Way before that guy in your English class discovered NPR, audio entertainment had been amusing audiences for decades. While today it seems everyone and their mother has a podcast, the renaissance of the art form is a revival of the old time radio technology on which it is based. The rebranding of radio programs as podcasts is the best thing to happen to the medium since it was replaced by television back in the ’50s. Podcasts today have occupied every realm of entertainment that radio once had a monopoly on: There are dramas like “Serial,” news programs like The New York Times’s “The Daily” and even comedy shows like “WTF with Marc Maron” and “2 Dope Queens.” Podcasts have most certainly declared themselves the second golden age of radio and more importantly, I would say, the second golden age of radio comedy.
The Golden Age of Radio was a time period in American entertainment lasting from the 1930s until televisions entered nearly every home in the country by the mid 1950s. Back in the day, families gathered around the radio weekly to tune into beloved comedy shows like “The Goldbergs” or “The Aldrich Family.” Like podcasts today, these shows survived on advertisements, but instead of ads for Blue Apron and Gillette, they were sponsored by Camel cigarettes and Pepsodent. Many comedies in the radio age were episodic and situational. “Abbott and Costello” used the medium for clever wordplay and endless puns to crack up listeners everywhere. The original “Funny Girl,” Fanny Brice, portrayed the silly young girl Snooks Higgins on “The Baby Snooks Show,” sometimes called “Baby Snooks and Daddy.” Bob Hope — usually recognized for hosting the Academy Awards a record number of 19 times and earning five honorary Oscars — was a massive part of the radio industry. For his 64-year broadcasting run he was closely associated with NBC. He performed everywhere from Broadway to US military bases. On Hope’s show he had celebrity guests like Al Jolson, Jack Benny and Doris Day. A comedian in his own right, Hope’s show, “The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope,” was wildly popular. The show boasted some 15 writers, including a young Sherwood Schwartz who would go on to create “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch.”
While much of radio comedy and radio in general was superseded by TV in the ’50s, one very important radio comedy show made itself known in the peak of TV’s reign in the early 1970s. It ran weekly sketches and musical parodies from 1973 until 1974. That show was “The National Lampoon’s Radio Hour” starring the likes of John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and Harold Ramis. Like the Lampoon itself, the show was chock full of controversial and crude material, making it difficult to keep advertisers. The radio hour was even cut down to half an hour after 13 weeks. While the show only lasted a year, its alumni went on to change the history of comedy. Most of the alumni went on to work at “Saturday Night Live,” the show’s creator, Michael O’Donoghue was even head writer at “SNL” for its first three seasons.
Today, the selection of podcasts is, to put it lightly, overwhelming. Comedy podcasts are no exception, as there are hundreds of pods out there with the chief goal of making you chuckle on your morning commute. Earwolf — a podcast network part of the Stitcher family — is putting out some of the best comedic content thanks to the genius of comedy podcast king, Scott Aukerman. The comedy writer and improv master started the podcast “Comedy Bang! Bang!” under the name of “Comedy Death-Ray Radio” in 2009. The show is an improviser’s dream as it runs on witty report and impressive character work. It is goofy, weird and sometimes downright bizarre, but always hilarious. Featuring special guests every week, “Comedy Bang! Bang!” never fails at keeping our attention. Some of my favorite recurring guests include Jason Mantzoukas (“Big Mouth”), Paul F. Tompkins (“Bojack Horseman”), Lauren Lapkus (“Crashing”) and Nick Kroll (“Big Mouth”). Aukerman and his business partner launched Earwolf in 2010; now, the network hosts over 35 different comedy programs including Paul Scheer’s “How Did This Get Made?” and Jonathan Van Ness’s “Getting Curious.” Aukerman has also recently launched a podcast with Adam Scott of “Parks and Recreation” fame. The show in question, formerly known as “U Talkin’ U2 To Me?,” is now called “R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME?” The hilarious pod was previously devoted to delving into the discography of the rock band U2 and has now shifted its focus to the band R.E.M. — they have amazing banter that makes you wish you could be in the studio with them.
If you want to get into humorous podcasts but fear the incessant banter of improv-based and character-focused pods of Aukerman fame, have a listen to my personal favorite, “My Dad Wrote a Porno.” The British show is hosted by James Cooper, Jamie Morton and Alice Levine. Each episode, Morton reads a chapter from his father’s self-published series of erotic novels, “Belinda Blinked.” Every moment is a cringe-fest verging on tears from laughter. The three friends tear apart the novel with hilarious running commentary, making the most uncomfortable moments of the highly sexual erotica laugh-out-loud funny. The pod is now on their fourth season, as Morton’s father continues to publish his work, for which we are eternally grateful.
The art of radio comedy is alive and well with the plethora of comedy podcasts in our midst; the only thing left to do now is to get listening. And with that, Dear Reader, I bid you happy listening!