The best podcasts for the week of June 28-July 4 

The best podcasts for the week of June 28-July 4 

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QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I’m going to annoy you, and I won’t have a funny point to it, either.” —Andy Kindler, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“Which is what the pattern has been: He’ll chew me out, then the next day he’ll rub my belly.” —Jay Chandrasekhar describes directing Chevy Chase on Community, Sklarbro Country

“Why waste all that energy worrying about the uncertainty of the future when you can use all that energy worrying about the uncertainty of the present?” — Stephen Tobolowsky, The Tobolowsky Files

“Although, if you have a weird neck and you’re listening, I want you to stay.” —Greg Proops, trying to welcome all comers on The Smartest Man In The World

“I wish my knife could see me now!” —Mark McConville, as villain Highwayman Dan, on The Thrilling Adventure Hour

NEW (TO US)

The Long Shot
Podcasts understandably attract like-minded souls, but The Long Shot thrives on the differences between its dissimilar but complementary host and panelists. Bitter Buddha Eddie Pepitone, one of the hottest talents in comedy as well as one of its least likely and most encouraging success stories, is the podcast’s marquee name, but it’s essentially a comedy democracy where everyone inhabits an important and well-defined role. Host Sean Conroy runs a tight ship; much of his job seems to involve keeping the perpetually distracted Pepitone’s mind from wandering too far afield. But Conroy is also a gifted comedian and improviser in his own right, and he’s particularly funny when improvising spontaneous bits alongside Pepitone. Comedian Amber Kenny is the sunny, ebullient yin to Pepitone’s cantankerous but tender-hearted yang, while Jamie Flam is the group’s compelling comic foil; his deadpan delivery, go-nowhere stories, and self-improvement schemes prove an enduring source of humor to his colleagues, but there’s something incredibly poignant and relatable about his efforts to find himself and his place in the universe.

Conroy, Flam, Kenny and Pepitone have such great chemistry despite their myriad differences in age, gender, personality, and disposition that it’s almost a shame that the podcast even feels the need to have guests like episode 514’s Greg Proops, who is funny and entertaining but takes the podcast away from the interplay that is its great strength. It’s still lively and engaging, but it lacks the group dynamic that distinguishes a truly great episode of this winning podcast. [NR]


OUTLIERS

Autograph Weekly
Every week or so, four or five autograph hounds get together on Skype and record an episode of Autograph Weekly, the podcast “about everything autographs.” It’s about as thrilling as it sounds, though as the show’s hosts—Zane Savage, Stacy Shaffer, Jeremy Daniels, and David Stotler—run through each episode, listeners do, without fail, learn a thing or 10 about autograph collecting. After a brief news roundup, the gang runs down what signatures they’ve gotten through the mail (or TTM) that week, as well as how they’re doing in various autograph-collecting fantasy leagues. They also answer listener questions and read listener letters. In Episode 30 - Stacy Shaffer: The Filthy Pervert, they address how to mail miniature football helmets, the best places to buy real leather baseballs in bulk, and if, when requesting the signature of an adult-film star, they ask the person to not send back racy pics. (Stacy Shaffer doesn’t, hence the episode’s title.) Episode 30 is capped off with a discussion of how stars’ autographs change as they get older. (Stan Musial and James Garner’s John Hancocks have gotten very shaky.) The hour-long podcast isn’t the most wham-bam entertaining listen, but it’s interesting, even for non-collectors. [ME]


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
A show that partially relies on live calls from listeners is always a risky endeavor, but The Best Show’s free-for-all format is particularly susceptible to ruination by calls from bores, loudmouths, and amateur comedians. This week’s Best Show is plagued with some of the worst calls in recent memory, yet Tom Scharpling manages to create a solid episode through sheer force of will. With the dud calls pouring in and no Jon Wurster for reinforcement, Scharpling goes on delightful solo tangents on George R.R. (“Railroad”) Martin, fireworks, and his teenage attempts to win a Frisbee from a rock radio station. The stories are welcomed asides in an episode that unfortunately illustrates why few other comedy shows let listeners in on the action. [TC]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #165: Hoo-ah! Andy Kindler, Loudon Wainwright III, Amy Phillips
Listeners’ enjoyment of episode 165 will hinge on how much Andy Kindler they can take. Because they’re gonna get a lot of him. Scott Aukerman barely finishes the catchphrase submission before Kindler starts, and he only stops over the next 80 minutes to allow Loudon Wainwright to perform. Kindler cycles rapidly through bits (often commenting on them afterward), quality be damned. (“What you said about Maroon 5 is true. It was Maroon 7, but two of the guys never made it off the island.”) The more meta and self-referentially bad the joke, the more it seems to delight Aukerman. Less delightful: the usually reliable Amy Phillips as Gwyneth Paltrow, which never goes beyond obvious jokes. (On her performance in Country Strong: “I did such a great job in that movie that Johnny Cash rolled over in his grave!”) [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Anna Kendrick, Nick Kroll, Riki Lindhome, and Kate Micucci 
The spotlight divides well among this week’s guests, with actress Anna Kendrick’s bubbly effervescence balancing out comedian Nick Kroll’s dry and pointed quips, Riki Lindhome providing the exciting conclusion to the story of her nude scene that she told during her last appearance, and her Garfunkel And Oates bandmate Kate Micucci once again showing off her formidable film knowledge during the Leonard Maltin Game. The unusually well-behaved panel makes for a nice, game-filled contrast to last week’s chaos, as Doug and his guests move efficiently through ABC Deez Nuts, Build-A-Title, and the Leonard Maltin Game. [MS]

Doug Loves Movies: Michael Ian Black, Jason Mantzoukas, Dave Hill and Nikki Glaser
Several rounds of Build-A-Title make up a big chunk of this extra-long DLM, but neither the game nor the episode overstay their welcome. This is largely due to the excellent panel Doug Benson assembled this time out, with Dave Hill acting as the awkward wild card to the reliable hilarity of Jason Mantzoukas and the deadpan assholery of Michael Ian Black. Sadly, Nikki Glaser gets somewhat lost in the mix, but she’s a solid contender in all the games—all the guests are, really. More importantly, they inject humor as well as movie knowledge into the games, making this an exemplary outing for DLM. [GK]

Judge John Hodgman: Antisocial Networking
This week, Judge Hodgman considers the pervasive modern problem of texting/tweeting/Wikipedia-ing on smartphones getting in the way of non-virtual interaction—and, as usual, his decision is much more nuanced than the expected tongue-clucking. Lauren brings the case against her friend and “work spouse” Mike, who she claims spends their entire train commute fiddling on his phone while paying only half-attention to her. Mike counters weakly that his job requires him to stay connected at all times and that multitasking has become an accepted part of social interaction. Judge Hodgman’s ruling shows an uncharacteristic reluctance to mess with people’s lives, but it gets at a subtler point about the impossibility of forcing someone to want to do something they don’t want to do. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #67: Chris Hardwick
In a meeting between a podcaster who has everything and one who’s still dreaming of doing it full-time, Nerdist host Chris Hardwick opens up to Paul Gilmartin. He may not dig as deep as other Mental Illness guests, but he’s pretty easygoing in his discussion of weight problems, drinking, and panic attacks. While Gilmartin has sometimes talked about being largely unemployed, it’s Hardwick who ends up talking most here about career insecurities, namely the lack of opportunities he faced after hosting MTV’s Singled Out. That adds to the show’s implied message that being in a slump isn’t always a bad thing. [SG]

The Moth: Ivan Kuraev & Jennifer Fitzgerald: StorySLAM Favorites
Ivan Kuraev’s short StorySLAM entry outdoes the average tale of childhood romance, if only because he made such incredibly misguided gestures to try and win over his grade-school crush. Plus, he’s admirably okay with leaving the story on a comic but kind of humiliating note. Desperation seems to be the common thread here: In the second story, Jennifer Fitzgerald recalls trying to “slut it up” to shake her nerdy reputation in high school. Considering she admits that Dave Matthews Band “became the soundtrack to every sexual encounter I had in the late ’90s,” she too comes off brave in her embrace of shame. [SG]

Nerdist #226: Billy West and John DiMaggio
Popular voice actors and Futurama costars Billy West and John DiMaggio join Nerdist for an episode that puts their skills on full display. At the start, the episode stumbles due to both West and DiMaggio going into characters with little guidance from Chris Hardwick, but around the midway point the episode gains focus. West and DiMaggio start to control themselves, and they actually begin sharing worthwhile anecdotes about the inspirations behind some of their most famous voices. When Hardwick injects worthwhile questions and refrains from asking West and DiMaggio to perform their various characters, the episode shines. It’s not without its faults, but it has enough high points to warrant a listen. [DA]

RISK! #335 Life Or Death 
Scott Whitehair, Laurel Holland, and Michael Shawki each present stories regarding some sort of derring-do, but they mostly end on depressing notes rather than a “seize the day” message. That said, they’re good stories well-told, and run an interesting gamut from the mundane (getting in touch with old friends via Facebook) to the perilous (knife fights and rock climbing), but be prepared to meditate more on the melancholy of death instead of the adrenaline rush of life. [CZ]

Sklarbro Country: Sklarbro County 6
A stellar episode of “The County” kicks off with the Sklars recounting an incredible flight they took with Laura Dern, the RZA, and Richard Simmons on board. With hair “higher than Woody Harrelson on a stepladder at Burning Man,” Simmons single-handedly turned the flight into a spirited social affair, giving a performance every bit as frenzied as his frequent guest spots on David Letterman. (The brothers speculate that Simmons needs a bump of cocaine to calm himself down.) From there, Dan Van Kirk leads the Sklars and guest Hampton Yount through a series of news stories involving naked people, including one woman who assaulted several officers and tried to hide in a combination KFC/Taco Bell. And with Ted currently dominating the box office, Van Kirk’s uncanny Mark Wahlberg leaves a funny voice message about trying to buy a ticket for a sold-out show. [ST]

The Smartest Man In The World #165: Cetacea
Greg Proops fumbles a bit trying to capture the essence of the Irish, but that seems to endear him to the crowd at this Dublin show. Plus, they let him get away with mocking their women, their men, their chip shops, and their soccer team. And he scores some unlikely points with an unflattering comparison between Ireland and the Deep South. Also: “Forgive me, I don’t have my Gaelic-to-human dictionary.” Then again, this audience stays nice and quiet through one of Proops’ impromptu poetry recitations and goes along with his Thin Lizzy impersonation, so perhaps they’re just incredibly pliant. In any case, it’s still plenty fun to hear Proops get away with his usual jackassery. [SG]

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Sound Opinions #344: Van Hunt, Fiona Apple Review, and Greg’s Desert Island Jukebox 
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis face down two deliberately genre-scrambled artists this week, and it ain’t all pretty. Singer-songwriter Van Hunt visits for an interview and in-studio performance that helps to make sense of his busy, eclectic approach to funk and everything else. Plus, Hunt’s just bashful and articulate enough to make up for the oft-gushing tone of his hosts’ questions. But the real fun here is a brief, classically Sound Opinions showdown on the new Fiona Apple album. After Kot gives his resounding approval, DeRogatis tears into it, proving why the DeRogatises of the world are sometimes necessary. [SG]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassBullets For Ma Barker And The Barker Gang
For decades, Kate “Ma” Barker was the legendary matriarch of a murderer’s den, mother to members of the Barker-Karpis gang. As a child she considered outlaw Jesse James a folk hero, and there were certainly signs that she encouraged her children to pursue reckless behavior. But as hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey note, she mostly indulged her villainy vicariously: Her children Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Fred did most of the gun slinging. (In Herman’s case, he slung a gun against himself when he was cornered by police.) The blame for all this behavior is quite muddy, which makes it a perfect topic for SYMIHC, where the hosts not only weigh history accounts by their source, but also take pleasure in everyone as a historical character, no matter how gruesome their lives may have been. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassThe Bombardment Of Baltimore
Though technically a re-airing of a 2010 episode, this is about as good as the archive gets. After taking a moment to adjust to regular co-host Deblina Chakraborty being replaced by the voice of SYMIHC alum Katie Lambert, listeners are transported to the titular event, which took place during the War Of 1812. It’s a welcome glimpse into an earlier period of the podcast, when the format was still highly academic but a little slower-paced. The hosts share how they felt during their research, for instance, and details like a note on an unexploded shell—“A present from the king of England”—make the 25-hour bombing seem as vivid as it was nearly 200 years ago. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: What’s The Deal With Executive Orders?
“Stroke of the pen, law of the land” is a Clinton advisor’s definition of an executive order, which is some sneaky business that can have quite a powerful effect. Executive orders are a way for the president to jump over the legislative branch, so it should come as no surprise that Congress has never been thrilled by them. Hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant note that they’re most heavily used in a time of war, and every president in history has fired some off—some even thousands. This is a bit more of a historical recap than a conceptual one, but it serves the topic well, as these orders can be powerful and far-reaching. Presidents Bush and Obama have played the most “legislative tennis” with executive orders, and the episode ends up painting a clear picture of the current political climate in America: There’s more tennis-playing than progress. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Is The Dead Sea Dead?
A remarkable natural phenomenon, the Dead Sea contains what co-host Josh Clark calls a great “geographical irony” in that it’s not dead, it’s dying. One of the saltiest bodies of water in nature, it’s an ancient and vast sea that could very well disappear by the year 2050. The sea is fed by the Jordan River, which, in spite of being rumored to cure diseases since the dawn of history, has been hijacked by civilization to hydrate the dry areas around it. There are plans in the works—dams and such—that will hopefully keep it alive, and Stuff You Should Know makes a compelling case for its survival. [DT]

This American Life: #468: Switcheroo 
The argument could be made that the theme “Switcheroo” (on the subject of pretending to be someone you’re not) doesn’t apply that aptly to all of this week’s stories, nor will everyone love the fact that the episode’s first act is a work of fiction. However, the second and third acts are definitely worth a listen: One covers the bizarre journalistic practice of outsourcing local news to the Philippines, while the second is a look at a possible contender for the world’s worst father and husband. [CZ]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #78: Sparks Nevada, Marshal On Mars: Mortified On Mars
Andy Richter’s prissy chef character, just recently introduced to the Sparks Nevada series, begins to feel weirdly essential in this installment. (The character also sounds increasingly like a great Patton Oswalt character, but that’s not to discredit Richter’s work with it.) Thrilling Adventure Hour’s gift for the silly comes out in running arguments about the character’s pretentious sci-fi cooking. Speaking of making fine use of a guest, Jim Beaver, formerly of Deadwood, just about takes the episode over as the unlikely villain Nice Man Dan. [SG]

The Tobolowsky Files #57: The Long Distance Relationship
In this overdue edition of The Tobolowsky Files, Stephen Tobolowsky reflects on a time when his already-strained family is collectively dealing with the imminent departure of its paterfamilias, who is preparing for an extended job on the other side of the country. As with the better Files, a misleading premise seems like a tangent, but four coinciding themes converge by the hour’s end. Before they do, Tobolowsky serves up a collection of aphorisms, metaphors, and maxims of various resonance as he muses on parenthood, Hanukkah, how the past programs our present behavior, and the pressures of working with people you idolize. But the story’s heart is the relationship between a father and his son, a challenging, book-loving dyslexic who cannot read for himself. Three kinds of tension climax in a touching negotiation that becomes a pivotal point for the entire household. [DXF]

The Todd Glass Show #52: Live From Indiana!
Recording an episode of The Todd Glass Show in a live setting seems like a risky proposition. The show’s spontaneous bits, performed by a bunch of stoners and punctuated by frequent breaks, don’t seem like they would quite translate to a live setting. As expected, the podcast’s first live show is a disorganized mess. However, it’s a delightful and hilarious mess. Part of its success has to do with Todd Glass’ genuine enthusiasm in bringing the podcast to a room full of fans who are clearly excited to peek behind the curtain and see how the comedy sausage is made—and based on the crowd’s response to the jingles and the recurring bits, it’s clear that it’s composed of avid listeners rather than casual comedy fans. [MS]

Walking The Room #110: Maniranha And China Jam
So long as both hosts are willing to get on board with an idea, the source of Walking The Room’s riffs has never really mattered, but this week follows so many twists and turns it feels as if it could derail at any time. Dave Anthony’s sadness caused by a trendy office space ends on a stripper-accessory think tank, while updates on face-eating, now also in China, later uses mockery of the Brant brothers to address our country’s class warfare. Greg Behrendt does most of this pathfinding, but credit Anthony for his tolerant exploration, particularly when it comes to the appearance of the episode’s titular character (Jon Hamm’s body and face, a piranha’s mouth). While the point of the segments can become obscured—except for the self-contained middle, which demonizes the Behrendt children for going to a Dodgers game—those left turns add wrinkles and layers to absurd tales that are funny enough already. [SM]

Who Charted? #83: Nick Tunes
This week, Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack are joined by the infinitely charming comedian Nick Thune, whose laid-back affability meshes well with the hosts. He has some great stories about how his parents relate to his comedy, and even makes a story about his mom discovering his stash of jizz socks when he was a teenager seem somehow endearing. Kremer has his share of great moments as well, including a story about the time a Texas comedy club owner hazed him with a performance by a one-armed stripper. Kremer and Thune also get into a great riff surrounding Kremer’s admission that seeing a woman walking her dog with a plastic bag over her hand ruins the attraction for him. [MS]

WTF With Marc Maron #292: Live From Gilda’s LaughFest
There’s a lot crammed into this extended live episode, recorded at Gilda’s LaughFest in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Comedy legend Alan Zweibel is by far the highlight as he leads Marc Maron through his remarkable career—which includes being a part of the original Saturday Night Live cast and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show—and shares tales of writing sperm-bank jokes for comedians in the Catskill Mountains and interviewing with Lorne Michaels. Kevin Nealon’s own amusing audition experience is a fun moment, as are Amber Preston’s charming response to being asked by Maron about her first handjob and Drew Hastings’ story of starting out as a fur-trapper. Tommy Johnagin almost seems like an afterthought, appearing so late in the episode, but his recounting of a near-missed fistfight, which includes a cameo from Moshe Kasher, provides a rollicking finish to the show. [MG]

WTF With Marc Maron #293: Joel McHale 
Diehard Community fans may be disappointed by the relative dearth of discussion of Joel McHale’s sitcom in this episode (the interview occurred prior to Dan Harmon’s ouster), but diehard Joel McHale fans will enjoy this good-natured, rambling discussion, which often digresses into pleasant shoot-the-shit territory rather than actual interview. Still, it’s enjoyable to hear McHale discuss his familial and educational background as well as the various career moves that led to The Soup and eventually Community. In general, McHale comes off as the kind of guy who enjoys giving his friends shit, as long as they know he’s kidding. [CZ]

You Made It Weird #62: Sara Schaefer
If there’s one particular mood that pervades You Made It Weird through all its explorations of topics and subject matter, it’s the glee that lies just beneath surface of Pete Holmes. And for that reason, comedian and writer Sara Schaefer’s prolonged, moving recounting of her mother’s death—the events leading up to it, the actual occurrence, and the aftermath and lasting effects—on this episode packs an especially powerful, emotional punch. It’s the centerpiece of the episode, and things inevitably taper off slightly after it, but the subsequent conversation about Schaefer’s troubled marriage is still pretty interesting. The detail of Schaefer’s thumb-sucking habit, revealed and discussed very briefly at the end of the episode, serves as a nice, bizarre cherry on top. [CG]

You Made It Weird #63: Greg Behrendt
The best episodes of You Made It Weird have a balance of comedy and insight, and Greg Behrendt’s appearance strikes that balance almost perfectly. It’s probably at its funniest in the early going while Behrendt is relating—with an energy to match Pete Holmes’—the “beautiful sadness” of his withering relevance (at least in the eyes of comedy club bookers) in his later career. The humor wanes only slightly over the subsequent 90 minutes, as the discussion turns to the fine line between innovation/creativity and replication/thievery. The last segment, focused on the virtues of being single and retaining total autonomy vs. falling in love and settling down is a bit tamer but terrific nonetheless. Holmes embodies the former, Behrendt the latter, and their whole interaction on the subject is fascinating. [CG]


THE REST

Hang Up And Listen: The Hot Hot Dead Heat Edition
Recent news of Jeneba Tarmoh conceding her spot as the third U.S. qualifier for the Olympic 100m to Allyson Felix—with whom she finished in a tie that stymied even the photo-finish examiner—undermines the first segment in this otherwise fine episode, but a heated discussion of the new college playoff system compensates. [ST]

The JV Club #17: April Richardson 
Fans of Morrissey and Jeanette Winterson will appreciate Janet’s conversation with comedian April Richardson, but Richardson’s low-drama adolescence isn’t particularly riveting. [OS]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #63: Sun Maid Vanilla Yogurt Raisins
In this episode, Mike and Tom telecommute, giving the episode all the charms implicit in an awkward, low-quality phone call. [DA]

Monday Morning Podcast
With the exception of Burr’s slightly humorous reaction to an offbeat listener email, this week’s episode never gets any better than middling. [CG]

Nerdist #224: Epic Meal Time
Even with lengthy discussions about bacon and giant sandwiches, this episode of Nerdist never finds a way to make effective use of guest Harley Morenstein. [DA]

Never Not Funny: #1102: Going Country With Tommy Johnagin
Tommy Johnagin sharply connects Jimmy Pardo’s disparate comments in the first half and shares some funny stories of growing up in rural Illinois in the second, but listeners’ enjoyment is likely dependant on their interest in country music, baseball, and dry observations on comedy clubs. [SM]

Sklarbro Country #101: He Knows What To Do: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Jason Nash
Broken Lizard’s Jay Chandrasekhar and Kevin Heffernan are amiable guests, but episode 101’s best moments occur before they arrive, thanks to some suitably bonkers news concerning Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, and a Chinese man who was killed by watching too much soccer. [KR]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #224: Kayla Lorette
Comic Kayla Lorette joins the hosts for outsider musings on the culture of lawn mowing, though an “Overheard” about a hipster gal’s short-lived nickname is better. [DXF]

Superego Episode 3:14
Although Superego has the most consistent batting average when it comes to great episodes, this one just doesn’t feel as cohesive as the rest. [MS]

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