Comedy Bang! Bang! doubles down on El Chupacabra and Walking The Room returns to the closet

Comedy Bang! Bang! doubles down on El Chupacabra and Walking The Room returns to the closet

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QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“People always say ‘Arkansas’ because it’s a fun word to say. Arkansas is a fun word. Look at Kansas. They wish they could be ‘Kan-sah.’” —Matt Besser, Improv4Humans

“I just assume everyone involved in the production of that was like… a loose-meat-sandwich-eating monster. The height of hubris.” —Nick Kroll on The Island Of Dr. Moreau, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“But don’t they realize I’m them in training? I’m a fucking [Dave] Attell in training! I’m a fucking [Greg] Fitzsimmons in training! I bring to you a lot of what they can do with no name value. That’s the only thing. You know who I am? I’m the generic version of those guys! If you went to a Greg Fitzsimmons Shop, there would be a box that just said ‘Schmidt.’” —Mike Schmidt, The 40 Year Old Boy

NEW (TO US)

The 40 Year Old Boy
Comedian and writer Mike Schmidt started in the podcasting world as co-host of Never Not Funny, until his relationship with host Jimmy Pardo—a longtime friend since their days doing stand-up in Chicago—grew strained. Schmidt left after the first season and started his own podcast in 2008, The 40 Year Old Boy. The setup is pretty simple: Schmidt talks, producer Lili VonSchtupp laughs off-mic in the background. It’s all very personal and self-effacing to the point of masochism; “Episode 46, Year Five” from February finds Schmidt sardonically evaluating his moribund career as he applies for a series of humiliating jobs, from something related to porn to a lumberyard to tossing dough at a pizza place. It’s a caustically funny assessment of a situation that seems hopelessly dispiriting, but Schmidt is a natural, gifted storyteller. That’s evident in that episode’s long, involved story of his attempt to audition for Wheel Of Fortune, and it’s never more potent than in “Episode 49, Year Five,” from last month. 

At more than two and a half hours in length, it’s the longest 40 Year Old Boy in recent memory, but it’s also one of the most powerful episodes of a podcast this year (or any other, for that matter). Schmidt spends the entire show, recorded on the 20th anniversary of the day he met his wife, telling the deeply personal story of their relationship, from that first night together to the day before he recorded the episode. There are breakups, health scares, personal and professional problems, but nothing that overcame the powerful love between the two of them. To go into too much detail would spoil the episode, but the unofficial episode title—“Almost”—plays a critical role. “Episode 49, Year Five” plays like a 157-minute primer to The 40 Year Old Boy: at times funny, at times devastating, but engrossing regardless. [KR]


OUTLIERS

A Life Well Wasted
Robert Ashley has been self-producing episodes of A Life Well Wasted off and on—mostly off—since 2009. The show aims to tell stories about videogames and the people who love them in a format not dissimilar to This American Life, and it often succeeds wildly. Instead of focusing on notable people who play videogames, Ashley finds relatable and interesting stories of those who devote their lives to them— whether as collectors, academics, industry insiders, or just eccentric enthusiasts— and structures their stories around a central theme. The 2009 episode “Help” probably best captures A Life Well Wasted’s far-reaching aspirations, with stories focusing on those who game (or rather choose not to) strictly for the sake of others. Also of particular note is the first episode, “The Death Of EGM,” which plays out as a fascinating oral history detailing the decline of the popular gaming magazine. 

Impressively, Ashley reports, edits, hosts, and even scores every episode, and as a result, they can be a little rougher around the edges than NPR’s powerhouse program, but in an endearing DIY sort of way that’s never sloppy. Because of the intense workload for each episode, Ashley has produced just under 10 full episodes, only recently returning from hiatus with “Work,” the first entry in nearly two and half years. But it doesn’t disappoint, telling gripping stories with some truly bizarre figures from the fringes of the gaming world. [MK]


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
Several guests and some great calls make this Best Show one of the most hilarious and interesting episodes in recent memory. A withered Andy Kindler calls early on to chat with Tom Scharpling about The Doors and the absurd material that might result if Robin Williams incorporated modern technology into his stand-up act. Comedian Sue Costello also calls in to discuss her Boston roots and recent film work, and gets blindsided with a surprise interview from Gary The Squirrel. The final interview with guitarist James McNew serves as an intriguing listen for fans of Yo La Tengo and Dump. With so many great segments on this episode, it’s hard to name a sole highlight; it’s a toss-up between Scharpling’s tale of his latest soul-crushing journey to Atlantic City and Jon Wurster’s call as reality-TV star Stench Monroe, who returns later on during McNew’s interview to talk about his legendary onstage fight with Yo La Tengo. [AF]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #211: April Fools!: Jon Hamm, Nick Kroll
At the end of every year, Comedy Bang! Bang! listeners select the best moments from that year’s shows, then vote to select the best of the best. Four months into 2013, episode #211 all but has that honor locked up thanks to a long, delightful segment with El Chupacabra (Nick Kroll’s long-running character) and his twin brother, El Chupacabro (Jon Hamm). They chat about the Mexican version of Mad Men, Los Hombres Enojados, and the tragic death of their mother, re-enact Entourage overdubbed in Spanish, and engage in other hilarious nonsense. Jon Hamm—sorry, Juan Jamón—was long ago revealed to be tight with the comedy community, but it’s impressive that the star of a massively popular TV show would be shooting until 4 a.m. then get up a few hours later to come goof around on a podcast. He and Kroll have excellent chemistry, and fans of comedy podcasts won’t find a more enjoyable 70 minutes this week. [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Jim Gaffigan, W. Kamau Bell, Pete Lee and Graham Elwood guest
For this New York City outing, Doug Benson assembles a panel that’s fun, engaging, and has great chemistry. The proof lies in the chat portion, which lasts well over an hour before the show transitions to the games. W. Kamau Bell hilariously peppers the discussion with plugs for his FX show Totally Biased, and Jim Gaffigan endures some good-natured ribbing about being too wholesome to appear on The Jeselnik Offensive and getting bumped from Letterman. In fact, the entire panel takes turns busting each other’s stones, much to the audience’s delight. The even pacing and constant punchlines make this 90-minute episode fly right by. [MS]

Freakonomics: The Tax Man Nudgeth
In honor of rapidly approaching Tax Day, Stephen Dubner takes a look at some simple potential fixes to our current code. Currently, the IRS fails to collect a huge portion of the taxes due—about 17 percent, which adds up to about $450 billion. The biggest contributor to this discrepancy is cash that people earn and don’t report to the IRS (things like tips, etc.), which would be arduous, and politically risky, to try and track down. But there are ways to get people to pay taxes without hounding them. Britain, for instance, uses “nudges” that appeal to the herd mentality, putting statements like “Nine out of 10 people pay their tax on time” on letters, which actually make people more inclined to pay their taxes. Turns out that simple tricks that play off human psychology can lead to bigger revenues for the taxman. [NC]

Hang Up And Listen: The Avert Your Eyes Edition
Oooooouch! March Madness was all bracket-burning fun until last weekend’s Louisville-Duke game, which saw Louisville’s Kevin Ware suffer one of the most horrific injuries ever televised. It was so bad, in fact, that even the decision to show the injury turned out to be a contentious one. The HUAL crew digs into a common broadcast bugaboo: The terrible failure of broadcasters like CBS’ Jim Nantz to act as journalists whenever news happens to get in the way of a game. The best segment, however, brings Jeff Walz, coach of Louisville’s women’s basketball squad, on to talk about his team’s astonishing upset victory over Baylor and its superstar, Brittney Griner. Badly outmatched at nearly every position, Louisville relentlessly bodied up on Griner and stifled Baylor’s offensive flow—with a little assist from officials who were light on the whistle. Winning ugly is still winning. [ST]

How Was Your Week #108: “Photos of Jackets”: Room 237 Filmmakers Rodney Ascher & Tim Kirk
Horror movies are front and center again in this week’s episode-long interview with Rodney Ascher and Tim Kirk, the filmmakers behind the new documentary Room 237. Julie Klausner admires Room 237, and not just because it’s a deep inquiry into The Shining, a film she admires. While there’s plenty of talk about Kubrick’s masterpiece, the most interesting bits come when Klausner’s questions focus on how The Shining came to be an object of deep and devoted critical inquiry for its fans. It’s a smart line for Klausner to take, as it opens things up to a more salient and fascinating discussion of the larger questions about criticism and viewership brought up by Room 237, while still giving fans of The Shining plenty to consider. [DF]

The JV Club #55: Constance Zimmer
It’s always nice to have guests with young children on The JV Club, because they seem to be more tapped in to their juvenile selves. Actress Constance Zimmer (House Of Cards, Entourage) has a daughter who is obsessed with Disney Princesses, and talking about her gets Zimmer and Janet Varney on track after some opening small talk that’s largely focused on pest control. Once they delve into Zimmer’s childhood and adolescence, they paint a portrait of a popular but headstrong young girl who wouldn’t sacrifice her own needs to fit in. A good amount of time is spent on formative experiences in Zimmer’s past, like the car accident that severely injured her mother and her six-week trip to Germany to stay with her grandparents as a budding teen. Toward the end of the conversation, they get a bit inside-baseball with Hollywood talk, but it’s in the context of how the entertainment industry is an extension of their high-school years and how they’re constantly striving to stand out and be liked. [OS]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #79: Popcorn Indiana
This episode of MATES sees Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh reviewing a couple varieties of Popcorn Indiana’s flavors based on a fan’s recommendation. As per usual, the episode breaks down into three distinct chunks: the fan’s letter, the eating of the snack, and finally the ratings (with some off-the-wall banter in between). As it so often does, the formula works, with Black in a nearly ravenous state for most of the episode’s first part and Cavanagh steering the episode. Each of the episode’s sections works well, and Black and Cavanagh’s banter—both about the snacks and the characters they create near the episode’s end—prove effective and hilarious. It’s impressive how well the two hosts have been able to maintain this premise for nearly 80 episodes without feeling derivative or lifeless, and this installment only proves how consistently enjoyable MATES is. [DA]

The Moth: Wayne Reece: Easter In A Texas Roadhouse
Even for the non-religious, Methodist minister Wayne Reece’s Moth entry is a reminder of how disarming and warm preachers can be when they’re in storytelling mode. Mild-mannered and not all that worldly, Reece recalls a weekend during which he ran out of gas and ended up bringing the story of Easter to a group of burly bikers. Reece talks about his faith without proselytizing, and ultimately his story is less about religion than it is about the strangeness and joy of making new friends in unlikely situations. [SG]

My Brother, My Brother And Me #146: Kenan By Way of Kel
The show’s first Maximum Fun Drive brings about a great deal of enthusiasm in the McElroy brothers, but it also distracts them a bit. It brings a guest appearance by fellow advice-caster Dan Savage, which is brief but ends up working quite well even if it’s a little stilted and awkward at points—mostly due to the brothers’ disparate approach to fielding sex-related questions as compared to Savage’s. It’s certainly the best portion of the episode, though, which is filled to the brim with amusing but not exactly remarkable goofs, and it’s enough to warrant listening to the whole thing. [CG]

Nerdist #340: Walton Goggins
Walton Goggins joins Nerdist host Chris Hardwick for an episode that captures an experience that’s fairly unusual for the podcast. While the Nerdist hosts never have difficulty connecting with their guests, this episode is akin to listening to a couple of old friends catch up after not seeing each other for years. Hardwick and Goggins worked together on Rob Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses, and while they got along they never really went beyond that. Here the two talk at length about their careers, their success, and their personal lives, seemingly without concern about saying something that might put listeners off. It’s a candid episode that will leave listeners feeling like they have a better sense of both performers. [DA]

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Professor Blastoff #99: Writing (w/DC Pierson)
Professor Blastoff often covers hard science, but the hosts typically have more fun with “soft” or social sciences than anything that involves a learning curve. This week expands the show’s slack premise to cover the art of writing, a topic that’s just about perfect for a hatchful of comedians with (relatively) little history of self-indulgence and at least a passing interest in being published. The interview segment isn’t as fun as it could be—David Huntsberger continues to belabor every point—and it’s occasionally stalled by an emphasis on process and the physical act of writing. (DC Pierson is funny, informative, and very likeable, but there’s just no way to make his library habits interesting.) Fortunately, that low point is balanced out by everything surrounding it, particularly anything coming from Tig Notaro, who punches up the episode with one of her best appearances of late, thanks to an upcoming (and now past) trio of festivities that inspires her arch side to take over. [SM]

Sklarbro Country #140: Effy Scotty Fitzy: Neal Brennan, David Huntsberger
Neal Brennan is best known for co-creating Chappelle’s Show with Dave Chappelle, and in his interview with the Sklar brothers, they discuss how even a decade later, both Brennan and Chappelle get heckled as the coattail-riding partner from that one landmark show. Brennan is a hilarious comedian in his own right—his commentary on why Shaq is so popular sends the room into fits of laughter—so even without great stories like Donté Stallworth’s hot-air-balloon crash, this is a must-listen episode for how Brennan breaks down the years after his Comedy Central show. [KM]

Sklarbro Country Sklarbro County #45: Jay Larson, James Adomian, Dan Van Kirk
Not all Sklarbro County news stories are created equal. The best ones come from Florida, and this week it’s the story of a fight at a child’s birthday at a Chuck E. Cheese’s that started in a bathroom, covered three other locations over several miles, and drew in 18 people. That’s the kind of ridiculous Florida crime that leads to 20 minutes of riffing. Jay Larson—a rising stand-up most notable for a fantastic extended bit about a phone call from an unknown number in the style of Tig Notaro’s Taylor Dayne story—has great comedic chemistry with the Sklars, and his Boston stories mix well with Dan Van Kirk’s Mark Wahlberg impression. [KM]

Sound Opinions #383: Musical Grand Slams
Just in time for baseball Opening Day, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot spend most of this episode detailing musical “Grand Slams,” or bands with runs of four classic records in a row—similar to the “Five-albums test.” The scale is open to interpretation, and often requires either host to justify one album in the middle of a four-album run as better than generally regarded, but the discussion yields several wonderful picks: Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, Sleater-Kinney, Blur, XTC, Hüsker Dü, and others. And in case anyone wants to hear more venomous criticism hurled against the new Strokes record, the guys trash Comedown Machine. [KM]

Stuff You Should Know: How No-fly Zones Work
In a war-heavy episode, hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant begin with an interesting diversion: Apparently the Wright Brothers were turned down for investments by the U.S. War Department repeatedly, but the Postal Service was their first government sponsor. This sets the table for a recurring theme: Governments want to take over each other, but they’re never entirely sure how to take advantage of planes. Clark and Bryant walk listeners through the brief history of no-fly zones, starting in the early ’90s. The personal spins they put on the stories, such as relating where they were during the first Gulf War, keep the potentially dark topic from bogging down the sort of light conversation the show excels at. There’s also an amusing moment during the listener-mail segment when it appears neither Clark nor Bryant are 100 percent sure what the format of This American Life is. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How The Panama Canal Works
Never the types to pass up a good pop-culture reference, hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant explore the history of the Panama Canal while riffing on Van Halen. Decades added up as the U.S., Panama, Colombia, and many more countries attempted to cut through mountains and flood rivers to master a path through the narrowest portion of the continental divide. Much trade-specific shipping-route information is covered, but the most enjoyable parts of the episode are personal, such as when Clark gets frustrated with the word “isthmus.” More than 20,000 people died early in the canal’s construction, and statistics like this repeatedly cause the hosts to remark how crazy the creation and continued existence of such a canal is. Clark repeatedly mutters “tectonic plates” with awe, and his enthusiasm is contagious. [DT]

This American Life #491: Tribes
Some tribes are literal, like an American Indian tribe that kicks out its own members for potential profit, even at the expense of its own culture and history. Others don’t even know they’re a part of tribes, like Andrea Seigel, who pursues a diagnosis of the weird tingly feeling she gets in her head when she hears certain sounds, unexpectedly finding an online community of freaks like her. And then there are tribes who get pursued by other tribes, like Asian women and the men who unapologetically objectify them. This week’s show offers a nice variety on a topic that can be personal, political, or just plain quirky. [CZ]

Uhh Yeah Dude: #365
With Seth Romatelli suffering from some Manifest Destiny-era disease and Jonathan Larroquette officially diagnosed with the lungs of a 76-year-old woman, episode 365 gets off to a bleak start—and the bad news is just beginning. Backed into a corner, deprived of To Catch A Predator, and now with his beloved Cops threatened, Romatelli goes on an emotionally exhausting, rage-fueled tear against those petitioning for the cancellation of the 25-year-old TV institution. It’s a rant that would mark the episode as a keeper even if the rest of the hour weren’t so strong. But throughout, Larroquette is at his charming, world-weary best, Romatelli is at his charming, apoplectic best, and nothing sounds quite so good as another “year” of Uhh Yeah Dude episodes. [CW]

Walking The Room #144: A Very Special Episode
Our long national nightmare is over; Walking The Room is back. Although not quite better than ever—most of the non-essential talk this week feels like the B-side to other, tighter episodes—this “Very Special Episode” does well to clear the air and address the hobotang in the closet: Greg Behrendt’s mysterious absence from the show. Reduced to its simplest terms, it’s not all that unusual or out of step with Behrendt’s past issues, but the details are at times harrowing and best left unspoiled. And while he’s not out of the woods yet—Dave Anthony still wants to punch him in the neck—his commitment to a fresh start and refined focus is entirely believable and make the show’s future all the more intriguing. Drama aside, the rest of the episode plays out as if Behrendt had never left (but became slightly more polite), populated with fisting pantomimes, helpful minorities, and an alternate history of Easter (and Superchunk!). [SM]

WTF #373: Ari Shaffir
Marc Maron asks nearly every interview subject about his or her religious history and relationship with God, especially his fellow Jewish comedians. But rarely does he talk with someone like Ari Shaffir, a comedian with an Orthodox Jewish background who lived in Jerusalem and attended Yeshiva University for a time. Maron covers Shaffir’s years at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles and their overlap in the comedy scene, but by far the most interesting part of this interview examines how Shaffir committed to yeshiva study, then gradually moved away from Orthodox Judaism and into comedy. [KM]

WTF: #374: James Franco, Harmony Korine, Nate Bargatze, Peter Sagal
This SXSW installment is one of WTF’s best live shows—it’d be hard not to be with an all-star lineup like this. Highlights include Maron discovering Peter Sagal’s dark side (the Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! host seems to relish saying “fuck” into a microphone) and Maron asking James Franco what everyone wants to know: Which parts of his career are just a goof and what the hell was going through his head when he hosted the Oscars? (Franco offers a lot more insight to both than is typically available during the shorter live segments.) Per usual, Eddie Pepitone shows up to scream. [CZ]

You Made It Weird #138: Mike Bridenstine
Comic Mike Bridenstine’s visit to YMIW has a feel typical of the show. That is, it’s a bit aimless on the surface but ends up being pretty engaging anyway. Bridenstine and Pete Holmes are able to surprise each other, whether it’s with anecdotes about a comic who “always had jelly beans in his pocket” or Holmes’ habit of writing down roast jokes about other performers. By getting in a lot of solid laughs up front, Holmes gives the episode a lot of space to eventually ramble into all the serious and funny places these discussions usually go. [SG]

You Made It Weird #139: Bert Kreischer
It’s worth letting this episode sink in for a while, especially for a segment in which Pete Holmes and Bert Kreischer compare notes on the dreams they’ve had about other comedians. (Cue two alternating Ray Romano impressions.) As always, there’s a good bit of self-analysis in the episode, but it gives way to a lot of funny stuff and genuinely odd revelations. Plus, Kreischer is honest not only about his weird dreams about Godfrey, but also his own real-life humiliations as a comic. [SG]


THE REST

Doug Loves Movies: Hannibal Burress, Samm Levine, Sean Jordan, And Graham Elwood
This episode has the potential to be great considering that it features two Doug Loves Movies all-stars (Samm Levine and Graham Elwood). However, the pacing is so uneven through the chat portion that this installment remains something of a non-starter. [MS]

Fogelnest Files #29: LIVE from SXSW: Doug Benson, Chris Gethard, Andrew W.K.
Live podcasts tend to be risky gambles, and despite a promising lineup of panelists, this week’s episode, recorded at SXSW, feels so phoned-in that even the audience doesn’t seem that into it. Check out the YouTube page for the Dog Police video, but aside from that, give this one a pass. [AB]

Improv4Humans #74: We R Michelle Shocked: Jeff Hiller, Jill Donnelly, Gil Ozeri
There are a few highlights, but beyond an extended jab at folk singer Michelle Shocked’s bizarre onstage blow up, the episode never fully gets rolling. [MK]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #107: Sara Benincasa
The writer and performer’s dissection of her agoraphobia is an enlightening high mark for a conversation that feels stilted at times. [TC]

Mohr Stories #145: Frank Marino
Buoyant Las Vegas entertainer Frank Marino discusses developing his comedy-drag career, bumping into real divas, and judging Toddlers & Tiaras. It’s a meaty conversation for drag enthusiasts, but esoteric to the uninitiated. [DXF]

Mohr Stories #146: George Wallace
In Vegas for some shows, Mohr continues working with what he has on hand, chatting with comedian George “The New Mister Vegas” Wallace, who talks shop, family, and white people’s obsession with ghost hunting. [DXF]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr is under the weather and serves up the most consistently dull and unfunny episode in recent memory. [CG]

Nerdist #339: Jenna-Louise Coleman
Jeanna-Louise Coleman’s recent work on Doctor Who is, unsurprisingly, the focal point of this episode, and while that’s far from a bad thing, it’s a bit one-sided and less informative than one would hope. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1212: Dressing For Less With Wayne Federman
Wayne Federman couldn’t be a nicer guest, but a noticeable lack of laughs—including from the studio—stymies an otherwise fine episode. [SM]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Albert J. Tirrell, The First Sleepwalking Killer
Though aspects of this somnambulist case are interesting, the story frequently stalls while trying to make things like a speedy jury selection sound interesting. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Australia’s Rabbit-proof Fence
Australia’s legendary fence is over 100 years old and still attempts to curb animal populations, but in the end it’s still just a fence, and not terribly compelling. [DT]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #111: Behind The Scenes Of TAH
Thrilling Adventure Hour’s behind-the-scenes episodes are usually quite revealing. This one is too, but it takes a bit longer to get there, as the writers and performers on the episode seem a little preoccupied with in-jokes and banter. [SG]

The Todd Glass Show #96: Eddie Pepitone
This week’s show has a stellar guest and a live band, but unfortunately those components don’t add up to a particularly memorable episode. [MS]

Who Charted? #122: Me Neither: David W. Mack
This installment is great for fans of comics and of David W. Mack’s work in particular, but it’s not particularly compelling otherwise. [MS]