Podcasts are among the most direct and engaging mediums to emerge from the digital audio revolution. Liberated from the demands of commerce (though sponsorship and advertising space are necessary evils for those who wish to monetize), podcasters forge meaningful relationships with their listeners, fostering a uniquely intimate bond in the theater of the mind. Because of their DIY spirit, podcasts can flourish in abundance outside of media hubs like Los Angeles and New York, and Denver is no exception, with many here started by local comics. Enterprising comedians often start podcasts to boost their web presence and network with peers, and yet somehow — as they delve into the minutiae of pop culture, their own personal histories and even the medium of podcasting itself — the best among them manage to draw rare, unguarded moments from their guests, offering fascinating insights into the warped psyches pursuing the lonely, ignoble life of a standup comic.
Denver's podcast marketplace is so vast and multifaceted (not that anyone's making much money here) that drafting a comprehensive inventory of its best examples is a fool's errand — but I have no qualms recommending the following podcasts, listed in no particular order. (In the interest of full disclosure and wanton self-promotion, I have appeared as a guest on several of them.) If you find yourself with an hour to spare, throw on some headphones, and download any of the shows below: ten essential podcasts for 2016.
10. Changing Denver
Denver's cultural and architectural identity is in a state of constant flux these days. As our beloved metropolis approaches a future many fear will render our city unrecognizable, Changing Denver has stepped in to chronicle our city's unexplored history before it's developed into boxy, overpriced oblivion. Guests have ranged from spooky historian Phil Goodstein to local hip-hop icon Felix Fast4ward, all getting wonky about Denver's changing spaces in fascinating discussions guided by the steady hand and soothing, NPR-worthy voice of Paul Karolyi. Though the monthly podcast is only three episodes into its run, it's off to a promising start, and currently at the ideal stage for new listeners to catch up and keep abreast of new releases.
9. Words with Wayman
Denver sketch supergroup The Agency is a wily bunch of over-committed hustlers, running weekly and monthly standup and live sketch showcases, an open mic, an independent zine and a proliferation of video sketches — but Matt Wayman is perhaps the most industrious agent of all. His podcast, Words with Wayman, is essentially a solo venture wherein Wayman conducts in-depth interviews with standups, entrepreneurs and other creatives from Denver and beyond. The discussions are freewheeling, yet maintain a thematic through-line across the two-part episodes. Topics vary from guest to guest, but everyone attempts to tackle the age-old question (a perennial favorite among most artists' parents) of just how to go about making a living doing the work that makes you feel alive.
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8. The Idiot Podcast
Since it's produced and hosted by "Denver-based comedian and moron" Matt Monroe, no one should be surprised that the Idiot Podcast isn't an in-depth analysis of the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel. Rather, Monroe asks his guests to reveal whatever quirks, experiences and mistakes from their past continue to make them feel like the titular idiot. It's a simple premise that can spin off into dozens of stories, from tales of youthful religiosity to grand-theft auto. Monroe's extensive travels and networking acumen grant him access to a variety of guests who lie outside the purview of most local podcasters, which often seem to all be cycling through the same roster of guests. Even the familiar voices of local podcast regulars will have something different to offer here than on any other show, as their stories prove week after week that everyone feels like an idiot sometimes.
7. Dude Sweet Podcast
Denver's comedy and wrestling scenes have formed an odd bond over the past few years. The overlap has resulted in professional wrestlers, who make for theatrically beefy crowd members, populating local joke shows, as well as comedians adopting wacky personas as their hiss-worthy heel managers on Lucha Libre & Laughs. Dude Sweet Podcast celebrates this bond, forging it in brawny camaraderie as co-hosts Ian Douglas Terry and Brian Keith Nelson (aka Xander Creed) invite guests to revel in their never-ending celebration of all things sweet. Wrestlers and standups dominate the lineup of the bimonthly podcast; fortunately, their surprisingly simpatico ethos and lifestyles make for tirelessly compelling listening.
6. Ice Cream Social
Ice Cream Social is a comedy chat show that airs live on Radio 1190 every Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. and is released the following day as a podcast. Initially conceived by Denver/ Boulder comics Cody Spyker and Jacob Rupp as a way to gain a foothold in the scene, it quickly evolved into required listening for local fans and comics alike due to Spyker and Rupp's engaging banter, recurring segments and delightful promotional photos featuring comedians' faces photoshopped onto Ben & Jerry's pints. Since its debut last July, Ice Cream Social has welcomed a host of Denver's funniest comedians into the subterranean studio beneath the University Memorial Center in Boulder, securing an interview with Amy Schumer during the biggest year of her career. But recently the hosts have really begun to hit their stride, both as interviewers and comedians in their own right.
Keep reading for five more essential podcasts.
5. Whiskey & Cigarettes
Whiskey & Cigarettes is a podcast about podcasts, and much funnier than that glib description would suggest. Hosted by the local brain trust behind the Uncalled Four comedy-game show — Jake Browne, Zac Maas and budtender Jake Becker — the podcast has evolved over the years. What began as an unfocused, booze-soaked and dab-fueled marathon of podcast clips and giggly quips has sharpened into a more purposeful format, boasting funnier episodes and attracting high-profile guests like Robert Kelly, Paul Mercurio and Nate Bargatze. While the show still functions as a fine introduction to the ever-widening swaths of podcasts out there, the real treat is the interplay between hosts and guests.
4. Welcome to Denver
Cory Helie is a model Denver transplant. The Nebraska native, who'd already befriended a number of Denver's traveling comedians, moved to our city with a wide-eyed appreciation of its charms and an eagerness to explore its hidden corners. Helie's Westword-lauded podcast Welcome to Denver is easy listening yet essential for its kindly insight into the pet obsessions of new arrivals and natives alike. After a disconcerting months-long hiatus during Helie's nuptials and crosstown move, the podcast came roaring back last month and shows no signs of diminishing. Helie, who also presides over the open mic at Mutiny Information Cafe and the ego-drubbing Midnights showcase at Three Kings Tavern, continues to prove how welcoming Denver can be.
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3. The Narrators
Westword MasterMind Andrew Orvedahl first conceived of The Narrators as a live show at the dearly departed Paris on the Platte back in 2010. Since its debut, the show has expanded to include an audio podcast and a sister show in San Diego hosted by Mary Robertson and Robert Rutherford. In Denver, the enduringly popular show carries on in its newish home at the Buntport Theater with Ron S. Doyle and Erin Rollman hosting, but the format has remained roughly the same since the outset. A well-curated roster of Denver creatives take to the stage to relate tales from the deepest recesses of their personal histories, loosely based around a theme. The next live recording is set for 8 p.m. February 17; the theme is "DIY or Die." Experience stories that range from hilarious to heartbreaking at Buntport Theater; admission is free.
2. These Things Matter
Taylor Gonda and Kevin O'Brien are the Denver gadabouts and culture vultures behind These Things Matter, a wide-ranging and inviting podcast that chronicles its guest relationships with the art they love. While anyone can delve into the minutiae of music, literature and cinema, it takes rare insight to draw out a rough autobiography from a guest's formative pop-cultural obsessions. With a comparatively rigorous recording schedule, it's something of a marvel that O'Brien and Gonda commit to researching unfamiliar subjects proposed by their guests, both expanding their own horizons and finding new things to rant about. Their live podcast recordings have become a staple of the High Plains Comedy Festival, where they've shared a dais with some of their most high-profile guests to date, including Ron Funches and Jonah Ray.
1. Empty Girlfriend
The brainchild of Denver-hewn comics Christie Buchele and Haley Driscoll, Empty Girlfriend features tell-all interviews with local comedians, musicians and veterinarians about their relationship histories, offering "love tips and love quips from unqualified professionals." Buchele and Driscoll are charming and disarming co-hosts who put their guests at ease for surprisingly revealing interviews. Though unafraid to delve into more somber topics like heartbreak, disease and personal struggle, the podcast is always leavened by their quick wit and sentence-finishing chemistry. Despite a brief hiatus after Driscoll's relocation to Los Angeles, the show continues with the assistance of Skype, opening up an entire new community of interview subjects without losing any of the classic podcastuary intimacy from Empty Girlfriend's early days.
If you simply can't get enough podcast action, watch for our semi-regular interview series Podcast Profiles, in which we spotlight the efforts of local podcasters and celebrate the peculiar personalities behind them. And let us end with a somber farewell to the essential podcasts we lost over the past year, including former Podcast Profiles subjects Werewolf Radar and My Dining Room Table.