Helen Zaltzman and Martin Austwick: the 10 funniest things we have ever seen (on the internet)

The hosts of the Allusionists podcast share their online favourites, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a true crime pod, and #portmantNOs

I spend an awful lot of time amusing myself on the internet – as my 641 currently open browser tabs suggest – but very little of it looking at things that are funny. What is wrong with me? Why are my 641 open tabs either deliberately dour or appropriately unfunny quilting tutorials? Perhaps it’s because for several years I worked as an “internet correspondent” on British radio, meaning I would go on the radio to explain that week’s memes. If anything’s going to puncture the very concept of online humour, it’s that.

Nonetheless, this job didn’t take everything from me. I stand by the following choices. But I take no responsibility for Martin’s.

Helen’s selection

1. Gay Future and Who Killed Avril Lavigne podcasts

Of all the things I avoid being entertained by, comedy podcasts are especially unwelcome. And yet … on our tour of Australia in 2019, Martin and I drove from show to show listening to Supernormal’s very silly science fiction podcast Gay Future, and now on our tour of Australia in 2022, Martin and I are driving from show to show listening to Supernormal’s very silly science fiction podcast, Who Killed Avril Lavigne? Both shows have really good sound design, funny performances and absolutely banging theme tunes.

2. FOGO podcast

OK FINE, another podcast made me laugh. FOGO is Fear Of Going Outside, and follows comedian Ivy Le as she forces herself to try to enjoy camping. I personally do not enjoy camping, so had a great time from the comfort of a furnished building listening to Ivy getting stuck in sleeping bags at the camping store, being beset by bugs and having to sleep in a little canvas hotbox in the sweltering Texas summer heat.

I didn’t realise I had such a schadenfreude streak till I wrote this paragraph and now I feel awful about it.

3. Jennystream on Twitch

Jenny Owen Youngs is a very funny friend, who I had the pleasure of making a podcast with for two and a half years, minutely recapping the TV show Veronica Mars. Now that we have completed that mighty task, it’s lovely to passively hang out with her at her regular Twitch streams, where she’ll delight the crowd with wit and charm, then play a song so beautiful that everyone gets to have a very purifying cry.

4. #portmantNOs

you can’t complain about the #portmantNO ‘hoffice’ when you’ve put ‘chob’ at the top of the same chart and a few pages later led with ‘stressilient' pic.twitter.com/CxskNmELUf

— The Allusionist (@AllusionistShow) May 8, 2022

I have been collecting and tweeting appalling portmanteau words for more than seven years, and now whenever someone stumbles upon a bottle of mayoreo (Oreo-flavoured mayo), caketition (cake technician), cramosa (a croissant-samosa hybrid) or a pair of pantashoes (shoes and pants IN ONE), they send a photo of it to me. A good – ie very bad – portmantNO can really cheer up even my worst days.

The human urge to crash half of a word into half of another word is absolutely out of control. The Guardian is responsible for a lot of portmantNOs in its “Check out this hot/absurd new trend that everyone is calling (portmantNO that nobody is actually calling it)” pieces and should have a long hard look at itself.

5. Shred videos

Back in the olden days when inviting people round for dinner is something we did, Martin would always put on the following soundtrack to the evening: Shooby Taylor the human horn, then some Tiny Tim, culminating in a selection of shred videos. Remember shreds? When people would dub the video of a well-known musical artist’s live performance as if they were utterly incompetent at being in tune? And sometimes outlets thought these were real and would run excited headlines like “Here’s how shit your favourite musical artist sounds without autotune” In retrospect, that was our soft training for the fake news era.

Anyway, Martin’s favourite shred was The Story of My Life by One Direction, mine was I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys. While I do very much admire the considerable effort that went into creating five distinctive vocal tracks and matching them to the Backstreet Boys’ facial expressions, it’s so essentially silly that I laugh just thinking about it. But what I am probably really laughing about is the memory of having laughed when I first saw it. The other memory I laugh about like that is when a seagull in Woollongong swooped in and stole Martin’s ice-cream cone. That remains the funniest thing I have ever seen. Tragically, nobody was filming it.

Martin’s selection

1. The Candyman podcast

Not to be confused with the horror movie (or its recent remake), this is a true crime mockumentary about the events around Charlie and the Chocolate Factory created by Melbourne comedy trio Big Big Big. It starts slightly weird and goes absolutely batshit pretty quickly, and stays there. Really silly and really fun.

2. Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is a puppet show/animation that gets way existential very fast, but their opening episode is funny and weird and incredibly original and ingenious with just a side order of the darkness that sets in later in the season. It’s probably better to go in cold if you’ve never seen it.

3. The Sink: A Sleep Aid

Created by Natasha Hodgson and David Cummings – the team behind hit London musical Operation Mincemeat – and producer extraordinaire and Wooden Overcoats alum Andy Goddard, this series starts as a funny-weird Blue Jam-style sketch show, and gradually evolves into a deeper story of teenage trauma through a wonderfully rich mythological lens. The series sets the scene as a treatment to “clean out” bad dreams – and the drain snake dislodges some terrifying and hilarious organic matter along the way.

4. Sound Heap podcast

Created by comedian John-Luke Roberts with veteran comedy producer Ed Morrish, Sound Heap is a fictional podcast network – “the most eclectic podcast network in the world” – whose mission statement is to “make too many podcasts”. John-Luke ropes in his comedy pals to voice “Liza Minnelli Reads From Instruction Manuals”, “Crabslag”, and many, even more niche, shows.

5. Off Book: the Improvised Musical

Improv is really hard to do well, and musical improv is an order of magnitude harder, so when someone gets it right, it’s like alchemy. Jessica McKenna, Zach Reino, and a rotating cast of guests (accompanied by pianist Scott Passerella) create a fully improvised musical every week. I saw them live at the London Podcast festival in 2019 and happy-cried solidly for 60 minutes. I may have been a little bit jetlagged.

  • Helen Zaltzman and Martin Austwick are touring the Allusionist live show Your Name Here in Australia and New Zealand in July and August. Dates and tickets are listed at theallusionist.org/events


Helen Zaltzman and Martin Austwick

The GuardianTramp

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