Comedy podcasts are ten-a-penny these days, with stand-ups seemingly responsible for around half of the podcasts out there.
If you’re looking for some amusement on your daily walk or commute, here are eight of the best ones. Listen or subscribe to them on iTunes, Spotify, Pocketcase or your preferred podcast app.
Katherine Ryan: Telling Everybody Everything
Given I’d only ever seen her on those irritating Channel 4 panel shows, I’d always assumed I wouldn’t like Katherine Ryan. But her one-woman podcast – Telling Everybody Everything – shows just how wrong I was. Since it launched last month, it’s become one of my essential lockdown listens. While Ryan can write jokes with the best of them, she’s also an effortless raconteur: an empathetic storyteller somewhere between Quentin Crisp and Ruby Wax. The more I listen, the more I am bewitched by her quirky worldview, which approaches the oddest situations with both kindness and curiosity. As you can tell, I am a convert (bordering on a disciple).
Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast
With a decade of acclaimed Edinburgh shows under his belt, Richard Herring is a stand-up institution. In his podcast RHLSTP (pronounced as an unbroken string of consonants), he conducts on-stage interviews with famous names from the comedy and wider entertainment world. While there’s plenty of cheekiness along the way, Herring has proved himself to be a superbly deft interviewer, gently coaxing his guests off the usual script and towards genuinely candid moments. Recent guests have included Michael Palin, Konnie Huq, Grayson Perry and Sarah Millican. The live shows will hopefully return later this year.
Satirist Andy Zaltzman – the long-term writing partner of HBO’s John Oliver – has a brain the size of a planet. Who else would be able to put out a topical podcast – with as much fresh material as some comics write in a year – on a weekly basis? And for thirteen years straight too. The good news is that The Bugle is as good as it’s ever been, partly thanks to current co-host Alice Fraser (who vibes perfectly with Zaltzman’s hyper-articulate and anarchic style). Even better, unlike most multi-comedian podcasts there’s no self-satisfied braying here. Zaltzman and Fraser prefer to focus on delivering their material, rather than laughing at each other’s.
Frank Skinner’s Poetry Podcast
Okay, this isn’t technically a comedy podcast, rather a poetry podcast that just happens to be presented by a famous comedian. But it’s still very good. While Skinner is perfectly placed to squeeze the humour from his subject manner, the real pleasure here is in listening to such a witty mind get to grips with a subject he clearly loves. His episode on Philip Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings was a superb piece of radio, with the host’s own musings lingering on my mind afterwards just as much as those of the great pessimist himself. With Skinner, 63, having abandoned the laddish stuff years ago, could his earnest love of poetry prompt the next evolution of his stand-up routine? That would be interesting.
The Rob Auton Daily Podcast
If like me you share an aversion to shouty comedians, you’ll find Rob Auton a breath of fresh air. A lot of the time his daily podcast doesn’t feel like comedy at all: more like an offbeat Thought for the Day, as Auton’s mind drifts off on its oddly profound musings. By podcast standards, the episodes are tiny (often not much longer than the advert that precedes them) but they still have that rare ability to brighten up your day – just listen to the one on ‘less people saying fewer’, which offers a gentle rebuttal to online pendants. I look forward to seeing Auton’s equally-idiosyncratic live show when things start to return to normal.
The Rule of Three
It’s a reliable law of comedy that jokes work less well when you over-analyse them. So how about a podcast that revels in doing exactly that? Each week, Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris (who worked on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe) invite a famous face to reveal their favourite ever piece of comedy – typically a film or sitcom episode – and then dissect it in detail. While aficionados will clearly be in their element, the quality of patter means that non-anoraks should enjoy it too. Episodes to date have included Miles Jupp on Frasier, Charlie Brooker on Airplane! and Sue Perkins on This is Spinal Tap.
Natalie Haynes Stands up for the Classics
Oxbridge comedy gets a bit of stick these days with critics accusing the once groundbreaking Footlights as blocking more diverse talent. But here’s an example of the sort of thing Oxbridge will always do best: lectures. Which in this case means comedian and classicist Natalie Haynes presenting a series of stand-up routines about her favourite ancient thinkers. The weekly show – which quickly became a cult hit when it launched on Radio 4 in 2014 – is still carrying on in lockdown (albeit from the comfort of Haynes’ study) with the entire back catalogue available on most podcast apps. This is stand-up as its smartest and most informative.
It would be remiss to put together a list of comedy podcasts without mentioning Spectator Life’s own satirical podcast, That’s Life. Each month, Andy Shaw (co-creator of the famous – or infamous – free speech comedy club in Bethnal Green) and Spectator Life regular Benedict Spence are joined by a leading light from the worlds of comedy or journalism to take a sideways look at current affairs. Thumbing its nose at tribalism (just like its parent publication), That’s Life takes pride in pricking the pomposity of those on every part of the political spectrum. Guest include everyone from Geoff Norcott and Simon Evans to Julia Hartley Brewer and Toby Young.