Pandora launched its first-ever comedy station five years ago, and while a lot has changed in terms of how we listen to comedy or music since then, Pandora Comedy remains in a niche of its own.
Whereas SiriusXM satellite radio gives you a variety of comedy channels to choose from, and Spotify’s streaming app lets you seek out specific comedians and albums, Pandora continues to drive right down the middle. Pandora’s selling point is and always has been the concept of a curated algorithm.
You tell Pandora what comedian, or even what type of stand-up comedy you enjoy, and then let the algorithm steer you toward other comedians with whom the app thinks you’ll also love to laugh along.
Since 2011, Pandora Comedy has racked up lots of stats to chew on. Among them:
- More than 433 million spins, and the creation of 96 million specific stations
- More than 4 million unique listeners per month
- Top Comedy genre stations: #1-Today’s Comedy, #2-Raw Comedy, #3-Comedy Icons
- Top cities who listen to Comedy: #1- Los Angeles, #2- NYC, #3- Salt Lake City, #4-Chicago, #5- Seattle
- The musical preferences of Comedy fans on Pandora are Metal, Punk, Alternative, Indie, Blues, and Rap
- Jim Gaffigan is the most popular comic on Pandora, with more than 647 million spins to date
- “Situation on the Phone/My Biggest Fear” by Kevin Hart ranks #1 overall on Pandora Comedy, with more than 1.5 million thumbs up and 31.2 million spins, with Daniel Tosh’s “5” ranking second with more than 1.2 million thumbs up and 30 million spins
What’s it like to listen to Pandora, though?
I decided to take a few of the service’s pre-programmed channels, as well as a few created by me, out for test drives.
Pandor’s secret sauce is “The Music Genome Project,” a formula created through massive categorization. Hired curators categorize everything Pandora owns licensing rights to, so the app can then predict what other tracks you’ll like based on whatever artist or genre you assign for your station. They analyze every track, every song, and assign it any of hundreds of attributes. Attributes get grouped into larger families of focus traits. And it’s those attributes and traits that allows Pandora to select the next track for you after you’ve started with a specific artist or genre. You can alter the formula, customizing it to your own tastes even further, by hitting the thumbs up or thumbs down button on any track. You’re also allowed a limited number of fast-forward skips.
For the purposes of my test drives of Pandora Comedy this week, I didn’t hit the skip button or vote with my thumbs on any of the tracks — just wanted to see what Pandora would pick for me as a predictably passive listener. I listened to each station for an hour.
First up, Pandora’s newest comedy station: The Five “Fluffy” Years mixtape, “a collection of Gabriel Iglesias’ favorite comics– from those who inspired him early on to those he’s excited to watch now– including Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Jenn Dunham, Eddie Murphy, Kathleen Madigan, Bob Saget, Gina Yashere, Russell Peters, and more. Listen for special messages from Fluffy himself alongside some of his most popular tracks!”
“Thanks to Pandora, my fans have streamed my material over 400 million times in the last five years,” Iglesais said. “Pandora has been a big part of spreading “Unity Through Laughter” and sharing my comedy.”
Here’s what Fluffy picked out for me the other day in an hour:
- Jeff Dunham, “Peanut and Jose Jalapeno” (Controlled Chaos)
- Kathleen Madigan, “My Unhealthy L.A. Life” (Gone Madigan)
- Ian Bagg, “Over Thinker” (It Takes A Village)
- Chris Rock, “Comic Relief VII: Track 6” (Comic Relief VII) (about OJ Simpson trial!!!)
- Robin Williams, “Now You Get On The Plane/Not Just A Sin/Back To Our In-Flight Movie/Homeland Security” (Live 2002)
- Sam Kinison, “Cable TV/Bad Taste” (Live From Hell)
- Kathleen Madigan, “Pot-The Gateway Drug” (Madigan Again)
- Gina Yashere, “American Racism Vs. British Racism” (Laughing To America)
- George Carlin, “Drugs” (FM & AM)
- Chris Rock, “Women Lie” (Cheese and Crackers: The Greatest Hits)
- Cristela Alonzo, “Halloween” (Some of the Hits)
- Robin Williams, “Fires, Weed and the Weather” (Weapons of Self Destruction)
A couple of these tracks were remarkable for how they play today. For instance, Kinison’s homophobic rants, egged on by his audience; or Yashere calling Donald Trump a “chump” for daring to question Barack Obama’s birthplace. Also worth noting: Fluffy didn’t push any of his own tracks in this initial first hour.
Then I tested Pandora’s “New Comedy Radio” station. It began with a language advisory that it might not be suitable for children. Alrighty then!
- Eugene Mirman, “The Time I Was Mugged in Mexico With Michael Stipe” (I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome))
- COMMERCIAL BREAK (I’ve been using the free version of Pandora, which includes sporadic advertising breaks)
- Josh Adams, “iPhone Arrogance” (Live From The Drop)
- Vincent Oshana, “Bullshit” (Comedy Dynamics: Coming to the Stage)
- Jim Jefferies, “Where Women Might Be” (Bare)
- COMMERCIAL BREAK
- Jim Florentine, “Good Friend” (Anger Is A Gift)
- Merrill Davis, “I Do Dumb Things” (Comedy Dynamics: Coming to the Stage)
- Dan Soder, “Cake Talk” (Not Special)
- Patrice O’Neal, “Good Young Years” (The Lost Files: Circa 2005)
- Daniel Tosh, “Cerulean” (People Pleaser)
- Brian Stollery, “The Doctor Will See You Now” (For Brian Out Loud)
- Alycia Cooper, “Barack Obama” (Alycia With A “Y”!)
- Jay Mohr, “House Hunters International” (Happy And A Lot)
- Mike Paramore, “A Bad Picker” (The Things We Tell Ourselves)
- Eugene Mirman, “Some Jokes That Touch Upon Religion, Guitar Center” (I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome))
Two of the tracks from New Comedy Radio were actually from a Comedy Dynamics webseries, originally broadcast visually via Hulu, and included the complete 8-10 minute sets, rather than individual tracks.
What comedians will Pandora pick if you give it a very specific comedian, though? I figure Hannibal Buress is a known comedy commodity at this point, as well as someone who has been compared to other stand-ups by critics. Will Pandora make similar choices?
Hannibal Buress Radio
- Hannibal Buress, “Comedy Is a Weird Job” (Live From Chicago)
- Tom Segura, “Animal Man” (White Girls With Cornrows)
- Louis C.K., “4AM” (Chewed Up)
- Donald Glover, “Homeless People” (Weirdo, Live From New York)
- Buress, “5 A.M. in the Morning” (Animal Furnace)
- Louis CK, “Girls & Women” (Chewed Up)
- Eric Andre, “Hurricanes” (The Awkward Comedy Show)
- Tom Segura, “NYC” (White Girls with Cornrows)
- Buress, “Smoking Weed with Jesus” (The Awkward Comedy Show)
- John Mulaney, “Female Heist Movie/Delta Airlines” (New In Town)
- Daniel Tosh, “Moss” (People Pleaser)
- Bill Burr, “Therapy/Steroids/Jimmy The Greek” (Why Do I Do This?)
- Mitch Hedberg, “Fire Exit/The Drufrenes” (Strategic Grill Locations)
- Buress, “A Love Letter to New Orleans” (Live From Chicago)
Interesting. Four tracks from Buress himself, which makes sense since he’s who I wanted to hear, but I don’t know I would have jumped to Tom Segura once or twice, even. Only one Hedberg selection. Also one track from Eric Andre, who Buress sidekicks on Adult Swim’s Eric Andre Show — and they became better friends through that “Awkward Comedy Show” special that’s brought up twice, so that’s a nice touch.
Let’s try getting even more specific, then. Steven Wright! He’s a singular talent, although his influence shows through other surreal one-liner acts a generation later that have included Hedberg, Demetri Martin and Zach Galifianakis. Will Pandora’s great minds think alike?
Steven Wright Radio
- Steven Wright, “I Met This Woman” (I Still Have A Pony)
- Mitch Hedberg, “Belt” (Do You Believe in Gosh?)
- Demetri Martin, “Yep” (Standup Comedian)
- Brian Regan, “Art and Language” (The Epitome of Hyperbole”)
- Wright, “Hitchhiker/Planetarium” (I Still Have A Pony)
- Jim Gaffigan, “Holidays” (Beyond The Pale)
- Demetri Martin, “Some Jokes (Part 2)” (These Are Jokes)
- George Carlin, “For Name’s Sake” (An Evening With Wally Londo)
- COMMERCIAL BREAK
- Wright, “Rachel” (I Have A Pony)
- Brian Regan, “Bird In House” (All By Myself)
- Jim Gaffigan, “House Guest/Dunkin’ Donuts” (King Baby)
- Garrison Keillor, “Dim Bulbs” (A Prairie Home Companion A Few More Pretty Good Jokes)
- Wright, “Jiggs Casey” (I Have A Pony)
- COMMERCIAL BREAK
- Anthony Jeselnik, “All Over The World/Delay” (Caligula)
- Mike Birbiglia, “Wedding Story” (Sleepwalk With Me LIVE)
- Demetri Martin, “Some More Jokes” (These Are Jokes)
Not too shabby. Surprised me with the multiple selections of Regan and Gaffigan, though not nearly as surprising to me as the Keillor cut!
And even more surprising? I noticed it had been all dudes for a couple of hours. So many dudes. No women represented as someone I might enjoy hearing in the same hour as either Hannibal Buress or Steven Wright, so I had to rectify that situation straight away. Give me some Amy Schumer, Pandora! Pandora does list an “Inside Amy Schumer” station already loaded and ready to go, but I figure that might include her male writers more equally. What do I get if I just want to hear Amy and like-minded comedy?
Amy Schumer Radio
- Amy Schumer, “French Guy” (Cutting)
- Natasha Leggero, “White Rich” (Coke Money)
- Rachel Feinstein, “Dirty Picture” (Only Whores Wear Purple)
- COMMERCIAL BREAK
- Nikki Glaser, “You Own This Pussy” (Perfect)
- Daniel Tosh, “White” (People Pleaser)
- Chad Daniels, “Pitcher Picture” (Natural Selection)
- COMMERCIAL BREAK
- Jimmy Carr, “Sex & Parents” (Laughing and Joking) (21-minute track?!)
- Amy Schumer, “Miami, The Jewish Homeland” (Women Who Kill)
- Sarah Silverman, “Planting the Seeds of Insecurity” (We Are Miracles)
- Giulia Rozzi, “Dancing With The Bachelor Fetus/White Kids in a Tent” (A Very Pretty Name: Live at Comix)
- Chad Daniels, “He’s Beige” (You’re The Best)
- Whitney Cummings, “Hi” (I Love You)
- Daniel Tosh, “Black” (People Pleaser)
Comforting to see Schumer’s actual BFFs such as Feinstein and Glaser among the first tracks up. Still quite a few guys thrown into the mix there, too, though. And boy, does Pandora really like Daniel Tosh or what?
Pandora’s pre-set “Women In Comedy Radio” station can’t fail me now. Can it?
Women In Comedy Radio
- Wanda Sykes, “Pick a Plan/Stripper Therapy” (Sick & Tired)
- Anjelah Johnson, “Southwest Airlines” (That’s How We Do It!)
- Roseanne Barr, “28 Day Cycle” (I Enjoy Being a Girl)
- Amy Schumer, “Swedes” (Cutting)
- Nikki Glaser, “Teen Mom” (Perfect)
- Anjelah Johnson, “San Jose – My Dad is Athletic” (The Homecoming Show)
- Kathleen Madigan, “Muslims and Catholics” (Madigan Again)
- Rachel Feinstein, “Talking Dirty” (Thug Tears)
- Sarah Millican, “Wiping” (Thoroughly Modern Millican Live) (15-minute track)
- Cristela Alonzo, “Drinking” (Some of the Hits)
- Amy Schumer, “Cockblock” (Cutting)
- Rachel Feinstein, “Asses and Advice” (Only Whores Wear Purple)
Phew. That almost got super awkward.
Congrats, Pandora, on five years of programming comedy radio. Now what?
What kind of comedy radio station would you choose for Pandora? And who would you demand be included on that station?