We’re as ready to forget 2020 as you are, but before fully consigning that disaster of a year to the churning flames of Tartarus, let’s take a second to thank the podcasts that briefly brought us joy every single week. There’s a limit to the amount of relief comedy can provide from a year as tumultuous as the blasted mess we just put to bed, but the creators and hosts of the shows below all helped more than they might even realize. So hey: thanks, podcasters. We could’ve made it without you, but you were still pretty great.
Here are our favorite comedy podcasts of 2020, in no specific order.
Hopefully Jamie Loftus is no stranger to you; the comedian, writer, and podcaster has contributed to Paste’s comedy section for years, and has crafted an eclectic resume of brilliant projects in both emerging and legacy media. (That’s me trying to sound smart while saying she’s done stuff for both the phone and the TV.) The first of her two fantastic new 2020 podcasts was released in a single day, at the very start of the year, before anybody had an inkling of how terrible 2020 would be. 2020 was literally all downhill from My Year in Mensa, a podcast about Loftus’s experiences with the “high IQ society” Mensa and its weird subculture of toxic alt-right goons. (If that sounds familiar, well, yes, she did write about it frequently for Paste between 2018 and 2019.) Loftus is able to highlight the underlying absurdity of some of our biggest cultural and societal problems—as filtered through this goofy club for self-impressed test-takers—with her own unique and assured comedic voice always intact. Loftus’s second new podcast of 2020, Lolita Podcast, is a brilliant critical examination of how Nabokov’s novel has been viewed in society throughout the last 60 years; it’s a vital bit of analysis, and something that doesn’t comfortably fit the “comedy” tag, which is why I’m mentioning it here and not giving it a full entry of its own. Finally, Loftus’s long-running show The Bechdel Cast, which she cohosts with Caitlin Durante, continued to examine how movies treat their woman characters in perceptive but hilarious fashion.—Garrett Martin
In a time when legacy media outlets are publishing op-eds about why you don’t actually deserve a stimulus check or why the country needs to unify with white supremacists, it’s clear that non-uppity, well-informed political analysis that speaks to the needs of average people is hard to come by. It’s also true that we’re living through a glut of dreadfully unfunny political comedy, with SNL as patient zero. But luckily, comedian and progressive political commentator Francesca Fiorentini (also of The Young Turks and AJ+) has an answer to both problems. If you’re looking to add an astute, progressive perspective to your media diet or you just want genuinely funny comedy to numb and share in the pain of our failed state, The Bitchuation Room is a solid choice. Fiorentini brings on other comedians and progressive figures to roast Republicans and Democrats alike, and you can expect ridiculous zingers and off-the-wall impressions (Fiorentini’s recent portrayal of Donald Trump as a dog with Groucho glasses is a delight). Support the podcast on Patreon here. —Lizzie Manno
Don’t worry: You don’t have to love theme parks to enjoy Podcast: The Ride. Yeah, it might help, but hosts Mike Carlson, Jason Sheridan and Scott Gairdner are comedy professionals whose IMDB pages include multiple links back to stuff like Funny or Die, UCB, and Conan. They will entertain you even if you have no idea what a Hatbox Ghost is. 2020 should’ve been a challenging year for a show like this, given that all the theme parks in their home base of California have been closed since March, but the trio made it work, with new episodes on Action Park and the Main Street Electrical Parade, a series on European theme parks, and a deep dive into the confounding world of Mr. Six.—Garrett Martin
Mike Birbiglia’s latest podcast has a strong hook: the comedian invites an artist on to talk about their creative process and work through some ideas they have in the hopper. He’s hosted comedians, writers, musicians, podcasters, and whatever kind of multi-hyphenate descriptor Judd Apatow prefers, and the personable, perceptive Birbiglia is able to draw out of them all the kind of honesty that only happens when a guest feels genuinely comfortable with their host. Birbiglia also does a great job of balancing established big names with exciting newer voices, as guests range from old favorites like Jon Mulaney, David Sedaris and Maria Bamford, to comedians like Sam Jay, Bowen Yang and Beth Stelling. Expect a revealing, entertaining conversation from each episode.—Garrett Martin
Do you ever wish there was nuclear place for all of your favorite stand-ups, SNL alums, comedy writers and actors to have a leisurely chat? Look no further than Comedy Bang! Bang! Scott Aukerman’s long-running Earwolf podcast is a classic, one of the pillars of the genre, and continues to be as sharp as ever. This podcast has everything: topical banter, lengthy conversations that are haha funny but not in that forced way where you can tell people feel pressured to be on, you know? And wait whose that making frequent stops by the podcast booth, comedy’s second favorite wife guy (after John Mulaney, of course) Paul F. Tompkins. If you want to be nestled by the secondhand joy of overhearing people exchange hardy chuckles please listen to any of the 650+ episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang!—Adesola Thomas
Mainstream culture treats queer sex like time machines or a completely healthy relationship with your dad—it doesn’t exist, but even if it did, how the hell would it work? On her podcast, lesbian comedian and TikTok phenomenon Ashley Gavin talks about queer sex like she’s chatting about what she had for breakfast—but raunchiness aside, the show is packed with outrageously funny anecdotes, amusing cultural references and palpable compassion. Gavin is a backwards hat-donning 30-something whose comedy style is distinctly New York City—animated and lovable in equal measure—and she’s joined by witty “youth in the booth” Gara Lonning, a mulleted non-binary pansexual who helms the soundboard, and together, the duo riffs with comedic effortlessness as they share their queer experiences and generational differences to feel-good results. We’re Having Gay Sex is both absurd and heartwarming—whether it’s an uncanny Bob Dylan impression, a story of deep-seated trauma or a joke about being so gay that you came out of the womb wearing a baseball cap and your mom kept it in a jar and ate it for the nutrients, this show contains multitudes. Support the podcast on Patreon here. —Lizzie Manno
The Best Show’s on this list every year, so I really don’t know what I can add at this point. Over the last two decades Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster have built a staggering comedic universe, and they only get better with each passing year. As I wrote five years ago, “once you give yourself over to The Best Show it’s hard to ever really pull away,” and that still stands. And not just because it’s hilarious, but because, through the years and years of familiarity, it’s become genuinely comforting in a way few podcasts ever become. It’s like checking in with old friends once a week.—Garrett Martin