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Samantha Bee joins Katie Couric for a frank and unapologetic conversation

Photo: Mike Pont/Getty
Photo: Mike Pont/Getty

In Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends 10–15 of the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

99% Invisible
McMansion Hell

“We devised this culture where we think about selling our houses before we ever spend a night in them,” says Kate Wagner, an architecture critic and creator of the popular blog McMansion Hell. With this quote, Wagner sums up why McMansions—those large, ostentatious symbols of the suburban upper-crust—are more than just a gaudy expenditure. The episode begins with the superficial issues; Wagner and host Roman Mars provide a comprehensive breakdown of the aesthetic sins of the McMansion, from the problem with two-story entranceways to the use of nonfunctional columns. To blame? HGTV for starters, she argues, as well as the rising cultural awareness of house flippers. But it goes deeper: While the impractical use of space and lack of functionality is obnoxious, the real issue is that the McMansion’s focus on aesthetics over structural integrity is unsustainable. By eschewing structural improvement, energy-efficient innovations, and green upgrades, these houses weren’t built to last. They’re assets more than homes, Wagner argues, making it clear that, though she approaches the topic with humor, this is an issue that means a great deal to her.

America Adapts—The Climate Change Podcast
Sea Level Rise, The Florida Everglades And The Role Of Research In Adaptation: Dr. Evelyn Gaiser Of Florida Coastal LTER

It’s easy to joke about Florida. The crystal meth, the bozo criminals, the exotic-animal attacks—all of this and more has made it a hotbed of weirdness that more than justifies the existence of the Florida Man Twitter account. But the oddities of the Sunshine State tend to eclipse its many achievements, including Miami’s progressive efforts to adapt to the effects of climate change. That’s a huge topic discussed by host Doug Parsons and this week’s guest, Dr. Evelyn Gaiser. As lead principal investigator at the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, she has her finger on the pulse of the state’s constantly morphing ecology. That makes her a crucial resource for anyone worried about climate change. Even though she’s obviously concerned about the problems that severe weather presents to humankind, she also gets infectiously excited when talking about preserving the wetlands and how Miami is changing its infrastructure to plan for the future. It’s refreshing to hear someone from the scientific community value enthusiasm and optimism over dread. As America Adapts posits with all of its episodes, that’s an important part of making people feel motivated enough to adapt to climate change themselves.

Box Angeles
Todd Glass

Todd Glass’ most endearing traits—his brashness and unyielding sense of compassion—are seemingly at odds with each other. But on the latest episode of Box Angeles, he shows that it’s this contrast that makes him such a great comedian. He speaks affectionately of his family, work, and cohost Mike Elder one moment, then has no problem lashing out with a tongue-in-cheek “fuck you!” whenever Elder pays him a compliment. It’s also a compelling episode because of Glass’ rituals. One of the best parts of Box Angeles is when Elder asks his guest about their artistic and leisurely habits (a ritual of his own for each installment), and it turns out Glass has an affinity for the showmanship of musicians like Wayne Newton and Paul Anka. While both artists have an undeniable cheese factor, they also have an undeniable command of the stage, mirroring the juxtaposition found in the comedian’s own personality. And don’t worry, fans of U Talkin’ U2 To Me?, Elder makes sure to ask him about Staind as well.

Definitely Dying
Childhood Anxiety & Constipation: Paul Rust

Definitely Dying is a UCB Comedy podcast hosted by “hypochondriac-comedians” Madeline Walter and Ben Axelrad, centered on matters of the body and mind. This week, they are joined by Love’s Paul Rust for a conversation on childhood anxiety, with a last-minute detour to constipation. They begin the episode by asking Rust how much he thinks about death, on a scale from one to 10. This triggers a discussion about how he grew up Catholic, and his childhood lack of fear because of the promise of heaven, and how that changed as he grew up. It’s a fluid conversation (that never feels like a predictable interview) that easily transitions into an observation of anxiety and being a “worrisome” kid. Rust, as demonstrated in all of his podcast appearances, is familiarly likable and open, and the three of them are clearly having fun. The casual atmosphere of the show allows them to discuss topics like anxiety without being heavy or boring, which is crucial to its listenable charm. Later playing a hilarious, albeit visual, game with disgusting medical photos, the episode as a whole has a sense of humor about health that is not only funny, but inclusive and welcoming.

Hannibal Buress: Handsome Rambler
It’s Never Too Late For Now

When Hannibal Buress is at his best, it’s very easy to forget that he’s actually telling jokes. His stand-up set feels like a stream-of-consciousness monologue of some guy’s mundane observations and remembrances that is somehow hilarious. It’s not that his bits aren’t well-crafted (they are), it’s that the main engine of his appeal is simply his tone of voice and manner of being. In many ways, he’s the perfect person to host his own podcast, and now he finally is. We’re only one episode into Handsome Rambler, but so far it’s essentially just him and his DJ, Tony Trimm, shooting the shit about obnoxious nosy neighbors, playing VR games on the White House lawn, and how much fun it is to shoplift. Those topics all flow accidentally into one another in that way that happens when people who are comfortable in front of a microphone allow themselves to riff. Late in the show, they field an extremely uncomfortable question from a listener who probably would have been better served asking Dan Savage. Fans of Buress will find a lot to like here, but those unfamiliar should prime themselves with his stand-up specials first.

Hello, From The Magic Tavern

After the dramatic death of Usidore on last week’s episode, the Magic Tavern crew are due for some fun. Pizza Skull (also played by Matt Young) lightens the mood serving as a temporary co-host. His antics are joyfully sporadic, pizza-centric, and always come at the right time, putting a perfectly absurd button on a joke. But the undeniable star of the episode is the guest, a tree named Caball’on Valentin, played by Chicago improviser John Sabine. He makes a memorable entrance with a strong accent that only gets more hilarious as the episode continues—fluctuating throughout, but always vaguely European. Sabine plays Caball’on without hesitation, and it’s his confidence in the character and his improv that allows it to be so successful and thoroughly enjoyable. Caball’on is full of heart and mystical wisdom, sharing truths that may sound philosophical and deep, but are really just nonsense, like, “I will show you a baby that has courage, and then I will show you an old man with a foot.” Sabine’s enthusiasm and knack for unique witticisms makes him one of the most endearing Hello, From The Magic Tavern characters in recent memory.

Hollywood Handbook
Jensen Karp, Our Close Friend

Three weeks ago on their excellent Brandon Wardell episode, Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements had a notable segment where they did their own version of Get Up On This. The bit comes full circle as the host of Get Up On This, writer and comedian Jensen Karp, joins the boys for an episode that further explores the mimicry. As the three of them do a few rounds of getting each other up on things, Karp only heightens the absurdity of the foundational joke, consistently conceding that they are indeed better at his podcast than he is. He’s the straight man throughout, always giving genuine recommendations while Clements and Davenport use things like Devious Maids (which neither of them have actually seen) or “typing with one finger.” It’s that classic, larger-than-life, know-it-all Hollywood Handbook characterization fans recognize and love, paired with Karp’s willingness to roll with the joke that carries the episode. Plus, the return of Engineer Brett allows for some-old school engineer bashing, particularly when they discover that his shirt says, “It’s a Brett thing, you wouldn’t understand,” which is the best gift he could’ve ever given them.

Katie Couric
Samantha Bee: Not Holding Back

With the launch of Full Frontal, Samantha Bee became the lone female voice among late-night hosts, a position Katie Couric understands better than anyone. Bee is also a key part of the class that graduated from Jon Stewart’s time as host of The Daily Show. Couric and Bee take stock of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, which was thrust into what might be the strangest election in American history. Bee reflects on her career, which started with sketch comedy in Canadian dive bars, and transformed overnight as she went from a Daily Show superfan to employed correspondent. Couric and Bee discuss their shared perspective on the Republican presidential candidate, which has resulted in some of Full Frontal’s most scathing and hilarious work to date. Bee addresses the recent criticism that politically minded comedians are injecting too much bias into their work. Bee is frank and unapologetic, arguing that nobody is attempting to deprive conservative culture of its voice, while unsympathetic that the right has been made uncomfortable by the rise of dissenting opinions. Her counterpoint is that the generation tuning into Full Frontal, Last Week, or The Daily Show aren’t exactly pining for the halcyon days of non-confrontational hosts who strived to live in the middle. Couric and Bee’s conversation is couched in some great clips from her fledgling show, and flavored with a mutual weariness over a surreal, anxiety-inducing election.

Kreative Kontrol
Vic Berger

If you’re not aware of the work of Vic Berger, this podcast should serve as a perfect introduction. A video editor, Berger’s bizarre edits of the presidential debates have gone viral, either as Vines or as longer videos released via the Super Deluxe network. It’s hard to describe what exactly makes his work so effective—awkwardness, weird zooms, and air horns are part of it—but Kreative Kontrol host Vish Khanna works to get to the heart of it during his hourlong chat with Berger. Also of note is their discussion of Berger’s origins, and how a random online encounter with comedian Tim Heidecker led to his video editing career. From there, the conversation veers between the election—Khanna lives in Canada, so his take is especially interesting—and Berger’s actual process, which is as painstaking as they come. It’s especially interesting to hear Berger discuss his exhaustion with the election; his comedy serves as his own sort of therapy, as he finds himself continually disheartened by the relentless negativity unfolding between the candidates. He’s not alone, and his videos have worked to help many a frustrated liberal cope with the possibility of a Trump presidency.

The Death Of Kollin Elderts

“Forget everything you think you know about Hawaii. This place is much weirder and much more complicated than you ever imagined.” This is the caveat Jessica Terrell impresses upon listeners as the curtain rises on Offshore, a new PRX series that promises nothing more and nothing less than “stories from Hawaii.” And telling those stories, it turns out, requires a lot of context that residents of the continental U.S. might not be equipped with: most importantly, that the islands are fraught with division among tourists, military personnel, and native Hawaiians, and that colonialism continues to both haunt and inform the latter group’s daily life. It’s no surprise, then, that the 2011 shooting of a native Hawaiian by an off-duty Virginian cop in Waikiki would spark such backlash and animus on all sides, a powder keg lit by 2:40 a.m. gunfire. The Christopher Deedy and Kollin Elderts incident will be further investigated in the coming weeks of Offshore, but more importantly, the show is determined to turn one homicide case into a greater case study, prodding at its details and aftermath to see just what it can tell us about the current state of our nation as a whole.

Politically Re-Active
S. E. Cupp On Being An Anti-Trump Conservative

W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu finally nab a conservative voice to enter the liberal fray of Politically Re-Active. It’s not surprising that the guest who agreed to come on the show is S.E. Cupp, a frequent conservative guest on moderate and liberal programs. Aside from being a talented columnist, Cupp has managed to carve a second career out of defending conservative principles on liberal programs. A self-professed “conservative translator” and her sustained objection to Trump has made her an even more popular get. This episode of Politically Re-Active benefits from not just escaping the progressive echo-chamber, but by allowing Cupp to express herself in a non-combative way. On other programs with a more muscular agenda (like Real Time With Bill Maher), the host and guests are so interested in winning points, there’s no real sharing of ideas. Bell and Kondabolu are both polite and friendly, nearly to a fault, and the results are refreshing. The conversation does more than allowing Cupp to make a reasonable case for traditional GOP values. It demonstrates that in 2016, people with opposing opinions are capable of mustering a civil, engaged conversation with active listening. Even better, the mutual benefits of that engagement is clearly enjoyed by all three participants. In a campaign that has been marked with so much divisiveness and negative hyper-partisanship, Cupp and her hosts give us a rare glimmer of hope that we can salvage the flaming dumpster-fire that is our current American political discourse.

Scene On Radio
Prince And Philando And Futures Untold

Coming as it does from Duke University’s Center For Documentary Studies, Scene On Radio might be easily misinterpreted as a classroom exercise—the work of spirited amateurs looking to break into audio production. Listeners find themselves quickly disabused of such a simple read on the show, especially with this week’s standout episode that kicks off the series’ second season. The episode takes the form of a personal essay by producer Stacia Brown, weaving together several disparate threads, including the officer shooting of Philando Castile, the death of Prince, and the way unborn children act as a prism through which parents examine the world. But to simply name the elements contained within does not speak to the deep emotional richness that makes Brown’s poetic rumination such a powerful piece. Brown deftly floats above the roiling narratives, dipping into each story and combining her truths with theirs, whether it be in exploring the early stages of Castile’s relationship with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds or the tolls incurred by the instinctually performative bent of black life in America. Brown’s audio essay equally signals her as a writer and producer to watch, and Scene On Radio as excellent arbiters of quality.

My Mom Has Schizophrenia

Those curious as to what precisely sets podcasts apart from all other forms of entertainment or journalistic pursuits ought to strap on some headphones and listen to Sickboy. As a show dedicated to exploring the lives of those directly affected by a chronic illness, Sickboy is something of a rarity, in life as much as in pop culture. What helps make the show feel so fresh is in how it approaches the subject. Topics aren’t handled with kid gloves from some sanitized remove, but in a direct and relatable, human manner. Show hosts Taylor MacGillivary, Jeremie Saunders, and Brian Stever are best friends, meaning they have a rollicking rapport with as strong a propensity toward off-color humor as empathy. On this week’s episode, the boys host the pseudonymous CC, whose mother has had schizophrenia since CC was 5 years old, and for whom CC now acts as caretaker. The conversation is extremely engaging, covering the spectrum of CC’s experiences with her mother’s illness in candid, emotional, and frequently hilarious fashion. The episode also does much to help remove the stigma of this particularly misunderstood mental illness, as well as exploring the necessary, healthy coping strategies of those in the caretaker role.

Queen Bees, Wannabes, And Everything High School–Related In Between

Amy Nicholson talks fast. That’s not a bad thing, but it is indicative of the film critic’s MTV podcast, which unfolds at a pace that could almost be described as frantic. In the premiere episode of the podcast’s second season, she interviews an author, two actors, and a costume designer in just 30 minutes, with none of them feeling shortchanged by the brevity of their conversations. The focus of this season is high school movies, and kicking off this exploration is Rosalind Wiseman, who wrote Queen Bees And Wannabes, the book Tina Fey used as the launching point for the now-classic Mean Girls. Wiseman’s chat is the most illuminating of the two, if only because the high school landscape has already changed so much since she wrote the book. She discusses how the rise of social media would affect the film’s characters, as well as how that’s changed the fabric of bullying in the modern age. Nicholson’s chat with Holland Roden and Shelley Hennig of MTV’s Teen Wolf is less interesting, but things pick up again with Can’t Hardly Wait costume designer Mark Bridges, who discusses ’90s fashion and how he came about dressing each member of the film’s ensemble. That’s a lot for such a short episode. No wonder Nicholson talks so fast.

Why Oh Why?
A Celebration of Awkwardness

One of the things that makes Why Oh Why? so special is its sense of continuity. Andrea Silenzi isn’t just using her podcast to examine the peculiarities of dating; she’s also using it to tell stories and build communities. In an episode a few weeks ago, she sent Kate, a friend of hers, on a date with David, a friend of the show, then recorded their conversation to gauge how her “meddling” would alter the texture of the evening. Things took an unfortunate turn, however, when it was revealed that Kate had booked a Tinder meet-up to immediately follow her date with David, and the two ended up colliding in a maelstrom of awkwardness. For the latest episode, Silenzi invites David into the studio so the two can have a post-mortem about the evening, which includes reading online responses to the episode. David responds with grace, even as the two attempt to understand Kate’s reasoning for booking the other date. He also offers a smart, reasoned response to a listener who worries about whether the situation truly proves that “nice guys finish last.” Through it all, Silenzi plays back the cringe-inducing clips, which include a forced goodbye the duo had to record in case Silenzi decided not to use the footage of the Tinder date arriving. It’s brutal.

We see what you said there

“Every comedian should do whatever they fucking want. There is not a topic on this planet that can’t be made funny. But that doesn’t mean people [always] do a good job of that. I just say my opinion so hopefully I change your opinion. But if I don’t, what should you do? Go back to doing whatever you fucking want.”—Todd Glass on stand-up, Box Angeles

“This could be a great moment to get you up on the Alanis Morissette song ‘One Hand In My Pocket,’ because she has a lot of things that your hand could do.”
“So this is what happens on your Get Up On This, you guys do get up ons but then throw in other get up ons...”
“Well you had a question and it seems that you don’t know what a hand could do, meanwhile I’m getting you up on this fairly new song that is, you know it’s a modern song, and she’s listing so many things that one of her hands can do. First of all, it could just be in your pocket, and she’s okay with that. [Sings.] And the other one’s typing with one finger. But then you also could be smoking a cigarette, playing piano, think about it.”—Sean Clements and Jensen Karp making their own version of Get Up On This, Hollywood Handbook