Matt Walsh chills with Who Charted? and Freakonomics plays the name game

Matt Walsh chills with Who Charted? and Freakonomics plays the name game

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I was a dick. Surprised?” —Marc Maron on his first interactions with Dean Delray, WTF

“That town loves its Bob Seger. Sweet Jesus. You make a Bob Seger joke in Michigan, you may has well just punch people in the face. Walk around the room and start punching people. That’s how they react.” —Jimmy Pardo, Never Not Funny

“How did this break bad?”
“Maybe the nonstop shitting on everything her life is about?” —Jimmy Pardo and Matt Belknap wonder why a phone call got awkward, Never Not Funny

“I ate one of the me-apples from the ego tree back in my soul. It was delicious.” —Marc Evan Jackson as hero Sparks Nevada, The Thrilling Adventure Hour

NEW (TO US)

Jason Sims Puts You In Your Place
Regular listeners of The Best Show On WFMU will recognize Jason Sims as “Jason from Huntsville,” whose regular calls about life in Alabama are frequent high points of the show. On Jason Sims Puts You In Your Place, he examines the way that people identify with places, talking to creative types about where they’ve lived and how locations have influenced their work. The mild-mannered Sims admits to not having visited many of the places his guests describe, which only underscores his genuine interest in them. Whether he’s getting Tom Scharpling’s thoughts on having a career in show business outside of New York or Los Angeles or listening to Chris Gethard’s stories about his childhood in West Orange, New Jersey, Sims is always engaged and enthusiastic. He often finds common ground with his guests, like when he and cartoonist Melissa Mendes discuss how playing in the woods as children taught them to tell stories. These small, everyday moments turn out to be foundational, and they not only add a level of charm and relatability, but they also make the podcast a pleasure to hear. [DF]


DROPPING IN

Rock Solid
As a spin-off of Jimmy Pardo’s music-loving comedy podcast, Never Not Funny, comedy-loving music podcast Rock Solid has utilized its forebear’s name, studio, and producer, but by all accounts has yet to touch its phone book. Since the show’s debut in 2011, co-hosts Pat Francis and Gary Lucy have welcomed only a handful of guests onto the show—the most famous being journeyman singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw—preferring instead to craft and discuss Inventory-style playlists. That is, until last Thursday’s episode with Melissa Etheridge, their first with a household name.

Francis can sometimes be loose to the point of flailing on Never Not Funny, but presented with a high-profile artist to interview, he’s all business following some initial bouts of fanboy giddiness. Given that a lesbian folk-pop icon more or less runs counter to the established tastes of the rock-oriented hosts, it’s a bit surprising and even more endearing that Francis and Lucy hold such adoration for Etheridge, which only helps as they engage the unfamiliar. (If there’s a characteristic that defines Rock Solid and excuses any comedic missteps or differing tastes, it’s unabashed positivity.) The interview portion is more of a career retrospective, as Francis conducts a focused, well-researched dialogue, interspersing song clips into a discussion that bridges Etheridge’s early career struggles, the late-’90s Lilith Fair breakout, and all the behind-the-scenes shoptalk he can muster. (Especially great are the backstories of her friendships with Brad Pitt and Bruce Springsteen.) Etheridge’s replies often outshine the comedian hosts and validate her status as an elder stateswoman, while still marking her as a passionate fan. Ultimately, it’s that passion that wins out, turning a divisive podcast guest into a veritable journalist, and a fledgling bar singer into an award-winning star. [SM]


BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
The consistency of Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster’s character-based calls is astounding. The pair’s shared sense of humor, timing, and ability to roll with the other’s improvisation regularly provide an episode’s high point, including this week’s excellent 50-minute call with Wurster playing college handball coach Orenthal Harrups. It’s an exchange with the kind of odd twists and in-joke asides that Scharpling and Wurster have honed over more than a decade exploring the strange, depraved fictional town of Newbridge, New Jersey. The rest of the episode is a mixed bag, highlighted by a fun call examining the real-life weird world of “Jelloman” Paul Vile, brother to musician Kurt Vile and traveling Jell-O shot salesman. The host and gelatin-based booze peddler tentatively plan an on-air Best Show party for later this year, an idea with potentially wonderful and disastrous implications. [TC]

The Flop House #123: That’s My Boy
The Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg raunchfest That’s My Boy took a severe licking from critics upon its release, and the breakdown by the Flop House hosts explains why. Their analysis is evenhanded without pulling any punches, and they include roughly a million silly jokes about people’s names along the way. Overall, the episode—including the mailbag segment, and, yes, in spite of several references to foul-mouthed grannies—is a bit subpar for the Original Peaches, one of the slightly weaker episodes among their very strong recent output, yet it’s still pretty hilarious. [CG]

Fogelnest Files #30: Blog It Up: Gabe Delahaye
This week’s episode tackles that most vexing of contemporary issues: Is it pronounced “hent-AY” or “hent-EYE”? Indeed, Fogelnest’s latest delves more deeply than usual into the realm of such Internet grotesquery, including subtextually racist beatboxing, anti-Semitic Elmo, and the cruel exploitation of a woman with schizophrenia. Videogum senior editor Gabe Delahaye is a welcome guest after last week’s messy SXSW show, as the blasé cynic proves well equipped to riff tastefully on the overwhelming tastelessness showcased this time around. All in all, it manages to be both the tightest and the most depressing hour Fogelnest has released in weeks. In addition to being consistently entertaining, the podcast also offers a surprisingly fascinating discussion about the ethics of online spectatorship that would be worth a listen on its own. [AB]

Freakonomics: How Much Does Your Name Matter?
In Freakonomics the book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner argued that a person’s name has no bearing on his or her future economic success. Almost 10 years later, the two re-evaluate the effect of a name on a person’s life. The podcast discusses how likely a mother is to name her child something uncommon based on her economic status and education, the distinctive names that appear across America’s political spectrum, as well as the work of Harvard’s Latanya Sweeney. Sweeney evaluated ads on Google by searching for both typically black and white names and examining the custom Google ads created in response. The ads for “black” names were 25 percent more likely to suggest the names searched had arrest records. Levitt argues that although this may suggest that having a “black” name actually hurts one’s economic future, there are too many other factors that can counteract a biased Google search. [NC]

Hang Up And Listen: The Peg You In The Head With Basketballs Edition
The “Afterball” segments on Hang Up And Listen are often the most entertaining part of the show, because all three hosts are inclined to chase down unexpected bits of history and trivia or little-told stories. This week’s episode has some great talk on the firing of abusive Rutgers coach Mike Rice, an interview with marathon legend Bill Rodgers, and a sharp exchange over the PR folly of Baylor women’s basketball star Brittney Griner possibly entering the NBA draft. But there are all kinds of goodies in the “Afterball” segments, including Mike Pesca’s unearthing of helpful taunting information about the Wolverine (“Skuuuuunk bear! Skuuuuunk bear!”), Stefan Fatsis on American journeyman basketball player Brent Petway’s success (and crowd-pleasing flair) in Greece, and Josh Levin on the stats-juking practice of players not heaving low-percentage buzzer-beaters from half-court and beyond.  [ST]

Improv4Humans #75: The Dark Side Of The Moon: Adam Pally, Rob Huebel, Jon Gabrus
After a few bum weeks, Improv4Human gets back into the swing of it with a roaring episode that was recorded live. Between scenes, the banter between guests Adam Pally (Happy Endings) and Jon Gabrus (Guy Code) is ace, but Rob Huebel delivers belly-laugh-worthy jabs more than a few times. While the first half’s scenes are funny, they fail to escalate anywhere noteworthy. But as soon as a viewer calls in with a bizarre story about a funeral-home booth at a gay-pride parade, the show begins to soar. Without getting spoiler-y, the resulting scene somehow becomes about a bro-tastic Buzz Aldrin meeting a frat-boy alien that’s equally down to party on the moon, and sports a hell of a twist. Each ridiculous scene that follows manages to be better than the last, and makes for essential listening. [MK]

Judge John Hodgman: To The Victor Goes The Spoiled
Back in March of last year, Judge Hodgman invited food expert Alton Brown on for a memorable ruling on sanitary home-canning practices, but in this hilarious episode, Brown presides over far more disgusting matters. Natalie brings the case against her husband Hugo, who so abhors the idea of wasting food that he’s willing to, say, eat around the mold growing on the cheese Danish that’s been sitting in his car for a week. He also uses dog shit to “fertilize” the mango and avocado trees in their backyard and has no qualms about licking his (and other) plates clean at a restaurant. Brown immediately identifies Hugo as a “sociopath” in his prosecutorial grilling of him, but Hugo is good-natured enough to take his licks without making it seem like he’s being bullied. [ST]

The JV Club #56: Emily Gordon
Emily Gordon begins her appearance on The JV Club as a fabricator of hot dog origin stories, and leaves with a Mash-bestowed Frank Lloyd Wright apartment in Narnia and the power to make people shit themselves with a tone she emits from her body. That’s part of the magic of this podcast: By the end of most episodes, both the host and the guest are in an adolescent fantasy mode that garners great laughs while offering insight into their characters. Co-host of The Indoor Kids podcast with her husband Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon is an expert podcast guest, immediately establishing a rapport with Janet Varney that lends a fantastic energy to their conversation. And what a broad conversation it is. From escapist television (including an extended chat about A.V. Club favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race) to loneliness and identity issues, the topics are relevant to listeners of all ages, and give Gordon the opportunity to show off her therapist background. It’s a conversation that segues seamlessly from big laughs to quieter, more personal moments—a smooth journey that is so very much not like the teenage experience. [OS]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #108: Greg Fitzsimmons
With little fanfare, Paul Gilmartin has turned the traditional entertainer interview on its ear by asking successful public people to disclose their darkest private maladies. The unique approach results in conversations that frequently humanize guests and reveal a shared vulnerability among even the most cocksure entertainers, like the 108th episode’s guest, Greg Fitzsimmons. During an absorbing 80-minute conversation, the comedian opens up about his stunningly complicated relationship with his late father, coming to terms with his body, and being a totally different person offstage. Gilmartin’s relaxed approach to the discussion brings out the best in Fitzsimmons, a natural storyteller who’s particularly adept at articulating the intensity of his emotions from various stages in life. When Gilmartin polls listeners later this year for their top 10 episodes of 2013, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario that won’t include this top-notch installment. [TC]

The Moth: Peter Aguero: Me And Her And It
Peter Aguero manages to sound angry and tender all at once in recounting his struggle to care for his epileptic wife. Even after he recalls bitching out his own mother, Aguero still manages to be a sympathetic figure, because he makes his exasperation palpable, admitting to both his compassion and his endless frustration. And in all of this, he finds time to include some bizarrely funny details as well. [SG]

Nerdist #342: Stand Up Cluster 2013
Those who follow Nerdist closely know that the annual Stand Up Cluster walks the line between enjoyable and arduous, usually more the former. Its most recent iteration, recorded live at Chris Hardwick’s NerdMelt stand-up showcase, is no different, as comics blast through their sets and mix in a good deal of crowd work. Hardwick makes a great host, and the comics he’s chosen—Ron Funches, Beth Stelling, A.V. Club contributor Dan Telfer, and a few other notables—make the episode a who’s-who of up-and-coming comics. It’s lengthy, but easily digested in chunks, and the diversity of voices makes it enjoyable. [DA]

Nerdist #343: Divine Fits
At an hour and 20 minutes, this episode of Nerdist somehow feels more concise than its length would suggest. Perhaps it’s the lack of an intro from Chris Hardwick, or the informal vibe brought on by South By Southwest, where the episode was recorded. But whatever the reason, when Hardwick sits down with the core members of Divine Fits, it all seems to click. The episode covers well-worn ground about the band’s history, but it finds ways to update it, offer new perspectives, and make it enticing. It also doesn’t hurt that having three different guests allows for a diversity of voices, each one bringing something unique to the table. That said, the first 20 minutes suggest that the episode is going to stall before it even starts, but it proves to be worth sifting—or skipping—through, because once Hardwick finds the direction in which he wants to take the episode, he never looks back. [DA]

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Sklarbro Country #141: You Make Your Bed, You Thigh In It: Jason Ritter, James Adomian
Jason Ritter has proven himself worthy of the legacy of his father, John Ritter, and the Sklars fawn over his performance on Parenthood, but he’s even more notable for his stellar voice work alongside Kristen Schaal on Gravity Falls. The Sklars focus a bit too much on Ritter’s nascent sports fandom growing up in a golden age of professional-team success in Los Angeles, but once they get him talking about his acting career and some of his father’s underappreciated work, they get into a rhythm that carries through the end of the episode. [KM]

Sklarbro Country Sklarbro County #46: Kyle Kinane, Dan Van Kirk
This episode is the perfect advertisement for the laid-back, loosely structured atmosphere of the Sklars’ bonus episodes. The best moment features standout guest Kyle Kinane gasping for breath while laughing as Randy, Jason, and Dan Van Kirk adopt Chicago accents during a lengthy riff. When even the unplanned, extended tangents yield nonstop laughter, these shorter, police-blotter-based episodes are better than the flagship podcast. That Kinane can be this funny in short bursts while still giving the impression he has room to improve is very impressive. [KM]

Sound Opinions #384: Emeli Sandé
British singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé has written for a diverse array of artists, from Tinie Tempah and Leona Lewis to Susan Boyle; but she had an unusual path to a music career, completing a neuroscience degree before moving to London to pursue songwriting. In her interview with Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, they cover her performance at the 2012 London Olympics, performing John Lennon’s iconic “Imagine,” and how she made the transition from neuroscientist to songwriter to performer. Kot’s segment on Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho And Lefty” that closes out the episode is also surprisingly affecting. [KM]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Origin Of Cheeses
The 9,000-year history of cheese is rather difficult to pack into a 40-minute episode, but hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey do their best to cram in the scientific and culinary highlights. Both hosts are cheese aficionados, and there’s an energy to the discussion from the jump. The episode hits some bumps when the hosts attempt to nail down the ancient origin story of cheese, which consists of a disorienting series of educated guesses. Why would someone milk an animal for the first time, the hosts wonder, let alone put the milk through a process that turned it into curds and whey? But historical details regularly pop up that keep the story of cheese fresh, such as the reveal that no adult human was able to digest lactose until the approximate time of its invention. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Grief Works
Though hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant claim this episode focuses on grief in the Western world, they begin the show with heavy grief stories about elephants, apes, and household pets. The episode maintains a tone of empathy that makes the scientific portion warmer to the ear, with Clark and Bryant resisting some of science’s colder observations (such as the supposed five stages of grief) throughout, though they have done their research. The dark subject manner doesn’t hinder the episode’s momentum, and Clark notes that there’s no set way that grief works, making this as much about philosophy as any of the usual science the podcast tends to focus on. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: What’s The Deal With Duckbill Platypuses?
Though platypuses are already renowned for their unusual existence, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant find plenty of surprises in the notoriously bizarre mammal. Both hosts were previously unaware that the animals are on the relatively small side, and because China had a habit of simulating fake animals through creative taxidermy, specimens delivered to Europe were believed to be fakes until the early 1800s. A scientist was finally able to dissect one, only to learn of strange things like the poisonous spurs in their heels. For some reason, platypuses have bird DNA mixed into their mammal DNA, and they have 10 times the gender chromosomes as humans. Even those familiar with the animal will likely learn something from this entertaining list of animal traits, which gives the episode an entertaining novelty feel. [DT]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #112: Sparks Nevada, Marshal On Mars, “Support Your Local Marshal” 
While the Sparks Nevada storyline may be getting long and difficult for some Thrilling Adventure Hour listeners, at least it’s also getting a whole lot weirder as it goes. Again, the hero’s Martian companion, Croach the Tracker, has returned from the dead, and leads Sparks in an assassination plot that’s meant to save the world. The show’s writers display their cleverness (and endurance) in the episode’s lines about taking a journey into Sparks Nevada’s soul. [SG]

Walking The Room #145: Bunny Incident And The Merman
For the more observant, Greg Behrendt’s descent into a frothy, yelping madness on Walking The Room was probably easy to trace, but it’s entirely excusable to have chalked it up to him trying to get a reaction out of Dave Anthony. This week’s two main stories offer a stark reminder of the show long before “The Incident,” when low-key ideas—Behrendt’s attempt to bring about Easter joy goes horribly awry; Anthony discovers a merman—brought into the closet would have room to breathe and grow into solid, set-worthy material, a time before the inevitable self-references and non-sequitur vulgarity set in. That’s all still there, but the story itself takes the lead, marked by a sense of patience and awareness of when it’s time to pile on the jokes about blowjob fish and blood-stained eggs. The fresh start Behrendt promised seemingly applies to WTR itself; less-cautious fans should consider recommending this straightforward episode to the uninitiated. [SM]

Who Charted? #123: Thunder Head: Matt Walsh
This episode starts out strong with Howard Kremer and UCB founding member Matt Walsh trading stories about the various ways they’ve been swindled out of money buying fake drugs and basketball tickets. Walsh’s demeanor is very laid-back, and he seems more concerned with being thoughtful than with dropping punchlines. This works in his favor as he theorizes why music will always be cooler than comedy and lays out the rules for his fantasy league concerning the longevity of Hollywood couples. Walsh also weathers Kremer’s admissions to never having seen his show Veep with an admirable grace and dignity. [MS]

WTF #375: Jason Stuart
Nothing shows off Marc Maron’s innate and still surprising skills as an interviewer more than his ability to take guests with a strange agenda and nudge them into a more interesting discussion. Maron doesn’t get accused of being one of the cool kids very often, but openly gay comedian and character actor Jason Stuart frequently labels Maron as such throughout their conversation. But Maron wisely steers the conversation to Stuart’s early days as a closeted comedian, then turns to asking about Stuart’s transition to performing as an openly gay comedian. For Maron’s ability to lead a conversation to where it will be most interesting, this episode is worth a listen. [KM]

WTF #376: Dean Delray
Marc Maron’s interactions with Dean Delray didn’t get off to an auspicious start: At the top of the interview, Delray reads the brusque email in which Maron initially blew him off, but the rookie stand-up doesn’t hold a grudge. In fact, he’s remarkably affable. How good a comic he is doesn’t come across in his interview, but his stories about his life as a music junkie and affiliate of The Rolling Stones, Jakob Dylan, and other rock royalty are delightful. Delray has the smoker’s voice and the prolixity of a blowhard, but he’s charming as can be. [CZ]

You Made It Weird #140: Lennon Parham
Leave it to Pete Holmes to make a pregnant guest feel comfortable, or at least amusingly uncomfortable. Early into his conversation with Lennon Parham, the two end up riffing about the use of vacuums in the birthing process and the consumption of kale. And of course, Holmes throws around some playful variations on the word “pregnant.” Once again, the episode proves that a good dash of loose humor up front helps set up YMIW for its more serious and in-depth discussions of life and comedy. [SG]


REST

Comedy Bang! Bang! #212: Comedy Bleep Bleep: Brendon Walsh, James Adomian, Neil Campbell
“Comedy Bleep Bleep” straddles the line between Best and Rest: Brendon Walsh’s new “insult comic” persona, B$Dubbz, is funny, as is Neil Campbell’s monologue. While James Adomian earns some laughs as Gordon Ramsey, the character loses steam after a while, settling into a Mad Libs of obscenity by the end (like the gobbledygook dish names Merrill Shindler creates). Say what you will, but Adomian always goes all-in with his characters. [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Matt Mira, Brad Williams and Joe Parsons
Despite the high-ish stakes of this championship Leonard Maltin Game bout and Matt Mira’s ceaseless snarky interjections, this is an oddly dull outing for DLM. [GK]

How Was Your Week #109: “Canal Street”: Marc Spitz, Nicole J. Georges
A compelling interview with Nicole Georges about her recent memoir, Calling Dr. Laura, is followed by a chat with Marc Spitz that never lives up to its potential. [DF]

Mohr Stories #147: Jen Kirkman
Jay Mohr’s chat with comedian-actor-author Jen Kirkman isn’t as funny as her Drunk History appearance, but the episode would make a solid edition of The JV Club: After she recounts a doomed marriage, the final 20 minutes of the episode focus on her young life growing up surrounded by rich kids who pushed her too far. [DXF]

Mohr Stories #148: Willie Barcena
Willie Barcena and Jay Mohr are old friends, so they have an easy rapport over a scattershot conversation that covers comedy, acting, raising tough kids, and Barcena head-butting a comedy emcee onstage. [DXF]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr has that anger that usually produces comedy within him, but he’s so unfocused this week that it’s mostly squandered. [CG]

My Brother, My Brother And Me #147: The Legend Of Corn Cob Boy
The episode skews more toward real, earnest advice than goofs, and the advice is often so specific as to be useless for the average listener. [CG]

Never Not Funny #1213: Mapping It Out With Chris Fairbanks
Episode #1213 is another in a series of genial, ambling conversations with a lesser-known comedian. It has some very funny moments (the bug that flies into Jimmy’s face, a phone conversation with a fan), but it’s not required listening this week. [KR]

Professor Blastoff #99: Pregnancy (w/ Michelle Biloon)
There are plenty of reasons for this episode to be celebratory: It’s one before the century mark, the guest’s a brand-new mother, and Aaron Burrell is absent. (Sorry, Aaron.) And it is, but the hosts can’t quite capture that mood beyond saying words in a silly way, leaving the informative aspect of the topic lacking. [SM]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Story Of “Happy Birthday To You”
Though the complex history of the “Happy Birthday” song has interesting tidbits, the hosts fail to turn it into something exciting. [DT]

The Todd Glass Show #97: John Roberts and Tom Martin
Lately, it seems that Todd Glass could use a little more structure in his show, as the most recent episode meanders for a good 40 minutes before guest John Roberts even shows up. [MS]

Uhh Yeah Dude #366
Jonathan Larroquette’s end-of-show story about clueless paparazzi rescues an otherwise ho-hum episode. [CW]

Uhh Yeah Dude #367
Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli dip into some depressing topics (including the “real” Woodstock in ’94) in this episode’s strong first half before lingering too long on issues of justice and injustice in its second. [CW]

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