Comedy Bang! Bang! reaches a new apex, Tom Hiddleston charms, and Radiolab gets uncomfortable

Comedy Bang! Bang! reaches a new apex, Tom Hiddleston charms, and Radiolab gets uncomfortable

Podmass comments and suggestions for future coverage can be directed to podmass@avclub.com 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I was fat. It’s not like I wasn’t trying to lose the weight. My husband, Wayne, had gotten me this Wii Fit, and I would get on it each day, and this little cute animated version of me would tell me, ‘Yes, you are getting fatter.” —Rebecca Nesson, The Moth 

“There are times in this movie when it’s like you’re a child and you pick up an adult’s book, and you know there’s information in it and there’s pictures occasionally, but you can’t read it and you don’t know what it means. To somebody, this means something. But to you, it’s incomprehensible gibberish. That’s what this movie is like.”

“I felt like I stumbled into a sub-basement that’s owned by a serial killer, and I see all this crazy shit on the walls and I can’t make sense of it, but I know it’s horrifying.” —Elliott Kalan and Stuart Wellington on Foodfight!, The Flop House

“There just was this time in the ’80s where these guys were just [like], ‘We need to produce videotapes. I don’t care what they are; just make them!” —Jake Fogelnest speculates about the origins of a Richard Simmons wheelchair workout video, The Fogelnest Files

“I heard they’re firing you because they found a severed head in your desk.” —Timmy Von Trimble (Jon Wurster) speculates on the real reason for The Best Show’s upcoming final episode, The Best Show On WFMU

“This is like a flight took off without me, but I’m the pilot. And then we had to race to the plane, and I had to climb through some window, and now I’m here mid-flight.”  —Howard Kremer on being late to his own show, Who Charted?

“It’s sort of an automatic assumption that if a woman has a mastectomy, she is then going to attempt to appear that she still has two breasts. And Audre Lorde was like, ‘No, I am not doing that! You cannot make me.’” —Tracy V. Wilson on the cancer recovery of poet, feminist, and civil rights pioneer Audre Lorde, Stuff You Missed In History Class

“In the end, I hope I reach my Dumbledore phase.” —Tom Hiddleston, Nerdist

NEW (TO US)

Scopes Monkey Choir
Scopes Monkey Choir is not a bad addition to a list of other science/skeptic podcasts. It’s certainly engaging enough to fill the void between episodes of Point Of Inquiry, The Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe, or many of the other similarly minded, information-dense shows from which it clearly draws inspiration. It’s not, however, a fantastic option as an eclectic listener’s only science-themed podcast. For one thing, the hosts are not scientists: As mentioned multiple times per episode, Matthew Schickele is a composer/songwriter, and Hai-Ting Chinn is a mezzo-soprano opera singer. The two professional musicians clearly have a better grasp of physics and biology than the average non-scientist, but not so much of a grasp that listeners may feel totally safe in their care. They discuss news items and interview guests like a couple of really smart hobbyists, but not quite like science journalists, so the end result is never fully satisfying. 

It would be one thing if their conversations existed mainly in the intersection of music theory and acoustic science, but that topic is handled cursorily at best. Instead, they tend to have disappointingly rambling conversations like the one with Skepticality  host Derek Colanduno about his stroke-induced neurological dysfunctions, or the one with physicist Sean Carroll about Albert Einstein because Chinn happens to be in a production if Philip Glass’ Einstein On The Beach. On the other hand, one recent episode features an interesting interview opera singer and neuroscientist Indre Viskontas, and, if listeners dig back far enough, they’ll find a two-part interview with composer Philip Glass. When it works, Scopes Monkey Choir is enjoyable; on the whole, it’s interesting enough, but could benefit from more focus. [DD]


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
Tom Scharpling has always resisted any perceived eulogizing of his show (even after this touching 10-year anniversary tribute by associate producer Mike Lisk and Therese Mahler), so it’s no surprise that the host seeks to prevent backward-looking sentiment in this installment. With only seven episodes left until the December 17 finale, Scharpling works to create new memorable moments instead of dwelling on past triumphs. The approach succeeds as the show introduces new bizarre bits, including Lisk’s alter-ego Dr. Cronut battling his physically fit nemesis, Captain Bayonne. The ticking clock hanging over the proceedings is only acknowledged briefly, including a few clips in the sound collage and some fun bits of teasing about the reasons for the show’s ending. Hopefully, there will be time for celebration and tributes over the program’s final hours. This solid episode serves as another reason why that victory lap will be fully earned. [TC]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #253: Fieri Fight: Tim Heidecker, Jon Daly
Fans of Comedy Bang! Bang! have heard plenty of meta, self-referential episodes over 250-plus episodes, but they’ve never heard something like “Fieri Fight.” Tim Heidecker excels at playing bits incredibly straight, making his insane pronouncements (in this case, his deep admiration of Guy Fieri) sound not just believable, but mundane. Jon Daly is another fan of conceptual, antagonistic comedy, so when the two are put in a hospitable environment like Comedy Bang! Bang!, it recalls Chelsea Peretti’s “Farts & Procreation” quip, “The bit saturation in this room is crazy.” Anger rules the first segment, beginning with Scott Aukerman’s surprising, sarcastic thanks to listeners for their support and continuing with Heidecker and Daly’s heated argument about Fieri. From there, the episode turns in on itself constantly, with the trio mock-explaining their process, commenting on each other’s work, and generally taking CBB to new levels of meta. For some fans, it’ll undoubtedly grate. For others, it’s pure gold. [KR]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #254: LIVE From Comedy Gives Back: Zach Galifianakis, David Wain, Andy Daly
By taking a strict policy toward donations (Scott Aukerman called for absolutely no more than $1 per listener for the worthy cause), this special b-b-b-bonus-s-s-s episode is a strange fundraiser. Leave it to Aukerman to spin a charity event for malaria into something beautifully absurd, offensive, yet meaningful. Fan favorites Zach Galifianakis and David Wain join Aukerman in the What’s Trending studios for a live broadcast that, despite its technical hiccups, turns into a strong episode. The three goof around about malaria until Andy Daly strolls in under the auspice of Jack Fitzgerald, a contrarian to the bone. The four play off each other, the hot studio, and technical difficulties to great effect. [MK]

The Flop House #138: Foodfight!
Some correlation exists between the lunacy of a film that the Flop House hosts watch and the quality of the episode that follows. Case in point: From the strange void that is Foodfight!a crude, bizarre, and hyper-capitalist kids’ movie seemingly animated with software from the mid-’90s—comes a riff about an elderly Southern woman who loves the Adventures Of Tintin comics, which is as inspired as anything the hosts have ever done. And the same can be said of the episode as a whole—it’s one not to miss. [CG]

The Fogelnest Files #62: TV Carnage: Derrick Beckles
Jake Fogelnest may have found his soulmate in this week’s guest, TV Carnage creator and Hot Package host Derrick Beckles. Specifically, the two have a shared punk sensibility when it comes to the grotesque figures featured in mainstream media. (In what might be the most useful few minutes of any podcast ever, Beckles explains the meaning of “squeird”—a made-up word that describes when squares try to interact with or explain something they consider weird.) The conversation is interesting enough, though it falls into typical Fogelnestian subjects, like videotape and the ethics of watching crazy people on the Internet, which are starting to feel a little tired. Still, Beckles is one of the more charismatic and slyly academic guests Fogelnest has ever had, and for those unfamiliar with Carnage, watching this week’s playlist is a must. [AB]

Hang Up And Listen: The Bullies, Boors, And Bucks Edition
The bullying case of the Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin has been talked to death, but the HUAL panel does exceedingly well parsing out the nuances of the discussion. Having Stefan Fatsis’ experiences from an actual NFL locker room is a huge boon, adding at least a semblance of the expertise to combat the comments from players that the media don’t understand the sociology of a pro football locker room. Aaron Krickstein joins to discuss his revelations from the Jimmy Connors 30 For 30 documentary, This Is What They Want. [KM]

Harmontown #78: Earthshine
Maybe Dan Harmon is joking during his whole rant against millennials while lionizing Generation X. Probably not, which makes the opening segment of this week’s episode a bit grating. But the standout moment in the episode springs from the absence of Kumail Nanjiani: An audience member named Ian—who also happens to be roommates with DM Spencer’s brother—subs in, and reveals he has a mustache for a dinner-theater play he performed in nearby Oxnard. Harmon then makes the guy go through each of his 10 lines while improvising increasingly hilarious responses. [KM]

The Moth: Rebecca Nesson: Coming To Term
There’s a singular torment known only to parents who reach such a hopeless level of discord with their spouse that the otherwise unspeakable act of abandoning a child becomes a bargaining weapon. By the time Rebecca Nesson finds herself crumpled on the floor and threatening her husband with having to raise their daughter alone, she’s already endured enough Job-level agonies that both her desperation and shame seem warranted. Told last spring in Boston, Nesson’s concise story about the horror and redemption that comes next is more matter-of-fact than the type of literary and wrought pieces usually heard on The Moth. The lack of indulgence makes it all the more piercing. [DJ]    

Nerdist #432: Clark Gregg
Before the guest interview, Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray engage in some entertaining passive-aggressive banter about Ray’s scheduling on the Hardwick’s show Midnight. There’s a lot of kidding-but-not-kidding about Ray’s fame level as it pertains to his scheduling, and if the two weren’t such good friends, the conversation could very well escalate into an argument. It’s a nice appetizer for the laid-back interview with likable screen actor, character actor, and Joss Whedon staple Clark Gregg. Naturally, there’s ample discussion of Gregg’s role in the various Marvel projects, but some of the best parts of the episode come from his discussing his relationship with wife Jennifer Grey and his unexpected career U-turn as a screenwriter. [MS]

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Nerdist #433: Tom Hiddleston
Tom Hiddleston continues his campaign for “most charming man on Earth” with a visit to the Nerdist, where he makes strides in several key voting demographics bynerding out over Harry Potter, speaking French, and discussing his charity work in West Africa. While there’s always a danger of that much charisma feeling like a put-on, Hiddleston’s enthusiasm seems refreshingly genuine; he speaks about Loki not as an actor dutifully making the press rounds, but as a true fan who is amazed by the opportunity to play such a rich character. Having proven himself an admirable showman (and impressionist) in front of a crowd, Hiddleston demonstrates a more thoughtful, intellectual side in his one-on-one with Chris Hardwick. The conversation bounces around several topics, but it’s in the loving way Hiddleston talks about working with Steven Spielberg on War Horse that the actor’s passion for his career really shines. [CS]

Nerdist #435: Kevin Feige
Nerdist can’t always decide if it wants to be an informal interview show focused on the entertainment industry, or a platform for creators and actors to riff with its comedic hosts. This sit-down with Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, takes the former approach, which produces one of the best episodes of the podcast to date. The conversation remains firmly focused on Marvel, but the sheer number of films in that universe (from X-Men to Spider-Man to The Avengers) means Feige has countless stories about the studios’ successes and flops. He also reveals the fascinating tidbit that Marvel films schedule their shoots so as to get major effects shots done in time to screen at Comic Con. It’s an unabashedly nerdy episode with a specific focus, but it’s an absolute must-listen for superhero fans or those interested in the behind-the-scenes workings of huge movie franchises. [CS]

Never Not Funny #1713: Dave Holmes
Dave Holmes is always a welcome presence, and as a Never Not Funny veteran, he has an easy rapport with Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap that makes for a breezy, enjoyable episode. He and Pardo trade celebrity sightings—which involves a long guessing game on everyone’s parts—discuss various soap opera characters, and get into a disturbing urban legend about Nell Carter that involves cocaine and vaginal prolapse. For A.V. Club commenters, there’s even a section where Holmes and Pardo effusively praise Dawes. Good stuff this week. [KR]

Professor Blastoff #129: Scientists (w/ Crystal Dilworth, Patrick Scott)
Introductory banter is in rare, chaotic form this week with bareback rafting and Tig Notaro’s baby voice, which often bodes for an incoherent back half. Thankfully, the mission statements of Professor Blastoff and the web series Fail Lab (done by guests Crystal Dilworth and Patrick Scott) are so similar in scope that a rare camaraderie carries a conversation as dense with theories as it is with riffs. The Blastoff crew is blessed with guests who can rein in their interview style, and the Fail Lab representatives receive a welcoming environment in return; they unpack the hurdles old-guard scientists face in marketing STEM topics to the public and hypothesize ways to foster interest in the hard sciences. These disciplines are daunting and frustrating for reasons both intellectual and social, but hopefully not for long once these sorts of voices take prominence. [NJ]

RadiolabCut And Run
This week, the Radiolab crew dissects an intriguing question, and it unexpectedly takes the show into horrific places. They try to understand why a specific group of Kenyans are preternaturally gifted runners, and after deflating a few popular theories, they settle on exploring the Kenyans’ above-average threshold for pain. A large part of this segment is told in relation to traditional genital mutilation, and the stories are difficult to hear. Gregory Warner, NPR’s East Africa correspondent, does a bang-up job guiding the story from start to finish, especially toward the tail end when the circumcision comes into the fray. Best of all, Warner manages to make it listenable, despite the harsh content at hand. [MK]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassAudre Lord Pt. 1
This week, Holly Frey and Tracy V. Wilson focus their episodes on the life of an essential but under-appreciated poet of the 20th century, Audre Lorde. After apologizing for breaking many of their subjects into two parts lately, Frey and Wilson prove quickly why Lorde warrant the double. A black woman born to immigrant parents during the Great Depression, she defied historical tradition by becoming a successful writer and out-of-the-closet lesbian. Frey and Wilson use this first chapter to focus on her young, frustrated youth as Lorde attempted to reconcile her feelings for both men and women, as well as the traumatic death of her best friend in high school. Listeners who appreciate civil rights, feminism, and the power of words will be grateful to learn her name if they didn’t know it already. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassAudre Lord Pt. 2
The second part of this two-parter series on Audre Lorde loses some steam in the middle, but Holly Frey and Tracy V. Wilson clearly adore their subject, and some of their less essential storytelling can be forgiven. As Lorde progressed with her career, she became divided by her love of a family she had started with a white man and her love of another woman. Although the marriage had never been monogamous, Lorde’s flagging literary career made her passionate and hungry for change. Lorde’s compelling story truly emerges here as she also faces a battle with cancer, which will carry listeners through the more unremarkable tales of her travels. The podcast ends with a licensed reading of her poem Who Said It Was Simple?”, an excellent ending to the two-parter. [DT]

Who Charted? #153: Kurt Braunohler
This episode features an unfortunate dearth of Howard Kremer, who mixed up his schedule and didn’t arrive until the tail end of the show. There’s a certain ineffable dynamic between Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack that goes unnoticed until one of them is absent. Luckily, Kurt Braunohler makes up the difference, with his weird sci-fi, dream-fueled screenplay ideas and his spot-on analysis of Gravity’s biggest weaknesses. Once Kremer finally shows 33 minutes in, he and Braunohler provide the episode’s highpoint, detailing their night of molly excess and the bizarre restrictions that Braunohler imposed upon himself for procuring the street drug from a rave kid. [DD]

WTF #438: Sally Kellerman
When Sally Kellerman discusses her early career with Marc Maron, it seems that she had never intended to get into comedic acting, which is surprising considering how consistently sharp and funny she is. While she spends a lot of the episode telling stories about her interactions with massive figures like Marlon Brando and Henry Kissinger, her personality shines brightly through her telling those stories—perhaps even better than if she had only talked about herself. But what she does reveal of her inner self is compelling and genuinely striking, rounding out a terrific episode. [CG]

You Made It Weird: #183: Ryan Sickler
While Ryan Sickler and Pete Holmes seem to be on the same page in terms of their riffing style and their sense of humor (the two even have similarly distinctive laughs), Sickler is decidedly less of a philosopher than Holmes, and it works to the show’s benefit. That’s not to say he’s unable to engage with Holmes’ probing analyses; in fact, their discussion of dating someone for a second time breathes new life into a topic that usually tumbles into the same kind of relationship-awareness theories. Instead of talking about general theories about the universe, Sickler stays grounded and specific, telling Holmes about his heartbreaking childhood and teenage years. Holmes is the one to cut things short for once, but it keeps this week’s interview tighter than the usually sprawling conversation. [AB]


REST

Doug Loves Movies: Bert Kreischer, Lauren Lapkus and Clare Kramer
Bert Kreischer seems to think his drunken, semi-coherent casting of an all-black cast of Ocean’s Eleven is a bit of unbridled comedic genius. Unfortunately, he’s the only one. [MS]

How Was Your Week #140: Camille Paglia: “A Charmless Joy Behar”
This fast-paced, dense interview with Camille would be better if Julie Klausner had challenged some of Paglia’s more controversial ideas. [DF]

Improv4Humans #106: Rainbow Party Pitch: Zach Woods, Nick Mandernach, Matt Newell, Erin Whitehead, Dan Lippert, Molly Bretthauer, Paul Welsh
Matt Besser brings in a huge group of local improvisers for an uneven episode. Luckily, Eric The Unpaid Paid Intern’s droll explanations of teenage sex crazes make the episode. [MK]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #140: D
Listener D does a commendable job describing the complicated feelings associated with his adult baby fetish, but other parts of his story are not equally developed in this varsity-level MIHH installment. [TC]

Monday Morning Podcast
This week’s episode isn’t bad, but the funniest thing about it is Bill Burr’s continual struggle to read emails and ad copy out loud and, while that is fairly hilarious, it is not quite enough to sustain the entire 70 minutes. [CG]

My Brother, My Brother And Me #174: Starbucks Castle Doctrine
As often happens when the brothers return after being away for a little while, they’re pretty rusty on this week’s episode. Nothing quite sticks. [AB]

Nerdist #434: Saoirse Ronan
Saoirse Ronan is a smart, funny young actress with a captivating Irish accent, but her conversation with Chris Hardwick never settles on anything substantial. It’s light and enjoyable but inessential. [CS]

Sklarbro Country Sklarbro County #76: Matt Jones, Drew Franklin
With the exception of a middle segment about running into Marilyn Manson in an airport, this week’s episode features few memorable stories or riffs. [AB]

Sklarbro Country #172: Bryan Callen, James Adomian
Bryan Callen is on a mission to riff, even when the Sklars try to steer the chat toward more relaxed territory. The torrent of bits doesn’t compare to the true revelations, like Callen’s bizarre industry break involving David Blaine. [DJ]

The Smartest Man In The World: Cats
Greg Proops' energy is high at this Halloween-week show, but the laughs from a lively performance of Poe's "The Raven" are overwhelmed by his lengthy walk through his stock collection of references and topics, this week including Satchel Paige, the NSA, and 'shrooms. [DXF]

Sound Opinions #414: Classic Album Dissection: Astral Weeks
A rebroadcast of the 2009 Classic Album Dissection of Van Morrison’s landmark Astral Weeks takes up the bulk of the episode, but the opening interview with James Murphy about providing the music for a Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, and the concluding review of Lorde’s Pure Heroine are worth a listen. [KM]

Stuff You Should Know: How Lewis And Clark Worked
There are amusing moments and asides to enjoy in this telling of the expedition of Lewis and Clark, but what little tension there is gets spoiled by hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant repeatedly stating that everything turns out just fine. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Chess Works
What could have offered Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant plenty of material for riffing never coheres, largely because the two of them seem to be out of sync. [DT]

This American Life #510: Fiasco!
Though regular listeners may enjoy revisiting one of TAL’s greatest hits (updated to include the classic “Squirrel Cop” story), this is only essential for first-time listeners. [DF]

The Todd Glass Show #127: Justin Willman
The long absent Daniel Kinno is always a welcome addition, however guest Justin Willman doesn’t really bring much to the proceedings. [MS]

WTF #439: Eddie Izzard, Trevor Noah, Tig Notaro, Big Jay Oakerson, Seth Meyers
The stellar guest list for this live episode recorded at Just For Laughs in Montreal almost makes up for the truncated nature of WTF in front of an audience. [KM]

WTF #440: Booker T. Jones
Marc Maron never fails to exude genuine curiosity in his interviews with music legends like multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones, but it’s not enough to carry an hour of conversation. [KM]

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