“Literally everyone has a podcast,” says Chicago Podcast Festival producer Elizabeth Amdahl. She’s not far from wrong. When all you really need is a recording device and a YouTube channel, it’s become easier for any- and everyone to become an audio star. The Chicago Podcast Festival is here to introduce you to at least a few of those luminaries—specifically, the funny ones.
This year the fest features live versions of local podcasts Please Make This and A Brew for You along with national favorites The Underculture With James Adomian, Improv4Humans, Ethnically Ambiguous, Podcast the Ride, and the first-ever live show of The Action Boyz.
Improv4Humans features some of the most talented improvisers in the nation creating long-form scenes from the comfort of their chairs, led by one of the creators of the form, Upright Citizens Brigade cofounder Matt Besser. And the hosts and guest on Please Make This brainstorm and pitch a movie, write the script, and do a table read, all in an hour. (Full disclosure: I have been a guest on this podcast, and it’s as stressful and fun as it sounds.)
Ethnically Ambiguous is the lone POC-led show on the lineup, and the hosts make their experiences as nonwhite people in America extremely funny even when the subject matter gets serious. With a seemingly endless roster of comedy podcasts to choose from, it’s not lost on the producers that this year’s lineup is overwhelmingly white.
“Unfortunately, that was just the way this year panned out—sometimes booking podcasts and booking comedians and dealing with agents can be really tricky,” Amdahl says. “If I was to book my ideal comedy podcast festival, it would have your Nicole Byers and your Bowen Yangs [Eds. note: Both were recently in town with their podcasts independently.] I would book everything I could to show the full aspect of human stories and comedy. There’s so much good comedy being made out there right now by people of color and different sexual orientations, and that’s kind of a downfall this year.”
Sure, going out to see a comedy show is reason enough to head to any of the live recordings on the bill. But for those like myself who listen to podcasts daily—which is a fairly isolating activity—the biggest draw of the Chicago Podcast Festival is the chance to finally lay eyes on the people behind the voices in our heads and connect with other fans of these niche shows.
“There’s a communal aspect to the live show that people crave,” Ahmdahl says. “They want to meet the people who have been talking into their ear for hours and hours and hours on a weekly basis.” v