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Cake Boss evolves on Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Bugle has Olympics fever

Hey, you like podcasts? Make sure you check out Reasonable Discussions, the A.V. Club podcast. Podmass comments can be directed to podmass@avclub.com.

To listen to these and other podcasts, visit Podcast Central, our podcast hub. 

[Note: We’ve recused ourselves from reviewing this week’s WTF With Marc Maron #300 because The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin appears as a guest on the episode, but you can check it out here, along with the encore airings of the first, 100th, and 200th episodes that led up to it. Normal reviews will resume next week.]


“I’m a special immortal being who’s given stewardship over all the earth—and it’s a bit of a hassle!” —Cake Boss (Paul F. Tompkins), Comedy Bang! Bang!

“Never has joining the future felt like such a defeat. It’s not even joining the future, is it? It’s merely joining the present … I was trying to work out why I was so hesitant to engage with Twitter, Andy, and one reason was provided for me almost instantaneously when literally minutes after sending my first tweet—I mean, literally, a handful of minutes—I got a message saying, ‘You’re terrible. Go eat a bag of dicks.’” —John Oliver, The Bugle

“You have a private plane and a private chef… what’s good about that? Does that help at all?”—Seth Romatelli interviewing Rick Ross, poorly, Uhh Yeah Dude

“…and for some reason, I wanted him to wear a trench coat.” —Tina McElroy Asna, describing her younger self’s dream man, The Moth


Each week, Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder and veteran improviser Matt Besser gathers a group of other performers to put together a totally improvised podcast, with each segment predicated upon stories told by the performers (which are typically inspired by one-word suggestions from Twitter). Mediocre improv teams are everywhere these days, so the novelty of the form being done so well here by one of the people responsible for its popularization, along with some supremely talented up-and-comers, makes for worthwhile listening in and of itself. Beyond that, though, the podcast easily holds its own in terms of delivering laughs on a consistent basis, with many scenes reaching absurd heights and a deploying massive amount of clever callbacks.

Besser isn’t exaggerating when he says that his guests are some of the best improvisers in the world. As a result, the improv on any given episode is never exactly bad; rather, sometimes a group of performers simply doesn’t jibe as well as others, resulting in bits that never go quite as far as they could. A recent example of things coming together perfectly is episode 29 (and its abbreviated bonus episode), featuring actor/comedian Chris Gethard and screenwriter/frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay. It’s neat enough just to hear McKay in one of his rare podcast appearances, but the former UCB member demonstrates why he makes the big bucks as he completely crushes segment after segment without ever hogging the spotlight. Episode 29 and pretty much any of the episodes featuring Andy Daly are all perfectly fine places to dive in. [CG]


With summer either hitting its peak or waning, it’s a great time to delve into the world of amusement-park-related podcasting. CoasterRadio, which is in its seventh season and features announcer and fellow coaster enthusiast Neil Patrick Harris, is a solid place to start. The weekly podcast takes a well-informed look at the entire theme-park experience, from water-park gripes to great breakfast spots. Each show is a little different—episode 643 features tales of first-time roller-coaster adventures and a listener report from the new Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure—but fans of coasters and amusement parks in general (especially smaller ones like Holiday World or Hershey Park) will find a lot to love here. Hosts Mike Collins and EB know their stuff, including just how tall kids have to be to ride specific coasters at parks all over the country. [ME]


The Bugle #202: Sport!
Hosts John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman have displayed growing excitement leading up to the Olympics, and their enthusiasm—both genuine and satirical—boils over in this episode, recorded just as the games opened. From motivating the Opening Ceremonies sheep to pondering ticket distribution, their engagement with the Games knows no energetic bounds, especially when the pair carves up Mitt Romney in magnificent fashion over his public-relations missteps during his recent visit to England. The show’s signature hyperbolic humor comes in handy as Oliver and Zaltzman defend their nation and take Romney to task over his questioning of the nation’s readiness and eagerness for the Olympics. There’s also a check-in on the love life of Kim Jong-un, a follow-up from a previous episode that’s a fantastic payoff for regular listeners. And for those who love the zest with which Zaltzman tackles the Olympics, it’s worth checking out his short, daily Olympics updates. [MG]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #169: Immortal Mustache: Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul F. Tompkins
Jay Chandrasekhar continues his podcast tour behind his new film The Babymakers, this time making his debut appearance on Comedy Bang! Bang! opposite Paul F. Tompkins’ Cake Boss (Cake Boss!). As a member of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, Chandrasekhar would seemingly be game for CBB’s shenanigans, and he is, even though it’s tough to compete against Tompkins (as any of his characters) in Would You Rather? That said, the focus of this episode is the always-evolving-in-more-convoluted-ways Cake Boss mythology, which makes a leap so silly this week that he and Aukerman wonder if there’s anywhere else for this character to go. Considering how consistently entertaining he is, here’s hoping Buddy Valastro returns. [KR]

The Dana Gould Hour: Mini-KISS & Other Delights
At best, The Dana Gould Hour is educational and philosophical as well as consistently funny and smart. This episode captures Gould at his best, whether he’s referencing a friend’s comment about Comic-Con now being populated largely by the kind of people who used to beat up people for going to Comic-Con, or irreverently but not inaccurately describing religious faith as primarily a matter of believing in the same “invisible giants” your parents do. With a running time that tops 90 minutes, this is the longest Dana Gould Hour to date, but it never lags. [NR]

Hang Up And Listen: The Olympic-Sized Edition
As a matter of course, the HUAL crew likes to turn the spotlight on issues and achievements in less-heralded sports, the games that never make it onto the SportsCenter highlight reels. The Olympics, of course, is a time when many of those sports are being played before the world, so the events fall right into their wheelhouse. All three segments and the Afterballs are devoted to Olympics coverage—with Mike Pesca actually reporting from London for NPR—and the hosts’ enthusiasm is almost boyishly infectious, as Josh Levin trumpets the precocious 16-year-old table-tennis prodigy/nerd magnet Ariel Hsing and Pesca tells of NBA star Chris Paul’s fascination in learning about Malaysian bowling techniques. They also have kind words for Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony and some forgiving ones toward NBC’s technical snafus. [ST]

The J.V. Club #21: Alison Brie
Toward the end of her interview with Community star Alison Brie, Janet Varney says that her listeners are going to want to hear much more than the hour and 15 minutes they share together. She’s absolutely right. The two women have an instant rapport that results in one of this show’s funniest episodes. Whether they’re realizing that Brie as a child was Laura from The Glass Menagerie (with her “wonky” foot and collection of glass animals) or playing with a fan-made cootie-catcher, this episode feels like two teenage friends hanging out. The highlight of the show comes after a public-urination story from Brie’s past, when the pair goes on a hilarious 10-minute tangent discussing an imaginary Kristen Wiig/Paul Rudd gymnastics-themed romantic comedy called The Balancing Act. [OS]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #71: Dave Anthony
Anyone who’s heard Walking The Room co-host Dave Anthony’s updates on fighting with his neighbors and professional conflicts can guess he deals with more than just garden-variety crankiness. Even so, his Mental Illness Happy Hour appearance this week offers two surprises. The first is that Anthony’s anger comes from such frustrating, humiliating experiences that it’s a wonder it’s not worse. The second is how thoroughly he’s grasped the problem and tried to deal with it. Better still, Anthony and Gilmartin have a rapport here (see Gilmartin’s guest turn on Walking The Room) that makes possible a kind of savage humor that this podcast usually avoids. [SG]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr took the time to re-record this week’s installment after he deemed his first go to be not funny enough, and thank goodness for that. Right out of the gate, his riffing on the Fred Willard incident is damn near stage-worthy, and he mostly maintains that level of comedy throughout the entire episode. His thorough defense of his friend Dane Cook in the wake of a controversy surrounding Cook’s unfortunate jokes about the Aurora shooting goes on for too long, and his return to the topic of the Penn State incident from last week is pretty humorless, but those are easy to forgive when he gets around to his top-notch observations on owning a house and a handful of good listener emails, one of which prompts him to wax surprisingly wise on the topic of dealing with depression. [CG]

The Moth: Tina McElroy Ansa: Juicy Lessons From “The Place”
Don't recoil at the word “juicy” in the title of this week’s Moth. It refers only to expressive richness, namely the unabashed combination of nostalgia and bawdiness journalist Tina McElroy brings to her story about losing her virginity. Those qualities are what make the episode rewarding, even though it’s essentially a simple tale with a happy ending and lots of background and buildup. It helps that it’s ultimately not a typical humiliating “first time” kind of story, but a celebration of a young woman’s strong sense of self. [SG]

Nerdist #237: Bill Nye
As the host of Bill Nye The Science Guy, Bill Nye is best known for his educational kids’ show that ran for five seasons in the mid-’90s. Nye has never shaken the “Science Guy” moniker, and during his Nerdist interview it’s obvious why. Nye still has a knack for breaking down lofty scientific lingo into manageable language, taking a subject like liquid nitrogen and relating it to making s’mores. Melding well with the tone Chris Hardwick has established for his podcast, Nye fits right in with the hosts, making an episode that finds a balance between educational talk and lighthearted riffing. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1106: Getting Real With Tami Sagher
In the frequent diversions from Jimmy Pardo’s story of meeting Dennis Christopher at a Breaking Away screening and his discomfort with being both fan and peer, it becomes slowly but surely evident that first-time guest Tami Sagher has few reservations about mining embarrassments or insecurities for laughs. Sagher, a comedy writer with credits on 30 Rock, MADtv, and How I Met Your Mother, offers up her tendency to cry upon meeting celebrities as a consolation to Pardo’s perceived awkwardness. Soon after, an offhand comment about a supposed addiction leads Pardo and Matt Belknap to reveal the toll taken on their health after Jimmy Pardo Needs Jokes was not picked up. Naturally, plenty of funny pop-culture jokes about bad children’s television and Swedish music are shoehorned in to balance things out when the show threatens to “get real.” But the episode’s best moments are when the Breaking Away story comes to a head and the room lowers its collective guard to follow the conversation into more revealing territory. [SM]


Sklarbro Country: Sklarbro County 10
The Sklars and Dan Van Kirk bring on Jon Daly for another week of consistently funny segments, proving again that so long as Van Kirk digs up some great stories, the riffs will take care of themselves. There’s one here about an NHL hockey player who got in trouble for tweeting the URL for a porn site at 2 a.m. and another about a small town in Minnesota that tried to break the Guinness record for most bikini-wearers on parade and fell embarrassingly short of the mark. But the funniest bit deals with a Southern Methodist University lineman who got robbed by a prostitute after failing to pay her a $50 fee for services. The details of the robbery are ridiculous enough themselves—the hooker was basically left unpaid in an apartment full of $3,000 in electronics—but the gang also gets laugh from the police’s utter indifference in tracking down the suspect. “There’s a hooker on every corner with a big TV,” quips Daly. [ST]

Sound Opinions #348: Lydia Loveless, Reviews Of Passion Pit And Mission Of Burma
Lydia Loveless’ recent Bloodshot album Indestructible Machine shows the 21-year-old songwriter has been around enough to sing about drinking and relationship screw-ups. Her Sound Opinions interview also reveals that she’s mature enough to embrace the vulnerability and self-deprecating humor that goes along with the subject matter. She handles Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’ flattery smoothly here, and the in-studio songs are solid too. It helps to make up for the episode’s rather fluffy reviews of the new Mission Of Burma and Passion Pit albums. [SG]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #228: Steve Bays
Stop Podcasting Yourself is always good for ambient chatter, but this week is the rare episode with a focused, accessible central topic, though it’s an unlikely one. A report from a Vancouver Nickelback concert evolves into meditation on the band from three indie-leaning-Canuck perspectives. Co-host Dave Shumka walked past the show, but guest Steve Bays—a musician-producer and former amateur magician whose work includes Hot Hot Heat and Fur Trade—was backstage, where he met frontman Chad Kroeger and scored one of this week’s solid “Overheards.” The trio sends up three generations of faux-grunge, meditating on the radio-rock heroes’ arena-sized career, its fans’ demographics, and the wreckage left in its wake. The thoughtful talk is heavy on insight and light on snark—until the subject of bro-culture etiquette comes up. [DXF]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Match Of Death
While this week’s soccer theme ties into the world-sport fervor induced by the Olympics, the title of this story alone should be enough to stir non-fans of sports into a well-deserved listen. The recent Ukrainian movie Match has been highly controversial in its depiction of a 1942 match between Nazi soldiers and former Kiev footballers who worked in a local bakery. The Kievs reportedly won despite what was supposed to be a fixed game, and are rumored to have been executed as a result. Hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey relish the drama surrounding myth and fact, and do their usual excellent job of separating the two. It’s one of the best episodes in a few weeks and another excellent introduction for new listeners. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Nazi Games And Jesse Owens
As hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey point out, the “Nazi Olympics” of 1936 served as a better outlet for Nazi propaganda than most modern people realize. Yet Jesse Owens is the highlight of those historic games, winning four gold medals in the face of ultimate racist evil. Owens was not only being watched by the international community, but also by a still largely racist America, as he competed in arenas with the most extravagant pageantry the Olympics had ever seen, with huge zeppelins representing hatred for his race hovering above as he attempted to exceed even the best expectations. Anyone who has discussed this event casually ought to hear just how remarkable this victory really was. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How The Musketeers Worked
This episode is delightfully light and fluffy, not unlike the nougaty chocolate bar mentioned at the top of the episode. Better still, there are swords and muskets involved (even if they are French). For those unfamiliar with Alexandre Dumas’ novel, this is a fun gateway into the best aspects of the story, and a good primer on why the musket was a revolutionary, cool, and flawed weapon. Before delving into the book, the hosts have a lively discussion about the combat techniques that inspired the novel and the sound early musket-shot made as it limply struck and fell off of a knight’s armor. By the time they get to the subjects of Dumas’ playwriting days and lack of public acceptance due to his mixed-race background, listeners will already be rooting for muskets to blaze and swords to clang. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Live At Comic-Con
The actual subject of this episode is time-travel, and sadly it’s done a rather big disservice by being one of the shortest episodes in many weeks. The hosts’ dialogue seems to hit warp speed as well, as if the live audience makes them a bit nervous. However, the subject matter is compelling enough that it’s hard not to love Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant’s discussion of both the science of and public fascination with time-travel. While Stephen Hawking’s numbers might feel tedious, Carl Sagan has some great insight into how our very concept of time-travel is flawed and arrogant. It all adds up to a simple and fun episode, even if the live format seems a bit rushed. [DT]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #81/SuperEgo: War Of Two Worlds, Part 6
The Thrilling Adventure Hour and SuperEgo’s collaborative series of half-written, half-improvised podcasts about an alien invasion finally hit its stride last month, after an intriguing but patchy start. This installment stays on course, milking the simple exercise of having humans around the world describe their alien encounters. (Spoiler: Only two got raped.) In a sign of comic health, most of the episode’s best laugh lines—“You know, like church?”—have little to do with aliens and everything to do with playful looseness. [SG]

Uhh Yeah Dude: #333
UYD could probably fill an entire one-hour block covering the boy-band beat. The evidence is in the first five minutes of this episode, which begins with a starry-eyed discussion of reunions both hypothetical and inevitable, embarrassing and extraordinary. So great is Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette’s lust for fully reformed N’Sync and New Kids On The Block—and Marky Mark in Calvin Kleins—that the pair have to cool down with a reading of prose poetry courtesy of non-laureate Michael Madsen. Madsen’s ham-fisted “Fugazi” is entertaining enough to sew #333 up, but like any well-rounded UYD outing, the funny business has to end at some point to make way for the doom, gloom, and finger-wagging of two hip guys who are getting (by their own admission) a little long in the tooth. Between all of #333’s dick jokes and conspiracy theories, there are some surprisingly poignant insights on what the aging process inevitably does to one’s coolness. [CW]

Walking The Room #114: Wood Master Paul Gilmartin
Similar to Paul Gilmartin’s last appearance in the closet (or as he calls it, a “sweat lodge for the emotionally overwhelmed”), his time as host of TBS’ Dinner And A Movie and the podcast Mental Illness Happy Hour supplies most of the material this week. While dishing the dirt on DAAM and deriding Jim Belushi make for funny riffs, it’s Gilmartin’s reflection on his depression and Dave Anthony and Greg Behrendt’s shared wonderment in its useful byproducts that carry the best parts of the episode. With his obsessive nature to follow a whim at all costs now at bay, Gilmartin dryly teases out a gag reel of his momentarily life-altering endeavors, like “the summer he learned how to juggle.” It’s mental illness diffused by self-deprecation and humorous desperation—quintessential Walking The Room. [SM]

Who Charted #87: Legal Weed: Johnny Pemberton
Although actor Johnny Pemberton is technically the guest, he takes a backseat to Howard Kremer’s space-cadet musings this week. That’s totally fine, since Kremer seems to get more endearingly goofy as the podcast goes on, and Pemberton sounds completely comfortable in his role as a laid-back facilitator of Kremer’s stream of consciousness—a role co-host Kulap Vilaysack accepted a long time ago. Also, Pemberton is more than willing to switch roles from interviewee to interviewer when Kremer’s brother Lee unexpectedly drops in. But the real highlight of this episode involves Kremer lamenting the fact that it’s illegal to send human feces in the mail. [MS]

You Made It Weird: Sean O’Connor
There may be all manner of holes in Pete Holmes’ pop-culture knowledge, but one of the podcaster’s many admirable qualities is his ability to get the most out of the pop culture he really loves, from Malcolm Gladwell to There Will Be Blood to Mad Men. On a deep and engaging You Made It Weird with comedian and writer Sean O’Connor, for example, Holmes discerns penetrating life lessons about the fundamental loneliness of existence from a Pete Campbell monologue from Mad Men; but there’s plenty of inspired goofiness and riffing on display here as well. [NR]


The Best Show On WFMU
For the third consecutive week, The Best Show features sporadically excellent moments that never fully form into a top-tier episode. [TC]

Doug Loves Movies: Rental Car XV
This truncated episode just features live Leonard Maltin games from two different tour dates with Graham Elwood, but it’s still worth a listen. [MS]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #64: Watermelon Wedges
After nearly a month off, Mike and Tom return with a new episode, a special guest, and an episode that gets cut off right as it starts to hit its stride. [DA]

Nerdist #235: Richard Ayoade
British comedian-writer-director Richard Ayoade is not so much interviewed as he is worshipped, making the episode flat and surface-level. [DA]

Nerdist #236: Diani & Devine
With much of the episode devoted to the duo’s successful Kickstarter project, there’s little here that warrants a listen. [DA]

Sklarbro Country #105: The Power Of The Warrior: Ryan Stout, Jason Nash
Guest Ryan Stout hits some smug, jarringly wrong notes on a rant about Daniel Tosh’s unfortunate foray into rape-based comedy in this sub-par episode. [NR]

The Smartest Man In The World #169: Strips
Greg Proops gets a little overwhelmed with the serious and preachy during this Las Vegas show, which is understandable, but slows things down considerably. [SG]

This American Life #470: Show Me The Way
Enjoy Act One, the exciting and touching true story of a boy who runs away to see if he can find a new life and understanding with his favorite fantasy writer, but skip Act Two, a somewhat twee retelling of The Metamorphosis done half in rhyme. [CZ]

Uhh Yeah Dude: #332
An especially manic Seth Romatelli fills #332 with patter, but the topics—miscarriages of baseball justice, breast-reduction surgery, and huge pharma—can’t justify the verbiage, and the episode slumps before briefly rallying near the end. [CW]

You Made It Weird #70: Rory Scovel
The last third of Pete Holmes’ conversation with comedian Rory Scovel is funny, insightful, and engaging; unfortunately it is preceded by more than 90-minutes of mostly dry comedy shoptalk. [CG]