The Bugle and Radiolab make triumphant returns, and YMIW has a meeting of podcast minds

The Bugle and Radiolab make triumphant returns, and YMIW has a meeting of podcast minds

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

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

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“[Calvin and Hobbes creator] Bill Watterson was the Fugazi of cartoons: He didn’t license anything.” —Kyle Kinane, Stop Podcasting Yourself

“My point is that ‘coupons’ may not fall under the umbrella of politics.”
“What is politics these days? If it’s about a woman’s body—and I apologize for using strong language—is that politics, or are we talking about something else? Are we talking about hanky-panky? Again, I apologize for working blue.” —Jimmy Pardo and John Mulaney, Never Not Funny

“I’m pretty sure on a couple of occasions we have kept planes from blowing up, because terrorists have said, ‘Those gentlemen were nice to me. Why don’t I apply that to all of America, even though I disagree with this foreign policy?’” —Von Dovian (Keegan-Michael Key) on his job at TSA, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“These last two months have basically featured Mitt Romney insulting everyone. When he insulted the Olympics, British people were up in arms. Little did we know that we would be the first line on the back of his ‘Insult Tour 2012’ T-shirt.” —John Oliver, The Bugle

“The pursuit of truth properly considered shouldn’t stop short on insanity.” —Errol Morris, Radiolab

NEW (TO US)

Shortwave With Grant-Lee Phillips
Part of the new slate of podcasts the Earwolf network launched earlier this summer, Shortwave With Grant-Lee Phillips is a more straightforward music show than Earwolf’s already-existing Who Charted? Hosted by singer-songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips, Shortwave is pretty no-frills: Phillips invites on a guest—usually one of his musician friends—and they talk about their careers, and then the guest plays some songs. While it has the potential to be interesting with more whiz-bang guests, Shortwave, as it sits, is pretty boring. Phillips is nice almost to a fault, and his softball questions and sycophantic banter come off more annoying than charming. Episode 3: Toad The Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips, for example, yields hard-hitting content like the two Phillips’ talking about just how great it is to record and whether they wash their whites with their colors. In the previous two episodes with Aimee Mann and Jukebox The Ghost, Phillips tells his guests about how he just doesn’t understand computers and could never figure out how to download an MP3.

While there’s room in the marketplace for this kind of musical dialogue, that doesn’t make it compelling. While shows like Sound Opinions and Low Times can leave a lot to be desired for real audioheads, they’re far and away more interesting than Shortwave. [ME]


OUTLIERS

The Mana Pool
Magic: The Gathering is a visual and kinetic card game, requiring both long-term deck-building and quick, in-the-moment decisions. It’s not the kind of thing that naturally lends itself to the static, aural confines of a podcast. The Mana Pool, however, has been trying for the last five years to cherry-pick elements of the game that might hold up in listeners’ headphones. On the one hand, it succeeds in doing that. On the other, those things are: discussion of game rules; blow-by-blow accounts of matches; inside jokes shared among the show’s four co-hosts; and analysis of game-maker Wizards Of The Coast’s choice of cards to include in new sets. So, basically, all the boring parts of the game. It’s like talking about sex by reveling in discussions of condom manufacturing and post-coital snack options.

On a recent episode titled “Stack Of Pancakes!,” the hosts recount a tournament by describing the cards played and debate the merits of certain cards’ artwork—which only really works if you can, you know, see the cards. They also explain what a “stack of pancakes” is, which only works if you know that they attended The Olive Garden after said tournament—a fact that receives more than its fair share of airtime. And that’s saying something, considering the episode is two and a half hours long. [SH]


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
The decade-plus of character-based calls between Jon Wurster and Tom Scharpling should have stopped working years ago. It’s a testament to the duo’s enduring comedic rapport that this week’s exchange matches the unpredictability and delightful absurdity of any of the calls in the show’s early years. Wurster’s call as Darren Ploppleton begins with talk about Newbridge’s replacement cops and ends with his character stuck inside Gene Simmons’ bass cabinet as The Demon strums “Detroit Rock City” with fudge-coated fingers. Ploppleton’s grisly end is the high point of an episode with an astonishing amount of talk about pencils from guest David Rees. Scharpling makes the most of continued weak calls from listeners, including a well-deserved Bad Company vaudeville hook for a caller who tries to hijack the show with half-baked political talk. It’s an uneven episode, but there are enough surreal, entertaining moments to make it one of this week’s best listens. [TC]

The Bugle #206: The President Is Not A Gremlin
After a month-long hiatus, The Bugle makes its triumphant return, with John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman showing no signs of rust from the time off. The boys launch into a discussion of the U.S. presidential election with renewed vigor and the advantage of Oliver having attended both political conventions for The Daily Show, with most of the attention going to the ongoing blunders of Mitt Romney. Oliver has the most to say in this discussion, but it’s a sidetrack of Zaltzman imitating a singing vicar that delivers the biggest laugh. The second half of the episode lags by comparison, but still provides some great moments centered on the recent ruckus over topless photos of Kate Middleton, the Middle East protest, and the movie Innocence Of Muslims. [MG]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #177: Penises Abounding: B.J. Novak, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Wyatt Cenac
Wyatt Cenac, B.J. Novak, and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele could all anchor their own episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang!, so packing them all into one episode seems destined to leave someone out—especially with chatty people like Novak, Peele, and Key. But “Penises Abounding” works, though Cenac’s early exit probably helps matters. Peele and Key are the stars, playing a pair of TSA agents who spend their free time criticizing TV shows in the comments section of websites. (Ahem.) Although those characters could slip easily into bitter caricatures, Peele and Key make them harmless naïfs whose main complaint is the dearth of dick jokes on shows (thus their idea for a sci-fi show about aliens with penis heads). A fun Would You Rather? involving Guy Fieri rounds out another strong episode. [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Chris Evans, Leonard Maltin, And Adam Scott
The presence of both the Leonard Maltin Game’s sire and one of its best players would be enough to make this a notable DLM, but the addition of an increasingly tipsy Captain America ensures a memorable episode. Chris Evans just barely avoids crossing the line separating “charming frat boy” from “douchey dude-bro,” but his enthusiasm for and familiarity with the podcast and willingness to go with the flow (“What’s the play?”) keeps him on the right side of endearing—even if he can’t seem to manage to talk into the mic. Evans’ wild-card presence, combined with Scott’s aptitude and Leonard Maltin’s surprising lack of aptitude, makes for scattered but ultimately satisfying Leonard Maltin Game. [GK]

Hang Up And Listen: The Voice Of God Edition
Podcast crossover alert! On this week’s HUAL, the gang brings on the delightful Andy Zaltzman of The Bugle to discuss the mysteries (to Americans, anyway) of cricket and one hilariously stupid texting scandal that has rocked the English national team. There’s also a good discussion over how Miguel Cabrera’s run for baseball’s Triple Crown (average, HRs, and RBI) will not likely win him the MVP over Mike Trout, who’s the better all-around player by other, more modern baseball metrics. But the strongest segment brings filmmaker Jonathan Hock on for a moving tribute to the late NFL Films visionary Steve Sabol. Hock worked under Sabol for years and testifies to his decency and leadership as a boss and the artful way in which NFL Films both mythologized and humanized the warriors who struggle for every last yard. [ST]

Judge John Hodgman: Passing The Bar
Not enough has been said about how well Judge John Hodgman evokes the everyday lives of the people who testify on the show. During the course of his interrogation, Hodgman draws out the facts relevant to each case, but he’s always curious to get details about his guests’ jobs and hobbies, and a feel for their general personality. This week’s case has Erin complaining that her friend and co-worker Abby promises to attend semi-regular happy hours at the dive bar across the street, only to beg out at the last minute. But the episode is compelling mainly for Hodgman’s queries into other matters, like their jobs with the Army Corp Of Engineers, “4-D” puzzles, the Dallas-Ft. Worth “metroplex,” and why servicemen and women are only allowed to drink in uniform in the movies. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #79: Lauren Weedman
Comedy podcasts and Twitter have helped create an environment where comedians are almost required to be accessible and candid about their lives. Lauren Weedman’s painfully confessional style preceded the current age of the ever-available comedian, so her appearance on the 79th episode of a podcast based around painful confessions almost feels overdue. Weedman talks with Paul Gilmartin about her adoptive parents, abusive former boyfriend, and the fallout from a false rape report she filed as a college freshman. The former Daily Show correspondent and solo theater artist occasionally gets sidetracked during the conversation, but her engaging storytelling style is a perfect fit for the show. Weedman’s unguarded honesty and natural chemistry with Gilmartin results in one of the best Mental Illness Happy Hour episodes in several months. [TC]

The Moth: Edgar Oliver: Courting Paul Bowles In Tangiers 
It takes a few minutes to get used to Edgar Oliver’s delivery in this Moth tale: He’s constantly slowing down to drag out syllables, as if every other clause were laden with some mischievous hint. But Oliver’s style is a strong fit for this tragic, comic, and frivolously romantic story about trying to hunt down the writer Paul Bowles in Tangiers. As author encounters go, it’s not as funny as A.E. Hotchner’s recent tale about Ernest Hemingway, but it does take on an outlandish twist of its own, as the protagonists find their man, only to waste the meeting on a banal conversation. [SG]

My Brother, My Brother And Me #121: Dyump
The McElroy brothers are typically careful never to linger too long on any given advice inquiry, and when they do, things can sometimes fall apart. On this week’s episode, however, it works, particularly a 10-minute-plus chunk all about horses—horses wearing costumes, people having sex with horses, horses as a rich source of comedy, etc.—that is silly and hilarious. It also establishes a thread of the brothers recounting moments from their childhood (along with accompanying ’90s movie references) that recurs through almost every topic, which is rather endearing. There’s not much real advice to speak of, but that hardly matters when the hosts are so consistently funny. [CG]

Nerdist #260: Rob Burnett And Jon Beckerman
While Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman may not be the most recognizable names in comedy, as writers on The Late Show With David Letterman for two decades, they offer unique insight into one of late night’s more enigmatic personalities. In telling the secrets of making a perfect Top 10 list, Burnett and Beckerman fill the episode with dashes of Letterman-centric insight. The duo also recently collaborated on the film We Made This Movie, which offers some diversion from all the Letterman anecdotes. In fact, discussion of the film leads into the interview’s most fun topic: What would happen if Bill Pullman were president? The guests seem excited to be on the show, and Chris Hardwick’s ability to keep the interview engaging makes it a breezy listen with enough weight to make it worthwhile. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1114: Living It Up With John Mulaney
John Mulaney is from Chicago, and he was recently referenced in episode #1112, but the Saturday Night Live writer has more than a superficial connection to Never Not Funny: He wrote the first-ever fan letter to NNF, a message via MySpace concerning Jimmy Pardo and Mike Schmidt’s omission of Hot Streets when discussing Chicago (the band) album covers. Mulaney’s familiarity with and comfort on the show are evident from the start, as he serves up playful “hastily conceived ignorance bits,” sharply informative SNL stories, and wry parsing of Pardo’s passing comments. (“Wait, you just pointed at him and said ‘Look at this guy wearing a hat’? There’s normally a great deal of art to your work.”) As the conversation warms up and heads into weirder territory, Mulaney turns it on even more, culminating in a hilarious and repeat-listen-worthy riff on airport companions and Pardo getting bumped from first class by Garfunkel And Oates. [SM]

Radiolab: The Fact Of The Matter
The search for the truth, no matter how elusive and complicated it can be, is the subject of this sterling episode of Radiolab, which appropriately starts off with documentary filmmaker Errol Morris telling about his attempt to confirm the veracity of a photo from the Crimean War. The second segment, concerning a seemingly toxic yellow rain in Southeast Asia, is a wonderful example of storytelling that digs into the complicated textures of how different parties perceive the “truth” and how the truth actually matters differently to each. Through these and a few other stories, the Radiolab team does a wonderful job teasing out how complicated the search for the truth can be, no matter how obvious the answer seems. [MG]

[pagebreak]

Sklarbro Country #113: Jockstrap Boner: James Adomian, Dan Van Kirk
In celebration of Low Hanging Fruit, the first stand-up comedy album from both podcast superpower Earwolf and Sklarbro Country fan-favorite James Adomian, Randy and Jason Sklar transform this episode into a giddy celebration of one of their show’s most popular celebrity impersonators. As the episode’s main guest, Adomian discusses football, homosexuality, and finding his voice in comedy. But the episode really picks up when Adomian does “Quick Hits” as Jesse Ventura, Tim Gunn (who, within the world of Sklarbro Country, is equally obsessed with fashion and MMA), and finally Gary Busey. Dan Van Kirk closes out the episode with his pitch-perfect, perpetually irritated Mark Wahlberg, but this is Adomian’s show all the way, a virtuoso turn from one of the podcasting world’s most dead-on mimics. [NR]

The Smartest Man In The World #177: Clues
Smartest Man episodes are timed such that listeners are always getting Greg Proops’ fresh riffs on news they were just beginning to forget about, but sometimes his approach makes it worth dredging back up. This time, documents suggesting Jesus had a wife give Proops the fleeting arena of silly he needs. Plus, the subject is esoteric enough that Proops can’t get preachy too fast. Instead, he gradually focuses in on the absurdity of trying to get important facts from scant evidence, making for lots of made-up Bible-story variations. [SG]

Sound Opinions #356: El-P, Bob Dylan Review
The man El-P plays on his records is wary, confrontational, and about as emotionally unstable as it gets. The fellow who sits down with Sound Opinions to discuss his recent album Cancer For Cure and work with Killer Mike is pretty level-headed and humble, even saying he doesn’t think he’s “all that talented.” It’s one of the better interviews Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis have had on the show recently, especially because El-P reflects on his career as an independent artist and Definitive Jux label head with practicality rather than self-importance. [SG]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Surprising Life Of Henry Ford: Part 1
An episode dedicated to someone as famous and wealthy as Henry Ford might sound like a tough sell to regular listeners who like to revel in the strange. But guest co-host Scott Benjamin of CarStuff (filling in for a still-on-maternity-leave Deblina Chakraborty) brings a fun new energy to regular co-host Sarah Dowdey’s dense discussion. Henry Ford’s “quadrocycle” was the product of intense tinkering under Thomas Edison’s banner, and came to Ford when he was well into his 30s. Losing his mother at a young age and walking away from the family farm contributed to a lifelong perfectionism that came to haunt him later in life. Despite being shrewd at sales and amassing wealth, he still had a bit of a rage problem that will be elaborated upon in Part 2. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Why Does Music Provoke Emotion?
Hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant welcome a cellist into the studio, as well as massive amounts of unresolved philosophical theory and neuroscience. If that sounds like a loaded episode with an obvious conclusion, it is. Though it doesn’t exactly beg for examination, music is a powerful and controversial topic, and the further Clark and Bryant unpack it, the more they stumble onto some of art’s great mysteries. Ben Sollee, the cellist, is a fascinating interview subject who explains how words or repetition can water down raw emotion. He’s not a stuffy classical musician either; he brings dubstep into the equation and makes a strong case for how its quick rise may spell a short end for that particular style of music. [DT]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #89: Captain Laserbeam: Uncanny Exes
Most of the fun of Thrilling Adventure Hour’s superhero series Captain Laserbeam lies in hearing the writers play around with superhero and supervillain names, sometimes reeling off a dozen lines like, “Don’t tell me that Scarlett O’Horror has caused the undead South to rise again!” But sometimes it’s harder to have fun with the actual plot. This episode strikes a nice balance between parody-play and a decent comic story, as all of Apex City’s female supervillains mysteriously lose their shit at the same time. There’s even a sly little subplot that helps make this episode more engaging than most Captain Laserbeam ones. [SG]

Uhh Yeah Dude #340
A good rant about the inevitable return of Arsenio Hall or a selection from a Seinfeld monologue is all well and good, but a great Uhh Yeah Dude episode can be built on just a couple minutes of solid back-and-forth between Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli, with each building on—and taking obvious pleasure in—the other’s ideas. There are two such friendship-affirming moments in this episode: one when Romatelli delivers the bad news to Dominic (his hypothetical son) that he’s going to have to sling platinum OG kush to make his allowance, and another during an extended riff on the nexus of psychopathology and TV’s Entourage. That second topic might just be a perfect storm of Uhh Yeah Dude-ness, combining as it does L.A., disappointing pop culture, and matters of the mind. After all that, the rest of the episode feels like a victory lap. [CW]

Walking The Room #122: Dirty Bag And Fair Fries
Walking The Room is happy to wade in disgusting or immoral depths—see the opening discussion of Too Short’s buttplug—so long as it’s Dave Anthony and Greg Behrendt doing the wallowing. Once someone is dragged down “sans perme,” however, it’s an all-out spar with the guilty party, and the combined vitriol is at its funniest when aimed at a deserving target. An atheist who berated a Christian comic for his beliefs certainly has it coming, which dovetails well into segments spent dissecting America’s drug-like addiction with unhealthy food and county fairs, and the Malaysian government’s official statement on the early warning signs of homosexuality. However, Behrendt’s ultra-passive-aggressive motivation to his daughter probably negates any of the episode’s championing of the meek. [SM]

Who Charted? #95:Groove Workshop: Zach Galifianakis
Although this episode clocks in at more than 70 minutes, it seems to just fly by, as Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack do a great job playing off guest Zach Galifianakis’ laidback stoner vibe. They seem to take particular joy in exposing Galifianakis to Carly Rae Jepsen’s inescapable hit “Call Me Maybe.” How Galifianakis managed to avoid hearing the omnipresent song is a mystery, but he seems genuinely delighted by it. There’s also some talk of the time Galifianakis played against type as a scientist on the short-lived Eliza Dushku procedural Tru Calling. Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Scott Aukerman gets unexpectedly pulled into the discussion when he’s called in to challenge Galifianakis on his choice to drive an old Subaru despite his obvious wealth, drawing a more lively and heated side out of the guest. [MS]

WTF With Marc Maron #318: Coop
It always bodes well when Marc Maron interviews someone whose work he greatly respects. Graphic artist Coop, whose real name is Chris Cooper, is a popular rock-poster artist and hot-rod enthusiast, most notable for his drawings of a cigar-smoking devil and nude “Devil-Woman” caricatures. Maron is clearly a big fan of Coop and his contemporaries, which makes for a highly engaging conversation about how Coop went from Tulsa, Oklahoma to designing posters for Reverend Horton Heat, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Green Day, and others. Maron’s enthusiasm more than makes up for his guest’s relative obscurity, and the sprawling conversation covers some controversial political ideas and culturally fascinating topics. [KM]

You Made It Weird #86: Jimmy Pardo
After the cringefest of the recent You Made It Weird recorded at Outside Lands, it’s reassuring to hear that Pete Holmes still possesses the ability to handle delicate subjects with some amount of grace—in this case, the 2010 suicide of Andrew Koenig, brother-in-law to stand-up and comedy-podcasting forefather Jimmy Pardo. The topics of Pardo and Holmes’ conversation—mostly related to their respective professional and personal successes and failures—are as scattershot as usual, but with Pardo on hand, the show somehow feels tighter and less aimless than it often does. (The relatively taut 100-minute running time helps matters.) That’s not to say there isn’t room for jokes: Pardo is as sharp and quick as ever, and Holmes eats it up and gets in some solid lines of his own. In general, the episode serves as a very welcome change of pace for recent You Made It Weird outings. [CG]

You Made It Weird #87: Chris Hardwick
Considering You Made It Weird is one of the jewels of Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist network, it’s a little strange that it’s taken him so long to appear on the show as a proper guest. (He’s popped up briefly before, for example, on the Riki Lindhome episode.) Hardwick’s appearance here proves worth the wait, as the Nerdist overlord opens up about his boozy, bleary decline while hosting Shipmates, learning to re-program his mind after kicking alcohol, and the game-changing nature of podcasts. Listeners are even treated to some fascinating inside information on You Made It Weird’s origins: Longtime fans will be intrigued to discover that Holmes and pal Chelsea Peretti were originally supposed to do a podcast together, only Peretti bailed. This is a deep, soulful, and funny conversation between like-minded souls and giants of the podcasting game. [NR]


THE REST

Doug Loves Movies: Master Pancake
This episode with the members of Austin-based movie-riffers Master Pancake offers some neat insights into Fantastic Fest events, but it unfortunately has the bland, airless quality that characterizes most audience-free DLMs. (The fact that this one was apparently recorded inside a tin can doesn’t help.) [GK]

How Was Your Week #81: The Best Mother On Television: Fran Drescher, Adrian Chen
Julie Klausner’s sit-down with Fran Drescher suffers from the perception that Drescher’s just reciting talking points (though the final section on her political activism is more spontaneous and freewheeling). Gawker’s Adrian Chen is more compelling as he discusses Anonymous, 4chan, and other Internet communities. [DF]

The J.V. Club #29: Cara Santa Maria
Janet Varney is uncharacteristically apprehensive at the start of her interview with Huffington Post correspondent Cara Santa Maria, but loosens up for an in-depth discussion of the Mormon religion. [OS]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #69: Ritz Crackers
After another hiatus, Mike and Tom’s return isn’t so much egregiously bad as it is fumbled and directionless—which is saying something, given the MATES format. [DA]

Monday Morning Podcast
For the first 20 minutes or so of this episode, Bill Burr is desperately grasping for things to talk about, and that’s actually pretty entertaining. When he finally finds fodder in a few rather boring listener emails, things get, well, kind of boring. [CG]

Nerdist #262 Justin Willman
Magician Justin Willman entertains listeners with illusion-based anecdotes, but the episode loses steam toward the end. [DA]

Sklarbro Country Sklarbro County #18: Jonah Keri, Dan Van Kirk
Grantland staffer Jonah Keri has called his book on the turnaround of the Tampa Bay Rays “Moneyball Junior,” which is a fairly apt description, and the Sklars get some mileage out of his upcoming “definitive history of the Montreal Expos.” But the stories this week only bring out chuckle-worthy comments from the panel. [KM]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #236: Kyle Kinane
“Overheards” don’t salvage a forgettable episode in which “Hulk Hogan News” runs mercifully brief and comedian Kyle Kinane helps the crew milk some laughs from Burning Man and childhood obesity. [DXF]

Stuff You Should Know: Q: Are We In The Midst Of A Cyber War? A: Yes
The episode is worthwhile for those who don’t know where to start on current cyber politics, but there’s little here listeners couldn’t research themselves. [DT]

The Todd Glass Show #65: Tom Martin
First-time guest Tom Martin commits admirably to the bits and haphazard format of the show, but the absence of frequent guest Daniel Kinno is felt in this meandering episode. [MS]

WTF With Marc Maron #316: Jim Rash
Marc Maron has interviewed several actors and writers from Community with great success, which is why this perfunctory interview with Academy Award-winner Jim Rash feels so disappointing. Rash is a fascinating individual, but the conversation doesn’t bear that out. [KM]

WTF With Marc Maron #317: Kerri Kenney-Silver
Marc Maron never does pre-interview research, but that’s rarely as obvious as it is in his interview with actress/comedian Kerri Kenney-Silver, who basically resorts to reading her Wikipedia page. Combined with Maron’s repeated, misguided presumptions about her role among The State castmates, it makes for a frustrating episode. [CG]

Filed Under: Comedy

More Podmass