In Albert Brooks' new film, he goes Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Having not seen the movie yet, I don't know how arduous his search turns out to be. But I do know that it can't be anything like as hard as Looking for Comedy in the Podcast World.
Just as some people are drawn to bad movies, one could easily satisfy a craving for bad comedy by sorting through the "Comedy" section of a podcast directory. It's filled with examples of people who have always thought to themselves: I'm way funnier than those comedians on TV. If only I could get my material out to the masses. For people like this, podcasting has become a technological enabler, allowing them to show us their best stuff.
Here's the take-away message for about 90 percent of comedy podcasters: You are not funny. Your friends politely laugh at your jokes, but they don't think you're funny either. And now the whole world knows you're not funny. I'll be kind and resist the urge to point fingers here. But here's a safe assumption for comedy podcasters: If you think I'm talking about you, I probably am.
This is why I was excited to see the new podcast from the reliably hilarious satirical newspaper and Web site the Onion (podcast page here, iTunes link here). It's actually just a podcast version of the pre-existing Onion Radio News, which has been around for a while. But now that it's automatically downloading to my iPod, I'm actually able to listen.
The good news: It's hilarious. It reflects the print version's ability to be slightly offensive yet lovable. It has an edge, but not a mean one. It's hosted by Doyle Redland (or maybe it's "Doyle Redland"), a perfectly pompous AM-radio-style news jockey. In one recent episode, he intoned about the new German restaurant chain, "Luftwaffle," whose approach to gaining market share is the "Blintzkrieg." In another, he reported that God is worried the apocalypse won't live up to the expectations of people raised on Hollywood special effects. I also love their fake sound bites, which are tiny little gems of radio production.
The not-so-good news: Each episode is less that a minute long. Actually, I love their brevity. (The approach of many bad podcast comedians seems to be to bore us into a stupor with overlong bits, hoping, I guess, that the jokes might seem funnier to zombies.) But with podcasts, where you have to fiddle with the MP3 player's menu every time you start a new one, a 50-second podcast can almost be more trouble than it's worth.
So here's the perfect solution: Ignore the Onion's daily podcasts during the week, and let them fill up on your iPod. Then on Fridays, treat yourself to five in a row. Problem solved.
We don't promise our Slate podcasts are as funny as the Onion's, but they are longer. Here's what we produced this week (perhaps the funniest moment is provided by George W. Bush in the audio "Bushism" we slipped into the snowmobile piece):
Jan. 20 Snowmobile Culture Explained ( Slate piece)
Jan. 20 Explainer: Why Do Transplanted Body Parts Get Rejected? ( Slate piece)
Jan. 19 Bonkers for Bush ( Slate piece)
Jan. 19 Explainer: What's Benjamin Franklin's Birthday? ( Slate piece)
Jan. 18 The High Court's Other Swinger ( Slate piece)
Jan. 18 Explainer: Were Last Week's Missile Strikes in Pakistan Illegal? ( Slate piece)
Jan. 17 George Washington for A Day ( Slate piece)
Jan. 17 Explainer: Do You Have To Fill Out a Form To Join al-Qaida? ( Slate piece)