The problem with topical comedy podcasts is that they often find themselves caught between two poles. They are neither as fast and reactive as Twitter, nor as popular and mainstream as a TV panel show. The secret of a good one, then, is largely down to personality. And it’s this that has propelled Andy Zaltzman’s The Bugle for a decade and a half. Originally co-hosted with a pre-megastardom John Oliver, each week Zaltzman pulls apart the news (with help from one of a rotating band of guests) in a manner that is often absurd or angry but never smug. Given the state of topical comedy in general, that last quality is particularly miraculous.
The miracle of The Daily Zeitgeist, meanwhile, is that it is daily. And while you might assume that filling a podcast with topical gags every 24 hours is the fastest way to be driven to either madness or despair, that happily isn’t the case here. Hosted by Jack O’Brien, co-founder of the comedy site Cracked, The Daily Zeitgeist is smart enough to realise that all days are not created equally. Some days O’Brien and his guest can prattle on entertainingly for more than an hour; on quieter days they wrap up in as little as 15 minutes. It makes for a refreshingly fat-free listen.
If, like many (or perhaps just me), you have grown bored of Have I Got News for You, you should welcome Page 94 into your life with absolute glee. In truth, calling it a comedy podcast is a stretch: recent episodes have covered topics such as the sewage-dumping scandal, Covid and dodgy mini-umbrella funds. Episodes become available monthly, which means that all involved have the time and space to get all their ducks in order before shooting them down. The result is less Have I Got News for You and more Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, which is better.
The Skewer has been described more as a “river” than a podcast, and it isn’t hard to see why. Created by Jon Holmes, it is a hostless collage of news, songs and dialogue, smashed together to reflect whatever has happened over the last few days. It’s a bit like Cassetteboy, and a bit like Chris Morris’s Jam, and the sheer amount of work that goes into creating a new episode sounds genuinely backbreaking. Fortunately, once you’ve attuned yourself to its weird rhythms, The Skewer becomes gently hypnotic. Amazing.
And then there is this, NPR’s long-running, Peabody award-winning weekly current affairs quiz. Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! has a huge and loyal listenership, and for good reason. It is incredibly sharp and perceptive, and rarely gets snagged up in surface level one-liners. It also attracts some legitimately great guests: Stephen Fry, Martin Short, Ilana Glazer and Chance the Rapper have all stopped by in recent months to join the fun. Absolutely glorious.