Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Amusing podcasts

Travelling around a lot by bus, ferry, foot, plane and train (in alphabetical order), I find podcasts and audiobooks perfect companions. I've gathered quite a collection of radio comedy that sees me through too, a lot of it from the 1990s when Radio 1 bizarrely let people like Chris Morris, Simon Munnery and Lee and Herring do pretty much what they wanted for an hour each week. We won't see the likes of those days again.

Podcasts feel like the natural successor to those alternative radio shows, now that broadcasters like the BBC are too timid to take risks on innovative comedy and things like the Mighty Boosh are seen as 'edgy.'

Simultaneously less professional but also much freer from constraints, the podcast medium has been embraced by many comedians as a chance to express themselves without censorship and try out new material just as they would on stage. While their generally unedited and unscripted nature means they can often be a bit shit, this is also part of the podcast's charm - they are free after all, done for love rather than money, even if the effort ultimately pays off in terms of greater publicity for other projects.

Here are my (probably) top five comedy podcasts, most of which are current and ongoing and all of which can be legally downloaded free of charge, at least in part.

1. As It Occurs to Me

Download from the British Comedy Guide

Download from iTunes

Tired of tightening broadcasting regulations and eager to test the boundaries of an emerging medium, Richard Herring set up a weekly stand-up and sketch show in late 2009 that instantly proved an underground hit. The simple business model of the show's costs being paid for by those who choose to show up in the audience and pay around £10 for a ticket means AIOTM (as all the cool kids are calling it) can be put out for free, unedited, to be downloaded the next day by all the Herring-baiting iTunes users.

Written by Richard Herring and performed alongside TV's Emma Kennedy, Dan Tetsell and Christian Reilly, AIOTM has irresistible cult appeal, and a growing cast of ridiculous characters and catch-phrases that are nurtured in spite of themselves. The ramshackle and hastily scripted nature of the show makes its triumphs and disasters all the more spectacular, and there are times when I've genuinely feared for Richard's sanity and bemoaned the comparative lack of support that now means its future is in doubt (I made sure I went along to support the Edinburgh one, which was a great experience).

I really, really like this podcast. More than 20 episodes have now been recorded, though if you don't get up to speed from the start (or at least the start of series two), you may find yourself hopelessly lost.

2. The Collings and Herrin Podcasts

Download from the British Comedy Guide

Download from iTunes

Richard Herring's other, continuing, longer running podcast, the Collings and Herrin podcast has been recorded in his attic with 6 Music colleague Andrew Collins since January 2008. Two men talking about stuff and being funny or insightful when the opportunity arises, the podcast regularly uses the week's news for its subject matter, and has been a reliable fixture of my week for two and a half years running, so I have a great fondness for it.

Usually one hour, six minutes and thirty-six seconds in length, the podcast has developed a loyal following that's spawned a series of occasional live recordings, which are well worth making it along to if they play near where you live. You can also support the free endeavour by sponsoring the podcast in various ways, including buying their merchandise or making a payment to their chosen charities and requesting that Richard and Andrew call one of your dearest friends a cunt in the following week's show.

3. Adam and Joe

Download from the BBC

Download from iTunes

Download from fansite

Rumoured to be returning to their Saturday morning slot any weekend now after almost a year off, the double act that used to vaguely annoy me on the TV have really come into their own on the radio. Their XFM shows were excellent (available on iTunes or PodcastBlaster for non-Apple fans), and the enthusiasm and effort that went into their long-running 6 Music show made it a delight to listen to.

Tune in for all three hours or download the edited highlights in the podcast the following Monday (coming in at around an hour without records, there's not much editing) to enjoy a whole new season of anecdotes, features and stinking dogs. They never read out any of my insightful texts, but I will keep trying.

4. Robin and Josie's Utter Shambles

Download from Comedy Central

Download from iTunes

Robin Ince is one of Britain's hardest working comedians, with an insatiable desire to cover the entirety of human existence in each hour-long performance - hence his seemingly oblivious catchphrase "oh no, I didn't have time to fit in [insert exhaustive list of topics]" at the end of everything he does. Which is a lot of things.

At this year's Fringe, he allegedly performed five shows a day (or at least some days), most of them free, and I'm sure the inevitable winter revival of his brilliant Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People event will be the first time I actually miss being in the UK, as the show I went to last year might be the best gig I've ever been to (Stewart Lee's Silver Stewbilee at this year's Fringe is a close second though).

This shambolic podcast is a bit like the Godless Carols event, in that it's a chance for Robin to gather some of his favourite people from the formerly disparate worlds of comedy, science, music and literature to chat about books, biscuits and other middle-aged preoccupations. With Josie Long to add the youthful hipster-feminist vibe.

Now hurtling towards the end of its third series (series one went under the title of Show and Tell), notable guests have included Ben Goldacre, Stewart Lee, Alan Moore and Rob Newman.

5. The Ricky Gervais Show

Yeah, I know, it's like listing five great black metal albums and throwing in De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas because it feels mandatory (alternatively: some analogy you can actually relate to). But while there was an increasing sense that this enterprise was for money over love in the later years, I owe a debt to Ricky, Steve and Karl's early XFM shows (available free at Pilkipedia) for getting me through a tedious 10 months where I essentially pressed the Enter key 7.5 hours a day for NHS Scotland and would have gone insane if not for their commentary.

Listening to those early years where Karl was blissfully unaware of his natural comedic gifts, making Ricky and Steve genuinely enraged and bamboozled in equal measure - rather than putting it on once they became desensitised - is still a treat, and there are surprisingly few weak points. Choose a random episode and there's bound to be some great exchanges sooner or later. Don't pay for the later podcasts though.

More funcasts

Collins & Herring - Not to be confused with Collings and Herrin, this is highlights of their non-sweary 6 Music show, filling in for Adam and Joe

The Trev and Simon Podcast - The Going Live/Live and Kicking slapstick duo (depending which side of the 80s you were born in) ditch their kid-friendly personas and try to make it as adult entertainers, with mostly enjoyable results

The Precious Little Podcast - Angry funnyman Michael Legge and some other guy talk shit

Answer Me This Podcast - Disconcertingly jovial, but they still swear

Marsha Meets - Not a comedy podcast, but she interviews a lot of funny people I like


  1. Podcasts are weird. I feel like I'm now listening to radio shows from around 2006, which I'm not sure is a brilliant idea. From your list, my favourite so far is the Robin Ince and Josie Long Shambles. I also downloaded the Robin Cooper Timewaster podcasts and loved them. I'm probably going to download more podcasts by other Robins.

    I also thought I'd be clever and download some improve your English style ones. The first I tried seemed to result in me downloading purely adverts to sign up for a site. The second is from the BBC and seems to be an old man explaining to other old people what current slang means. Yesterday, I learned about minging. I also have another one which is basically a girl telling me where 'sexy' words originate from. Yesterday she tried to tell me about 'booty call'. Both are unintentionally hilarious.

  2. I only knew Robert Popper/Robin Cooper as the guy from Look Around You who wasn't Peter Serafinowicz, I didn't consider that he might actually be funny and do stuff. I have a lot to check out.


  3. I didn't realise that he was him. Amazing!

  4. Listened to all the Timewaster Phone Calls - the Magnetic Box almost made me wee myself, and the Uncle's Birthday is pretty amazingly insane

  5. Not a podcast, but another of my favourite audio things is Chris Morris and Peter Cook's short series 'Why Bother' - semi-improvised interviews with plenty of highs and lows. There are torrents etc.

    The 'Christ' one is probably the best: