Kumail Nanjiani rules the guest circuit again, and Best Show challenges A Prairie Home Companion

Kumail Nanjiani rules the guest circuit again, and Best Show challenges A Prairie Home Companion

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QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“By the way, we should all feel lucky that we hit the lottery on not being attracted to kids. That could’ve been something that happened to us.” —Kumail Nanjiani, discussing the morality of pedophilia, Harmontown

“A phrase that you economists use a lot that nobody else does.” —Stephen Dubner, to Steven Levitt, on the concept of “willingness to pay”

“You’re like a low-energy Robin Williams.” —Kumail Nanjiani’s spot-on analysis of Randy Kagan, Doug Loves Movies

“Do you know using the word ‘ostentatious’ is itself ostentatious?” —The  John Hodgman, John Judge Hodgman

“I did a prank when I was a teenager. I called this guy in the phone book; his name was George Harrison. I call him and I go, ‘Is this George Harrison?’ He just goes, ‘Please don’t do this.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I hung up.” —Tom Scharpling on a prank call gone awry, The Best Show On WFMU

“Well first off, they’re dead, so let’s not worry about helping them.” —The MBMBAM brothers on what advice to give someone who ate Rice-A-Roni from 2004

“They weren’t necessarily using the scientific method to approach questions of medicine.” —Tracy V. Wilson reflecting on the process of exhuming suspected vampire corpses in the 19th century, Stuff You Missed in History Class

“There was this South African diplomat… he was doing bad stuff?” —Chuck Bryant attempting to describe the plot of Lethal Weapon 2, Stuff You Should Know

“If I said to you, ‘Name an artistic person missing one of the five senses,’ who is gonna beat Stevie Wonder?” —Howard Kremer, Who Charted?

“It’s important to remember that Mark David Chapman really set a lot of trends: such as the trend of celebrities having bodyguards.” —Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week

NEW TO US

America Won't Shut Up!
The nation is abuzz with non sequiturs in Jason Flowers’ and Patrick O’Brien’s weekly roundup of fictionalized fads, which features investigative segments on purportedly hot topics like thinking out loud, Home Alone, and the 1992 Ross Perot presidential campaign. Using shouted-out oblique phrases—like suggestions in improv shows—the UCB-NY-trained duo builds an hour with ad-libbed banter, Onion-style headlines (full disclosure: O’Brien is a contributor), sketches, and interviews with a rotating panel of expert characters played by other podcast hosts and comedy scenesters. Bits that get the most mileage are surprisingly often based on the flimsiest premises: When America’s youths become infatuated with riding in-line skates to school, for instance, a bus driver played by Diana Kolsky bemoans the diminishing caliber and hipness of kids left to transport (“I’m getting a lot more headgear”). In an episode about needing coffee, Noah Forman works up a great set about a man who will die without caffeine. Translating late-night sketch comedy to a crowdless podcast highlights the best and worst of the writing, and Flowers and O’Brien’s off-kilter, freewheeling styles seem like they would benefit from playing off of an audience’s barometer. That absence—as well as the strange unwritten rule that episodes should be at least 60 minutes—might account for the enormous disparity in quality between episodes. The highs are worth a listen, though, and tinkering with some new segments could help America Won’t Shut Up! close that gap. [DJ]


OUTLIER 

Dustin Calls His Ex-Girlfriends
On the surface, Dustin Calls His Ex-Girlfriends sounds intriguing—albeit derivative of High Fidelity—but a show with the potential to be more genuine and intimately revelatory than the vast majority of DIY podcasts. But Columbus-based comedian Dustin Meadows isn’t actually calling any of his ex-girlfriends. He’s “calling” a bunch of his local improv friends acting the parts of fictional exes who range from eccentric to psychotic. Meadows makes it perfectly clear that each 10- to 20-minute episode is staged by kicking things off with a low-key intro, then it’s right to the sound of a ringing phone or a rambling voicemail message. In recent episodes, “Lydia” (Lindsey Martin) is desperately searching for some of her cat’s missing hats, which inevitably leads to a fight about her faked pregnancy. In another, Dustin calls “Chloe” (Mitra Jouhari) to retrieve his Replacements records and ends up discussing whether or not ukuleles have human personas. While the premise isn’t bad, the improv can be uneven, and there are a lot of forced sighs filling what would otherwise be unscripted awkward silences. Dustin often plays the self-loathing straight man, but the situations are a little too realistic to be laugh-out-loud funny. Whatever happened to just texting? [TK]


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
A couple years ago, Tom Scharpling regularly challenged Garrison Keillor to step aside and let him take over the storytelling throne at NPR. While Scharpling’s wonderful Lake Wobegon send-up, Tiny Village, doesn’t return here, he does spend almost the entire episode on a fun travelogue from New Jersey to Memphis for Gonerfest. The extra time with few calls (an attempt to avoid Breaking Bad finale spoilers) gives Scharpling time to stretch out the tales and hit a nice rhythm as he talks about gas stations, hotel ducks, and the garage-punk festival. Luckily, the road trip didn’t prevent another first-rate sound collage featuring Paul Stanley shrieking the praises of booze and weed. It’s unconventional enough that the host half-apologizes at the end, but there’s no apology necessary for those who enjoy hearing Scharpling spin a yarn. Watch your back, Keillor. [TC]

The Bugle #248: Anarchy In The USA
Spreading a team out across three different continents would be a blow to any podcast other than The Bugle. This week (and the weeks ahead) finds Andy Zaltzman in Mumbai, India, but he and John Oliver manage to produce of the most focused issues of The Bugle in a while. The two zip through a host of political topics with the transitory smoothness of a Mr. Show episode. It’s astounding how well this week’s segments work together, especially between Oliver’s scathing takedown of the government’s shutdown and the following bits on Italy and India’s national political ineptitudes. The energy dials down a bit toward the end when a half-mumbling, half-muffled Indian comedian drops by to talk cricket and political corruption, but this is a largely hilarious episode. [MK]

Freakonomics How To Think About Money, Choose Your Hometown, And Buy An Electric Toothbrush
It’s another edition of FREAK-quently asked questions at Freakonomics, where Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt answer queries from listeners and hazard their best guesses. From how we spend cash versus paying with credit cards, to how you should choose what city to live in, the hosts jump around a litany of factoids. There’s not enough time for any of the subjects to be e in depth, but the palpable bromance between Dubner and Levitt is fun (and funny) enough to make even the slimmest of topics fun to hear. Plus, the episode reveals more personal information about the hosts than usual, fleshing out their particular perspectives. [NC]

Harmontown #74: Morality
The beauty and tragedy of Harmontown is that the conversation often veers wildly into an extended discussion that was never intended, no matter how close to the kernel of a topic that started the conversation. Sometimes that can mean a giant waste of time in the middle of an episode, but this week, it means a hilarious and fascinating discussion of pornography, pedophilia, and consent. Kumail Nanjiani continues to be the reliable standout when he turns up, offering easily memorable lines—before the panel devolves into a tense shouting match as it pushes the conversation to the outer reaches of ethical boundaries. D&D is always a fun closing segment, but when it’s preceded by such a wide-ranging and well-reasoned discussion that shines light on dark corners, Harmontown is at its best. [KM]

How Was Your Week #135: “Walking Ballads”: Tom Ruprecht
Veteran late-night writer Tom Ruprecht stops by this week to talk about his new fake oral history of J.D. Salinger (brilliantly titled This Would Drive Him Crazy). Ruprecht spent 12 years writing for The Late Show With David Letterman, so it comes as no surprise that nearly all of his jokes hit the mark. Things get even better when he and Julie Klausner go off-topic; a long chunk on Eric Clapton and The Beatles is particularly strong, as Ruprecht’s silliness and Klausner’s fondness for celebrity mesh together well. It’s been a few weeks since Klausner has had a guest from the comedy world, and she made a great choice in featuring Ruprecht for the return. [DF]

Improv4Humans #101: Coma Counting: Tim Meadows, Betsy Sodaro, Mary Holland, Drew Tarver
After last week’s triumphant live episode, Matt Besser and company have good reason to bask in what Besser calls righteous glory, and not just for calling out a bigot in the audience. Improv4Humans has been on a hot streak, which continues on “Coma Counting.” For this episode, Besser handpicked two improvisers from the L.A. scene, and they work wonderfully alongside Tim Meadows and Betsy Sodaro. Sodaro in particular is at the top of her game, best of all as a disgusting hobo set loose upon a hapless Apple store. From the very top, this is an excellent entry in the I4H canon, and it carries that goodwill through to the end. Hopefully Besser can keep this improv-fire burning bright for many more episodes to come. [MK]

Judge John Hodgman Lingua Fracas
Mo’ learning, pho problems: Ty insists on pronouncing foreign words as spoken in their homeland—or as close as his American mouth can come. Doug has a pretentious and showy way of declaring his old friend’s custom “pretentious and show-off-y.” Puns ensue. Neither seems properly grateful for the miracle that he has a friend to argue with. After a correct ruling, Hodgman clears the docket with a second case, ruling on whether it’s justifiable for two education professionals to miss two workdays to mount a weekday road trip for a concert (in this case, They Might Be Giants). [DXF]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr is seldom funnier than when he’s frustrated, so his spilling his breakfast all over his drum kit bodes well for this week’s episode. Indeed, he then tells a story about digestion issues that’s funny and silly without being overly gross, his self-deprecating anecdote about texting while driving is at least amusing, and even the sports talk is brief and interesting. On top of all that, Burr’s delightful girlfriend, Nia, makes a surprise appearance for the letters segment, and rightfully chews out some unsavory or otherwise rude listeners, making for the best episode of the show in recent memory. [CG]

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My Brother, My Brother And Me #170: Land Before Time But After Pizza
With the exception of a Breaking Bad-themed intro, which, while charming, quickly gets predictable, this week’s show is unusually tight. Whereas it sometimes takes the brothers a few test tangents before they really get their engines going, they hit their stride early on, and the hour goes by with nary a missed beat. In addition to launching a nauseating takedown of Little Caesars’ pizza that serves as an ample well for great jokes throughout the episode, the tripartite host also finds the opportunity for some surprisingly real and ultimately sobering commentary on the death of regionalism in America. (Really!) Add in a discussion about when dry goods go bad and an early Halloween costume brainstorming session, and you have MBMBAM at its best. There may be more grounded material stuck in among the whimsical than usual, but it’s definitely for the best. [AB]

Nerdist #415: Tenacious D Returns
Tenacious D’s return to Nerdist is more hangout session than interview, which produces a delightful, if slightly unfocused, episode. Jack Black and Kyle Gass seem particularly comfortable on their return visit to the podcast, and the conversation flows easily from Woody Allen to Game Of Thrones, the School Of Rock reunion, and the movie games the duo likes to play on the tour bus. Tenacious D’s musical performance is undoubtedly the highlight of the episode. After a rendition of “The Ballad Of Hollywood Jack And The Rage Kage,” Chris Hardwick joins and displays some surprisingly impressive pipes on an “’80s music jam” that includes REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” [CS]

Never Not Funny #1312: Folding In With Kumail Nanjiani
Kumail Nanjiani is a sure thing in the podcasting world, so it comes as no surprise that his appearance on Never Not Funny is amusing but also sneakily insightful. He discusses growing up in a strict religious household and learning about pop culture through Mad, which meant he read the magazine’s Robocrap parody long before he saw Robocop. Nanjiani fits in well with Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap, making for one of the more enjoyable podcasts of the week. [KR]

Professor Blastoff #124: Big Questions: Kurt Metzger, Amy Schumer, Michael Andersson
From the opening chants for Punk, Kyle Dunnigan makes it clear that his solo episode will overcome the hatch’s emptiness in ways that his co-hosts’ couldn’t. It helps that the topic initially allows room to stretch as it sets out to tackle “big questions.” This later turns out to be nothing more than shorthand for the existence of God. Meanwhile, Dunnigan is quick to remind listeners that Professor Blastoff is a science podcast, and that below the surface contradiction nabs him some brief, but funny interaction with co-workers Kurt Metzger and Amy Schumer. It’s when the episode introduces Dunnigan’s childhood friend Michael Andersson and the audience is treated to their poignant reminiscences that any big questions start to find answers. Andersson is eloquent and forthcoming about the challenges he faced growing up gay, spiritual, and bipolar—aided by Dunnigan empathetically peppering in his own recollections. [NJ]

Sklarbro Country Sklarbro County #71: Gar Ryness
With baseball playoffs in full swing (pun certainly intended), fans who listen to County for the wacky news commentary rather than the sports coverage will be bored during a few stretches of this week’s episode. The Sklars, Dan Van Kirk and guest Gar Ryness (a.k.a Batting Stance Guy) discuss the current state of affairs as well as some favorite MLB memories. That said, the team makes a clear and conscious effort to balance it out so as to not alienate their un-sporting listeners. The story about the Northampton clown in particular manages to be hilarious and insanely creepy, and, along with a tale of a man who had sex with a car, switches up the scenery by taking the discussion from the American backwater to its British counterpart. [AB]

Sound Opinions #409: Savages
It’s difficult to tell now if Sound Opinions simply loves Savages and the band’s debut album Silence Yourself, or if Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot are vehemently advocating for credit in helping the all-female quartet achieve success Stateside. It’s a mix of tribute and smug self-congratulation for good taste in a live show from Chicago’s Lincoln Hall earlier this year. But Savages prove to be fiercely compelling interview guests, and provide a few roaring live cuts of standouts from the band’s debut album. Toss in a discussion of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s rebuttal to winning the Polaris Prize, and it’s a must-listen episode despite the minor annoyance of radio hosts patting themselves on the back for getting one right. [KM]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: New England Vampire Panic
As popular culture teeters on the verge of abandoning the sexy-vampire trend, hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey segue into their Halloween season with an episode covering the unsettlingly real cases of mistaken vampirism in recent New England history. Listeners who have not read up on their vampire folklore might think that vampire legend is nothing more than campfire stories about a bump in the night. However, as recently as 100 years ago, the residents of Jewett City, Connecticut, and Exeter, Rhode Island, were exhuming corpses of suspected vampires, burning them, and asking their relatives to consume the ashes. Although the stories resemble witch hunts, they take place remarkably more recently. The ghoulish details of the stories make Wilson and Frey’s job especially easy, and this episode is a creepy good time. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: What’s The Deal With Diplomatic Immunity?
SYSK hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant have a natural ability to make politics entertaining, and by amusingly butchering Joss Ackland and Danny Glover’s infamous dialogue from Lethal Weapon 2, they springboard deftly into the topic of diplomacy. Historically, diplomats have been offered special protections, and Clark and Bryant’s research of Genghis Khan is especially well presented. But the modern legality is no less interesting, as apparently there are loopholes that prevent diplomats from being held accountable from financial debts and automobile hit-and-runs. The hosts also tie the episode to the recent event at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, making it especially relevant. [DT]

Who Charted? #148: Young Randolph Mantooth: Chris Smith
This week, Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack welcome comic actor Chris Smith, who could easily be the vocal doppelganger of Bullseye’s Jesse Thorn. Smith is all too happy to dissect the entries on the music chart, and he has some thoughtful contributions why artists like 50 Cent feel the need to grant themselves some rather dubious nicknames. He also fields some speculation from Kremer on whether Smith’s role in Paranormal Activity 3 and the general horror-movie pantheon helped create an atmosphere for virgin dudes to get laid. This first-time guest is charming as hell, and although he’s clearly on the show to promote his new CBS comedy, We Are Men, here’s hoping he decides to drop back in every now and again. [MS]

WTF #429: Joey Diaz
Joey Diaz shows up now and again in film and television to play the stereotypically imposing New Jersey wise guy—he popped up in Childrens Hospital’s gangster episode last year—and he’s the rare guest bursting at the seams with stories that drown out Marc Maron’s ability to ask questions. Diaz shares tales of growing up in Jersey and getting introduced to drugs at a very early age, suffering loss as a teenager that sent him spiraling into more drug problems, his increasing criminal activity that landed him in jail during his 20s, and how that led to his start in comedy. Maron’s drug stories may have Sam Kinison, but Diaz has seen some real shit, all of which he seems to remember fondly and humorously, which is deeply unsettling, yet oddly captivating. [KM]

You Made It Weird Dan St. Germain
This week’s interview with Dan St. Germain is notable primarily because it’s one more in a growing series of discussions wherein Pete Holmes’ recent fame upgrade complicates and enriches the relationship between him and his guest. (For the irregular listener who hasn’t heard his weekly plug, Holmes’ new TBS show premieres in just a few weeks.) While he acknowledges that it’s more of a therapeutic hypothetical than it is an actual possibility, St. Germain’s preoccupation with fantasizing his post-standup future takes up a large chunk of the episode. At its worst, the topic morphs into a game of mutual reassurance, but at its best, it brings to mind the recent and fantastic Chris Gethard episode about alternatives to the pursuit of comedy. Often one of the unspoken purposes of YMIW is to encourage and offer advice to fledgling standups in the audience, but episodes like this one offer a more sober (literally) take on the rigors of the industry. [AB]


THE REST

Comedy Bang! Bang! #246: Butthole Baby: Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael
Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael are funny and charming as themselves, but their characters don’t work as well in comparison. The discussion of Wilson’s bladder issues is funnier than any of the “butthole baby” talk. [KR]

Doug Loves Movies Jimmy Pardo, Kumail Nanjiani, Randy Kagan
This episode starts out rough, with an uncomfortable rant from Doug Benson about all the empty seats in the UCB Theatre (which he later apologized for in a mini episode), and gets rougher with the appearance of Randy Kagan, who is either way too high or naturally annoying. Kumail Nanjiani and Jimmy Pardo do their best to salvage this sinking ship, but it’s a lost cause. [GK]

The Fogelnest Files #57: Public Access Nonsense: Eric André
Jake Fogelnest’s talk with Eric André is worth it for those who want to hear more about the host’s beginnings in public access, but overall, the strength of the video playlist outweighs that of the actual discussion this time around. [AB]

Hang Up And Listen The High-Hanging Fruit Edition
Cuba’s decision to begin relaxing strict laws preventing professional athletes—baseball players and boxers mostly—from reaping the benefits of their profession abroad is the best topic this week, buried after some rote discussion of the MLB playoffs and the read option’s future in the NFL. [KM]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #135: Christina Jasberg
There is an upbeat conclusion to this conversation about life with debilitating mental illness, but most of the story is likely too heavy for those who aren’t already MIHH devotees. [TC]

The Moth Nathan Englander: Unhooked
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank author Nathan Englander recounts a college trip to “a part of the world that swallows Jews” in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. In typical Moth fashion, it’s a mostly rewarding mix of pathos of humor, but ultimately feels nonessential. [DJ]    

Nerdist #414: Mike Massimino
Nerdist’s resident NASA enthusiast and self-described “fatstronaut” Matt Mira is in space heaven during this interview with astronaut Mike Massimino. The interview isn’t all that compelling for anyone who isn’t a space travel fan, but it is the rare occasion where the show deals with something legitimately nerdy. [MS]

Nerdist #416: Adam Scott
Adam Scott fits in effortlessly with hosts Chris Hardwick and Matt Mira, but the trio’s conversation never settles on anything substantial. It’s an enjoyable but inconsequential episode that will particularly appeal to Scott fans or those wanting to reminisce about MTV in the ’90s. [CS]

Sklarbro Country #167: Win Before The Snap: Dave Koechner, Jim Bianco, James Adomian
Dave Koechner’s expressions of gratitude for his family and the perks that come with working in the entertainment industry are charming, but they exhaust a lot of the running time and laughs. However, James Adomian’s final-segment bit as Jesse Ventura giving his take on the government shutdown is worth a listen. [DJ]

The Smartest Man In The World: Pralines
This week, an agitated Greg Proops waxes ecstatic about the South’s non-Confederate cultural legacy, praising colorful eateries, literary icons, and a cross-dressing crossing guard. The host reads from two outside sources to provide the episode’s overt political commentary: a Vice article about Libya and Marge Piercy’s pro-life poem “The Right To Life.” [DXF]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Grove Park Inn
Engineering accomplishments and a fairly standard ghost story keep this from sounding as remarkable as the hosts would like. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Can NASA Predict Natural Disasters?
Though there must be something interesting about NASA’s meteorological research, a dearth of conversational tangents keep this episode from meeting the SYSK standard. [DT]

The Todd Glass Show #121: Tom Martin
The reason this episode seems particularly meandering and unfocused becomes clear the moment Todd Glass admits that he’s stoned. [MS]

WTF #428: Curt Kirkwood
Meat Puppets frontman Curt Kirkwood seems so apathetic throughout most of his conversation with Marc Maron that even his story of surviving a violent plane crash feels boring. [CG]

Filed Under: Comedy

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