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Eddie Izzard fascinates as unique comedic force and social activist

The best podcasts for the week of April 26–May 2

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


“If you’re trying to take a selfie but you can’t, you probably don’t know yourself.” —Traci Rearden (Lauren Lapkus), Comedy Bang! Bang!

“Isn’t the act of having to cook your own shit into a pie as degrading as making someone eat it?” —Doug Benson revisiting The Help’s least appetizing scene, Doug Loves Movies 

“He’s sort of like one of these all-or-nothing major league hitters in a lot of ways. He always swings for the fences… and he’s just as likely to strike out as he is to hit a home run. For me, The Fisher King, it’s his grand slam.” —Josh Larsen on Terry Gilliam, Filmspotting

“You are using your ‘frugality’ to make a point to the world and to punish other people, whereas to be frugal means ‘I only have a certain amount of money I can spend, so I’m going to be careful about what I order and how I spend my money.” —John Hodgman, Judge John Hodgman

“The website for this show is mentalpod.com. Go check it out. You can fill out surveys, you can see how other people filled out surveys, you can join the forum, you can support the show, or you can actually bring up the website and put your thumb in your ass and just sit there for two hours not listening to the podcast.” —Paul Gilmartin on the ways to use his show’s website, The Mental Illness Happy Hour

“It was in that moment that I realized that though the ‘good’ role and the ‘smart’ role were both taken in my family, there was one vacancy that was still available… that was the role of the complete and total asshole.” —Erin Barker on finding her niche among new stepsiblings, The Moth

“Should I come out? Yes I should come out. And I don’t think I should have shame or guilt. I think that’s been put upon me. And if people have a problem with my sexuality, then they can see a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist can help them with their problem.” —Eddie Izzard on coming out as a transvestite, Nerdist 

“I’ll go see Rod Stewart if I can pick the songs.” —Adam Ferrara, Never Not Funny

“Talk it out with someone else, get it into perspective, and have a pile of meat.” —Marc Maron, on dealing with anger, WTF

“So many things have happened in this podcast that haven’t happened in the 203 leading up to it. I’ve never been so challenged. I’ve never hit more rocks. I’ve never been so lost. I’ve never been so found.” —Pete Holmes, You Made It Weird


Mysteries Abound
Conspiracy theorists, history nerds, skeptics, and curious cats gather round: Mysteries Abound is here to satisfy your long-burning questions about humanity’s greatest oddities. Knowledgeable Australian host Paul Rex helms the program, his calm voice almost a lullaby instead of a lecture guiding you through a sea of strange. From locating missing moons to sniffing out the mystery of sloth poop, nothing is too bizarre for the inquisitive Rex.

Each episode of Mysteries Abound is a rich (but not dense, a tough line to tread) history lesson devoted to uncovering origins, including contemporary social traditions and holidays, such as the one on the development of Mothers’ Day. Others where Rex waxes existential, like the “Death Of Superman” episode, result in a fittingly morbid set of explanations. Yet, the most compelling bits of Mysteries Abound happen when Rex analyzes the every day—on “Thousand Island Dressing,” he explains the origins of our favorite sauces from hollandaise to A1, and seeks to answer if ranch dressing was originally made on a ranch (it was).

The episodes compact tons of information into small bites of time, in turn swerving in unexpected directions with subject matter. It’s not uncommon for the discussion to jump from birthmarks as possible omens to the myth behind the Men In Black, but the effect is refreshing instead of disorienting. The podcast impressively digs far deeper than simply rattling off the various theories surrounding a specific mystery. Mysteries Abound takes a deep approach toward dissecting the strange through smartly weaving reports and personal accounts. It works as a series of stories dedicated to understanding identities (such as Dracula vs. Vlad The Impaler) and why certain parts of human history are mythologized instead of others. Oh, and as Rex’s website states, you can stay at Paul Rex’s place in Brisbane should your travels ever find you there. [PM]


The Art Show
While only a few episodes in, The Art Show is already doing a fine job occupying a niche in the podcast landscape: practical advice for artists from semi-established folks in various industries. The podcast is essentially a thematic extension of hosts Dan Christofferson and Anna Brozek’s other jobs at Big Cartel, a service that helps build and support websites for artists, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Christofferson and Brozek are obviously passionate about helping artists survive and flourish, and their experience in working for Big Cartel informs the questions they ask of their guests. Most recently, Christofferson and Brozek had Jonathan Meiburg, lead singer and songwriter for the band Shearwater, on to discuss the extremely perilous life of a semi-well-known indie act. For anyone interested in the arts as they struggle to survive in the U.S., The Art Show’s ability to show both the highs and lows is a much-needed take. [NC]


Comedy Bang! Bang! #283: The 5th Anniversary Show!
It’s been half a decade since Comedy Bang! Bang! sprung forth from the head of Scott Aukerman and gradually became the preeminent improv-based comedy podcast. But instead of meandering through a “best of” compilation, Aukerman and guest host Jason Mantzoukas reassemble most of the cast from last year’s “4th Anniversary Extravaganza!” Among the highlights: a showdown between intern Marissa Wompler (Jessica St. Clair) and her once (and future?) friend Traci Rearden (Lauren Lapkus); an introduction to the adolescent girl (Matt Besser) who runs the Matt Besser Fan Club; visits from Mike The Janitor and J.W. Stillwater (two of Paul F. Tompkins’ more obscure characters); and more weirdness from the Bachelor Brothers (Paul Rust, Neil Campbell). The characters’ comings, goings, and odd pairings add to the party atmosphere throughout, but it all culminates in another closing “sentiment-off” between Rearden and Stillwater that’s as profoundly absurd as it is ridiculously poetic. [TK]

Doug Loves Movies: Griffin Dunne, Nick Thune, Rory Scovel
Leonard Maltin Game clues like a) Orson Welles’ first and best film b) Hearst-like publisher and c) “a film that broke all the rules” should bring to mind a certain citizen tycoon, but in what might be the first time in Doug Loves Movies history, not even the full review provided by the Asparagus Pee category is enough to nudge along a correct answer. Sure, Doug Benson goes state-of-Denver and botches the release date by about a decade, but at this point, isn’t anticipating minor goofs part of the game? Recorded at Cinefamily before a Movie Interruptionwhich might be why both the cast and audience seem to be pacing themselves a bit, An American Werewolf In London star and Doug Loves Movies newbie Griffin Dunne joins veterans Nick Thune and Rory Scovel for a 60-minute episode. The laughs are solid and consistent, and Dunne—albeit perplexed—is a good and active sport about the whole thing. As arcane as Benson’s trivia and humor can get, he knows how to bring an outsider into the fold. [DJ]

Filmspotting #488: Top 5 Films of 1991 / My Own Private Idaho / Amazing Spider- Man2  
Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen reflect on how their teenage former selves consumed films, as they reconsider the films of 1991. They begin the episode with a sacred cow-discussion of the melancholy art house favorite that propelled Gus Van Sant’s career into the stratosphere. They find My Own Private Idaho, though not without its flaws, to have weathered the decades better than many may assume. Later, they list their personal favorites from that year, and the only two films to make both lists are, oddly enough, The Fisher King and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which are as different from one another as they are strangely similar (debilitating trauma, nightmarish visions, naked dudes in public places). A decent amount of time is dedicated to examining the ameliorative effects of nostalgia and the difference between how they wrote their lists today and how they would have 23 years ago. [DD]

Freakonomics: The Perfect Crime
This week’s episode gets morbid quite quickly, with host Stephen Dubner describing a fiendish plot to kill someone and get away with it. For best results, Dubner argues, vehicular murder in New York City is the way to go. Only about 5 percent of drivers who kill a pedestrian in New York are arrested, even though pedestrians are 52 percent of traffic accident fatalities in the city. One of the reasons more drivers don’t go to jail is because they’re the only ones left to explain what happened to the police. While pedestrian deaths have dropped dramatically since the 1920s, American culture still pushes people to drive. Consequently, the roads are built to serve drivers, not pedestrians and bikers. Certain cities, like Minneapolis and New York, are starting to create separate walkways for pedestrians, though building roads less car-centric would be a good move for any city trying to curb traffic deaths. [NC]

How Was Your Week #165: Seth Rogen “A Working Heart”
Julie Klausner hits a home run with a Seth Rogen interview in anticipation of The Interview, packing the hour with stories Rogen seems like he’s been waiting for someone to ask about. Klausner opens fire on Almost Famous and A Nightmare On Elm Street with a uniquely valid and Klausner-esque perspective in one of her most focused monologues in months, furthering the notion that this edition of How Was Your Week exemplifies the need for Klausner on the podcast scene. Few hosts working today are as prepared to ask massive stars such profoundly easy questions as, “Was it weird hanging out with Judd Apatow when you were a teenager?” or slyly self-serving questions as, “Will you promise me that you’ll never work with Pauley Perrette?” [NJ]

Judge John Hodgman #158: Tipping The Scales Of Justice
Judge John Hodgman is back this week, and his podcast returns to form following a cold streak. Ruling on matters practical, theoretical, and semantic, all three cases are keepers. In the unusual principal hearing, Joe brings a case against himself, looking for approval of his tipping protocol. (For future reference, if you have to defend your gratuity ethics, you’re doing it wrong.) Clearing the docket, the Internet court delivers a thoughtful decision on whether song-heavy movies like Once and Walk The Line can be considered musical theater. And in closing, Hodgman revisits a previous statement regarding whether speculative fiction like Inglourious Basterds and Gladiator should be categorized as a subset of science fiction. Stay tuned through the whole episode if movies aren’t your bag, but you’re in the market for mnemonic devices to recall Supreme Court justices and their political orientation. [DXF]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #171: Tom Kramer
The Mental Illness Happy Hour often needs a good storyteller to make the show’s focus on trauma and pain palatable. Tom Kramer fits that role wonderfully in episode 171, which traces the director’s experiences with success, addiction, homelessness, and recovery. It’s a heartbreaking story that’s softened by Kramer’s warmth, vulnerability, and skill as a storyteller. The conversation feels like a journey as Kramer talks about finding success at a young age before addiction led to him sleeping in a van in a Walmart parking lot. The conversation with Paul Gilmartin sounds like a cleansing experience for Kramer, who seems to connect with the host almost instantly. The pair talk extensively about an incident of sexual abuse in Kramer’s childhood, which gives Gilmartin an opportunity to share insights into his own experience with being victimized sexually as a child. The episode is among the show’s best this year. [TC]

The Moth: Adolescence And Agony 
The overlap in a Venn diagram of “Kids Who Were Cool In High School” and “Adult Storytellers On The Moth” would represent somewhere between nothing and zero percent, so it’s no wonder that this week’s coming-of-age, angst-themed full-hour episode is so packed with excellent, cringe-worthy stories. Favorite Adam Wade, a man once told he had neither the physical nor mental fortitude to participate in marching band, looks back on a particularly humiliating Saturday night spent hanging out with his grandmother and great aunt. Like a lot of stories this week, it starts with the sort of self-deprecation and schadenfreude that makes the similarly aimed Mortified so enjoyable, but it evolves into something regretful, bittersweet, and touching. Eve Engel and Paola Ayala, two high school StorySLAM participants, prove that even among teenagers in the emotional-sadist age range, the most vulnerable stories provide the biggest payoffs. The best, though, is Erin Barker’s hilarious account of childhood indiscretions which, on paper, sound awfully close to arson. [DJ] 

Nerdist #513: Eddie Izzard Returns
This episode serves as a fantastic crash course on Eddie Izzard. The comedian stopped by Nerdist once before as part of a panel of British guests, but his solo chat with Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray gives a much better sense of what makes him a unique comedic presence. His eccentricities are easy to list—he completed 43 marathons in 51 days, he plans to run for mayor of London in 2020, he performs his current stand-up show in English, French, German, and Spanish—but the hour and a half long format gives a much better sense of Izzard as a human being. Even though the conversation is comedy-centric, Izzard’s love of history, politics, and social activism is palpable throughout. The end of the episode is devoted to a lovely discussion of Izzard’s decision to come out as a transvestite and how that honesty has informed almost every other element of his life and career. [CS]

Sklarbro Country #197: Laugh Till You Squeeze It Out: Phil Hendrie
Randy and Jason Sklar welcome old school radio personality and voice over artist Phil Hendrie into the Sklarbro Country and the two conduct one of the most enthusiastic interviews of the podcast’s history. This is saying a lot given how the Sklars maintain a high level of excitement with each guest, regardless of how familiar they happen to be with said guest’s career. After the interview, the Sklars also have some fun with Hendrie’s voice talents. However, aside from Hendrie, the episode’s shining moment occurs when the brothers skewer the Buffalo Bills’ insane etiquette and hygiene manual for its unpaid cheerleaders, which include explicit instructions on how often the dancers need to wash their vaginas. [MS]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Algebra’s Arabic Roots
There is much reassurance from hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey at the top of this episode that a love of math is not necessary to appreciate the Arabic origins of algebra. And they make good on this guarantee, as this episode dives all the way back to ancient Babylon and works its way back up to the 8th Century to highlight the works of Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, a mathematician and astronomer who was perhaps one of history’s greatest mathematical scholars. Starting with the practical applications of finances and architecture, Al-Khwarizmi proved that day-to-day problems required algebra and not just abstract concepts. The topic leads Wilson and Frey to not only reassure listeners that the topic isn’t boring, they also delve deep into their own left-brained inadequacies and the racism their research uncovered. Near the end, the hosts explain the cultural identity of the number zero, a concept so absurd and fascinating that it’s as inspiring as anything in the world of math. [DT]

Welcome To Night Vale #46: Parade Day
The long-brewing tension between StrexCorp and the literary teens reaches a bloody conclusion during the vague celebrations of Night Vale’s Parade Day. Cecil reports on a series of one-sided doors that have been mysteriously appearing throughout Night Vale, with hellscapes beyond the other side instead of a greener grass. The door investigation features a guest broadcast from Cecil’s scientist boyfriend, Carlos, as he is investigating an appearance at The House That Doesn’t Exist. The riveting traffic report is especially meta—“Are we living a life that is safe from harm? Of course not. We never are,” Cecil says. “The question is are we living a life that is worth the harm? Mayor Pamela Winchell calls yet another press conference. The episode ends in a gasp: not only is teenage leader Tamika Flynn captured by StrexCorp during the war, but the dystopian corporate regime, which happens to own Station Management, busts into the studio right as Cecil is vocally championing her bravery. For the first time, one is left unsure what will happen to Cecil in this slow-burning episode. Episode 47 can’t come soon enough. [PM]

Who Charted? #178: Wool Gatherer: Harris Wittels
The good news is that Kulap Vilaysack returns from her extended absence. The bad news is that this is Howard Kremer’s last show before he goes on tour for a month. Return guest and fan favorite Harris Wittels joins the show for Vilaysack’s homecoming, and the fact that he and Vilaysack are really good friends adds some extra warmth to her return. Wittels has a bratty little brother persona that works well with the show’s format and the co-host’s chemistry. Like the previous week’s guest Kumail Nanjiani, Wittels is consistently on point and can always be relied upon to deliver a solid episode, especially when he’s giving a heartfelt PSA-style testimonial about MDMA to a piano soundtrack. [MS]

WTF #492: Judy Greer
Though it’s dimmed some in recent years, the reputation of WTF for a long time has been “the show where Marc Maron makes you cry,” but Maron’s conversation with America’s favorite co-star Judy Greer is a far cry from that M.O. The interview is remarkably straightforward and light, and in fact it’s almost hard to even believe how painless the majority of Greer’s adult life has been and how fortuitous the development of her career was at nearly every step—as indicated by an anecdote about how she got her first acting agent due simply to the fact that she was walking down one particular street while wearing one particular raincoat—but she’s so irresistibly charming and funny that it’s impossible to begrudge her luck, or anything about her, really. What it lacks in heaviness it makes up for tenfold in sheer pleasantness. [CG]

WTF #493: Stephen Malkmus
Marc Maron starts off the episode by blasting Pavement, gleefully waving a flag of allegiance to Stephen Malkmus’ music career (though he immediately segues into an extremely depressing recap of his latest breakup). Malkmus is game to talk, though his voice has a very flat, nasally tone, making it a bit hard to listen to for an hour straight. But he manages to turn the interview into more of a conversation, asking Maron about life on the road, and the differences between stand-up and rock shows. Interestingly enough, most of the discussion veers away from music, venturing into Maron’s and Malkmus’ favorite poets, the works of Alexander Calder, and the disputed past of Edgar Allan Poe. Listeners wanting a more biographical approach may be disappointed, but that’s what Wikipedia is for. [NC]

​You Made It Weird #205: Wayne Federman
Pete Holmes spends decent amount of this week’s show back on his heels, while comedian and actor Wayne Federman challenges assertions and opinions at practically every turn. After a string of episodes in which guests came into the studio with feelings about spirituality, nutrition, love, and morality that were remarkably similar to the host’s, it’s fantastic to listen as Federman happily knocks down all the blocks in Holmes’s playpen. And no one is as delighted as Holmes, who, to his and the podcast’s credit, genuinely seems to revel in questioning his beliefs. Though he follows the thread of the conversation without too much complaint, Federman—who goes into relatively specific detail about his multiple past relationships, as well as his abusive stepfather—never seems fully comfortable with the confessional nature of the show, at one point remarking that he’s never opened up this fully in a public forum.


Book Fight! #59: Tatyana Tolstaya, The Slynx
Hosts Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister found Tatyana Tolstaya’s Russian dystopian novel to be challenging, but they do recommend her non-fiction as complementary to this work. For anyone wanting to hear the hosts rail against the toxic influence of exclamation points and The View, this one’s for you. [ABa]

The Bugle #267: Maychive
Co-host John Oliver is busy launching his funny HBO news show, Last Week Tonight, so co-host Andy Zaltzman serves a rapid-shuffle best-of episode that makes a great introduction to the show’s M.O., namely an acerbic British perspective on (formerly) current events like the early Obama presidency, Bin Laden’s death, and U.S.-Afghanistan scandals. [DXF]

The Cracked Podcast #32: Memes And The Internet Hive Mind
The problem with putting out a podcast that is consistently excellent is that when an episode that is just good drops, it feels lackluster. Or course, that sounds like a problem most podcasters would love to have. This episode on memes is perfectly fine, but doesn’t feel as intensely researched and engaging as past episodes. [MS]

Hang Up and ListenThe Sterling’s Reputation Edition
A discussion about disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is so wrong-headed that it borders on being offensive. Mike Pesca tsk-tsks Clippers players for not doing enough and argues for the sanctity of private property in the league’s response, which feels like Hang Up And Listen’s contrarianism reaching an absurd tipping point. [TC]

Improv4Humans #132: Buttholes At The Reststop: Zach Woods, Casey Feigh, Ronnie Adrian
An uncharacteristically stiff air permeates through almost every conversation and scene in this week’s Improv4Humans. From start to finish, the group never quite gets comfortable, and it shows in a series of unclear, go-nowhere scenes. [MK]

Nerdist #512 Jim Rash Returns
Return guest Jim Rash is an interesting and multi-talented guy. However, not even this Academy Award winning screenwriter and beloved character actor can make reminiscing about and dissecting past improv performances with Chris Hardwick sound interesting. It might be useful to some students of improv, but that’s about it. [MS]

Nerdist #514: Jim Gaffigan #3
In his third Nerdist appearance, Jim Gaffigan has an affable chemistry with host Chris Hardwick; this episode feels more like a conversation than an interview. While the comedy-centric chat reveals a lot about both comedians’ styles, it’s a bit too narrowly focused to be of mass appeal. [CS]

Never Not Funny #1413: Adam Ferrara
This is a very funny and perfectly entertaining episode, but not one that stands out from the rest in an substantive way. Aside from one brilliant moment in which Jimmy Pardo and Top Gear’s Adam Ferrara spontaneously perform an a cappella rendition of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” there aren’t many takeaway moments. [DD]

99 Percent Invisible #112: Young Ruin
While it makes sense that the San Francisco-based 99PI would do stories about San Francisco-based attractions like the Sutro Bath ruins, those stories aren’t usually that interesting to non-San Franciscans. That’s the case with “Young Ruin,” which sadly fails to inspire much wonder. [ME]

Professor Blastoff #153 Animation: Sarah Pocock
The hosts choose to shoehorn their own irrelevant bits into a perfectly lively conversation with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Community animator Sarah Pocock rather than let her say anything they brought her in to say. [NJ]

Song Exploder #9: Poliça – Smug 
In his description of the mesmerizing synthpop tune “Smug,” guest Ryan Olson, the producer for Poliça, focuses mostly on the equipment he used to create the song’s hazy sound. Unfortunately, his low-energy presence isn’t enough to imbue the technical details he offers about loop pedals and synthesizers with any excitement. [AH]

Sound Opinions #440: Chess Records
The bulk of this installment is a four-year-old rerun feature on Chicago blues label Chess Records, which leaves little room for anything beyond quick and thin reviews about the new records from Damon Albarn and Kelis. [NJ]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Gardner Museum Art Heist Update
Host Tracy V. Wilson must take some time off from the show to deal with personal business, so most of the episode is a re-airing from the archive. Though it is the highest value art heist in history there is sadly little information on how the heist was pulled off. There will be a few more “update” episodes to cover Wilson’s absence and hopefully they will offer more compelling news. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Marijuana Works
If listeners are looking forward to a verbal description of pot chemicals entering the body of a transparent medical model by hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, then look no further. Unfortunately the topic yields little information that will surprise listeners who may not even smoke marijuana. Though a solid case is made for the medicinal and industrial uses of the plant, it’s nothing one couldn’t overhear at a college rally. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How The ACLU Works
The American Civil Liberties Union helps to defend the defenseless in court. Unfortunately, though this keeps the union on the bleeding age of civil rights it also means they defend court cases against bigots and reprehensible people for the sake of doing it. The podcast is enlightening, but the hosts spend a bit too much time apologizing on behalf of the ACLU’s ambiguity. [DT]

This American Life #523: Death And Taxes
A powerful meditation on death and dying—a challenging and intense piece that will make listeners take stock of their life—transitions into an out-of-place second half on tax cheats. The marked shift in tone between these two stories ultimately results in an episode that is weaker than it could be. [DF]