The best podcasts for the week of April 5-11 

The best podcasts for the week of April 5-11 

Hey, you like podcasts? Make sure you check out Reasonable Discussions, the A.V. Club podcast. (New episode coming soon.) Podmass comments can be directed to podmass@avclub.com.

Editor’s note: Due to writer vacations, we won’t have recaps for Stuff You Missed In History Class, Stuff You Should Know, or How Was Your Week?

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I feel like someone had given me the date-rape drug, and I woke up and my butthole was sore, and I had some vague memories of having screamed ‘Pluto Nash.’ That’s the experience of watching that movie.” —Jessica St. Clair, How Did This Get Made?

“Old Man Yells At Cloud should be Dave’s Indian name.” —Greg Behrendt on angry co-host Dave Anthony, Walking The Room

NEW (TO US)

WireTap
The premise of Canadian public-radio program WireTap is slightly murky: It ostensibly involves listening in on the phone conversations author and host Jonathan Goldstein has with his oddball friends. (They typically present some crazy idea or situation to him and he gives a deadpan reaction.) But the format is always at the service of the content, it seems, because there are usually as many scripted monologues, short stories, or sketches in any given episode as there are telephone exchanges. Goldstein got his start in broadcasting as a contributor and producer at This American Life before beginning WireTap in 2004, so it’s not surprising that the two shows have similarities. Like This American Life, each episode of WireTap consists of segments that are at least vaguely united by a central theme, but WireTap is half the length of TAL, so its storytelling is necessarily more efficient, and any given bit rarely goes on for too long. WireTap also aims more for weirdness and humor than sentimentality, though it certainly has its share of poignant moments.

One such moment comes at the end of “Welcome To The Family” in the form of Scott Kravitz’s profound short story about learning to love his parents for who they are, even if it’s difficult at times. The humor of the two phone segments is derived from role reversals—one involving a mail-order groom and the other a 38-year-old man trying to convince Goldstein to adopt him—and those are funny enough. A one-act play in the middle turns slightly mawkish, but it’s short and the Kravitz story at the end makes up for it. [CG]

Secret Identity
Comic-book podcasts are a dime a dozen, but most suffer from focusing either too much on the major publishers, or not at all. This fact, combined with the general social awkwardness of the average fanboy, makes most comics podcasts not worth the time (and occasionally, borderline unlistenable). Secret Identity hosts Brian LeTendre and Matt “Matman” Herring sidestep these problems with their comprehensive knowledge and charisma. Released twice a week, the show alternates between episodes in which recent releases are reviewed—along with at least one classic title, in the “Out Of The Longbox” segment—and those focusing on comics news and interviews, as well as games, toys, movies, and TV, among other nerdy exploits. Reviews are full of spoilers, and sometimes devolve into panel-by-panel summaries, but LeTendre and Herring take the time to explain their opinions in great detail, leaving no botched story or glorious artwork overlooked. When the talk turns from comics, that interesting commentary goes out the window, making the second episode of the week much less engaging than the first. 

Episode 417, “Justice League, Witch Hunter, And Saints Row 3,” starts off with some interesting news about lesser-known happenings in the comics world, including the retirement of promoter Mike Carbonaro of the New York Comic Book Marketplace (the trade show that the hosts have attended for years), then delves into reviews of some mainstream comics, TV series The Aquabats! Super Show! and Duck Dynasty, and the video game Saints Row 3. The non-comics talk drags, and the reviews offer too much summary with too little substance or critique. An interview with Rachel Platt from RZG Comics in the final 10 minutes provides a good window into the small publishing business, reinforcing the notion that when talking comics, LeTendre and Herring are at their best. Skip minutes 15 to 50, and the episode is perfect. [AJ]


OUTLIERS

Jungle Apocalypse
How was Stanley Kubrick involved in faking the moon landing? Was Whitney Houston killed by the Illuminati? These questions and more are addressed by Rob Daven and his guests as they explore the countless conspiracies that they’re convinced run the world. Daven is a diehard believer in the idea that some force or group is working behind the scenes to manipulate society, causing the content of some episodes to go off the deep end. But the theories explored are nevertheless entertaining and, on occasion, food for thought. The recent interview with Haterazzi podcast host Mr. Gates (a.k.a. “The Dark Hater”) begins by addressing the potential conspiracies behind the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Whitney Houston. Gates counters many of Daven’s outlandish views, like President Obama being involved with Martin’s murder for political gain, and some of Gates’ ideas are interesting. When the conversation turns to the Illuminati in Hollywood, however, the full brunt of crazy conspiracy theories comes to the fore, as entertaining and cringe-worthy as TV’s most extreme reality shows. [AJ]


THE BEST

The Bugle #189: Like Eating Bill Cosby
This episode feels like real fan service (in a good way), as it includes the following: John Oliver humorously singing off-key; Andy Zaltzman bringing fans into the world of the producer (Chris) they love to hate; and a spiral of bullshit so deep that Zaltzman gets lost in it. The show hits a sweet spot by using hard facts as a springboard for flawlessly executed jokes, and unlike some preceding episodes, numbers and figures are actually useful in understanding the scale of the issues discussed. Throw in some good digs about Google’s complacency with Chinese Internet censorship, and a send-up to what will undoubtedly be the official sport of The Bugle, Taser ball, and this episode becomes a silky, smooth dose of wit and pseudo-fact for the whole family. [AJ]

How Did This Get Made? #34: The Adventures Of Pluto Nash: Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair
One of the lowest points in Eddie Murphy’s career, Pluto Nash was the biggest financial loss of any movie of all time until John Carter came along. That makes it the perfect movie for the HDTGM? crew, though Paul Scheer describes it as the worst movie they’ve ever had to watch. Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair guest, and the group is astounded by how cheap a movie that cost $100 million can look. (They also compare it to Howard The Duck for its ability to make viewers sick.) It’s one of the show’s longest episodes, and the group’s collective passion and hatred translates to a steady stream of jokes. [OS]

Doug Loves Movies: Ben Schwartz, Samm Levine, David Huntsberger
If the guests probed any deeper into The Hunger Games than they do here, someone would need to award them a research grant. The extra-long banter portion of this week’s episode spends much of its time discussing the blockbuster, from the lost opportunity of naming the character Katniss instead of “Catpiss” to Ben Schwartz spoiling the ending. Even though the chat goes long, the guests do a good job of keeping the show moving, leading to rousing editions of Build-A-Title and the Leonard Maltin Game. When powerhouse Samm Levine is on the panel, a strong round of the Len Maltin Game is to be expected. [MS]

Doug Loves Movies: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Kate Micucci
The banter portion of this episode could stand on its own as a solid podcast. It probably goes without saying that frequent collaborators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have amazing conversational chemistry and easily carry the entire episode. (Plus, their exchange is liberally peppered with some on-point Michael Caine impressions.) Kate Micucci keeps a low profile during the banter, but maybe she’s saving her energy for an aggressive showing during the Leonard Maltin Game. Of course, anyone going against Edgar Wright’s encyclopedic knowledge of movies can’t afford to sleepwalk through the game. Given the fact that this is a Tournament Of Championships episode, listeners are treated to fan-favorite guests who know how to keep the games moving—and there’s the added tension of the game being decided by a tie-breaking round. [MS]

Hang Up And Listen: The Managerial Eyewash Edition
In support of a new name and a gaudy new taxpayer-funded stadium in Little Havana, The Ballclub Formerly Known As The Florida Marlins wanted to extend its bravado to hiring decisions, too, with some splashy free-agency pickups and a little star power in the front office. So when they brought in Ozzie Guillen, a manager remembered more for his insane comments to the media (he once called columnist Jay Mariotti a “fag”) than his World Series title with the Chicago White Sox, what could possibly go wrong? Aside from minor character quirks like admitting to getting drunk after every game in hotel bars, it seemed like a sure bet, at least until Guillen expressed his admiration for Fidel Castro, thus hitting the third rail of South Florida politics. Although taped before Guillen’s subsequent five-game suspension, this funny Hang Up And Listen episode muses on the follies (and promise) of the new-look Miami Marlins and spins off into a great discussion of current uniform trends. A post-mortem of The Masters and Augusta National’s continued refusal to extend memberships to women misses one detail that everyone seemed to miss, too: In an anonymous poll from last year, Masters winner Bubba Watson came out against the club’s policy and asked to be on the record about it. Expect an awkward champions dinner next year. [ST]

How Was Your Week? #57: “Dog Valet”: Chris Parnell, Jon Daly
If you know Julie Klausner, listen to her podcast week after week, read her book, or have seen her many videos on YouTube, you know that her cat, Smiley Muffin, has been her faithful sidekick for some time. That’s why Klausner opening with the news that Smiley Muffin has died is incredibly sad, and makes it all right that she doesn’t have much else to talk about. She bucks up and talks to Sappity Tappity The Drunken English Rollerblading Pine Tree (Jon Daly) for a conversation that’s funny, but probably needs more setup to make sense. The conversation with Chris Parnell—who reveals he did a Jesse Camp imitation for his SNL tryout—is more interesting, in part because Klausner sounds like she’s flirting with him (which she mentions in the intro). It’s a good episode, and Klausner pulls it out like usual, even though she’s sitting shiva for her beloved cat. [JD]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #55: Blaine Capatch
On a podcast with a host who is both a comedian and (according to him) unemployed, there’s always the danger that career-related neuroses will rear their ugly heads in unproductive fashion. Not so with Blaine Capatch, who’s able to open up to Paul Gilmartin about why he’s not more successful, but without resentment or icky self-pity. Plus, after a fairly long streak of heavy-duty guests, Gilmartin’s clearly a bit relieved to have a guest who’s both less tortured and more open to comic sparring. [SG]

Monday Morning Podcast
Typically the closest thing to a guest that Bill Burr has on his podcast is his partner Nia, and her appearances are usually brief and limited to chiming in during the show’s regular features. So it’s a nice change of pace when veteran stand-up Dom Irrera sits in with Burr this week to tell stories and shoot the shit. The two share similarly abrasive comedic personalities, and their mutual respect makes for pleasant listening. Irrera has some great stories to tell, such as performing on Carson’s Tonight Show, meeting Charles Bronson at a Mickey Rooney roast, and doing a table read with Robert De Niro and Renée Zellweger. Although the episode as a whole isn’t as funny as listeners might expect, the conversation never lags. [CG]

The Moth: Roald Hoffman: Cocoon Of Love
Moth podcast listeners are used to hearing stories that center powerfully on one particular moment or scene. Holocaust survivor Roald Hoffman’s entry about pulling through and finally returning to the place in which his family waited out the war works on a bigger arc. There is a particular moment that ties everything together, but he takes his time getting to it. It’s challenging to fit such a long timeline into this storytelling format, and the way Hoffman brings it full-circle rewards the patience this story asks of its listeners. [SG]

Nerdist #191: Morgan Spurlock
Morgan Spurlock’s work as a documentarian has put him through some harsh experiments, from consuming a dangerous amount of McDonald’s food to attempting to survive below the poverty line. Thankfully, Chris Hardwick only uses these topics as jumping-off points instead of focusing on them during Spurlock’s Nerdist interview. Where the episode could have easily turned into a glorified version of Saturday Night Live’s “The Chris Farley Show,” Hardwick goes beyond the surface to ensure Spurlock doesn’t just regurgitate old stories about those experiences. The episode flows naturally, as the group discusses everything from attending Comic-Con to the dire state Spurlock was in before he hit it big with Super Size Me. Spurlock’s quick wit meshes well with the Nerdist crew, and the episode informs as much as it entertains. [DA]

Never Not Funny: #1018: The Three Hundredth
For a Never Not Funny special that celebrates its 300th in-studio show, the description reads a little dry: A segment with original co-host Mike Schmidt, a segment with “fan favorite” Pat Francis, and rounds of Stupid Questions, Judge Jimmy, and MovieKatz make up the nearly three-hour episode. While most of the topics covered are just as familiar, the kinetic energy of six friends—Dan Katz and Eliot Hochberg included—is palpable enough to lift the conversation to the level it merits. Inside jokes and repeat stories are inevitable given their shared history, but the multitude of angles taken at each subject keeps the punchlines quick and unpredictable. (Perhaps the best line benefits greatly from this, as Pardo poignantly ties Schmidt’s insight on the NNF curse to the reason for Hochberg’s current role as videographer.) Schmidt’s segment is the most consistently funny, particularly for his stories of the trio working for a dial-up-era company that provided “on-hold” comedy for loading websites. Pardo’s opinion of what Hochberg offers the podcast might as well be the show’s mission statement, and a summary of the back half: “He says something stupid, it gets the juices flowing, we bounce all over the place, and then we find some comedy.” [SM]

Sklarbro Country #89: Bacarri Breezer: Tony Hale, Dan Von Kirk, Jason Nash  
As the Sklars happily concede, Sklarbro Country is the only sports/comedy podcast around where you’re liable to hear conversation about making out with Liza Minnelli. That’s because Sklarbro Country is less about sports specifically than it is about fandom and geekiness, whether that’s baseball or Arrested Development. While Tony Hale isn’t a sports aficionado, he’s nevertheless an excellent guest with a singular set of life experiences, including making out with the eternally eccentric Liza Minnelli when she was cast as his love interest on Arrested Development. Hale discusses Arrested Development news past and present as well as his promising new show Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and from the creators of In The Loop. Then the always-amusing Jason Nash drops by in the sneeringly superior form of Bryant Gumbel to talk more shit about his brother, Greg, and dust off some jokes from his stand-up routine. All that’s missing is a voicemail from Mark Wahlberg; the podcast’s resident Wahlberg impersonator, Dan Von Kirk, makes a brief appearance, but not as Wahlberg. The episode’s strong even without it. [NR]

The Smartest Man In The World #153: Shaves 
Greg Proops might actually know something about Glasgow and he might not, but his riffs on the dreary Scottish city strike a big, friendly, self-deprecating nerve with an audience there. “It takes me two or three days, and being drunk with all y’all, to fucking understand you on a whole-sentence basis,” Proops says affectionately, illustrating the point with a story about a haircut mishap. Of course, what follows is no less scattershot and nerdy than any other Smartest Man installment, but it works about as well as ever, because Proops has earned a lot of goodwill from the crowd by successfully mocking it. [SG]

Walking The Room Special Edition: The Death Of Superpod
This week’s Walking The Room has many elements of a wash: It’s a bit long, it has four people crowded in, and it’s a self-conscious discussion about a supposedly amazing podcast recorded at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, then lost to a technical error. Luckily, Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony’s guests are Australian comics Charlie Clausen and Wil Anderson, who not only are quite likable but also adeptly find their place in the hosts’ dysfunctional banter. As a result, the episode has enough weird, uncomfortable laughs (see Behrendt discussing a writer who dubbed him a “frosted-tip douche”) to justify its self-indulgent setup. [SG]

WTF With Marc Maron #268: Jon Glaser
Marc Maron sometimes goes into interviews with strong ideas about his guests, which may have no grounding in reality. For example, Maron previously saw Jon Glaser of Delocated and Late Night With Conan O’Brien as an intimidating conceptual comedian with a grudge against him. So he’s surprised and relieved to discover that Glaser bears him no ill will and is a surprisingly normal, well-adjusted family man and former high-school jock who enjoys hitting the links with his golfing buddy Jon Benjamin. It’s not all sports talk, of course: There’s plenty of engaging nuts-and-bolt chatter about doing very strange comedy on The Dana Carvey Show, Second City, Delocated, and Late Night, along with a discussion of the adoption process. (Glaser and his wife adopted a child.) Usually, Maron plumbs his guest’s dark depths, but here he discovers a seemingly uncompromising and dark comic mastermind’s normal, light side, resulting in an interview that’s revelatory in its own way. [NR]

WTF With Marc Maron #269: David Cross
Comedy fans tend to have strong feelings about David Cross, but this episode of WTF may help them realize that the actor-comedian is a more nuanced person and performer than they think. Marc Maron has known and admired David Cross for a long time, so he takes the scenic route in their conversation, starting with old standup bits that Cross doesn’t even remember, working toward Cross’ first unpleasant encounters with Bob Odenkirk on The Ben Stiller Show, and up to The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret. Maron doesn’t shy away from asking tough questions about the failure of Run Ronnie Run, drug use, Cross’ absent father, his May-December-ish relationship with Amber Tamblyn, or being called a sellout for the Chipmunks movies, and Cross provides honest answers. (Sadly, there’s no discussion of Arrested Development, so devoted Tobias Fünke fans may be disappointed.) [CZ]

You Made It Weird #38: Mike Lawrence
Avid comedy fans may recognize Mike Lawrence (he also appeared on a live WTF), who brings his dark and self-deprecating humor to the usually upbeat You Made It Weird. A lot of comedians come from troubled backgrounds and deficient parenting—and Lawrence fits those criteria perfectly—but he also isn’t as established as most of Holmes’ guests, so a rare anxiety hangs over this episode. Raised by an alcoholic father and a comedian mother, Lawrence has an interesting backstory that makes him grateful for where he is, even if he still struggles. But he’s not looking for pity; in fact, things get genuinely weird when Lawrence calls out Holmes for what he perceives to be condescension. Ultimately, though, it’s hard not to root for him. [CG]

[pagebreak]

THE REST

The Best Show On WFMU
Listeners may think, “Wow, Tom Scharpling talking to Chris Elliott and Jason Woliner in the studio about Eagleheart! That sounds awesome.” Sadly, it’s a little boring, like three people who know each other having a conversation they find funny, but anybody listening probably won’t get. (It’s almost saved by the guy who calls in about his band doing the F.D.R. concept album.) Jon Wurster calls (as Darren Ploppleton) after the duo leaves the studio, which segues into Jim Gaffigan. About two hours of all this may make listeners favor regular callers over guests. [JD]

Comedy Bang Bang #152: Behind The Irony Curtain: Ed Helms, Seth Morris
Scott Aukerman starts this week’s episode in an unusual fashion, and not just because he doesn’t say a catchphrase: It’s a long explanation about how his guest canceled on him at the last minute, so he decided to release two previously unaired episodes that didn’t quite work. (The second posted on Thursday, after the Podmass deadline.) Originally, Aukerman planned to have Helms as the guest and Morris as one of his characters, but a scheduling mix-up forced their roles to switch, which Helms didn’t learn until he arrived. While it’s fun to hear from Morris as himself for once, the comedy segments understandably fall flat. As a peek behind the (irony) curtain for hardcore Comedy Bang Bang fans, it’s an interesting listen, but everyone else can skip it. [KR]

Freakonomics: Eating And Tweeting
This week’s episode is yet another in the five one-hour special episodes where host Stephen Dubner combines two previously aired episodes into what he called a “mashupdate.” Given that this episode follows other recent mashupdates, the format is starting to feel stale, and this week’s two themes have no discernable connection: the future of food, including the slow-food movement and molecular gastronomy, and Twitter, where Dubner asks whether users need to follow a lot of people to get a lot of followers. Listeners would be better off listening to the two episodes as they originally aired. [MM]

Judge John Hodgman #55: Battle Royale
Whenever Judge Hodgman is forced to ask whether a dispute is real or manufactured for the purposes of appearing on a podcast, that doesn’t bode well for the case at hand. Here an American couple residing in Canada wants to pursue citizenship in order to enjoy the right to vote, universal health care, and perhaps a deep discount at the Canadian House Of Pizza And Garbage, but the husband isn’t comfortable pledging allegiance to the British monarchy. His misgivings are hypothetical. [ST]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #54: Almond Joy
There’s a fine line between funny tedium and plain-old tedium, and it gets a workout as Tom Cavanagh tries to guess what snack Michael Ian Black has brought in for this episode. There’s some redemption when the hosts revive their ongoing Ian McShane story, but the episode proves that even these masters of drawn-out silliness have their limits. [SG]

Nerdist #190: Scott Sigler 
In his second appearance on Nerdist, sci-fi author Scott Sigler spends the bulk of the interview discussing print publishing in the Internet age. It’s an interesting topic, but can’t sustain the hour-long discussion. Chris Hardwick never really moves the conversation anywhere, and as a result, the episode gets stuck in neutral. [DA]

Sound Opinions: #332: Classic Album Dissection Of Amazing Grace, Review Of Willis Earl Beal, Jim's DIJ 
The bulk of this week’s episode concerns a look back to Aretha Franklin’s live album Amazing Grace, which turns out to be pretty useful thanks to the heaps of context guest Aaron Cohen (of Downbeat magazine) provides, relating it both to Franklin’s gospel roots and her experience in jazz. In contrast, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’ enthusiasm for Willis Earl Beal is plenty nice, but also involves a storm of references and comparisons (from Alan Lomax to Captain Beefheart in 60 seconds!) that quickly gets scattered and tiresome. [SG]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #212: Kevin Lee
Felons say the darndest things. The highlight of this week’s Stop Podcasting Yourself emerges during the “Overheard” segment, in which a fan recounts a roomful of convicted criminals asking a series of questions about exactly what constitutes a firearm. But the other “Overheards” bear the disjointed quality that marks the rest of the episode. Actor and The Sunday Service podcast host Kevin Lee is an understated yet disruptive presence on an episode that careens through half-developed topics, including non-adventures at a Narnia camp, unwise-in-retrospect expensive purchases, and a sentimentality-deflating recap of Field Of Dreams. [DXF]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #66: Jumbo The Elephant Saves Easter! 
The Thrilling Adventure Hour often manages to reference the backwardness of radio drama’s golden age without trying to offend, but this installment deliberately goes against the grain, pitting a Cuban elephant (the name is pronounced “yumbo”) against a Jewish conspiracy to usurp all the holidays on the calendar. That they marry it to a Dr. Seuss-style rhyme scheme is a testament to the show’s craft, yet the emphasis on satirizing old-timey bigotry distracts from Thrilling Adventure Hour’s balance of risk-taking and playful warmth. [SG]

The Todd Glass Show #39: Nick Thune, Daniel Kinno
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the latest installment of The Todd Glass Show with guest Nick Thune and regular sidekick Daniel Kinno, but the episode nevertheless manages to be reasonably engaging without producing much in the way of memorable comedy or bits that resonate. It’s affable enough and effervescent throughout, but there’s nothing in it that’s liable to linger. It’s the podcast equivalent of snack food: amusing in the moment but not at all filling. [NR]

Uhh Yeah Dude #318
Seth Romatelli watches all the TV so you don’t have to. One of the best recurring (but unofficial) segments on Uhh Yeah Dude is when Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette recap television—like the Corey Feldman episode of Celebrity House Hunting—in a tone that’s equal parts confusion and enthusiasm. The energy level waxes and wanes over the course of this episode (mostly the latter), with a riff on Bravo’s Charles Manson reality show saving the second half of episode 318 from total sleepiness. [CW]

You Made It Weird #39: Matt Besser
For all of Pete Holmes’ outsized personality, You Made It Weird is generally only as strong as its guests. While Upright Citizens Brigade’s Matt Besser has some interesting things to say about improvisation and improv guru Del Close, they’re not quite enough to sustain nearly two hours of podcasting. [NR]

More Podmass