directors who captures success in their early years, affording them the proverbial "blank check" to make the crazy movies they want.

Past directors include Christopher Nolan, Nancy Meyers, M. Night Shyamalan, Kathryn Bigelow, and Paul Verhoeven. Their current miniseries is about Tim Burton, and it's a sheer delight to hear the hosts fall apart over watching a director start out with such promise, before taking a steep nosedive. That they're able to mix an abundant amount of closely observed film analysis with absurd humor is a unique treat. Their recent March Madness bracket landed on Jonathan Demme for their upcoming subject, and I couldn't be more excited.

Three Easy Pieces will return, next month, with: Game-changing soundtracks

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