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What to see and hear at the Chicago Podcast Festival

Cody Melcher
Photo: Johnny Knight Cody Melcher

Where they once seemed like a fad that had passed, podcasts have entered a new golden age in the last couple of years. On the strength of megahit, mindshare-building ’casts like Radiolab and Serial (season one, at least), the depth and breadth—and listener numbers—of podcasts out there are stronger than ever. You can get an offline sampling of a number of good ones at this week’s inaugural Chicago Podcast Festival, put together by Chicago Improv Productions, the same team that’s produced the annual Chicago Improv Festival for nearly 20 years.

Over three days, an interesting mix of local and nationally known podcasts will share stages from Hyde Park to Lakeview, often on double or triple bills. Some are big hits: the true-crime-themed My Favorite Murder, music analysis nerdfest Song Exploder and improvised narrative Hello from the Magic Tavern are all often in the iTunes top 100. Here, check out a few you may not know.

RISK! Comedian Kevin Allison, a founding member of The State, hosts this series that features storytellers putting themselves out on a limb with shocking true tales from their own lives. Allison's guests at the live taping include Che “Rhymefest” Smith and local live-lit regular Lily Be. (The Promontory. Friday, November 18 at 9pm)

Selected Shorts: Too Hot for Radio The Public Radio International program Selected Shorts features actors reading short stories. Lately, the show has started doing live tours with pieces that get a little too naughty for public radio sensibilities. This week’s readers include Justin Kirk, Carrie Coon, K. Todd Freeman and Peter Sagal. (Vittum Theater. Saturday, November 19 at 7pm)

The Book of Ye NYC-based comedians Rob Haze and Chris Daniels pore over the mythology of Yeezy in this exploration of the farthest corners of the Kanyeverse. Haze and Daniels promise a mystery guest this week. (The Promontory. Thursday, November 17 at 9pm; sharing a bill with Black Girl In Om and Roboism)

Tomefoolery Local comedian Cody Melcher is the fool behind this podcast where he and guests discuss oddball books, ranging from self-published conspiracy treatises to Atlas Shrugged. Melcher will be joined by comics Rachael Mason and Kelsie Huff. (Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 1700 Theatre. Saturday, November 19 at 2pm; sharing a bill with MBSing and Chewing)

The Room Where It’s Happening Comedians and Hamilton obsessives Travon Free and Mike Drucker host this Earwolf ’cast in which they invite high-profile guests to go in deep on the musical and its mass appeal. Guests in the show’s first 14 episodes have included actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Yvette Nicole Brown, The Daily Show’s John Hodgman and Hasan Minhaj and newsman David Gregory. They'll be joined here by Ari Afsar, who plays Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton Chicago. (The Promontory. Saturday, November 19 at 11pm; sharing a bill with Open Ended)

Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show As an original member of the Kids in the Hall, McDonald may not be a total unknown. But his podcast, which takes the form of an old-fashioned variety show recorded live, is only two episodes old. And he's bringing a pretty cool lineup of guests to Chicago: Bob Saget, Scott Adsit and the re-formed rock band Fruit Bats. (Athenaeum Theatre. Friday, November 18 at 7pm; sharing a bill with It’s All True! and Improv Nerd)

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