In late 2015 - following months of prep work, practicing, dry runs, and countless visits to Buffalo Wild Wings - Wisenheimer: The Podcast was officially launched into the world. We now know and respect just how much time, effort, and camaraderie goes into creating and editing these labors of love, and the process continues to add fuel to the creative fire and the desire to produce more.
As our listener base continues to grow, we decided to compile a list of our favorite podcasts which inspired us to start our own and who all continue to make us laugh today. (As such, we did not include our own podcast in this list.)
There are numerous, wonderful podcasts out there which break down and discuss the craft and art of improvisation - the great Magnet Theater Podcast, for instance - however, this list focuses mainly on improv performance. Perhaps we'll do another list some day of improv education podcasts, but for now, these are the ones which make us laugh while driving or working away at our normal jobs.
It goes without saying, we hope you'll give each of these podcasts a listen starting at the beginning of their respective runs, but have also recommended episodes if you're just looking for a sample of each. Something else we happily noticed is the majority of these podcasts all share cast members as hosts or guests - which furthers the sense of community in the improv world as well as the mantra of having one another's backs.
If you enjoy these, we highly recommend checking out the free podcast offerings available at Earwolf and Nerdist, and there's also now a subscription service available at Howl.fm featuring an incredible line up of new shows and an amazing archive.
10. PISTOL SHRIMPS RADIO • Earwolf
While this is technically not an improv podcast in the "traditional" sense, the premise is two guys who know nothing about basketball provide commentary on games of The Pistol Shrimps, a women's rec league basketball team based in Los Angeles.
For our money this more than qualifies as an improv podcast as Matt Gourley and Mark McConville make up fouls, non-existent stats, an impressive list of referee names, shows never coming to a network near you, and a halftime sock report because why the hell not?!
We promise if you give one episode a listen, you'll be a Pistol Shrimps Radio fan in no time. And if you are not, then all we have to say is, "Hey, pal! Go screw!"
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 1. Pistol Shrimps Radio 4.21.15
9. IMPROV NERD WITH JIMMY CARRANE • Feral Audio
Improv Nerd is the premiere interview podcast for anyone involved in the improv community. While the majority of every episode is focused on learning a performers history, Carrane does do a brief improv set with his guest.
It is fascinating hearing the insights, stories, and techniques used by luminaries of the improv community, then witness them actually put those incredible skills to use. Plus, Jimmy is an excellent interviewer and his self-deprecating style is endearing. It's always fascinating hearing them then assess their performance which is normally followed by an audience Q&A.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 163: TJ & Dave
8. THE ANDY DALY PODCAST PILOT PROJECT • Earwolf
Hosted by the amazing Andy Daly (Comedy Central's Review) - and initially created as a teaser for that show - this is a wonderful mini-series whose concept is pilots have been sent in to Earwolf for review with the potential of any of them becoming full time podcasts.
Every pilot is hosted by a different character from the mind of Daly, and he's packed every episode with some of the best improv talent out there. With an average episode length of an hour and forty minutes, many of his favorite characters (first heard on Comedy Bang Bang) as well as numerous new creations are all given ample time to entertain and leave lasting impressions on listeners. As a matter of fact, we're still quoting lines from some of these episodes...
As it stands, there were only 8 episodes produced as this sadly is not an ongoing series, otherwise it would deservedly be further up this list. With that in mind, there is now a strong rumor on the Earwolf forums (as well as from Daly himself) there will be more episodes on the way once he has time to create them. Our fingers are crossed!
RECOMMEDED EPISODE - 004: The Travel Bug With August Lindt
7. WOMP IT UP! W/ WOMPLER + LISTLER • Earwolf / Howl.fm
An extended universe based off Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham's popular characters first introduced on Comedy Bang Bang, the premise of this show is Listler (Parham) is Wompler's (St. Clair) STARS Program instructor advising her on her senior project, which is the podcast.
We meet characters from her high school universe as she interviews friends, teachers, etc., and also get the occasional glimpse into the wonderful enigma that is Listler and her increasingly bizarre past.
The show has started to almost be randomly updated with new episodes as St. Clair and Parham are busy with a new season of their television show, Playing House, but when they bring their undeniable chemistry to this podcast, the results are both infectious and hilarious.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 1: Spotlight On - Dr. Lionel Drioche
6. WITH SPECIAL GUEST LAUREN LAPKUS • Earwolf / Howl.fm
You may recognize Lauren Lapkus as the security guard from Orange Is The New Black or from her appearance in Jurassic World, but she's been a fixture of the comedy improv scene for quite some time. Her numerous appearances on Comedy Bang Bang led to her finally getting her own show, and the premise she came up with is truly a marathon of creativity.
Every week, her guest portrays the host of an already existing podcast, then Lapkus comes on to play a character who is a guest on that fictional podcast. Got all that? Give it a listen and you'll understand quickly.
We often refer to this podcast as 'a masterclass of committing to character' as Lapkus and her guest stay in the mythology they create by consistently justifying every new piece of information revealed. As a treat at the end of every episode, Lapkus brings out one of her favorite creations, Tracy Reardon, to do a Q&A with her guest and the character she herself created for that episode. She occasionally includes a special episode featuring the cast of her long-running UCB show, Wild Horses - who have their own podcast, Wild Horses: The Perspective. In addition, Lapkus has yet a third podcast, Psychic Show with Lauren Lapkus, and both of those are currently available on Howl.fm.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 13: The Tom Leykis Radio Program
5. HELLO, FROM THE MAGIC TAVERN • Earwolf
A wonderful ensemble based podcast out of Chicago (and recently acquired by Earwolf), this show features a host who has fallen through a dimensional portal behind a Burger King and ended up in a land called Foon. Still receiving a faint wi-fi signal from the restaurant, he's decided to host a podcast introducing us to the varied denizens of the land.
Feeling like a comedic cross between Lord Of The Rings and every Dungeons & Dragons game, the sometimes opinionated yet affable host, Arnie - alongside a shapeshifter named Chunt (normally in the form of a badger) and the mighty wizard, Usidore - interview everyone from orcs to dimensional postmen to elves with names impossible to pronounce. The three co-hosts work seamlessly together and have an obvious understanding of how to play to each others strengths as they continue justifying the ever-growing mythology of Foon by setting one another up, then bailing each other out with with effortless efficiency.
Granted, if you're not a fan of fantasy or don't know your Drizzt Do'Urden from a hole in the ground, then this niche podcast may not be to your tastes, but to the initiated, it's an absolute joy.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 17: D’athaniel Quen’yarvin
4. SPONTANEANATION W/ PAUL F. TOMPKINS • Earwolf / Howl.fm
Welcome! WELCOME! Prepare yourself for a weekly improv ensemble tour de force with comedy impresario, Paul F. Tompkins, as your master of ceremonies.
Seemingly born from elements of Tompkins previous ventures, Pod F. Tompcast and The Dead Authors Podcast, Tompkins interviews a guest who provides fodder as well as a location for where the following improv takes place. We are then treated to a single narrative provided by incredible improvisers making memorable moments as we see their characters in the past, present day, and going into the mysterious future all via a sound effects board. The entire thing is underscored with music provided by Eban Schletter (who is only... the best).
Tompkins' natural charm as both host and improviser come through in every episode and he seems to relax more into the role as the series goes on. If his guest is an improviser, they will sometimes jump in with the cast and play as well, but normally they - like the listener - are an observer to the wonderful chaos that ensues.
It's hard to believe this podcast will be celebrating its one year anniversary on April 1, 2016 as it has become a mainstay for fans of the craft, and it's live recordings at Largo at the Coronet typically are sold out affairs. We hope this enjoyable trend continues for many years to come.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 4: Savannah, Georgia
3. SUPEREGO • Earwolf / Howl.fm
Initally the brainchild of Matt Gourley and Jeremy Carter, this duo were quickly joined by Mark McConville and Jeff Crocker in the early creation process, and a comedy podcast staple was born. In season 4, Crocker hung up his lab coat and was seamlessly succeeded by long time collaborator, Paul F. Tompkins, and the show has not missed a step as these four could easily be the faces on comedy podcasts' Mt. Rushmore.
The premise being doctors present various case studies with each examining a different personality disorder. It's easy to imagine the material was all written ahead of time due to the flawless editing and high-value post production, but there are these wonderful moments where the fourth wall breaks and you hear laughter in the background or can tell a comment is being said while stifling a laugh. It's a wonderful reminder these talented individuals are making the entire thing up in spite of the show having a narrative and a surreal sketch comedy feel. Numerous recurring highlights include announcements at a grocery store, being healed by Reverend Leroy Jenkins, the oft-forgotten Brown Squadren's valiant run on the Death Star, delving into the surreal world of H.R. Geiger, and the rusty country music stylings of Shunt McGuppin and The Journeymen. Plus, they are frequently joined by numerous talented guests which further raises this series to another level.
As this list was being compiled, the group announced on March 4, 2016, during their 10 year anniversary celebration, the collective decision to stop producing the show stating in an email, "the podcast as we know it is coming to a close." Thankfully, their entire archive as well as a second podcast, Superego: Forgotten Classics, are all available on Howl.fm.
They leave behind an amazing legacy for other podcasts to aspire to as well as a wonderful time capsule of when five talented friends banded together to create a product which showcased their shared passion for improv comedy.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 3 | 8: Best of Season 3 - Volume 1
2. COMEDY BANG BANG! THE PODCAST • Earwolf / Howl.fm
If there is a godfather of comedy podcasts, this is it.
Formally known as Comedy Death Ray and helmed by comedy legend, Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show with Bob & David), anyone who is anyone in improv comedy has made an appearance on this podcast as either a guest or as one of the litany of characters who has popped up at one time or another. Normally, Aukerman acts as host who initially interviews a guest, then they are inevitably visited by a random character or characters.
In recent years, variants of that format have proven popular including the Solo Bolo series (a one-on-one show with Ben Schwartz), the large group holiday specials, and the year-end Best Of episodes have all become must-listen fare. The shows continued success has even been a launching pad for other successful podcasts, such as Womp It Up! and With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, as well as spawning its own television show on IFC.
This show also became a podcast home of sorts for the hilarious Harris Wittels, and we highly recommend you listen to the Farts and Procreation episodes - a 4-part series featuring writers Wittels, Chelsea Peretti and actor Adam Scott, whom were all part of NBC's Parks and Recreation. The final episode, titled NOT Farts and Procreation 4, was released in the weeks following Wittels untimely passing and serves as both a tribute and emotional thank you to a comedic talent gone way too soon.
Comedy Bang Bang remains a constant in the comedy world, and we're all the better for it.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE - 150: Time Bobby
1. IMPROV4HUMANS W/ MATT BESSER • Earwolf / Howl.fm
If one podcast has a direct influence on our own, it would have to be this one hosted by Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder and improv legend, Matt Besser.
A fast-paced show featuring the best improvisers UCB has to offer, the premise is simple: three words are pulled from one of the hosts social media accounts and are used to inspire stories from his guests which informs the improv that follows. On certain occasions, the host will engage in a spirited debate with someone from the Earwolf forums in a segment called 'Case Closed,' and their discussion is used to improvise off of. Other times, show content is generated by an intern conducting a man on the street interview or provide a video during a segment called, 'Crap On YouTube.' Recently, special episodes have featured acoustic sets by incredible musical acts whose lyrics are used as fodder for scenes. The show also has the occasional 'Ask The UCB' episode, where Besser (or a fellow UCB performer) will directly answer or address questions about improv from listeners.
If you're reading this blog, odds are you already know of Besser's amazing improv pedigree. His weekly podcast further shows his genuine passion not only for the art of improvisation, but a desire to educate performers about the craft as well. Time and again, it proves to be one of those podcasts which truly interacts with and values its listeners. Plus, his pronunciation of the word "hu-mahns" has started to bleed into our normal day conversations with each other.
On a personal note: despite being in the Midwest and not having access to their training centers, we are all big fans of the UCB and each ordered (then promptly consumed) The Upright Citizens Brigade Improvisational Manual the day it was released. It has had a tremendous impact on both our live shows as well as the formulation of our podcast. We are both continually entertained by and educated weekly from listening to this show, and it continues to serve as inspiration for our own.
RECOMMENDED EPISODE -
Written by Jeff De Leon