The podcast realm has proven to be fertile ground for improv comedy. Taking advantage of the medium’s ability to revive audio storytelling, plus its self-promotional aspects, improv podcasts are both a platform for showcasing talent, and a way to play with the form, creating bizarre new worlds with ever-changing rules and recurring characters (see the gold-standard SuperEgo podcast). Of the many established and emerging shows out there, one of the newer standouts is Hello from the Magic Tavern, part of the wildly creative Chicago Podcast Collective.

Hello from the Magic Tavern is hosted by improv performer Arnie Niekamp. On the show, Niekamp plays a hapless Chicagoan (also named Arnie Niekamp) who has fallen through a portal behind a Burger King and landed in the magical land of Foon, a Middle Earth-esque place that features wizards, barbarians, trolls and other fantastic creatures among its citizenry. Arnie uses the weak wi-fi signal originating from the Burger King to host his podcast from a tavern, the Vermillion Minotaur. Each week he and local co-hosts Usidore the Wizard and Chunt, a shapeshifter (fellow improv folk Matt Young and Adal Rifai), interview various residents of Foon.

Each episode brings to light a different aspect of life in this magical realm through bizarre conversations with the characters of Foon, all played by members of the Chicago improv scene. Previous episodes have included everything from explorations of organized sport in Foon (the Foon Mittens League, which has 31 players per team and occasionally involves ritual sacrifice), to Foon’s musical traditions (an episode which nearly caused a messy spit-take at work–listen at your own risk).

What makes Hello from the Magic Tavern special is that, while each episode is improvised, there’s also a serial aspect to the podcast from week to week. The rules of the world remain consistent, and every mention of an event, character or foodstuff always comes full-circle. Even the show’s credit announcer gets an episode. There’s not so much that new listeners will get lost if they start with a later installment, but just enough to reward long-term listeners with a few in-jokes, and a richer experience.

Hello from the Magic Tavern is a funny, imaginative podcast that brings the listener into a bizarre magical world of innuendo, puns and talking badgers. It’s also a window into the actual world of the Chicago improv scene, a powerhouse known for bringing up future comedy stars. Listen to hear Usidore recite his ridiculously long full name, or to catch the next Tina Fey or Stephen Colbert. Either way, you’re in for a treat.

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