Josh Radnor makes the rounds with hit-and-miss results

Josh Radnor makes the rounds with hit-and-miss results

The best podcasts for the week of March 29 - April 4

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

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“Everyone’s an egg until you decide who you are. True for life, too.”—Traci Rearden (Lauren Lapkus) on the default Twitter avatar, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“It’s so great to hear Will Ferrell up against Lars Von Trier.”—Michael Phillips, Filmspotting

“Raccoons are the teenagers of the animal world. They’ll show up and they’ll fuck with you.”—Alex Fernie, Improv4Humans

“Why would you rob yourself of that great screaming-at-idiots time?” — John Hodgman on strategies for finding a parking spot, Judge John Hodgman

“And then of course I went back and I engineered a protolanguage—a language that Dothraki would have descended from. You gotta do that.”—David J. Peterson on creating a fictional language for Game Of Thrones, Nerdist 

“They never said, ‘Hey, we’re just regular Joes.’ They’re like, ‘You can’t even look at our faces.’ And now I see his face every day.”—Greg Behrendt on Paul Stanley of Kiss, Never Not Funny

“Once we hit any kind of momentum, we play the Carpenters.”—Tig Notaro, Professor Blastoff

“[Justin] Bieber ruined the movie Boys Dont Cry for me.”—Jason Sklar, Sklarbro Country 

“I guess it was an April Fools dream of sorts.”
“Sigh… is that what this is?”—Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant lamenting their attempt to false-start their April Fools Day episode with a prank, Stuff You Should Know

“I once broke up with a girl because she accused me of having an oedipal complex. That’s how much I love my mom.”—Chris Gethard, This American Life

“All that glitters is not gold—particularly that thing over there. That’s maybe a giant insect of some sort. It’s really too dark to tell.”—Cecil, Welcome To Night Vale

“Your intuition is great at keeping you from getting eaten by a tiger.”
”I’ve never been eaten by a tiger.”—Mike McHargue and Pete Holmes, You Made It Weird


NEW (TO US)

Song Exploder
Jesse Thorn’s Maximum Fun podcast network features a wide array of eminently listenable shows, from the flagship Bullseye to Judge John Hodgman and many others. But the latest and most intriguing addition to the network is Song Exploder, which packs a mighty wallop in episodes that are between 10 and 15 minutes long—a welcome economical approach in a landscape full of three-hour behemoths. Hosted obliquely by Hrishikesh Hirway (a.k.a. The One AM Radio), each episode features one artist picking apart one song, breaking it down at the track level, and explaining how each thread came to be and what influenced the song as a whole.

The debut episode features Jimmy Tamborello (a.k.a. Dntel) of The Postal Service talking about “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” examining each of the tracks containing digital blips, drum machine beats, and Jenny Lewis’ backing vocals. Some creators get technically specific, referencing music theory in talking about melodies or supporting parts. But it’s also a chance for artists to share some backstory, such as when Portland duo YACHT breaks down every element of latest single “Plastic Soul.” They recount how they’ve only ever entered a proper recording studio twice, and they didn’t know much about what they were doing even when they did, which yielded some uniquely messy self-engineered samples.

And the show isn’t limited to electronic musicians explicating synthesizer lines and syncopated drum distortion. Though YACHT, Baths, and Daedalus are among the first seven guests, Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf has also been on the show, and the most recent episode features House Of Cards composer Jeff Beal breaking down the memorable main title theme—which points to a wider range of genres down the road. Song Exploder is everything a podcast should be: informative, entertaining, bimonthly, and with episodes short enough to never wear out its welcome. This is mandatory listening for any music fan. [KM]


DROP IN

The Todd Glass Show
The recurring bits and favored personnel may shift at some unmeasurable rate, but after nearly three years and 146 episodes, The Todd Glass Show is still very much the Todd Glass show, an intensely specific product of a singular comedic mind, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that entails. Joyously transcendent moments of silliness between the host and his coterie of guests continue to segue into vexatious repetition of novelty songs and/or grating noises. Profound moments of personal expression continue to be interrupted by bubble-popping in-jokes. Anecdotes continue to be derailed. Improvised sketches continue to get stopped, retooled, and forced back to square one. Glass continues to obsess at length about whatever distraction has burrowed into his obsessive brain that week. A few weeks back, he spent a large chunk of one episode fixated on the fact that comedian Ian Karmel didn’t return his phone call, having even created a “jingle” about the slight which he played on-air no less than 20 times. The very next week, Karmel was on as a guest, and there wasn’t a modicum of anger or animosity between the two. That’s probably a good approximation of what it’s like inside Glass’ head. And that’s why this is still one of the best podcasts currently available. Not in spite of its idiosyncrasies, but because of them. [DD]


THE BEST

Book Fight! #57: Ben Lerner, Leaving The Atocha Station
After several listener- or guest-suggested books, Book Fight! has its first host-chosen book of the year with Ben Lerner’s Leaving The Atocha Station. And for any listeners dropping in to see if this podcast is for them, Tom McAllister and Mike Ingram have provided a rather indicative outing this week. Their discussion of Lerner’s meditation on the performance aspect of experiencing (and creating) art is worthwhile, specifically how the book compares to Geoff Dyer’s Out Of Sheer Rage:Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence and Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? But just in case it seems like these two have drowned in the navel-gazing affair of writers talking about writing that talks about writing, there comes a debate about whether “relatable” is a valid, expressive, adult word or simply the grown-up version of “nice.” To top things off, there’s a dramatized reading of Nick/Jay Great Gatsby slash-fic and the pondering of what sexual lubricant would have been made of in the 1920s. [ABa]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #279: Reverse April Fools: Patton Oswalt, Lauren Lapkus, Will Hines
It’s always interesting when Patton Oswalt drops by Comedy Bang! Bang! and not just because his pop culture quips and distinctly sarcastic delivery add a legitimizing presence to any podcast. Oswalt embodies the role of the straight man so well that host Scott Aukerman could almost take the day off, making for a loose, easygoing atmosphere. The pair instead turn the interview table on Traci Rearden (Lauren Lapkus)—the butt-pierced, speech-impeded high school student whose one-liners are becoming legendary—and they spend much of the episode in an effortless conversation spanning Oswalt’s first joke, the vicious undertones of the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song, and Rearden’s complicated plan for a second April Fools’ Day. It’s all so fluid and hilarious that even when an alien gaseous billow (Will Hines) casually invades an everyman with aspirations of world domination and masturbation (not necessarily in that order), it all seems perfectly normal. [TK]

The Cracked Podcast #28: Insane Conspiracies That Actually Happened
In the wake of the Malaysian plane disappearance, the Cracked writers do a podcast contrasting the mechanisms behind widely held conspiracy theories that are clearly fantasy and the lesser known but substantiated nefarious backroom plots. The episode explores dark eras of American history brought to light via declassified documents, including a Prohibition-era plot to poison bootlegged alcohol, the time harmful chemicals were sprayed over San Francisco and J. Edgar Hoover’s single-minded determination to publicly discredit, disgrace, and slut-shame Martin Luther King Jr. It’s an endlessly fascinating thread of discussion that could easily spawn a sequel or even a continuous series of episodes. [MS]

Freakonomics: How To Make People Quit Smoking
This week’s episode focuses on the battle to bring smoking rates down. There are 45 million adult smokers in the U.S., and nearly half a million people die from cigarette-related diseases each year (worldwide, it’s closer to 6 million). Cigarette use also cuts across socioeconomic lines, as poorer people have a greater tendency to smoke. Compounding this, a large number of smokers have mental health issues and other addictions, all of which can aid and abet poverty. Those hoping to cut smoking rates further should look to Uruguay, which outlawed multiple versions of the same brand (so no Camel Lights, no menthols) and showed graphic imagery of the effects of cigarettes on the packaging, leading to a drastic drop in cigarette use. But, according to a guest, nicotine seems to have beneficial effects on mood and memory, a possible reason for why so many people still consume tobacco. [NC]

Hang Up And Listen: The Kain Mutiny Edition
Pardon the pro-Northwestern bias, but former quarterback Kain Colter’s successful effort to win the right for football players to form a union is a watershed moment in college sports. Sure, there’s a Final Four going on and the semifinalists are somewhat unexpected. But that labor decision, and its ramifications for the future of egregiously exploited labor in college athletics, is far and away the most intriguing and important topic up for discussion this week. That’s especially true in light of the third topic, breaking down the massive contract extensions given to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in Major League Baseball, as the panelists touch briefly on how big-money deals across the major sports differ. [KM]

Harmontown #97: Long Brown Blood
On the verge of Harmontown’s first month-long hiatus, Kumail Nanjiani joins Dan Harmon and Comptroller Jeff Davis early in the show—he’s got the premiere of Silicon Valley to promote! A lively discussion of the “#CancelColbert” story kicks things off on a high note, as the guys discuss racial humor and censorship. The funniest sequence of the night is a delightfully shoddy bit of classical comedy, as Harmon struggles mightily to tell a simple joke about a brothel and a duck. It takes so long for him to figure out what to say that Davis actually narrates the steps toward completion, then succinctly retells the joke in less than 10 seconds. Harmon hasn’t had a break in months—he even jokes that the animated episode of Community wasn’t entirely finished a mere four days before airing—so this is a necessary hiatus, but at least the show heads into the break on a high note. [KM]

Improv4Humans #127: Bug Out Bag: Gil Ozeri, Lauren Lapkus, Johnny Meeks, and Alex Fernie
One of Improv4Humans’ defining qualities is its consistent ability to spin mistaken character choices into wondrously bizarre detours. Though Matt Besser is the only consistent improviser week to week, he seems to relish in transforming half-assed in-jokes into compelling and often hilarious directions for scenes to go. For example, this week begins with a congress of neighborhood animals discussing the best way to mess with a human’s lawn. The premise is solid, but the magic comes from the way everyone rags on each other to properly introduce themselves. The talking animals of the first scene sets a wonderfully absurd tone that carries on throughout the episode. Front to back, this is Improv4Humans at its finest. Of particular note is the penultimate scene: Yosemite Sam’s grandson seeks domestic revenge on a glibly middle-aged Bugs Bunny. Their slick adaptation of classic, cartoonish humor into improv is impressive and absolutely essential. [MK]

Nerdist #502: David J. Peterson
Nerdist gets unapologetically academic in a bonus episode with linguist David J. Peterson. Outside of the academia, Peterson’s biggest claim to fame is creating the Dothraki language for Game Of Thrones. But before getting into the specifics of crafting a fictional vernacular, Peterson plays professor as Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira ask him questions about the evolution of language. The episode is equal parts informative and entertaining, and Peterson seems right at home with show’s hosts whether he’s talking about the growth of Creole languages or discussing the Klingon alphabet. While Peterson has an obvious pop culture connection, it’s actually the educational aspect of this episode that proves most enjoyable. It’s always nice to see Nerdist give a platform to a different kind of nerd. [CS] 

Never Not Funny #1409: Greg Behrendt
An impressive amount of this week’s Never Not Funny is spent on in-depth analysis of an impressive amount of the Kiss universe. The music? Obviously. The makeup, costumes, and stagecraft? Of course. But Paul Stanley’s unsettling omnipresence at his kids’ school and Gene Simmons’ bad talk-show etiquette are also conferred upon, as is the questionable design choices made for the band’s arena football team, the L.A. Kiss. As any fan of the show will surely know, this kind of attention to cock rock minutiae is commonplace for Jimmy Pardo, but it’s a real treat to hear him dealing with a guest, like stand-up comedian and author Greg Behrendt, who can match his obsessiveness, point for point. Non-Kiss-related revelations in this episode include the apparent fact that Sammy Hagar invented indoor sprinkler systems and Oprah Winfrey hangs out like a stand-up. [DD]

Professor Blastoff #149 Filmmaking: Josh Radnor
As How I Met Your Mother takes its victory lap, the choice of Josh Radnor as a guest seems like an out-of-place ratings grab for Professor Blastoff. This episode has also been held over from the tedious batch of episodes recorded in quick succession earlier this year. And yet the hosts are in top form—especially compared to when they discussed the same topic two months ago. Thankfully, Hollywood media circuit vet Radnor brings a richer set of experiences to the table than the Blastoff crew is used to, from his run on the CBS juggernaut to his own flirtation with non-monogamy and how it informed his directorial debut, Happythankyoumoreplease. Plus, listeners are treated to an unusually blunt, uproarious bit of ribbing from Kyle Dunnigan as he plays laugh tracks over his co-hosts’ generic sitcom jokes. [NJ]

Sklarbro Country #193: George Brett Reluctant High Five: Eric Stonestreet, Chris Cox
It’s a captivating ballet of pandering and cluelessness whenever politicians attempt to prove how in-touch they are (usually showing just how out of touch they are) with their constituency’s sports teams. Two recent gaffes include Mitch McConnell’s tone-deaf use of Christian Laettner’s 1992 game-winning shot that clenched the tournament for Duke against Kentucky, and McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes betting against Kentucky in her bracket, and both make for great takes. Modern FamilyEric Stonestreet drops by to talk March Madness, and contrary to his character, he’s one of the more delightful sports bros to chat basketball in a while. Hopefully, Jason and Randy Sklar take Stonestreet up on his offer to stop by again once the Chiefs kick off. [DJ]  

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Crucifixion In The Greco-Roman World
Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey have become nervous when faced with dark topics in their past, but in this episode they deconstruct the idea of ancient crucifixions bravely. The constant requests they receive from listeners for Biblical and Easter-themed topics appears to have helped assure them that their audience is ready to hear a grim topic unfold. Of the many sad details that emerge from Wilson and Frey’s research, of particular note is the tendency of both Greek and Roman governments to reserve this harshest of punishments for slaves, foreigners, and deserters. It puts the more unsettling details, like how to properly break a crucified person’s legs, into sharp relief. The more squeamish listeners need not fear, however, as Wilson and Frey bring their strong sense of empathy to the table. [DT]  

Stuff You Should Know: How 3D Printing Works
Although the episode starts with a rather transparent attempt at an April Fools’ joke, hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant build out an excellent episode on the subject of 3-D printing. More a process of melting and injecting than printing, 3-D printers have the potential to create everything from food to prosthetics. The process is also quite unrefined. Though the machines are becoming incredibly inexpensive, the supplies cost a great deal over time. They also reveal that having hot, melting petroleum products built in your home creates highly toxic fumes and burns massive amounts of electricity. Whether the technology will ever become viable for the average consumer remains to be seen, but those unfamiliar to the concept will want to hear this episode and get caught up on the innovation. [DT]

This American Life #521: Bad Baby
As far as bad kids go, the out-of-control, troubled 8-year-old boy profiled in the first act of this week’s show is about as bad as they come. Using the name “Cheryl,” the boy’s mother has been chronicling her family’s struggles with her son’s mental health on her extraordinary blog, and her interview with Ira Glass about the ways her son’s extremely violent, unpredictable behavior affects her and her family is as harrowing as it is heartbreaking. The powerful opening is undermined a bit by a sudden shift in the episode’s tone; while most of the remaining stories make for entertaining listening, especially one with Chris Gethard, the only one as powerful as the first is a piece about a man reuniting with his foster parents years after he was taken out of their home. [DF]

Welcome To Night Vale #44: Cookies
It’s Girl Scout cookie season in Night Vale! Cecil doesn’t think he’s much of a salesman (he apparently studied Russian in college), but for his niece Janice he’s willing to promote cookies—even the one box that’s actually a “five-by-five wooden crate with air holes cut into the top and ‘Peanut Butter Patties’ scrawled on it in permanent marker.” Updates on Khoshekh the cat and Intern Dana (who has glimpsed her future self while flickering back into Night Vale) are uplifting, but the focus is on how Cecil gets rid of a plethora of cookie boxes. StrexCorp swoops in to support the scouts, but they ominously want to keep tabs on all the Night Vale Girl Scouts who have more eclectic skills like “helicopter piloting” or “radiation immunity.” It’s another delightfully strange mystery story that continues to expand the universe, as Cecil attempts to subvert the intentions of an evil corporation and help the girls escape before they wind up in StrexCorp’s clutches. [KM]

WTF #485: Lewis Black
To get the background on Lewis Black’s conversation with Marc Maron, first refer to a wonderful interview on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. Instead of talking about The Daily Show or Black’s stand-up career, this goes back to Black’s first forays into theater as a playwright—first at UNC-Chapel Hill and then at the Yale School Of Drama. Since Maron originally intended to become a playwright as well, this episode turns out to have very little to do with their respective careers and styles, instead morphing into an extended discussion about roads not taken, changing dreams, and figuring out how creative abilities apply to other mediums. Neither of these comedians dredge up these origins very often, but talking about it together produced an unexpected hour-plus chat that doesn’t cover the same ground as the other chats Maron has had with prominent stand-ups. [KM]

You Made It Weird #201 “Science Mike” McHargue
This is definitely one of the more metaphysically squishy episodes we’re likely to get from the show. The conversation between Pete Holmes and “Science Mike” McHargue takes what would normally be the final 15 theologically minded minutes of a normal episode and stretches them out into the installment’s full two-hour length. This is great if you’re into that sort of thing, but a potential slog otherwise. McHargue—a science-minded progressive Christian deacon Holmes met through his guru buddy Rob Bell—is a remarkably affable and impressively knowledgable guy, with a genuinely interesting life story that took him from Christian fundamentalism, through guilt-ridden atheism, and into the comfortable, though ill-defined, middle ground in which he’s spent the past few years. It’s just when he veers closer to preaching or apologetics that the discussion stands in danger of tedium. To the right ears, though, this could be one of You Made It Weird’s best. [DD]


THE REST

The Bugle #265: Cup ‘Em And Cough
While John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman’s discussion of the IPCC’s report on global warming is definitely entertaining, they don’t really hit their stride until the last few minutes while discussing the discovery of Napoleon’s tiny pecker. [ABe]

Doug Loves Movies: Ben Schwartz, Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Daly, and Daniel Van Kirk
Usually, the Doug Loves Movies panels comprised of comedians playing characters work out well, but this one lacks focus and direction, especially since The Leonard Maltin Game is missing. [MS]

Filmspotting #484: Nymphomaniac / Captain America: Winter Soldier / Top 5 Sex-Obsessed Characters
Perhaps they were trying a bit too hard to course-correct after dissecting the extravagant lasciviousness of Lars von Trier’s two-part erotic epic Nymphomaniac, or perhaps energy is flagging due to the continued absence of regular host Adam Kempenaar, but Michael Phillips and Josh Larsen’s lists of favorite sex-obsessed characters come off a little more perfunctory than prurient. [DD]

The Fogelnest Files #84: The Drunk Projectionist: Marc Edward Heuck
Jake Fogelnest jokes several times throughout his discussion with Marc Edward Heuck (a film archivist, historian, and projectionist known for being the film geek on Beat The Geeks) that podcasting is the only medium that would allow for a discussion about the differences between prints of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he’s right: This discussion is so specific it’s destined to interest only the most hardcore of fans. [ABe]

How Was Your Week #161 Merrill Markoe “Things That Demonstrate Physics”
There’s something to be said for Julie Klausner’s uncharacteristically topical draw—television writer Merrill Markoe, whose historic credits with David Letterman’s Late Night include the conception of Stupid Pet Tricks—and well-told monologue about a Charles Manson tour she took before she left L.A., but the result is disappointingly, decidedly average. [NJ]

Judge John Hodgman 154: Visitation Rights
In this dry episode, Judge John Hodgman rules on travel arrangements from an international bromance: Ross contends Kevin (a German author of note) should visit his “lovely river town on the Hudson” instead of the un-dynamic duo always convening in the big city. Docket-clearing cases cover Winnie The Pooh-pedantry and parking strategy. [DXF]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #164: Natasha L.
Natasha L. reveals some interesting details about reading her late mother’s diary, but other aspects of her story feel incomplete. [TC]

The Moth: Marie Walsh: A Tale Of Two Lives
One of the early victims of the War On Drugs was Marie Walsh, a bystander to a crime turned federal example turned prison escapee. It’s an incredible story, but instead of highlighting a vignette, Walsh condenses the whole thing, and this shorter version doesn’t do it as much justice. [DJ] 

Nerdist #499: Eric Stonestreet
If there’s a Nerdist drinking game, drinking every time Chris Hardwick mentions he used to date an Australian woman or mentions Jacinda Barrett by name is definitely one of the rules. [MS]

Nerdist #500: Adam Carolla #4
For its 500th episode, Nerdist brings in Adam Carolla to talk about an unjust lawsuit brought against him by patent trolls looking to scam money from podcasters. It’s a good cause, but it unfortunately doesn’t translate to interesting listening. [CS]

Nerdist #501: Todd Barry
This chat with comedian Todd Barry is both too stand-up centric and too low key to appeal to anyone but Barry fans. [CS]

99 Percent Invisible #108: Barcodes
Producer Katie Mingle talks to George J. Laurer, creator of the Universal Product Code. While the explanation of how the barcode actually works—Five billion are scanned every day!—it’s something better served by an explanatory video than a podcast. [ME]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Rose Bertin: The First Fashion Designer
A heaping dose of 18th-century upper-class gossip makes this already dense episode rather hard to follow or invest in. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Income Taxes Work
Funny, Dorito-based tangents cannot save this episode from the drudgery (and easily self-researched details) of its source material. [DT]

Who Charted? #174: Losing Our Chartginity
Emily V. Gordon is a perfectly likable and capable co-host, but the show is lacking the balance Kulap Vilaysack’s upbeat enthusiasm brings to Howard Kremer’s delightful weirdness. [MS]

WTF #484: Josh Radnor
How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor comes off as immensely earnest and nice throughout his conversation with Marc Maron, but there’s not much substance to it, and at 100 minutes it feels rather bloated. [CG]

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