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Hang Up And Listen chats a different kind of game, house rules

The best podcasts for the week of April 5-11

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


“America spends more on democracy than anyone else, Andy, therefore it clearly loves it more. The more you love something, the more you spend on it. That is the rule of any good absent father.” —John Oliver to Andy Zaltzman, The Bugle

“Your hosting style is like a psychological test that no one is administering, but you’re taking.” —Alan Thicke (Paul F. Tompkins) on Scott Aukerman, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“All I could think while watching was, ‘I hate young people.’ I could be cleaning my son’s diaper right now instead of watching this.” —Elliott Kalan on Paranoia, The Flop House

“I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter, the idea of saying to her, ‘There’s a dead rat in the garage, can you go take care of that please?’ is crazy. I don’t think she’s ready for the concept of death or rats.” —Andy Daly, Improv4Humans

“You never take your camera out during a fight.” James Braly on why looking back at old photos of you and a loved one after you get a divorce can be deceiving, The Moth 

“It’s my dad, and this is how I deal with it. You don’t have to deal with it this way and you don’t have to listen to it.” —Chris Hardwick on using comedy to discuss the death of his father, Nerdist 

“People say you go on eHarmony, the men have to pay for it, it’s not free, so they’re really serious. And, yeah, you know why they’re serious? Because they’re all fucking psychopaths.” —Lauren Ash, Never Not Funny

“That crack in the world first began in him.” 
“He’s the one to blame?” —Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant joking about the gravity of Darwin’s research, Stuff You Should Know

“When has violence ever hurt anyone?” —Matt Braunger, Who Charted?

“It has a ring to it, you know what I mean? People can hear it, like a good Del Close impression. You can hear it. There’s a tone to it, and you go, ‘That’s real.’” —Pete Holmes on being genuine, You Made It Weird


U Talkin’ U2 To Me?
A podcast about only one band is a dubious proposition. But the Earwolf network has proven it’s possible to produce a show like that with a limited run to prevent it from wearing thin after it inevitably runs out of material. With the demonstrated success of Analyze Phish, the latest Earwolf podcast to adopt this style is the deep-dive career-spanning U Talkin’ U2 To Me?  Invented seemingly on a whim by U2 superfans Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott (stylized as Adam Scott Aukerman), the podcast will cover stages of the Irish band’s career, often taking it album by album for hour-long discussions, leading up to the release of U2’s next album.

On Analyze Phish, Aukerman is the wet blanket to Harris Wittels’ ebullient fan, which creates a compelling confrontational dynamic that doesn’t often appear on U Talkin’.  But it’s nice to hear Aukerman on the other side of that coin, talking about a band he actually likes. And Scott’s wealth of knowledge about U2 makes it seem like he didn’t have to channel anything fictional in order to sympathize with Ben Wyatt’s deeply nerdy tendencies on Parks And Recreation. They both acknowledge from the get-go that having two fans host the show could get boring, but at least they have the sense to bring in guests to balance out the opinions. Wittels joins the show to discuss The Joshua Tree (“This is ridiculous… and I like Phish.”), and Lance Bangs appears to talk about rockumentary and album Rattle And Hum.

The two-part Achtung Baby breakdown is a marathon, though to a couple U2 diehards it must seem justified. But the best episode in the show’s short run so far is the one dedicated to the band’s fourth album The Unforgettable Fire, which Aukerman notes as his favorite. Every episode brings in a bunch of little-known information about recording sessions and the band’s rise to prominence, but the hour on Unforgettable Fire has a special verve to it thanks to Aukerman’s dedication.

U2’s new album might not be out until 2015, along with another epic summer tour, so episodes of this show could get scarce as time drags on. But Scott and Aukerman create an atmosphere that’s fun for fans and accessible for anyone else, from the uninitiated to the doubters. [KM]


Inquiring Minds
The Inquiring Minds podcast could be considered the spiritual successor to Point Of Inquiry, but for two things: POI still exists, and it seems odd to even invoke the spiritual for a skeptic-minded show like this. After Chris Mooney and Indre Viskontas walked off the Center For Inquiry’s flagship podcast once the think tank’s president made some ill-advised and boneheaded comments about women’s place in the secularist movement, they took their interviewing skills to Climate Desk and picked up where they left off. They continue to feature some of the smartest, most-interesting people in the science world, tackling subjects like the fear surrounding genetically modified crops and the sudden popularity of the paleo diet. However, unlike POI, and many such interview shows, each episode begins with an off-the-cuff discussion of current events between the two hosts, which adds a somewhat familiar tinge. Unfortunately, new episodes drop rather infrequently. [DD]


The Bugle #266: Flip Modi Squad
With India in the midst of the largest election in history—one that will inevitably alter the worldwide geopolitical landscape forever—John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman take a cue from Western media and instead focus on the minutiae of Prince George’s first trip to New Zealand. Did the baby king poop himself? Did he commandeer a toy in the name of England? Oliver says these—along with the preoccupation with pinging planes—must be the biggest issues in the world. When the boys eventually do discuss India, they’re quick to contrast divisive prime minister hopeful Narendra Modi (who took a vow of celibacy to devote himself to government) with U.S. politicians (who, Zaltzman notes, run for office mostly for better pick-up lines). If that weren’t enough, the artwork of George W. Bush and a rap battle between European Union politicians provide the Buglers with more easy pickings for another solid episode. [TK]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #280: DuALity: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Paul F. Tompkins
Now with nine appearances to his name—among the most of any (not-in-character) guests—the Vicar Of Yanks has essentially ascended into the realm of Comedy Bang! Bang! royalty. Although “Weird Al” Yankovic had been paired successfully in recent episodes with Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber (Paul F. Tompkins), he’s accompanied this time by a “Diff’rent” sort of songwriter—Robin Thicke’s dad, Alan Thicke (Tompkins again)— who’s a little less weird of an Al, but vastly more Canadian. Although Yankovic lends a certain level of sarcastic wackiness to the proceedings, and host Scott Aukerman happily dials up his own absurdity to match, it’s Thicke who steals the show with his own attempt at a song parody and the not-so-shocking revelation that Kirk Cameron may have baptized him in his sleep. Toss in another rousing round of “Riddle Me This,” and you’ve got an episode that’s low-key, but lovable—just like Canada itself. [TK]

The Cracked Podcast #29: How Colors Control Your Mind: Daniel O’Brien, Robert Brockway
The Cracked Podcast is experiencing a great streak of entertaining shows full of fascinating and obscure information. Though it’s relatively easy to make an interesting show when the Cracked writers are covering topics like insane conspiracy theories that actually happened, it’s probably more of a challenge to make compelling listening out of a mundane topic like the emotional influence of various colors. However, when discussed by Jack O’Brien and writers Daniel O’Brien and Robert Brockway, the topic becomes an hour of compelling listening. The crew discusses such ephemera as the retired practice of painting opposing football teams’ locker rooms pink, the motivation behind the colors of certain medications, and a fascinating story in which by changing train-signal lights from flashing red to flashing blue, Japan was able to save hundreds of lives. [MS]

Filmspotting #485: Top 5 Desert Island Directors / David Gordon Green & Tye Sheridan / Jonathan Glazer
Adam Kempenaar returns from a month-long hiatus, carrying interviews with two buzz-heavy filmmakers—Under The Skin’s Jonathan Glazer and Joe’s David Gordon Green—and reminds us of just how much he brings to the show, in the way of both enthusiasm and charisma. Though pre-recorded Q&As have never been a component of Filmspotting’s singularity, both are interesting enough, even if they are taking time away from the banter between Kempenaar and Josh Larsen. This week’s list subject is among the more intriguing of recent memory: desert island directors. The two men consider, with amusing solemnity, whose filmographies they would carry with them into a tropical solitude, giving careful deliberation to not only the size and breadth of an artist’s filmography, but also what the component parts could offer a person trapped with only their cinematic obsessions. And apparently a generator and some tools for cleaning sand from DVD players is a must too. [DD]

Freakonomics: “If Mayors Ruled The World”
As more and more of the world’s population moves into cities, the functions and powers of mayors are increasingly important in economics, politics, and social issues. In terms of governance, mayors need to be reasonably bipartisan and produce obvious results in a short period of time, making them good role models for most other political offices where pragmatism is mostly ignored. City governments are generally faster and able to act in ways that national governments can’t, which raises the question whether national governments are even worth having in the long run. But few mayors go on to be successful at a state or federal level, possibly because there’s very little in common between autocratic mayoralties and consensus-needing representatives, senators, and presidents. But maybe that doesn’t matter, since mayors all over the world are now collaborating with each other to better improve their cities, instead of turning to state and federal governments. [NC]

The Flop House #149: Paranoia
Few things inspire more great moments on The Flop House than an opening for the Peaches to make fun of one another. Two minor missteps during this week’s discussion of the critical and box office dud Paranoia—the first when Dan McCoy flubs a joke about a Russian folk tale, the other when Stuart Wellington’s mispronounces Keanu Reeves’ name—lead to some of the best riffing of the year. And a hilarious wrap up about the never-ending credits—in which the less-desirable Hemsworth brother and Amber Heard won’t go away—keeps the laughs coming.  Stay tuned through the end of the discussion for Elliott Kalan’s enthralling summary of the closing scene of The Conversation, a movie about corporate intrigue, which features a Harrison Ford that is actually worth watching. [DF]

Hang Up And Listen: The Mr. Monopoly Was A Hipster Edition
One of the things about having a panelist who wrote a book about the world of competitive Scrabble is that sometimes Hang Up And Listen can transcend a week that feels immediately dated (like recording on the day of the NCAA Tournament final), and pivot to a left-field discussion of board games. This week it’s the news that Hasbro is trying to crowd-source new “house rules” for Monopoly. The panel talks about why Monopoly is still a tenant of family board games, why Hasbro focuses on licensing instead of game development, and the declining world of corporate-sponsored competitive board game tournaments. In a week where current events in sports didn’t offer much between the basketball title games and the Masters, talking about board games actually filled the void quite well. [KM]

Improv4Humans #128: Toothbrush Tommy: Andy Daly, Dan Lippert, Will McLaughlin
These days it feels like everything Andy Daly touches turns to gold. This magic is certainly present when the star of Review and creator of approximately 91,000 beloved Comedy Bang! Bang! characters makes a guest appearance on the already golden Improv4Humans along with I4H veterans Dan Lippert and Will McLaughlin. Lippert and McLaughlin both bring a cool and relaxed feel that perfectly compliments Matt Besser’s maniacally refined energy. From front to back, this episode is full of skits that could easily be any other episode’s highlight. Of extremely particular note is the self-contained world of the titular Toothbrush Tony skit, which finds Daly creating a character as happily sinister as Dalton Wilcox ever was. Neither Lippert nor McLaughlin fade into the background despite their company, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Together, the four improvisers have created a standout episode, one that deserves to be remembered as a classic. [MK]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #166: Tracy Irvine
Whether it’s a result of Paul Gilmartin’s skill as an interviewer or the byproduct of the show’s heavy subject matter, The Mental Illness Happy Hour excels at illuminating the humanity of its guests. This installment with listener Tracy Irvine is a solid example of the kind of moving, thoughtful conversation that makes MIHH unique among its podcasting peers. Irvine, a corporate recruiter, talks about losing her mother to ALS and being without both parents in the same year. She eloquently discusses how her mother’s debilitating disease also robbed her of the ability to express herself emotionally as a child. Irvine, who sounds like she’s on the verge of tears throughout the conversation, shows an admirable amount of vulnerability in service of a discussion she hopes will help others. A dissection of a recent divorce proves to be less fruitful, but Irvine’s journey is one that needs to be heard. [TC]

The Moth: James Braly: Finally, We Agree
Anyone who has survived a divorce knows too well that it’s the most simple artifacts of more promising times—gifts, photos, in-jokes—that create the most piercing reminders of lost opportunities once the mediation period begins. Author James Braly recognizes how his uncontested split is a luxury compared to more heated separations, but having to resist the temptation to make his family work one more time just amplifies the sense of failure. Without getting maudlin, Braly poignantly describes the emotional ebbs and flows of navigating a “last first marriage,” and the visual metaphor he uses to cap off the story is perfectly poetic. [DJ] 

Nerdist #504: Bob Saget Returns
The old idiom states, “tragedy plus time equals comedy,” and Chris Hardwick and Bob Saget put that to the test with this episode in which they discuss the recent deaths of their respective parents alongside dick jokes and butthole humor. What makes the juxtaposition work is that both Hardwick and Saget remain vulnerable and honest throughout, using comedy to work through their pain, not to mask it. It also helps that the duo have a long-standing relationship and a deep sense of shared history; this feels more like a heart-to-heart between friends than an interview. Despite the serious subject matter, their chat is quite funny—especially a running bit about cutting things out in the editing room. Overall, this episode is irreverent, but truthful in a way that may very well help other people struggling with the death of a parent. [CS]

Never Not Funny #1410: Lauren Ash
Lauren Ash will probably make a big impression on many Never Not Funny fans. Though the Second City alum and Super Fun Night cast member is likely unknown to a good number of them—as she was to Jimmy Pardo—she hangs so easily with the regular bunch of guys, holding her own with a steady stream of yes-ands and quips, that it’s easy to forget that she’s such a new presence on the show. The recounting of her various strange and unsettling adventures with online dating is both hilarious and endearing. She opens herself up in such an honest and entertaining way —at one point revealing she’s never met her father, and that her and her mother were sort of like the Gilmore girls—that she really seems to gain the respect of the room, just as she probably will with the fans. [DD]

Professor Blastoff #150: Heart Health: Penelope Lombard
Those looking for honest and informative lecture about the importance of heart health won’t necessarily find it here, but Professor Blastoff keeps its short, going with an hour of the kind of sprawling bits, callbacks, and asides that drew a fan base to these topics to begin with. Kyle Dunnigan’s Guided Mother Meditation, a short discussion of how your dreaming brain is simultaneously “really smart and also really dumb,” and aggressive inquiry into whether too much red meat is bad for your heart after all make up the highlights of the program. But, again, the hosts make even less bones than usual about the fact that they are not your doctors. [NJ]

Sound Opinions #436: Pelican
It’s clear from the get-go that Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot are both big fans of Chicagoland post-metal instrumental mavens Pelican. But instead of spiraling into fanboy giggling, they ask intricately detailed questions about the writing process for a group of guys creating densely layered instrumentation when only one member has any kind of classical training. The interview parses out how the group goes about keeping track of where different songs go, how they will end, what titles mean—and that’s all somewhat secondary to the thunderous in-studio performances taken from 2013’s Forever Becoming. Neither host has much nice to say about The Hold Steady’s latest album Teeth Dreams, but it’s a well-reasoned counterpoint to much of the praise that greeted the album’s release. [KM]

Stuff You Should Know: How Charles Darwin Worked
Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant give stellar treatment to the life and work of Charles Darwin. Though Darwin’s work has been under the critical microscope for over a century, the humor and humanity Clark and Bryant apply to their research makes much of his life seem as fresh as ever. A relative recluse who was terrified of what his work would do to his many friendships, Darwin spent much of his life reworking his vast findings. He also spent much of it having panic attacks and throwing up. The publication of On The Origin Of Species had a profound effect on the deist reality he lived in, but also with every connection he had including his marriage and his children. The episode ends with a recitation of Darwin’s finest paragraph and a particularly charming email from a listener. [DT]

Who Charted? #175: TUTSTEP
Emily V. Gordon takes over Kulap Vilaysack’s responsibility of needling Howard Kremer about his personal life by getting him to open up about a recent hickey. Gordon also has a good time inflicting Idina Menzel’s song from Frozen to guest Matt Braunger and Kremer’s consternation and disgust. The song the trio gets the most mileage out of is John Legend’s “All of Me,” which prompts Gordon to make up some lyrics about how the song is just one heartfelt plea for anal sex. However, the best parts of the episode take place when Gordon and Kremer sit back and let Braunger tell personal anecdotes, especially the one about the time he and Kyle Kinane worked a day job as closed-captioners. [MS]

WTF #486: Todd Barry
It’s almost a little surprising that alt-comedy god Todd Barry never got the full-length, solo WTF interview treatment until just now, as the podcast inches toward its 500th episode. What’s not so surprising is how the whole thing turned out—there’s a positive history and a great deal of respect between Marc Maron and Barry and their chat is laid-back and amusing, with Barry bringing to the podcast the same medium energy that he brings to the stage in his live shows. The entire conversation feels genuine, but it could stand to be a bit longer and more in depth at points. Hopefully Barry will return to the garage in the future, and not wait 485 episodes to do so. [CG]

WTF #487: Karen Kilgariff
Known for guest appearances in the final two seasons of Mr. Show, a stint as the head writer on Ellen, and the second series of BBC comedy The Book Group, Karen Kilgariff met Marc Maron when the two were starting out in San Francisco. As with many comedians from his past, Maron notes that he and Kilgariff didn’t like each other… but they didn’t not like each other either. This is another instance of Maron attempting to exorcise the past and give someone else a platform to share trials and tribulations, which Kilgariff easily provides. And because Maron will talk to a friendly guest again if they’ve got a book to promote (his words), Bob Saget stops by to talk about his new memoir for a dark, but laugh-a-minute catch-up conversation comparing their experiences writing books. [KM]

You Made It Weird #202: Brian Stack
Regular Weirdos are probably more familiar with this week’s guest, Brian Stack, than they know going in. As a staff writer for Conan O’Brien’s various late night endeavors for the past 16 years, he’s helped to shape the format of the modern talk show. However, he’s so soft-spoken and unassumingly during his two-hour conversation with Pete Holmes, you’d never guess the guy was such a towering force in the comedy world. Listening to Stack chuckle through stories about getting his start with Second City in Chicago and weathering the brilliant chaos of the early days of Del Close’s Improv Olympic will be a joy for a certain subset of listeners. But nothing in the episode will compare to the bittersweet tone of his voice as he recollects anecdotes of working with the preternaturally funny Chris Farley at Ark Improv Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin. [DD]


Book Fight! Writers Ask: Writing Apps And Unlikeable Characters
The first segment on writing prompt apps goes on about 30 minutes too long, and the latter one isn’t about unlikeable nonfiction narrators so much as it’s a jumping-off point for a casual conversation with author Lucas Mann. [ABa]

Book Fight! Bonus Episode: Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook
Finally, the repeatedly referenced, Tom McAllister-loathed Silver Linings Playbook is the subject of a Book Fight! discussion. To McAllister’s credit, he lays out his bias upfront and admits that’s coloring his perception of what Mike Ingram deems an aggressively mediocre novel that caught on after a successful movie adaptation. [ABa]

Doug Loves Movies: Kristin Bell, Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, And Samm Levine
There’s no greater wasted Doug Loves Movies opportunity than having Samm “Lil’ Wolverine” Levine on the panel and not playing The Leonard Maltin Game. Also, kudos to Doug Benson for making sure new panelists don't prematurely reveal the shitheads after Joe Swanberg’s unfortunate mishap. [MS]

The Fogelnest Files #85: Collecting Hot Chicks: Little Esther
Jake Fogelnest delivers a relatively low-key episode this week, and his discussion with Little Esther rarely veers beyond the basics of her background and career trajectory. Their brief discussion about the politics of MTV programming is intermittently entertaining, but this one is otherwise skippable. [ABe]

How Was Your Week #162: Brian Stack “Praying to Fonts”
A hysterical bit about Hidey’s suicidal reaction to her negative reception in Podmass opens a solid monologue covering Wes Anderson and Mickey Rooney. Guest Brian Stack is warm and engaging, but his conversation with Julie Klausner dwells a little too much on specific Conan gags to be accessible to laypeople. [AH]

Judge John Hodgman #155: The Perp Walk
Mitch is a habitual jaywalker with a thoroughly developed technique, but girlfriend Lisa claims he’s a danger to himself and others. Even with Hodgman’s lopsided moderation, the debate is as entertaining as a lecture from a concerned parent. Clearing the docket, the judge rules on a couple’s excessive collection of coffee mugs. [DXF]

Nerdist #503: Mike Mignola
This interview with Hellboy writer and artist, Mike Mignola, is probably essential listening for fans of the comic book, but not so much for anyone else. Despite the fact that the episode has a very inside baseball feel, there are nuggets of good advice for comic writers and aspiring comic writers. [MS]

Nerdist #505: Pat Healy And Sara Paxton
Pat Healy and Sara Paxton stop by to promote their new black comedy Cheap Thrills. They fit right in with hosts Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray and while this conversation is actually rather enjoyable—and will probably be of interest to aspiring actors—it just doesn’t translate into one of Nerdist’s best. [CS]

99 Percent Invisible #109: Title TK
This week, 99 Percent Invisible talks to several people who run naming companies, or companies that name products and services like Hulu, Kodak, Netflix, and so on. It’s an interesting chat, but lacks enough case studies and hard examples to be more practical than theoretical. [ME]

Sklarbro Country #194: The Positive Outlook: Max Greenfield, Jason Nash
New Girl’s Max Greenfield drops by to chat about his work leading up to his break. He’s game enough and contributes some decent bits to Quick Hits, but the episode lacks its usual energy. Things aren’t helped by Jason Nash’s unusually tone-deaf take on Bruce Jenner. [DJ]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: King Eric XIV Of Sweden
The tale of King Eric XIV is one of a jealous and paranoid 15th century ruler who descended into what was likely schizophrenia. But the details of the irrational executions he carried out seem unusually vague, and so his story becomes less dramatic than the podcast’s other recent episodes about fallen monarchs. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Pig War
The “Pig War” between the U.S. and the U.K. is quite amusing, but there was no real war, and the titular pig doesn’t even appear until a third of the way through the episode. The story then escalates almost too quickly, and it’s a bit confusing how warships become involved only three minutes later. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Natural Selection Works
The preceding Stuff You Should Know episode followed the life and works of Charles Darwin, and unfortunately this companion episode must replace his compelling biography with many extended metaphors and hypothetical anthropomorphism. Natural selection is a fairly complicated science, and the show’s quality tangents distract from the various philosophies more than they compliment them. [DT]