Many popular hosts take their shows on the road, so we wondered what are the best live podcasts ever recorded. To find out, we researched. Then, we listened. Then, we ranked. Our evaluation took into account a few different factors. Take a look below to find the best live podcasts online.
Unlike the best Halloween podcasts, there are so many genres that compete in this area. Consider how many shows record an episode or two in front of a crowd!
So what are the best live podcasts? We broke our choices down into four subcategories: Comedy, Music, Storytelling, and True Crime.
Why these genres? They’re some of the most popular podcast genres in the world, and they’re also some of the most likely to host live shows. Here’s what we found.
The Best Live Comedy Podcasts
While many podcasters turn to live episodes for publicity and profit, those in the comedy genre often host live shows as a standard format. Sure, there are shows produced in a studio (Comedy Bang Bang, Judge John Hodgman), even those regularly tour with live performances.
That makes this category especially competitive. So what’s the best live comedy podcast?
The Fifth and Sixth Episodes of Harmontown
The best live podcast ever recorded is, drumroll please, the fifth episode of Harmontown! I want to mention that listeners may enjoy both episode five and episode six, as they’re both distinct and important in the history of the podcast.
The story begins with episode five. That’s the show that broke the mold for live podcasts.
What Makes It So Special?
Harmontown, created by Dan Harmon, inadvertently introduced a new member of its recurring cast during this legendary episode. As a podcast historian, if such a thing exists, I cannot overstate the serendipity and delight of this moment. And the best thing? It’s captured forever on audio.
When Spencer Crittenden showed up for the live taping of Harmontown’s show, he did not know Dan Harmon. The two met that night. During the show, Crittenden joined the podcast crew onstage after raising his hand to answer some Dungeons & Dragons questions from the audience.
By the end of the show, he also agreed to help Harmon roll up a level-one character for the next episode.
From then on, Crittenden became the show’s default dungeon master.
Where Can I Hear Harmontown Episode 5?
Listen to the old Harmontown episodes on Apple Podcasts. Sort to start from the beginning, or skip the first few episodes and hop right into episode five and six to hear the legendary meeting.
Or, for an even deeper dive, check out the Harmontown documentary. It covers the meeting, when Crittenden met Harmon, and it introduces an enticing idea, that the podcast didn’t turn out to be about Dan Harmon at all.
Other Popular Live Comedy Podcast Episodes
2 Dope Queens, hosted by Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams, earns a mention among the best live comedy podcasts. The podcast started in Brooklyn and now boasts its own HBO show! Comedy nerds will also appreciate that the show’s first season is directed by Tig Notaro.
Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! could qualify as either a live radio show or a live podcast. Listeners can find it either way. Created by NPR, this hour-long show features a participatory quiz every week. Listeners can buy tickets to the live shows in Chicago on the Fine Arts Building site.
While many, many comedy podcasts host live shows, these stand out as two superior examples of what you can do with the medium.
The Best Live Music Podcasts
You may also enjoy live music podcasts. Check these examples for their exceptional acts and the especially high-quality audio.
Tiny Desk Concerts: Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
There’s a standout contender for the most popular live music podcast. That’s when Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals played Tiny Desk Concerts for NPR. To view the whole show, check out the YouTube video. It has more than 99 million views, which shows the power of a live acoustic performance.
What Makes It So Special?
According to NPR, this appearance earned Anderson .Paak the title of most-popular ever Tiny Desk Concert. That’s a notable accolade. The show invites major names from a variety of genres. Listen to the show to hear just what’s so special about it.
As a bonus, audiophiles should enjoy the podcast mics in the video.
Where Can I Hear The Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals Tiny Desk Concert?
Listen on YouTube, or check it out on Apple Podcasts. The whole episode runs only 18 minutes. The video is even shorter at 15 minutes 37 seconds.
The Best Live Storytelling Podcasts
Like those in the comedy genre, many storytelling podcasts also started as live shows. Here’s the very best I’ve heard.
This American Life Episode 476: What Doesn’t Kill You
This may be a controversial choice, but this episode of This American Life contains one of the most important live performances of the past twenty years. Tig Notarto shares her experience with breast cancer.
It’s a heartfelt story, told with her exceptional wit, and it changed the way many comedians view their craft.
Podcasters can learn from this episode, too.
What Makes It So Special?
Tig Notaro shared a personal story on stage at the Largo. That story went viral, and it ended up appearing on one of the most popular radio shows (and podcasts) in the United States.
As our medium matures, we should expect similar success from podcasters who share their stories with original voices. TIg’s career flourished after this story. She also shares the whole story on her album, LIVE.
Interested in more personal stories? We also discussed the best anxiety podcasts. Those tend to focus on solutions though, where Tig’s famous episode focuses centrally on her story.
Where Can I Hear This American Life?
Listeners hear This American Life on NPR, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and every major podcast service. Check the official website to hear this episode online. Note that most This American Life shows are pre-recorded.
The Best Live True Crime Podcasts
As a connoisseur of true crime podcasts, I delved deep into the world of audio storytelling, seeking out the finest examples that captivate listeners with gripping narratives, meticulous research, and riveting storytelling.
Among the options, a select few stand out as the best live true crime podcasts that consistently deliver chilling tales of real-life mysteries, investigations, and the dark underbelly of society.
A standout in the live true crime podcast sphere is “My Favorite Murder,” hosted by comedians Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. This podcast adds a distinctive, often humorous twist to the genre, as the hosts share their favorite murder cases while encouraging listeners to embrace their morbid fascination.
The chemistry between Kilgariff and Hardstark is electric, infusing each episode with a blend of humor and genuine intrigue. “My Favorite Murder” fosters a strong sense of community among its fans, who lovingly refer to themselves as “Murderinos.”
The world of live true crime podcasts offers a rich and diverse landscape for those who crave riveting tales of real-life mysteries. But while “Serial” and “Criminal” won awards for their in-studio podcasting, “My Favorite Murder” stands out as a pinnacle of this genre for live podcasts.
What is a Live Podcast?
Live podcasts are the same as regular podcasts, except they aren’t recorded in a studio. They’re recorded live in front of a crowd of people, often at a ticketed event, usually for an audience of fans. Many podcast hosts choose to record live shows, and there are a few reasons for that.
Benefits of Recording a Live Podcast
- Ticket Sales
- Fan Interactions
- New Content
Generally, the big three reasons you’d record a live show come down to revenue, fans, and content. Podcasters often sell sponsorships to make money, but there are limits to what you can earn. Producers may choose to host live shows with ticket sales to increase revenue from a podcast.
Podcasters also need frequent, high-quality content. Live shows give hosts the ability to make money and produce a new hour of audio at the same time. Score!
Finally, and maybe most importantly, hosts love interacting with their fans. Live podcasts mean face-to-face engagement with the people who love to listen. And there are few better ways to build goodwill with your fans than by bringing their favorite show to their city.
What Makes a Great Live Podcast?
Enjoyable live podcasts require the same qualities as pre-recorded shows. They require research, elocution, planning, and execution. The best live podcast episodes have:
- Talented or surprising guests
- Interesting stories
- Exceptional recording quality
But live shows also face certain challenges not faced during a regular recording. Podcast producers have the following additional considerations.
Challenges of Hosting a Live Podcast
- Background noise
- Echos in the venue
- Ticket sales
- Crowd control
Smart producers consider the venue before they hit the record button. This means considering mic placement, audience interactions, scheduling, and backup plans. Some listeners dislike live podcasts because they generally sound much worse than studio-recorded shows. Makes sense!
We considered all of these aspects when evaluating live podcast recordings. In addition to the quality of the sound, we also listened for those shows that took advantage of the location to do things they normally couldn’t do.
Still having trouble? AI tools for podcasting can help. They save time and help you produce more content at a lower cost.
More of the Best Live Podcasts Ever Recorded
I’ve heard countless live podcasts, and I’ve heard recommendations for many more. So I wanted to share more of the best live podcast recordings I uncovered in my research.
The Moth Radio Hour: Nacho Challenge
In Nacho Challenge, Omar Qureshi talks about moving to rural Missouri. It’s only about 12 minutes long, but it packs a bunch of unexpected laughs into a few uncomfortable situations.
Qureshi recorded the story in April of 2018, and the story originally aired in October 2018.
What Makes it So Special?
I love this episode because it jokes about some serious topics in this short live podcast recording. It’s funny, relatable, and smart. You can find it at The Moth.
Also. . . eight pounds of nachos. Eight.
Song Exploder: CHVRCHES
You don’t have to love CHVRCHES to appreciate Song Exploder’s episode where the band breaks down their song, “Clearest Blue”. It’s from the album “Every Open Eye.”
The episode is about 14 minutes long. It features the original demo, which is a treat for fans who are more familiar with the more famous version from the album.
The original version of this episode was recorded live at the Dropbox Podcast Studio at SXSW.
What Makes it So Special?
If you appreciate CHVRCHES, there’s something surprising to hear the band members discuss their process. They start their process with a simple set of rules. Then, they build from there.
You can listen to the Song Exploder episode here.
While it’s a subjective process to choose the best live podcasts ever recorded. This list features my favorites, where to find them, and why they’re so special.
I tried to include a variety of styles and voices. If you know of other live podcast episodes that should be included, please let me know in the comments!