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Podmass: Week of March 22-28

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


“People insist that I’m Jesse Eisenberg.” —Michael Cera, WTF With Marc Maron

“You’d be amazed how under-appreciated drunken handymen are.” —Paul Gilmartin, The Mental Illness Happy Hour

“He used to be a teenage dirtbag.”
“But now, he’s a teenage dirt-man!”—Graham Clark and Dave Shumka, Stop Podcasting Yourself

“Evidently, every time I’m down here, pharaoh is angry.” —Greg Proops, on the weather in Austin, The Smartest Man In The World

“I’m a Magic Johnson in a world full of Greg Kites.” —Tom Scharpling, The Best Show On WFMU


Cashing In With T.J. Miller
In his guest appearances on a number of comedy podcasts in the past few months, T.J. Miller has made several throwaway comments about the impending première of his podcast, and he finally delivers with Cashing In. Comedian Cash Levy is ostensibly the host of the show, with the tongue-in-cheek premise being that he is unable to book any guests besides Miller, so he simply interviews Miller in every episode. The conversation is naturally heavy on riffing and callbacks, with recurring features—“Where Were You?,” What Hurts?,” and the “Triple-Banger Lightning Round,” a series of three quick questions answered quickly—serve as conversation starters. The tone of the show is light and playful, and the rapport between the two is good and improving with every installment.

The first two episodes—released at the end of last week—are certainly enjoyable, but erratic. Each time Levy asks a question, it seems as though the topic resets, and most tangents don’t quite go anywhere. Episode three, “Glucose Titties,” on the other hand, is a step in the right direction: All of the regular features are loosely tied together by an overarching motif of gender, and Levy and Miller have enough time to mine the each topic for humor. It’s the most thematically coherent episode yet, and, consequently, the funniest. [CG]

Growing Your Grub
Years ago, Steve Howard decided to leave his city job, move to the country, and begin growing his own food, eventually prompting him to start a podcast about sharing the tips, tricks, and trials that come with farming. Each Growing Your Grub episode addresses a specific gardening topic, with Howard fielding listener questions and sharing his experiences and extensive research, ensuring that a given issue is tackled thoroughly. Additionally, some episodes feature interviews with other gardeners, authors, and podcasters, who share their own agrarian stories.

While Howard (who sounds a lot like Wilford Brimley) is a small-scale farmer, the show is directed at the home gardener working with a backyard. His other podcasts, Pursuing A Country Life and Born To Farm, serve “preppers” and rural residents who have several acres dedicated to food. Anti-GMO advocates will appreciate Howard's staunch opposition to agribusiness and advice on keeping the entire gardening process organic. However, Howard is not as skilled an interviewer as he is a gardener, and while those conversations tend to be full of awkward pauses, standard episodes find him mentioning many of the same things that his interviewees cover, providing the same amount information in about a fifth of the time.

Episode 70, “Reclaiming A Runaway Garden,” answers a listener’s question about how to save her garden from weeds. What really shines in Howard's explanation is not just the badass advice to use a mini blowtorch, but also the details offered on how mulch blocks weeds underground. When Howard describes why some tactics work over others, he goes in-depth in a way that few gardening podcasts can match. [AJ]


Stick And String Adventures
Stick And String
is a magazine, video tutorial series, and podcast devoted to “primitive and traditional archery, bowhunting, and the art of bow and arrow making,” each curated by dedicated archer Ned Miller. The show features interviews with figures from the archery world sharing their stories about how they got into the sport and their thoughts on current events in the global archery community. As such, it’s really only for dedicated fans, as it goes into technical detail about competitions, hunting tactics, and other esoteric topics. Beginners should find the video tutorials’ “how-to” style more helpful. Episode 21 is an interview with Mary Roberts, founder of female hunter clothing line Trophy Chick Apparel. Roberts discusses her reasons for choosing traditional archery over modern variations, as well as her approach to 3D shooting competitions. Neither topic, however, is ever clearly defined, leaving novices wondering what makes some shooting 3D and other kinds not. [AJ]


The Best Show On WFMU
Tom Scharpling is still going off about Oberlin College, possibly making enemies of an entire generation of liberal-arts students, but he might want to lay off—the host tells guest Matt Walsh that he’s pretty close to being washed up and working the door at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. Kurt Braunohler returns after Scharpling hung up on him last week, and it’s like nothing ever happened—for a while at least. The host asks Braunohler if he was “Shore trash”—that’s a dis in the New York/New Jersey area—which turns into a conversation of New Jersey sub sandwiches, reveals Scharpling’s pretty good President Obama imitation, and ends with Braunohler getting the heave-ho again at the last second for no good reason. The week winds down with the Vance and Gary show, which could really be its own podcast, as it seems nobody can get enough of Scharpling voicing two puppets. [JD]

Comedy Bang Bang #150: Time Bobby: Bobby Moynihan, Paul F. Tompkins
Of his many characters, perhaps none suits Paul F. Tompkins more than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose pomposity and overly formal syntax emanates from the comedian with almost disturbing ease. In other episodes of Comedy Bang Bang, Webber pops up as part of the show’s “open-door policy,” but this time he’s the guest for the entire hour. Tompkins and Aukerman have known each other for a long time, so they have a natural rhythm that’s thoroughly enjoyable, like when they recite the plot to Jesus Christ Superstar that ends with Skynet taking over Judea. Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan plays the episode’s weirdo, a baby-voiced orphan named Fourvel (“like Fievel but one less”) with a predilection for stabbing. It’s the kind of episode where Tompkins sings “Candle In The Wind” as Webber with alternate lyrics mocking Marilyn Monroe for not having seen his musicals. (And that’s a good thing.) [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Pete Holmes, Rob Huebel, Kumail Nanjiani, Matt Mira
It’s nearly impossible to have a bad episode with Kumail Nanjiani and Rob Huebel on the panel. That’s not to say guest Pete Holmes doesn’t pull own weight—his funny, disturbing impression of a baby interpreting porn will probably jeopardize his E*Trade voiceover gig somewhere down the line. Nerdist’s Matt Mira seems to correctly realize that he’s punching above his comedic weight on this panel, so he keeps a low profile—not that the energetic Holmes, Nanjiani, and Huebel give him much chance to do otherwise. This is one of those rare times when the banter in between rounds of The Leonard Maltin Game may actually be more entertaining than the game itself. Extra points go to Nanjiani for actually making his perfunctory plugs funny. [MS]

Hang Up And Listen: The Ask For The Popsicle Edition
Three weeks into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament also brings a third week of coverage on HUAL, and the fatigue is starting to show. Instead of talk of enthralling buzzer-beaters and Cinderella teams, the gang laments the lousy quality of play at the tournament and a Final Four that’s not only predictable, but riddled with mediocrity. The “one and done” rule has something to do with it: Tourney favorite Kentucky, for example, has NBA talent in phenoms like Antonio Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but if John Wall hadn’t bailed after his freshman year, the team would have the dynamic point guard it so conspicuously lacks. The latter segments on this week’s episodes are livelier, with Stefan Fatsis, a Tim Tebow skeptic during Tebow’s intangibles-driven run with the Denver Broncos, turning into Skip Bayless over his trade to the New York Jets, who could find the QB useful in a limited capacity. Then comes a bit on Tiger Woods, who celebrates his first PGA win since 2009 just as his former coach releases a tell-all book called The Big Miss. The funniest anecdote: The coach was too cowed by Woods to ask for a Popsicle. [ST]

How Was Your Week #55: “A Jaw That Could Open A Can Of Tuna Fish”: Mo Rocca, Dave Cullen
It doesn’t take long for Julie Klauser to talk about Mike Daisey, whose fabricated story for This American Life is still a topic of conversation, though the situation is made more awkward for Klauser because she knows Daisey. Although dismayed, she attempts to be fair about it, but it’s not lot before she switches topics again, this time to the less fraught subject of nail art. She and guest Mo Rocca talk celebrities later, mostly ones named Judd and Judge, other celebrities Rocca has met, and bad versions of Annie. More substantial is the fantastic author interview with Columbine writer Dave Cullen. That could look weird on the page—especially in an episode that’s mostly lightweight—but Klausner makes an interview about a great book that came out in 2009 about events that happened in 1999 sound fresh. [JD]

Judge John Hodgman: The Stick Shift Rift
After a monthlong break, the JJH podcast returns all the elements of a great show: a non-hypothetical conflict, respectful and affable guests, and opportunities for Judge Hodgman to render a wise decision while genially putting the complainant and defendant through the wringer. At issue is a ’95 Honda Civic that keeps breaking down when meth addicts in Mesa, Arizona, aren’t tearing out its stereo components or stealing it outright. (In Hodgman’s imagination, everyday life in Mesa is something akin to an episode of Breaking Bad.) Cosmo wants his wife Jen to drive his car, but she’s reluctant to learn how to use a manual transmission and fears that she’ll stall out with their infant son, leading to some fiery wreck. Hodgman’s affection for stick shifts, with their pleasing interplay between man and machine, conflicts with his tendency to side with the woman in all marital disputes. But before he can decide, he forces Cosmo and Jen into a role-playing game that’s as funny as it is completely unnecessary. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #53: Vietnam Vet Bobby T
Paul Gilmartin admits he was a little hesitant to bring on this week’s guest, something he doesn’t often say. His friend Bobby T saw combat in Vietnam, but perhaps even more unsettling is the almost calm, jovial tone in which he describes his childhood memories of his parents trying to kill each other. Gilmartin’s fears about his guest luckily don’t pan out, but it still makes for one of the podcast’s most brutal episodes yet, one that will make listeners grateful for Gilmartin’s compassion and taste in handling the subject matter. [SG]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr has quite a bit of energy this week, which propels him through a wide range of topics, like giving surprisingly inspirational advice to a listener who wants to pursue a career in dance. But his diatribe against alternative comedy and the prominence of nerd culture is easily the most interesting part of the episode. Burr seems unable to tolerate nerd culture’s embracement of awkwardness or its snobbery against regular Joes like himself. He also takes issue with L.A.’s comedy “womb,” which he suggests has allowed some comics to gain notoriety without paying their dues. It’s a one-sided argument painted with broad strokes, and Burr recognizes that, but it’s interesting to hear his perspective—and the forthcoming reaction from the comedians he indirectly targets. [CG]

The Moth: Barbara Wiener: September Light 
A live Moth audience gives Barbara Wiener stark silence in this episode, not simply because Wiener’s story is about being raped many years ago, but because of how she inhabits that moment, recounting small details that seem insignificant but make the greater point all the more crushing. From there on out, it’s a redemption story, but not a simple one—nor does it let the audience off easily. Wiener brings an incredible sense of control to a story nobody’s ever prepared to hear, much less tell. [SG]

Nerdist #185: Tom Papa
Even though he has a TBS pilot in the works, Tom Papa spends most of his time on Nerdist talking about his past, though the episode avoids becoming a mundane recap. Instead, the discussion about Papa’s “clean” approach to stand-up is an insightful look at a style of comedy that is becoming less and less common. Chris Hardwick leads the conversation in interesting directions, eliciting anecdotes about Papa’s sort-of mentor, Jerry Seinfeld, including his methods, personable nature, and archivist tendencies. It paints the most technical picture of Seinfeld since Comedian, and Papa’s perspective as a former tourmate—not to mention his quick wit—prevents the episode from ever losing steam. [DA]

Sklarbro Country #87: Ellie Kemper, Vacationer, James Adomian
Sklarbro Country is the Wide World Of Sports of comedy podcasting, with a little 120 Minutes thrown in for good measure. The Sklar brothers are refreshingly unafraid to look abroad for tales of athletes making asses of themselves, but they’re also willing to go far beyond the American baseball-football-basketball-and-maybe-a-little-hockey-if-we’re-feeling-generous axis in search of juicy fodder. In the latest episode, the Sklars throw down with an impressive string of intentionally obscure curling references, then discuss curling further with Ellie Kemper of The Office and Bridesmaids, who once wrote a curling sketch that, unlike most curling sketches, apparently wasn’t very good. Curling isn’t the only obscure preoccupation the endearingly geeky, sometimes proudly obscure podcast obsesses about: Much talk is also devoted to the impressive cleavage of Little Shop Of Horrors star Ellen Greene, another topic that gets far too little coverage on comedy podcasts. Kemper and mellow musical guest Vacationer lend this engaging podcast a gentle quality until Jesse Ventura (James Adomian) swaggers into the picture with his self-aggrandizing conspiracy theories and, in the podcast’s most inspired moment, “harmonizes” with the greatly amused men of Vacationer. [NR]

Sound Opinions #330: SXSW Music Conference
Most of the media coverage afforded to South By Southwest is self-indulgent and of little value to anyone who wasn’t actually at the festival. Fortunately, this installment of Sound Opinions is an exception. Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis hit the clubs for several days in Austin, and instead of regaling listeners with tales of free drinks and celebrity encounters, they’ve returned and studiously reported on the best young and mostly unknown bands that they discovered. So, really, this episode is as much about new music as it about SXSW, and Kot and DeRogatis have some worthy finds, including punk-pop girl group Bleached and the wild-sounding soul singer Nick Waterhouse. [SH]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #210: Alicia Tobin
Comedian, fan favorite, and holistic nutritionist-in-training Alicia Tobin returns to Stop Podcasting Yourself for a conversational buffet that’s heavy on appetizers and light on entrées. Tobin’s vivid recollection of her mom telling her about the birds and the bees is one of the top cringe-inducing moments of the year. The “Overheard” segment has had better weeks, but the highlight is a call that starts off as a St. Patrick’s Day report and ends as a Drunk Dial. Passing topics include the American Pie franchise, Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” and the quotability factor of Goodfellas vs. the Ocean’s Eleven movies. [DXF]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassFrom Diplomacy To Black Diaries: Roger Casement
Co-host Sarah Dowdey dubs Roger Casement “the Kevin Bacon of our podcast,” and the Irish-born diplomat lives up to the title thanks to his connections to people like Joseph Conrad and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Casement may have inspired much of Heart Of Darkness, though he was apparently what a non-historian might call a “spaz”—for instance, he allowed a swarm of bees bred for biological attack to assail him and have it documented. Eventually charged with establishing a British consulate in the Congo, Casement became a voice for victims of atrocities there and elsewhere, helping eliminate government-sponsored cannibalism and torture in South and Central America. The British government knighted him for his accomplishments, but like any good Irish Republican, he ranted against the crown in anti-British essays. Casement’s accomplishments are so numerous, it’s surprising SYMIHC fit them all into one episode. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Tipping Works
Tipping is really a perfect subject for Stuff You Should Know, with all the debate about when/how much to tip and tipping customs varying by country. The U.S., of course, takes it to neurotic levels: According to a Cornell University study, we’re seeking attention when we tip, so we’re obsessed with getting it right. Clark and Bryant are the kinds of customers who don’t like to be touched by servers, but they may have shot themselves in the foot in their “tips for increasing your tips” segment, where they admit research encourages servers to get friendly with their hands. Less useful is the information about tipping for mixed drinks and dollar beers, but this is an informative—if a little thin—episode overall. [DT]

Uhh Yeah Dude: #316
Sometimes Seth Romatelli gets on such a tear that Uhh Yeah Dude feels less like a conversation and more like a collection of monologues glued together by callbacks and liberal use of the word “fuck.” That’s not a criticism, though, and the fact that Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette produce such wide-ranging, totally engaging rants on the state of pop culture—while remaining doggedly behind-the-curve in all things technological—is damned impressive. As of episode 316, neither owns a cell phone, and Romatelli never really got on the Internet grid in the first place. But maybe you need to be a little disconnected to properly appreciate the absurdities that are Christian broadcaster Harold Camping, the Tenga pocket vagina, and Campbell’s soup in a pouch. [CW]

Walking The Room #96: Bronies And Extreme Toenails
It’s always a good sign on Walking The Room when a borderline-pointless anecdote keeps leading to more and more jokes. This week, Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony get a lot of mileage out of a story of a confrontation between a drunken Englishman and the EMS workers he thinks have pulled him over, despite the fact that he’s on foot. (Brace for jokes about budget cuts and ice cream trucks being used in law enforcement.) The latter half of the episode does almost equally good things with the revelation that there are My Little Pony fetishists in the world, not least because it gives Behrendt more stuff to say in that R-rolling falsetto of his. [SG]

WTF With Marc Maron #264: Molly Shannon
This episode of WTF packs an awful lot of drama, comedy, and tragedy into 70 minutes. In a revelatory interview, former Saturday Night Live cast member and inveterate nice lady Molly Shannon talks honestly and openly about a tumultuous childhood defined by the death of her mother and sibling in a car accident when she was 4 years old and the sometimes-misguided affection of a loving, alcoholic father. Shannon’s relationship with her father and the primordial wound left by her mother’s death form the emotional core of the episode, while its funniest moments come from a killer anecdote about being sexually harassed by Gary Coleman, the star client of her memorably sleazy early agent. Shannon is disarmingly sweet, candid, and generous discussing her rocky road to fame and her time at Saturday Night Live. [NR]

WTF With Marc Maron #265: Michael Cera
Sometimes it’s not very difficult to discern why some child stars grow up to be messes and others inexplicably turn out like normal human beings. Michael Cera comes off as staunchly in the latter camp during his pleasant chat with Marc Maron, due to what sound like supportive, interesting, un-Lohan-like parents. The conversation roams from standard comic-nerd fare (Cera obsessed over Ghostbusters as a youngster and is a big fan of British comedy) to some Arrested Development talk (the Jeffrey Tambor anecdotes are priceless) and ends with a frank discussion about how fame can adversely affect sibling dynamics. One way Cera comes off as extra-likable is the way he recommends that Maron interview some of his favorite comics and writers (including George Saunders, which seems to confirm both intelligence and good taste on Cera’s part). [CZ]

You Made It Weird #35: Larry Miller
At its best, You Made It Weird isn’t just funny or insightful: It’s profound. That’s certainly true of Pete Holmes’ interview with Larry Miller, the prolific and beloved comedian, podcaster, and character actor who comes off as a cross between a genial stand-up professor and a sort of comedy rabbi. The episode takes a while to get going, but whenever Miller discusses the brotherhood of stand-up—a topic that came up a lot during his WTF appearance—or his sort of Zen approach to life, it’s not only compelling but also poignant. Holmes is understandably moved when the Miller discusses the sense of gratitude, appreciation, and acceptance that defines his worldview and philosophy. It’s a veritable Nice-Off as two of the most likeable and big-hearted men in comedy compare philosophies and sensibilities en route to reaching a profound and deep understanding of each other. This podcast improves as it reaches an ending that, in its own way, is just about perfect. [NR]


The Bugle: The Bugle Q&A, Vol.1
Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver take the week off for vacation, dropping a filler episode featuring questions from listeners. The topics are random and the answers are, at best, half-hearted improv, leaving the entire endeavor feeling like the hosts were simply waiting for an appointment and decided to make fun of some fan letters. To live up to its potential, The Bugle requires its hosts’ dedication, and they don’t deliver here. The best part of the episode is that it’s mercifully short. [AJ]

How Did This Get Made? #33: Abduction, Jessica Chaffin
Abduction is the perfect movie for the HDTGM? crew: big stars, a ridiculously messy plot, and a general sense that the film is just a cash-in on the popularity of Taylor “Tyrannosaurus Arms” Lautner. Comedian and co-host of the Ronna And Beverly podcast Jessica Chaffin joins the group to discuss “Jason Bourne for babies,” a film that failed to make an action star of the bland Lautner. Like the commentary for 88 Minutes, the episode spends a little too much time focusing on the minutiae of the story. It’s a high-energy episode that gets a little too hectic, and the chaos outweighs the comedy. [OS]

Nerdist #184: Key & Peele
Having recently been picked up by Comedy Central for a second season of their sketch-comedy show Key & Peele, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele join the Nerdist crew for one of the most natural-sounding conversations in the podcast’s run. By no means boring, it’s a rather nuts-and-bolt deconstruction of the duo’s comedic methods. It’s a fairly mechanical episode, and even though it occasionally flirts with greatness, it never seals the deal. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1016: There Will Be Blood With Tom Arnold
This week’s episode with Tom Arnold is not for the faint of heart, or anyone expecting conventional Never Not Funny. Instead, it plays like an eager 90-minute confessional from a man with plenty of dirty laundry to air. Seemingly going through his chronological check-list of failures and graphic horror stories, Arnold breathlessly details his employment at a meat-processing plant, the residual effects of his drug abuse, failed marriages, public humiliation, hair transplants, complications from a motorcycle accident… and it just goes on. It’s difficult to judge the episode’s humor, as Arnold has no interest in telling jokes (or really even having a conversation); instead, his humor derives how fucking crazy everything is. [SM]

The Smartest Man In The World #151: Legends
A mildly surly Greg Proops alternates approaches during this South By Southwest performance, sometimes doing some Austin-specific audience-baiting and sometimes just playing his usual sparkplug-fogey self, come what may. (“Thank you, I’ll be mentioning a lot of obscure popes as the night goes on.”) It’s not entirely Proops’ fault, but there’s just enough unease in the episode to make it feel a little off. [SG]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Belle Starr: A Bad Rap For The Bandit Queen
Belle Starr, or Myra Maybelle Shirley, was a beautiful outlaw who lived the clichéd lifestyle straight out of one of Hollywood’s more cheesy Westerns. For all the mental images an Old West outlaw inspires, it seems the more historians uncover about Starr, the more respectable she sounds. Yes, there were shootouts, but also quiet church attendance. This episode rarely recounts any moments of action without following it up with a disclaimer that it probably never happened. Fans of the Old West might find this fascinating, but for those who aren’t already invested, it could sound like pretty standard stuff. [DT]

Thrilling Adventure Hour #64: War Of Two Worlds, Part 2 
A collaboration between Thrilling Adventure Hour’s writers and Superego’s improv comics continues with this short episode about a group of astronauts arguing with each other and their ship’s evil HAL 9000-type supercomputer. There’s nothing wrong with it as a random jumble of comedy, but it requires a certain willingness to enjoy scenes that are abrupt and low on context. [SG]

Who Charted? #69: Ronna & Beverly
It’s not that the Jewish mother characters Ronna & Beverly, played by Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo, lack charm. It’s just that Who Charted? isn’t the place for them. Generally, the problem with in-character appearances is that Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack have to take a backseat while the guests do their act. Meanwhile, the audience misses out on the give-and-take between the hosts and the guests that essentially sets Who Charted? apart from the glut of comedy podcasts. [MS]

You Made It Weird #34: Nikki Glaser
Whereas the Greg Proops episode of You Made It Weird likely appealed mostly to big comedy nerds, this episode with comedian Nikki Glaser should appeal to those who want to hear about relationships and sex. At nearly two hours, it also happens to be the longest episode of the show yet, making it particularly tedious/enthralling, depending on the listener. Thankfully things do get pretty weird near the end when Glaser and Holmes talk about their lasting Oedipus complexes, but it’s a slog getting to that point. [CG]