This American Life celebrates a milestone, and a star-studded live episode of You Made It Weird

This American Life celebrates a milestone, and a star-studded live episode of You Made It Weird

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Note: Certain podcasts released on Friday may be added on Monday morning.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“Well, it feels like both a milestone and it feels like nothing. It feels like an odometer clicking over.”—Ira Glass on This American Life’s 500th episode.

“Something about my pheromones begs people to physically assault me.” —Paul Giamatti (James Adomian), Comedy Bang! Bang!

“I’m a juice box full of butter!” —Paul Giamatti (James Adomian), Comedy Bang! Bang!

“What was ‘the miracle on ice’? That people gave a shit about hockey for one second?” —Jimmy Pardo, Never Not Funny

“John Lennon, I think the government got him.”
“Why? He wasn’t doing anything but laying in bed with an Asian.” —Jen Kirkman and Jimmy Pardo, Never Not Funny

NEW TO US

You’re The Expert
Mixing radio with scientific thought could make for some stuffy listening. You’re The Expert knows this and has created a clever panel show that combines the comedy of ignorance with scientific enlightenment. 

In a twisted version of What’s My Line?, host Chris Duffy brings on an academic researcher with a complex-sounding job title such as “structural health monitor” or “Bayesian statistician.” He then challenges improv and stand-up comedians like Harry Gordon and Robert Woo to try to understand exactly what the guest studies.  

The format is very loose for a panel show. Regular features include “Truth In Comedy,” a game the panel plays with the guest and audience. It’s similar to Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me’s “Bluff The Listener” segment, but instead of weird news, it’s about scientific experiments and proposals. There’s also “JAG (The Jargon And Acronym Game),” in which panelists must guess scientific terms and acronyms that relate to the expert. Episodes can also feature freeform, improvised comedy monologues about the guest and light-hearted interviews about their work, like talking about a professor’s proposal to use unmanned drones to observe bridge conditions. Even though it’s considered a panel game, they don’t mire the flow of its comedy by sticking to a rigid game format—there’s no score keeping or even an official winner. Education and enlightenment are the grand prizes lying behind the velvet curtain, and anyone listening to the episode can win. [DG]


THE BEST

Comedy Bang! Bang! #231: This Is Not Me, This Is Them: Kumail Nanjiani, James Adomian
Kumail Nanjiani hasn’t been on Comedy Bang! Bang! since September of 2010, so it seems like there’d be a lot to discuss in his first segment with Scott Aukerman, but it doesn’t take long for James Adomian to seize control as his aggressive sad-sack Paul Giamatti. His interactions with Nanjiani are funny—especially once he changes character to Jesse Ventura, whose suspicion of Nanjiani comes through in the hateful way he pronounces “Kumail.” Adomian’s done some really funny stuff as Giamatti in the past, but Ventura gets a lot of the laughs this time around. Either way, anyone hoping for a little Nanjiani-Aukerman quality time up front won’t get much of it. [KR]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #232: LIVE from San Diego Comic-Con; Andy Daly, Paul Rust
It doesn’t take long for Scott Aukerman to proclaim that “LIVE from San Diego Comic-Con” is likely the stupidest act to grace the stage of any House Of Blues across the country, and he’s probably not wrong. Joined initially by Paul Rust, maven of all things new and wrong, the episode gets off to a stilted start when Rust’s often dependable material falls flat and Andy Daly as Hot Dog, Sha Na Na’s beloved reject last heard from over a hundred episodes ago, awkwardly inserts himself into the show. Once Hot Dog gets rolling on the extreme lengths he’s gone to just to audition for the band, the episode manages to find its bearings and Rust pulls out some incredible New No Nos. This is far from required listening, but an enjoyable postscript for fans clamoring for more “Doo Doo Doo Doo-WAAAH”s out of Daly. [MK]

Doug Loves Movies: Brendon Walsh, Chad Daniels, And DC Pierson
Episodes of Doug Loves Movies recorded on the road usually mean a lot of game-playing—thanks to the lack of a Put Your Hands Together-imposed time limit—and panel guests of variable quality, as Doug Benson tends to draw from a combination of local talent and fellow touring comics. This week’s Minneapolis outing is a boon on the latter front, with DLM VIPs DC Pierson and Brendon Walsh being joined by local boy Chad Daniels, who takes to the show immediately. The three of them riff excellently together about Walsh’s affinity for talking-dog movies and Daniels’ rivalry with the other sorta-famous person who lives in his small Minnesota town: the girl who did the spinny thing in Mighty Ducks 2. And while the games portion dwells far too long on the middling ABC Deez Nutz, a robust Leonard Maltin Game outing makes up for it. Like most road episodes, this one is long and sprawling, running close to two hours, but the momentum stays high throughout. [GK]

Doug Loves Movies: Leonard Maltin, Matt Mira, And Clare Kramer
Doug Benson takes the podcast down to San Diego for Comic-Con and is greeted by an exceedingly enthusiastic audience. Of course, the audience has a good reason to be excited, since an appearance by Leonard Maltin is always a treat. Maltin talks very candidly about enduring a Grown Ups 2 screening in New Mexico as well as when he can tell a movie will be terrible based on how the press screening is handled. Usually the Doug Loves Movies audience is full of hecklers and constant interrupters, so it’s refreshing to hear the audience become eerily silent because it is hanging on Maltin’s every word. [MS]

The Flop House #130: The Scarlet Letter
The Flop House hosts take a rare look back to an older flop—the 1995 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, starring Demi Moore and Gary Oldman—in honor of the late Roger Ebert, who was a very outspoken detractor of the film. And it seems that the Flopsters would have made Ebert proud, considering how thoroughly they dissect and destroy the film—and in a much more focused manner than usual. But of course, in the classic Flop House way, puns and silliness still abound, despite the level of dreariness that the film seems to have wrought upon the hosts. It’s not likely ever to be considered a classic episode of the podcast, but even a middling episode of The Flop House is pretty terrific, and this one is certainly a notch or two above middling. [CG]

Freakonomics: Government Employees Gone Wild
The Encyclopedia Of Ethical Failure is a compendium of bureaucratic misbehavior, published by the U.S. Department Of Defense in order to track mistakes and provide a guide for government employees. The entire book is made up of true stories from all over the federal government, and manages to hit every kind of wrongdoing an imaginative reader could think of. For “Government Employees Gone Wild,” Stephen Dubner interviews the editors of the encyclopedia. There isn’t actually any economics in this week’s episode, nor insights into human behavior, but Dubner’s subjects have so many good stories about people acting badly it more than makes up for the lack of substance. [NC]

Hang Up And Listen: The I Bought A Hippo Edition
Mixed martial arts is still a growing success story, rising from the ashes of boxing and drawing in a wide audience (though it survives as somewhat of a cross between brutal fighting and pro-wrestling hucksterism). The panel breaks down Anderson Silva’s first loss in a title fight and notes that fighters must exude the flair of an entertainer—the sport only rewards athleticism when it’s paired with showmanship. The two baseball segments feel perfunctory—on Chris Davis’ home run chase and Tim Lincecum’s marathon no-hitter—but the final discussion on the decline of the sports highlight is prescient in light of Fox Sports 1’s launch in August. [KM]

Improv4Humans #90: Bear Suit: Casey Wilson, Betsy Sodaro, Sean Conroy, Chad Carter
One of Matt Besser’s greatest strengths as host of Improv4Humans is his preternatural ability to keep the show rolling. “Bear Suit” assembles a strong cast of improvisers, all with a rich Improv4Humans résumé among other credits, but doesn’t quite find its footing from the get-go. A strong scene starts the show off with Besser as give-no-shits bank teller being robbed, but the rest of the first half fails to exceed or even match that intensity. Thankfully, around the halfway mark, Besser fires off a wonderfully angry tangent about folks applying to Earwolf without caring about comedy, and the crew spins it into a hilarious situation confusing Oprah with Opie of Opie And Anthony. Best of all, Besser tackles a conservative write-up of the Del Close Marathon that accuses Close of being a warlock that leads to a delightful deal with the devil scene. [MK]

Judge John Hodgman: Odor In The Court
The court resolves an international issue with universal significance. Honorable John Hodgman is absent, and the presiding judge is Jesse Thorn, the regular bailiff, producer, and co-host of Maximum Funcast and Jordan, Jesse, Go! The replacement judge is careful to extend to every benefit of reasonable doubt to Christopher, a 25-year-old artist who is half of a British couple. Christopher’s girlfriend, Andrea, says he should shower and change his clothes more often. Early in, bailiff Jordan Morris mentions Pigpen from Peanuts; Christopher doesn’t get the reference, but he’s oblivious to a lot. The boyfriend, while defensive, doesn’t mount much of a defense. Thorn clears the docket with additional couples’ questions about dirty dishes and the best way to listen to back episodes of this pedagogical podcast. By the final gavel rap, a theme has emerged: Keeping it neat, clean, and orderly is a fine form of public service. [DXF]

The J.V. Club #70: Laura Kightlinger
Janet Varney wastes no time diving into the past of comedian Laura Kightlinger, and the immediate focus on adolescence informs their later longer discussion on their adult lives. The two women shared similar upbringings, particularly in their tempestuous relationships with mothers that had the responsibilities of absent fathers, and they’re able to break down the foundations of that family drama thanks to their grown up perspectives. They lament not knowing their neighbors and community the way they did as children, but Kightlinger’s comic background keeps the conversation light. Heavy questions about Varney’s parents’ divorce are balanced with musings on goofy topics like the terror of living with a pet pig, and the women get the opportunity to laugh as they consider owning their own teacup piglets. This episode also marks the introduction of a new game where the guest visualizes things like a desert, cube, ladder, horse, and storm, with each different image representing how Kightlinger views an aspect of herself. It’s a fun way to dissect the guest that is a more psychological complement to M.A.S.H. [OS]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #123: Baron Vaughn
Paul Gilmartin regularly credits Marc Maron with inspiring him to create The Mental Illness Happy Hour, a show that focuses on guests’ emotional development with the same fervor as WTF focuses on professional development. A conversation with comedian Baron Vaughn telegraphs its WTF influence early with an exchange about Vaughn’s search for his comedic voice and struggle accepting the authenticity of his experiences. While the comedy dissection is interesting, the episode is best in the second half as Vaughn talks in great detail about his painful relationship with his mother. Vaughn seems thoughtful and compassionate when discussing his mother’s alcoholism, leading the comedian to a deeply emotional moment that’s as compelling as it is unexpected. The episode’s clear split between moments that sound like its inspiration and those specific to MIHH highlight the uniqueness of Gilmartin’s creation. [TC]

Nerdist #384: Kumail Nanjiani
For an episode that is nearly 90 minutes in length, this episode of Nerdist bursts out of the gate with enthusiasm that—while dipping in spots—carries the episode for its duration. As host of The Indoor Kids, Nanjiani has a close relationship with Chris Hardwick; this proves beneficial as they, along with co-host Matt Mira, discuss their adolescence, the state of video gaming, and issues of race in comedy. It’s in these vastly disparate sections that the episode shines, as the trio flows from topic to topic without concerning themselves beyond the topic at hand. While that could be seen as a dig, it’s this transparency that makes the episode so worthwhile. [DA]

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Never Not Funny #1301: Booking It With Jen Kirkman
The 13th season kicks off with a highly caffeinated Jen Kirkman, whose green tea drink with “five times the caffeine of coffee” delightfully kicks in around the second break. Although Never Not Funny’s production schedule is changing to post a couple days after they record it, this first one is still following the old one, so there’s lots of talk of the July 4th holiday early on. But Jimmy Pardo, Matt Belknap, and Kirkman quickly settle into a funny repartee that covers plenty of topics (the betting hasn’t gone away, either) for a enjoyable, if overly long (136 minutes!) episode. [KR]

Professor Blastoff #113: Transgendered (w/ Jaden Pan)
As Professor Blastoff expands its coverage to soft (social) sciences, it’s had to redefine its “guest experts” to include friends or listeners willing to share their personal experience with a particular subject. Scientists don’t always make for great radio, so it’s not too surprising the result is a string of more relatable and increasingly enjoyable episodes, with this week among the best. Following an array of updates—most notably, Tig Notaro has recovered enough to start having fun—the hosts welcome Jaden Pan, a camera operator for In A World… who underwent gender reassignment surgery and now identifies as male. Pan’s story is certainly sympathetic—he grew up a gay Catholic Asian girl to an equally confused mother—but his cool confidence and ability to crack up a handful of comics keeps the mood light while still engaging in an informative discussion of the gender spectrum. It’s a well balanced, coherent episode to which anyone should be able to relate, even a Star Trek-obsessed Mormon intern. [SM]

Sklarbro Country #156: Oscar Nunez, David Huntsberger
The Sklars are clearly huge fans of The Office, especially the supporting characters that formed the grand ensemble that made the show so memorable. Just like their episode with Brian Baumgartner that delved into golf, this week’s episode with Oscar Nunez takes a huge tangent into discussing the Tour De France, doping, and PEDs in baseball. Nunez enjoys his time on the periphery of a spotlight, but the Sklars dig into his past to figure out how long a road he traveled to become a memorable character actor. As they move onto quick hits, the Lolo Jones bobsled story from the week provides plenty of riffing fodder, and David Huntsberger’s High Dick Vitale impersonation continues to be a hilarious episode-capper. [KM]

Sklarbro Country Sklarbro County #60: Rory Scovel, Nate Fridson, Nathan Rabin, Dan Van Kirk
Lots of stand-up comedians have characters; very few of them are willing to commit to those characters for an entire stand-up set just to see how long they can sustain the joke. Rory Scovel has one such German character that he unleashed for an hour-long set almost by accident, and it’s a fascinating example of letting an act take a performer in new, unexplored directions. The best Dan Van Kirk story of the week is a Porta-Potty peeping Tom, which only gets stranger as Van Kirk elaborates on the incident. (Note: The lovely and talented former A.V. Club writer Nathan Rabin joins the show at the end for a 10-minute discussion of his newest book You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.) [KM]

Sound Opinions #398: The Beat Generation
As Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot say in their introduction to their discussion with author Simon Warner, the literary community is going through a down period on the Beats, downplaying how significant of an influence they had in a short period of time. But tracing how works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs found their way into rock music—from Dylan and Lennon to Patti Smith to Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth—gives proper credit to a stylistic revolution that deserves to be recognized instead of scoffed at. Warner’s book Text And Drugs And Rock ’N’ Roll is a great read for those inclined to delve into the period further. [KM]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Boudica: Warrior Queen
Hosts Holly Frey and Tracy V. Wilson delight in this story of Boudica, a legendarily tall, intelligent, and fearsome warrior-queen of England. Her story starts with an affront to her royalty and gender: The Roman Empire denied her right to property upon the death of her husband King Prasutagus. Boudica then led her Iceni tribe to take up rebellion against the far larger Roman army as a kind of divine revenge. Boudica’s hard-won victories in battle have made her one of the most famous figures of tribal Britain. Though there is some question as to whether Boudica was a real person (or whether she was as terrifying as Roman accounts make her out to be), her ability to embody the spirit of the affronted underdog makes her an essential subject for the podcast. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Building Implosions Work
It’s hard not to like an episode of SYSK about explosions, and sure enough hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant make giddy sound effects right out of the gate. Technically implosions are known as controlled demolitions, and the process of tumbling the non-load-bearing walls of a building with precision is essential for the clean-up process. Clark and Bryant dig into the details of which types of explosions will cut a steel support beam in half, the perceived cosmetic appeal of plunger-based detonators, and a typically amusing tangent from Clark about how anyone can see hidden spiders using a common flashlight. Clark also has a personal connection to the city of Detroit, and ties the idea of destroying unoccupied property into the problem of abandoned homes that is featured in this week’s other episode. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Who Owns An Abandoned House?
Urban blight has become a running theme on SYSK, and hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant manage to keep this legalese-leaden installment fun and palatable for listeners who may worry it will be a bit of a bummer. But there is no escaping the unpleasant statistics. As Bryant reveals, 2.3 million homes were foreclosed on nationwide in 2012, which is actually down from 3.9 million in 2011. Bryant uses personal experience from his own neighborhood to bridge into code enforcement and who is responsible for back taxes on a house that is essentially owned by no one but rats. Apparently one can be sued just for mowing a lawn on a home with no visible owner. The episode does end on an uplifting note with a story about a woman from Dayton who fought the system for five years to get her home back. [DT]

This American Life #500: 500!
As This American Life turns 500, Ira Glass talks to the show’s producers about the pieces and stories that have meant the most to them. Covering a huge amount of ground for an hour-long show, the episode is part greatest hits and part hidden gems as Glass and company mention or discuss pieces from 27 of the show’s previous 499 installments, including some that even Glass himself has forgotten. This American Life has been a consistently compelling listen for 17 years because of Glass’ belief in the primacy of narrative and theme; that so many the stories featured on this week’s show retain their power, even removed from their larger narrative context, speaks to why the show will be remembered as an all-time classic. [DF]

Who Charted? #137: Gender Rolls
This week, Kulap Vilaysack make a creative chart choice when she kicks the segment off with the top five ringtones downloaded to cell phones. Howard Kremer, Vilaysack, and up-and-coming comic Jerrod Carmichael have a lot of fun with this chilling look into the American psyche. Plus, it provides yet another opportunity for Kremer to rail against Macklemore and admit that he’s converted into a modern country fan. Plus, Carmichael makes a compelling comparison between modern country music and herpes.  Carmichael must be a new acquaintance because he seems genuinely taken aback by Kremer’s non sequiturs and space cadet demeanor. However, it’s fun to experience Kremer’s zaniness through an uninitiated party. [MS]

You Made It Weird: Live From The Troubadour Again!
“Star-studded” may be an insufferable marketing cliché, but it also happens to be the most accurate description of this week’s impressively high-profile YMIW. With a lineup that includes John Mulaney, Jason Mantzoukas, Sarah Silverman, Kurt Braunohler, Chris Thayer, Rob Huebel, and Anthony Jeselnik, the only real complaint to be made about Pete Holmes’ latest live show is that there may be too many excellent featured performers to fully develop a riff with any one of them. It’s a flurry of funny. If there is a standout among them, it’s probably Huebel or Jeselnik, whose cynicism act as a welcome counterbalance to Holmes’ characteristic enthusiasm. That said, between Mantzoukas’ routine about Holmes as a Nazi, Huebel’s description of his father’s drinking habits, and Mulaney’s take on psychics, this will probably stand as the one to beat for best live podcast of the year. It’s that good. [AB]


THE REST

The Best Show On WFMU
The “Frankie Teardrop Challenge” callers have started taking over the show with a subject that’s lost some steam. However, a Tom Scharpling-produced soundscape featuring a mind-melting mix of Suicide, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and Chuck Woolery is not to be missed. [TC]

The Bugle Bonus Bugle: The Story Of Wills And Kate
After last week’s confounding non-episode, Andy Zaltzman offers an amusing, if inessential, clip show chronicling The Bugle’s coverage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in honor of the forthcoming Royal Baby. [MK]

The Fogelnest Files #46: WAIT, WHUUUT?: Jon Wurster
Wurster is a fine guest, and he and Fogelnest offer a few good yarns about the older days of punk and power pop. But while this episode would be a solid listen for anybody unfamiliar with the podcast, it might feel like a little too much of the same kinds of nostalgia for fans. [AB]

How Was Your Week #124: Brent Weinbach, Gabe Durham: “Dicks for Days”
Listening to Gabe Durham read from his book and Julie Klausner eat candy with Brent Weinbach makes for an episode with fun moments, but it’s not exactly riveting. [DF]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr spends a lot of time trying to make his catchphrase involving “cold lotion” a thing and offers disappointingly little insight on the Trayvon Martin trial outcome, all the while never being all that funny. [CG]

The Moth Cynthia Riggs: The Case Of The Curious Codes
Mystery writer Cynthia Riggs becomes the central character of an actual whodunit when a puzzle from a suitor arrives in the mail. It’s not essential listening, but the payoff is goddamn adorable. [DJ]

Nerdist #382: Jeff Bridges
It’s no secret that iconic actor Jeff “The Dude” Bridges is a laid-back guy, but as far as keeping up his end of a compelling conversation, Bridges might be a little too laid-back. [MS]

Nerdist #383: The Conjuring
Chris Hardwick tries to lead a group of guests from The Conjuring toward interesting topics, but they keep getting lost along the way. [DA]

The Smartest Man In The World: Screams
Despite a Q&A session that closes this live-from-Norway episode, this week’s Proopcast amounts to a monologue that’s lost in translation, but with enjoyable tidbits about local culture, including white-supremacist rock, Led Zeppelin lyrics, international tipping customs, and Norwegian Gay Pride Week. [DXF]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Selman Waksman And The Streptomycin Controversy
This potentially valuable episode on the origin of antibiotics suffers from the hosts rarely looking up from their jargon-laden scripts. [DT]

The Todd Glass Show #110: Chris Fairbanks
Todd Glass prefaces this show by explaining that his mood was affected by flying into a rage at a customer-service rep prior to the recording. His residual intensity unfortunately drowns out the funny but understated Chris Fairbanks. [MS]

Walking The Room #159: Snuffy The Pizza And The Whistle
Dave Anthony is in a funk this week, meaning fewer stories and more riffing with Greg Behrendt. Unfortunately, the two only connect in the last segment on dating and Behrendt’s upcoming book. [SM]

WTF #406: Mike Eagle
Although Marc Maron’s discussion with rapper Mike Eagle is fairly interesting, the conceit of the interview seems to be Old Man Marc Maron Discovers Hip-Hop, which hinders the development of much insight. [CG]

WTF #407: Live From Boston
Interview shows like WTF rely on the intimacy of Marc Maron’s garage to help guests open up, which doesn’t translate well to a live audience setting. Though the atmosphere in Boston is great, the reunion isn’t a required listen. [KM]

Filed Under: Comedy

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