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RuPaul nails it on WTF, and a podcasting documentary is on the horizon

The best podcasts for the week of May 17–23

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


“Tattoos are supposed to last forever. They’re emblems of permanence that underscore our impermanence, because they last only as long as our bodies do.”—Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting

“It has the least subtle environmental message since Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster.”—Elliott Kalan on Easy Rider: The Ride Back, The Flop House

“It’s called Skype-fisting, that’s right. The one getting fisted puts their butthole to the camera, and the person doing the fisting puts their fist to the camera, and then you have a Skype-fist.”—Megan Neuringer on kids these days, The Fogelnest Files

“[Bestiality] runs rampant in the NHL. It only garners a one or two game suspension from the league, so it’s really not a big deal.”—Greg Wyshynski on hockey’s lenient approach to player discipline, Hang Up And Listen

“We’re gonna make this a hundred times the Harmontown episode. Which means we have to plan a hundred times less than we ever do.”—Dan Harmon on recording the show’s 100th episode, Harmontown

“[Berries] have the consistency of a slug and they explode in your mouth. No thank you.”—Jessica St. Clair, Improv4Humans

“I was led to believe that LOL meant Lots Of Love, and you should sign every text that you sent when people were in a great deal of trouble and difficulty emotionally—you should sign it LOL.”—Adam Gopnik, The Moth 

“You guys don’t watch gay films.”
“I watched Top Gun.”—Tig Notaro and Jimmy Pardo, Never Not Funny

“I have a strange, tangible fear of being at home in my house. I’m all locked in, everything’s good, and just a team of assassins come out of a helicopter… and they just take me away.”—Marc Maron on his irrational fears, WTF

“The higher beings that were inspecting my brain, I saw them. And they were these giant cartoon pandas. I don’t know what that means.”—Deanna Russo on her Ayahuasca experience, You Made It Weird


Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary  

Last week The A.V. Club office was fortunate enough to host Graham Elwood and his outstanding camera crew—Andrew Gerety, Daniel Michelinie, Jesse Cricketts, Keith Blomberg, and Kevin Calderon—as part of the upcoming documentary Ear Buds, which Elwood is spearheading with his Comedy Film Nerds co-host Chris Mancini. The documentary was funded this February by 1,606 backers on Kickstarter and will explore “the surprising personal connection between podcasters and fans.” Currently Elwood and Mancini are touring the country—before heading to Australia and Japan—interviewing podcasting luminaries such as Doug Benson, Marc Maron, Aisha Tyler, Jimmy Pardo, the creative minds behind Welcome To Night Vale (Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink), a certain Kyle Ryan, two A.V. Club employees (We’ll keep you guessing.), and many, many more. They’re even stopping along the way to interview fans (Scheduling can be found on Facebook and Twitter.), so join in on the fun and follow along. After all, if you’re reading Podmass, this is right up your alley. [BJ]


The Cracked Podcast #34: The 11 Nations Of America?
The episode begins with editor-in-chief Jack O’Brien and a few of the writers, including frequent panelist Jason Pargin discussing the profound culture shock they experience when traveling between and moving to different regions of the country. After sharing their own anecdotal experiences, the writers decide to investigate what causes the different distinct cultures within America. This marks the first time that the Cracked crew has brought in an outside expert to comment on the week’s topic. O’Brien and Kristi Harrison talk to Colin Woodard, who in addition to writing the book that the forthcoming John Malkovich NBC pirate show is based, authored American Nations: A History Of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures Of North America. In American Nations, Woodard explains his theory of how America can be boiled down to 11 distinct nations based on what colonial power settled the region first. [MS]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #287: Stinky Chips: Shane Torres, Lauren Lapkus
Though this is likely most listeners first exposure to Portland-based stand-up Shane Torres, it’s actually not his first Comedy Bang! Bang! experience. He was previously a guest on the LIVE from Portland episode, which seemed to make him a minor celebrity around town, or at least in the coffee shop where he works. After relaying the strange sensation of receiving praise from a new fan before ringing them up for their blueberry muffin, Scott Aukerman reassures him that everybody has to have a day job. His just happens to be working on a television show, he explains. Later, the two are joined by Mizz Chips (played by another quickly rising star, Lauren Lapkus), a substitute teacher who will tolerate having her amazing body objectified only slightly less than she will tolerate it not being objectified. Fans who choose not to listen because they don’t recognize the guests names are missing out. [DD]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #288 Back To Barz, Back To Reality: The Sklar Brothers, Horatio Sanz
It’s been four long years since Randy and Jason Sklar last appeared on Comedy Bang! Bang! but the brothers come out in perfect form for this week’s bonus episode. Scott Aukerman keeps pace with their signature fast-paced jibber-jabber in the first act, which most memorably gets derailed as the three (plus Engineer Cody) discuss Chester Cheeto (or is it Cheetah?), the Cheetos mascot. Horatio Sanz almost mucks up all the fun as Barzelona Marriott, a gossip blogger, who Sanz portrays characteristically half-assed. Where any other guest might have let Marriott’s weaknesses ruin the show, the Sklars seem to enjoy themselves as they point out Marriott’s inconsistencies. The four wrap up the bizarre episode with a game of Would You Rather fairly unlike any WYR played before. [MK]

Filmspotting #491: Godzilla / Top 5 Movie Tattoos (That We’d Get) / The Double
This week’s topic for Josh Larsen and Adam Kempenaar’s top 5 lists is not only one of the strangest we’ve seen from them, but one of the most intriguing. And more than other lists, it may force you to consider your own. If you had to have an cinematically inspired tattoo inked into your skin for the rest of your life, what would you choose? It’s a more complicated question than it seems at first. It’s not asking for your favorite film. It’s asking for your favorite image. Maybe not even one from a film, strictly speaking, but one implied by a film. What the two hosts of the come up with says a lot more about them as people than any list of favorite directors ever could. While Larsen’s picks hint at his deep spiritual beliefs, Kempenaar’s reveal a person who clearly considers his own mortality, often and enthusiastically. [DD]

The Flop House #152: Easy Rider: The Ride Back
There’s a reason that between 1969 and 2013 nobody thought to make a sequel to Easy Rider, and that’s because it’s a stupid idea. The release of Easy Rider: The Ride Back last year went largely unnoticed by the general public, and rightfully so—an utterly amateur, baffling, and quintessentially unessential sequel to a movie that ends as decisively as Titanic, made by a lawyer who should’ve stuck to lawyering, it is a disaster of the highest order. It’s also the bread and butter of The Flop House hosts, whose treatment of the film is strong as always, culminating in a centerpiece of riffing absurdity that ranks among their best. The Original Peaches typically aim their focus on higher budgeted, more professionally produced cinematic detritus, but once in a while an Easy Rider: The Ride Back comes along and demands their attention, and we’re all luckier for it. [CG]

The Fogelnest Files #90: Funkiest Lords Prayer: Megan Neuringer
Megan Neuringer seems to be a naturally funny person. If she’s putting effort in her sardonic banter or wry observations, it sure doesn’t show in this conversation with Jake Fogelnest, in which the two of them hop easily from topic to topic, like a couple of old friends having coffee. That the two Upright Citizens Brigade alum were apparently only casual acquaintances back in New York City is a bit of a surprise; they sure seem like they have a long history. And, while it’s a lot of fun to hear Fogelnest indulge his nerdier obsessions with various filmmakers and oddballs, it’s great to once in a while get one of these installments with a fellow comedian who isn’t there to promote anything, rather there just there to talk. Any listeners who aren’t familiar with Neuringer at the beginning of this episode will almost certainly have her on their radar by the end of it. Good times. [DD]

Freakonomics: Think Like A Child
Named after a chapter from the latest Freakonomics book, Think Like A Freak: The Authors Of Freakonomics Offer To Retrain Your Brain, Think Like A Child explains the benefits of trying to act more like a kid. Kids think small, tackling little issues while sometimes ignoring the bigger ones. Thinking on a small scale can provide a new perspective on macro issues, and since Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are always looking for new perspectives, they wholeheartedly endorse doing so. Likewise, both hosts are big proponents of “fun.” Kids do things they find fun, and are happy to do them for long periods of time and be productive at them. Levitt argues that if one could make a job “fun,” one can greatly increase its productivity. Furthermore, children’s meandering attention is actually a benefit, since it keeps them more aware of their surroundings than objective-oriented adults. Kids aren’t goal-oriented in the way adults are, which can lead to innovation from the old saw of  “thinking outside the box.” [NC]

Hang Up And ListenThe Way Too Many Animals Edition: Jeremy Schapp, Greg Wyshynski

One week after a delightfully giddy segment about minimalist running, Hang Up And Listen finds equal success in this installment with a much more sobering topic. ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap joins HUAL for a discussion about the reprehensible conditions faced by migrant workers charged with preparing Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It’s an illuminating conversation that focuses on the moral outrage taking place in service of the tournament hosted by FIFA, the notoriously corrupt and unscrupulous monolith led by Sepp Blatter. A conversation with Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski about hockey’s handshake line brings some levity to the proceedings as the panelists and guest nimbly debate the practice. A panel discussion about a potential Triple Crown for California Chrome misses the mark, but Stefan Fatsis provides a lovely tribute to Canadian tenor Roger Doucet, whose rousing renditions of “O Canada” could move even the most xenophobic American sports fan. [TC]

Harmontown #100: Boner-Hurt Kansas
Early on in this “Centepisodial Spectacular,” while musing on how best to celebrate one hundred episodes of complete non-preparation and stream-of-consciousness performance, Dan Harmon explains that any attempt to give the show shape would be “anathema” to its spirit. So, as is the norm, this episode is all over the place, often seeming like the jangled mechanisms of Harmon’s mind. The topics of conversation jump from Erin McGathy’s smoking David Bowie fetish to Harmon’s need to please total strangers more than his friends (because theirs are the opinions that really matter) to speculation over what a “pussy dart” might be. Adam Goldberg provides the centennial episode’s one congratulatory element, when he hosts a Harmontown quiz between Harmon and a fan who just finished binging on the full back catalogue. However, his questions, culled from the previous 99 installments, are esoteric to the point of being a tad tedious for non super-fans. [DD]

Improv4Humans #135: Ute Of The Butte: Jason Mantzoukas, Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham
If there ever was a guest list that got Improv4Humans, it’s this week’s. Jason Mantzoukas, Jessica St. Clair, and Lennon Parham—three comedy-podcast all-stars who go way back—tear through a hilarious hour with chemistry oozing out of every sentence. This week’s episode is an early contender for best of the year thanks to how often surprisingly dynamic characters occupy funny concepts. In the first scene, a young boy (Matt Besser) takes playing as the Viet Cong altogether too far, but the scene pops when a delivery boy’s trauma shifts into the forefront. While impressive character flourishes are abound this week, the between scene banter is on point, especially Mantzoukas’ regular interruptions of St. Clair and Parham’s stories. Few would have the right to complain if Besser ever decided to do away with his rotating guest list, and decided instead to permanently do the show with Mantzoukas, St. Clair, and Parham. [MK]

The Moth: Live At Town Hall, New York
Anecdotes about other people’s children are seldom as interesting as storytellers seem to think. The New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik is a lovable exception to the trend, and he peppers in a few great vignettes as he hosts this live recording at Town Hall in New York. Even by The Moth standards, the theme this week is really vague: You are Here: Stories Of Lefts And Rights. Regardless, it inspires a diverse, well-curated collection from some returning favorites. Witty fashion expert and VH1 talking head Simon Doonan relives his time on the short list for Stanley Tucci’s role in The Devil Wears Prada, only to learn he and his industry colleagues were just research for the straight actor. Kemp Powers learns that his son’s soft disposition is an asset, not a weakness outside the harder streets Powers grew up on, and in the best story, Lynn Ferguson experiences a real life miracle even skeptics could root for. [DJ] 

Nerdist #522: Wendy McLendon-Covey
A trap the Nerdist podcast often falls in is a discussion of the mechanics of improv or the L.A. comedy scene that isn’t interesting to anyone that isn’t involved. Fortunately, Chris Hardwick manages to break out of that rut with Reno 911!’s  Wendi McLendon-Covey, who manages to talk about things like rising through the ranks at The Groundlings and the pitfalls of having a bad improv partner in a way that is engaging to someone on the outside of that world. McLendon-Covey also has a very straightforward, no-bullshit sensibility which is refreshing. She went on the podcast to promote her work in the new Adam Sandler movie Blended, but thankfully, discussion of it is very minimal and doesn’t happen until the end. [MS]

Never Not Funny #1416: Tig Notaro
When it comes to Tig Notaro, the question is not “Was she a good guest?” but “How good of a guest was she?” And she was rather good on this week’s episode of Never Not Funny. Keep in mind, though, that she’s one of the scant few podcast guests who make the rounds and need to be judged by a different scale. So, “rather good,” would be “great” for most other people. But, this time around you probably won’t hurt yourself laughing or need to call your mother immediately after listening. Some memorable moments include Matt Belknap’s Michael Winslow-esque impersonation of Herbie The Love Bug, Jimmy Pardo and Notaro’s moving a cappella rendition of Cat Stevens’ “Father And Son,” and the whole group attempt to place Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” in both space and time. These are 90 minutes that you’ll want to last 180.  [DD]

99 Percent Invisible #115: Cow Tunnels
It’s always fascinating to think about the relatively young history of America and particularly about its cities. For instance, as recently as 60 years ago, cows were still being brought to New York City for slaughter, something that necessitated the use of “cow tunnels” below the West Side Highway. Those tunnels were rumored for years, but 99 Percent Invisible reports on how bloggers and historians actually tracked those byways down, proving that not only was our nation’s biggest metropolis fairly agrarian semi-recently, but that it’s a relatively serious pain in the ass to track down hard facts about a city’s ancient or not-so-ancient infrastructure, no matter how many anecdotal and adorable stories about cows using tunnels might exist. [ME]

RadiolabThe Skull
As a precursor to an upcoming episode, this week’s short The Skull might very well outperform its bigger brother. The intriguing tale covers a nearly 100-year-old debate over human origins by focusing on the Taung Boy, a fossilized skull of a human-like child found in Africa in the mid-1920s. The Radiolab crew meticulously recounts its discovery and the prejudiced academic system that refused to believe we could have originated outside of Europe or Asia. The story takes a great turn when a professor explains his academically controversial theory of how the child died. To the chagrin of “death by big cat” theorists, he suggests that an eagle snatched up the child. The details of our species’ vast history are humbling, but this episode soars due to its subtle attention given to modern society’s interpretation of our past. If the upcoming Radiolab is half as good as The Skull, it’ll be a winner for sure. [MK]

Sklarbro Country #200: The Jim Rome Special
Given the fact that the Sklar Brothers are the designated guest hosts for Jim Rome’s nationally syndicated sports talk radio show, it’s about time that Randy and Jason Sklar welcome him into Sklarbro Country. Naturally, the Sklars make Rome’s appearance a special occasion by having him helm the show’s landmark 200th episode. The show jumps right into the Rome interview, making his career the focal point of the episode. Rome discusses how he became a premier sports radio talk show host and what went into achieving that. Rome also tells a great story of avoiding what could have been an uncomfortable confrontation with Charles Barkley. In addition to Rome, contributors Jason Nash, Dan Van Kirk, and James Adomian call on their various characters to leave congratulatory voicemails for the 200th show. [MS]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Orphan Trains
Though orphan trains might sound like a fairly simple premise (trains containing orphans), hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey reveal a dark chapter of American history involving child labor. And in many cases, that child labor was slavery. Though many of the children being brought to new families were indeed orphans, they weren’t all true orphans. Lots were simply homeless children rounded up and sold. With no real foster care system or adoption laws in place between 1854 and 1929 and a burgeoning industrial age taking hold of the country, these street children were horribly exploited. Wilson and Frey have collected an intense and tragic story here- the process was originally intended to take care of a massive homeless child problem. But The Children’s Aid Society created by Charles Brace quickly became deluged with demand. If listeners have been looking for the origins of how today’s sweatshops may have been justified, all the seeds are here. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Avalanches Work
If regular listeners have been jonesing for another classic Stuff You Should Know episode with lots of practical and exciting science in it, hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant have brought out their best again in this snow-heavy episode. Avalanches practically get their own dictionary. Clark and Bryant have a blast explaining hoar (another word for frost) and rime (globules of ice), so language-nerds will get plenty of kicks in during the first 10 minutes. But the episode is also a must-listen for those who live in mountainous areas. Even the alphanumeric grading scale for avalanches is ripe for riffing, as it turns out there is an R2-D2 grade avalanche. Clark and Bryant springboard from the science of how avalanches start on a molecular level into the process of how an individual’s footfalls can cause an irreversible and fatal chain of events. And it’s worth listening to all the way through, as the final stretch of the episode covers how emergency rescue equipment works, from beacons to avalanche airbags. [DT]

Who Charted? #181: His Beautiful Fabrics: Paul F. Tompkins, Armen Weitzman
Given that Armen Weitzman is essentially useless as a guest co-host, Kulap Vilaysack is clearly employing a bulletproof tactic of booking fan favorite guests in Howard Kremer’s absence. Every guest in the past few weeks have been solid and beloved comedy personalities that have made frequent and consistently successful appearance on the show. This week, Vilaysack ups the ante by booking the always hilarious Paul F. Tompkins for the hot seat. As usual, Tompkins is an absolute delight. He’s particularly hilarious when breaking down the ratio of Game Of Thrones plot lines he cares about versus the ones he doesn’t. Given the fact that he’s wearing his Mayor Larry Vaughn jacket, the crew also engages in a great game where they recast Jaws. Surely, Kremer would be pleased with this. [MS]

WTF #498: RuPaul Charles
RuPaul Charles’ WTF might contain of the most straightforward and compact interviews Marc Maron has ever conducted, but that’s not to say there isn’t much to it. His story seems rather unique, especially among people of his stature and fame, and for that alone the episode is noteworthy. Beyond that, though, he presents a plethora of interesting, vital, and at times out-and-out inspiring opinions about the nature of identity—sexual and otherwise—and all in a very funny and completely charming manner. His opinions on the use of certain words in our culture and in the power—or, as he seems to perceive it, lack of power—that language can hold over people’s identities and treatment of others, tacked on at the end, go woefully unchallenged and under-discussed, but then again perhaps WTF isn’t the most ideal context for that sort of dialogue. [CG]

WTF # 499: Aasif Mandvi: Todd Glass 
This Thursday episode actually has two guests, beginning with comedian Todd Glass, who has a new book coming out. Glass came out as gay on WTF in 2012, and he and Marc Maron discuss Glass’ life after the interview. Glass’ excitement at being able to freely speak about himself is infectious, and his rapport with Maron is as clever and fun as ever. Main guest Aasif Mandvi is best known for his time on The Daily Show (though he also had a role in the universally hated M. Night Shyamalan joint Avatar: The Last Airbender). Mandvi’s lifestory is surprisingly engrossing, from his real last name (Mandviwalla) to his early life in England before moving to the United States. Mandvi is also up front about his Muslim faith and the racial issues he’s struggled against as an actor. The most hilarious part of the interview, though, is how Mandvi seems to recall every interaction he’s had with Maron, while Maron seems to have completely forgotten all of them. [NC]

You Made It Weird #208: Deanna Russo
Midway through this week’s episode, Pete Holmes assuages Deanna Russo’s anxieties by telling her that any listeners who made it to that point in the conversation are totally loving it. And he’s probably right. This is a nearly solid two-hour block of spirituality, nutrition emotional healing talk, so if that’s not your thing, then this is not the episode for you. Russo—a comedic actress whom listeners might recognize Burning Love or The Pete Holmes Show—spends a short period of time talking about her career and childhood full of random accidents and family strife, but the vast majority of discussion is dedicated to things like Emotional Freedom Technique and the minute details of Russo’s life-changing experience on the hallucinogenic Ayahuasca, which, despite (or due to) her genuinely charming personality, is about as engrossing as it sounds. And you can take that either way, depending upon your personal bent. [DD]


Book Fight!Writers Ask: Worm Cans
The hosts themselves seem low-key to the point of being disinterested for this week’s Writers Ask; they readdress questions they’ve answered better before, which helps to explain the decision to retire Writers Ask for the summer in favor of discussing short stories. [ABa]

Doug Loves MoviesTom Green, Oliver Cooper, Erica Rhodes 
Former MTV mook Tom Green has really mellowed out in the past decade, and he actually makes for a pleasant, funny Doug Loves Movies guest. The inexperienced panel makes the games at this hour-long Upright Citizens Brigade show so slow going, though, that even Last Man Stanton gets tedious. [DJ]    

Doug Loves Movies: Joey “Coco” Diaz, Matt Bearden, Trey Galyon
Joey “Coco” Diaz doesn’t fucking like standing in fucking restaurant lines, and he fucking wants everyone at the Cap City Comedy Club to fucking know it. The crowd is amped and game for it all, but without the benefit of booze and a club atmosphere, listening to Diaz’s overbearing brute shtick gets old by the end. [DJ]

How Was Your Week #168: Linda Simpson “The Current Incarnation of Alec”
A very brief monologue on Julie Klausner’s experience shooting the pilot of her show with Billy Eichner is followed by an interesting, though not particularly funny, interview with Linda Simpson about the history of the New York City drag scene, Ru Paul’s beginnings, and the finer points of plastic surgery. [AH]

Judge John Hodgman #161: Cold Case
This week brings another international dispute: American Laura wants an air conditioner in her new Berlin apartment; German boyfriend Dominik likes it hot. The arid episode stalls in a recap of the couple’s history and never recovers. To clear the docket, Hodgman hears a case from an entitled (and possibly suicidal) jogger. [DXF]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #174: Andrea Schaeffer
A conversation with listener Andrea Schaeffer sounds more like a recounting of traumatic events than a complete picture of the guest. There are moments that hint at a deeper conversation that could have been, but most of the discussion feels like a missed opportunity. [TC]

Nerdist #524: Dave Attell #3
Dave Attell stops by Nerdist for a third time to plug his new Comedy Central show. He then spends a lot of time talking about his insecurities as a comedian. This conversation is too comedy-focused to be of general interest and it’s also a bit too insubstantial to recommend to comedy fans. [CS]

Professor Blastoff #156: Acceptance: Becky Popelka
Rather than an exploration of a deep topic, this week’s episode is a weird and long infomercial about getting accepted into college. Even the perpetually excited David Huntsberger mostly sounds to be going through the motions. [NJ]

Sound Opinions #443: Songs From The Front Lines
There’s not an ounce of broken ground in this week’s Sound Opinions special “from the front lines,” as Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot spend the better of an hour front announcing songs about the armed forces from artists like John Fogerty, Eminem, and Gang Of Four. [NJ]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Bets And Burlesque: Joseph Oller
Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey spend this episode chronicling the life of Joseph Oller, an entrepreneur known for his contributions to the world of gambling and creating the historic burlesque house known as the Moulin Rouge. The burlesque house is clearly worthy of historic documentation given its influence on popular culture, but despite Oller’s inventions and creations he does not emerge an interesting personality himself. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: 8 Reasons Why Your Body Is So Gross
Though this is a rather entertaining episode, it is a bit difficult for hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant to fit as much scientific information as they’d like into this dense, list-based episode. Clark and Bryant are adept at making light of interesting stuff like earwax and fat-eating mites, but the asides seem to take away from the breakneck pace. [DT]