The comedy podcast genre, to me, is a metaphorical minefield. I say this partly because there is no shortage of absolute tat claiming to fall under this category (especially when crossing the pond) but also because at its worst, it can be diluted down to comedians talking with a superiority complex about how amazing other comedians are to spend time with, which to the unenlightened such as myself, is particularly tedious to listen to.
It takes a level of audacity, that goes under the radar in my opinion, to be so sure of your own comedic talent that the lack of feedback in a solo podcast does not phase you whatsoever
This oversaturated market, which of course does have its strong points, doesn’t necessarily interest me as a whole, but as you may have guessed from the title, I am fascinated by the sub-section of solo comedy podcasts. If you want a guaranteed way of making your work as a comedy podcaster so much harder and more impressive, kill your co-hosts. More empty audio time, no one to pick up trailing thoughts, no “yes men” to roll with whatever someone is spewing out. With zero experience of my own, I can imagine that the gratifying aspect of stand-up comedy would be the instant feedback, the laughter in the moment, which backs up your feelings towards the material you’re delivering. It takes a level of audacity, that goes under the radar in my opinion, to be so sure of your own comedic talent that the lack of feedback in a solo podcast does not phase you whatsoever.
One of the pioneers for the format was and still is Bill Burr with the Monday Morning Podcast. Famed for his ranting ability, he has been talking into the mic on his own since 2007 for a few episodes a week. In a market where longevity is often a testament to quality, Burr took his style of stage comedy and seamlessly transitioned it to the studio and has become the epitome of consistency. A criticism often levied at stand-ups who do podcasts (which is pretty much all of them by now) is that they use their podcast as a medium to rehearse or even reuse bits rather than keeping the two aspects separate, but Burr balances the recognised element of his own style while engaging with new content to keep it as an essential part of his catalogue of work. Given that part of what has made so many comedy podcasts take off in the last few years has been the reaction of co-hosts, elevating great moments, Burr gives a refreshing reminder that podcasts are still very doable without a supporting cast of any kind as long as the talent is there.
What strikes me about his podcast in particular is the pure control he has over his audience. It seems a trivial point given he has complete reign over every element of the “conversation”, but I still find it remarkable that he can remain captivating for the duration of a podcast, particularly when considering the length of his career, simply by never running out of great ways to discuss what he loves and what’s been going on in the world.
I am consistently blown away by the ability of this brand of podcaster
In a sense he paved the way for solo podcasts, but he has almost been too dominant that no one has dared occupy the same space for an extended period. The result of this has been a change in approach to the solo comedy podcast scene, which to me was best characterised by The Tim Dillon Show which went on a golden run of “solo” podcasts in the middle of 2022. The reason for my quotation marks is that Dillon cheated the system in a sense, by having his producer sit in with him for his shows. I still count these as solo podcasts despite this because there really is no debate about who is in control of what’s being said. The producer will only ever explain the context behind news articles that they have provided or be asked to find evidence when Dillon is making a point. I think the main difference between the two shows I’ve mentioned that the addition of a producer causes is that while Burr puts the onus on you the audience to recognise what’s funny, Dillon steers you in the right direction through the use of his producer despite their best effort to hold in the laughs to not disrupt the flow of a comedic rant.
There hasn’t been so much an evolution of the solo format given that Burr’s podcast is still very much thriving, but regardless, the adaptation of his model has certainly provided a breath of fresh air to a podcast genre which needed a resurgence in my opinion. I am consistently blown away by the ability of this brand of podcaster and even if the podcasts I’ve discussed aren’t for you, I would fully recommend branching out into solo podcast territory.