Hello from the Magic Tavern is a new podcast being recorded in Chicago, and it’s probably my favorite comedy thing happening right now. The show is completely improvised, but the world they’re building is remarkably cool, and also so funny that I’ve had to pull my car over to the side of the road because I was laughing too hard to drive.
Admittedly, the idea for the show is a little high-concept. When I first heard about it, I was pretty worried that it would never find an audience. But now it’s only 30 episodes in and blowing up — Magic Tavern was recently profiled on Buzzfeed, performed live at XOXO Fest, and named one of iTunes’ best podcasts of 2015.
In this blog post, I’ll tell you everything you need to start listening, walk you through a few of my favorite clips, and recommend some episodes to start with. Each episode of Magic Tavern is only about 20 minutes long, and it’s not difficult to power through the whole thing (which I highly recommend!) but this will at least give you a place to start.
Arnie Niekamp (a writer of Fibbage, and You Don’t Know Jack) has been sucked through an inter-dimensional portal while going through a Burger King drive-through (I make a brief appearance as the drive-through attendant). He finds himself in the magical land of Foon, at a pub called the Vermillion Minotaur. Luckily he’s still getting a faint wi-fi signal from the Burger King, so he sets up his laptop and begins recording a podcast with the adventurers who pass through the tavern.
Arnie’s regular co-hosts on the podcast are Chunt, a talking badger played by Adal Rifai, and Usidore the Blue, an ancient (and occasionally bumbling) wizard played by Matt Young.
The secret of Magic Tavern is the special comedy relationship between Arnie, Adal, and Matt. These guys have improvised together for a long time. I used to sneak into their show Whirled News Tonight when I was in middle school (the Del Close theater at the old iO was easy to sneak in to if you were under 18) and watch them improvise off of newspaper clippings with the late, great Jason Chin. Needless to say, their instincts are incredible, and they have the kind of rapport that only comes from a decade of working together. These are comedy heroes of mine, and it’s a special pleasure for me to hear them play together and get to share it with you.
The best way to start with Magic Tavern is to listen to the first episode. As far as I know the only “prepared” part of the show is the character introductions, where Usidore launches into his lengthy name that he will repeat in nearly every subsequent episode.
Usidore: I am Usidore! Wizard of the 12th Realm of Ephysiyies, Master of Light and Shadow, Manipulator of Magical Delights, Devourer of Chaos, Champion of the Great Halls of Terr’akkas. The elves know me as Fi’ang Yalok. The dwarves know me as Zoenen Hoogstandjes. And I am also known in the Northeast as Gaismunēnas Meistar.
Chunt: …and I’m Chunt.
After this episode, the guys are generally joined by a different Chicago improviser each week playing a new character passing through the tavern. I’ve cut together a few short excerpts that will give you a taste of the podcast.
Episode 5: Foon’s Greatest Swordsman
I think this is the first truly great episode of Magic Tavern where the improv really clicks. Chunt is off this week, but Arnie and Usidore are joined by Jak Vorpal, the greatest swordsman in all of Foon (played brilliantly by Sean Kelley, Matt’s partner in Improvised Star Trek).
This episode starts with a wonderful piece of improv between Arnie and Matt that I think shows off the brilliance of the podcast’s premise:
And then turns to an interview with Jak Vorpal, who discusses his last adventure:
Episode 6: The Vermilion Minotaur
In this episode, the guys are joined by the proprietor of the Vermilion Minotaur, Otok Barleyfoot. He discusses some current rumors in the tavern:
Episode 7: Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth
Another great bit of conversation between Arnie and Usidore — Arnie runs some evil names by Usidore trying to guess the name of the Dark Lord.
Episode 13: Boys’ Night
This episode has no guest, so Arnie, Chunt, and Usidore have a Boys’ Night, which mostly consists of periodically shouting “Boys’ Night!” In this clip, the guys go around the table telling each other a secret:
Episode 16: Spintax the Green
This episode opens without Usidore, and Charlie McCrackin joins the podcast as Usidore’s old rival, Spintax the Green.
Episode 30: The Midwife
Nicky Margolis plays a midwife who literally becomes the mother right before birth:
Episode 32: Offices and Bosses
In this episode, the guys explore a fantastical roleplaying game where you go to an “office” and battle the evil “boss.” This is an incredible episode, probably the best one yet, and one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.