The problem with topical comedy podcasts is that they often get caught between two poles. They are neither as fast and responsive as Twitter, nor as popular and mainstream as a TV panel. The secret of a good one is therefore largely linked to personality. And that’s what propelled Andy Zaltzman’s The Bugle for a decade and a half. Originally co-hosted with pre-megastardom John Oliver, each week Zaltzman separates the news (with the help of a rotating cast of guests) in a way that’s often absurd or angry but never enough. Given the state of topical comedy in general, this last quality is particularly miraculous.
The miracle of the Daily Zeitgeist, on the other hand, is that it is daily. And while you might assume that filling a podcast with topical gags every 24 hours is the quickest way to be driven to madness or despair, that’s thankfully not the case here. Hosted by Jack O’Brien, co-founder of comedy site Cracked, The Daily Zeitgeist is smart enough to realize that not every day is created equal. Some days, O’Brien and his guest can chat entertainingly for over an hour; on calmer days, they are over in as little as 15 minutes. This allows for refreshing fat-free listening.
If, like many (or maybe just me), you miss Have I Got News for You, you should welcome Page 94 into your life with absolute joy. In truth, to call it a comedy podcast is overkill: recent episodes have covered topics such as the sewage dumping scandal, Covid and dubious mini-umbrella funds. Episodes become available monthly, which means everyone involved has the time and space to get all their ducks in order before they put 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’s not hard to see why. Created by Jon Holmes, it’s a hostless collage of news, songs and dialogue, mixed together to reflect everything that’s happened over the past few days. It’s a bit like Cassetteboy, and a bit like Chris Morris’ Jam, and the amount of work that goes into creating a new episode seems really grueling. Luckily, once you get to grips with its eerie rhythms, The Skewer becomes gently hypnotic. Incredible.
And then there’s this, NPR’s long-running, Peabody-winning weekly news quiz. Wait Wait… Don’t tell me! has a huge and loyal following, and for good reason. It’s incredibly sharp and insightful, and rarely gets stuck 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 party. Absolutely glorious.