The best podcasts for the week of March 29-April 4 

The best podcasts for the week of March 29-April 4 

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

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I have more Mac products than friends.” —Carrie Brownstein, WTF With Marc Maron 

“It’s not uncommon [for bats to live in chimneys of old houses]. It’s just uncommon to keep them there.” —Adam, resident of a bat-infested home, Judge John Hodgman

“Here’s why I don’t like Jane Fonda, and not just because I think Vietnam is one of the best things our country ever did.” —Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week?

“I thought Brogue was the X-Man who can take your British accent.” —Graham Clark, Stop Podcasting Yourself

NEW (TO US)

FilmSack
Bad-movie podcasts are nothing new to Podmass—see our write-ups of How Did This Get Made?, We Hate Movies, and the longest-running of the bunch, The Flop House—and they’ve grown more numerous over time. Like The Flop House, which debuted in 2007, FilmSack has a little more history to it, as hosts Scott Johnson, Brian Ibbot, Brian Dunaway, and Randy Jordan have subjected themselves to terrible movies since 2009. Clearly influenced by Mystery Science Theater 3000, the hosts cherry-pick their favorite scenes for mockery, seemingly mixing improvisation with pre-written jokes. The hosts can best be described as giggling pop-culture junkies, but they’re well-informed, which adds a welcome bit of polish to the podcast.

Episode 112 covers the terrible 1978 Star Wars knockoff called Starcrash, which several crew members had actually seen when it came out—their “What was I thinking?” moments punch up some dull points in the episode. The inclusion of ridiculous sound clips from the movie helps listeners understand what Johnson means when he says he thought the movie was a Funny Or Die gag. A couple tangents unrelated to Starcrash bring the episode down a bit, showing perhaps it’s a good thing FilmSack isn’t entirely improvised, but such missteps are rare for the podcast. [AJ]


OUTLIERS

Renaissance Festival Podcast
For anyone who has attended one, a distinctive aspect of Renaissance festivals is the period music, and enthusiasts Marc Gun and Matt Ledder highlight the best festival tunes on their weekly show. The majority of each episode features music recorded live at a festival or in the studio, with little commentary from the hosts, aside from the occasional interview with the artists. As such, the host’s personalities rarely come through, but the variety of music should entice fans of lutes and harpsichords. Episode 191 features an interview with prolific Renaissance festival mainstay and new-age musician David Arkenstone. The interview starts slowly, but eventually offers insight into how to write, research, and properly perform Renaissance-era music, as well as what musicians can expect on the business end of things. [AJ]


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
Ted Leo breaks his weeks-long Best Show absence, and it’s a good week to call in because Scharpling is in fine form: There’s his many impressions of varying quality (two actors from The Sopranos, Donald Trump and his sons, regular caller Spike), his ongoing beef with Marfa, Texas, and Gary The Squirrel’s excellent zingers directed at A.P. Mike. Jon Wurster is also in top shape, when he calls as 53-year-old Newbridge Ratmen catcher Gus Brennan, which makes Scharpling a little star-struck, until the team’s catcher (also Wurster) steps in to dispel the myth. The only complaint? Not enough of everyone’s favorite rodent puppet—but maybe Scharpling doesn’t want Gary stealing the show. [JD]

The Bugle #188: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines 
While the episode begins on shaky ground with a potentially mind-numbing story from John Oliver about meeting Shaquille O’Neal, it picks up quickly thereafter. Andy Zaltzman finds a perfect target in a strike by fuel-truck drivers in the U.K. and the government’s outdated advice to the public about it. The duo’s jokes about high gas prices and campaign-finance reform perfectly blend rational advice while keeping the gags rolling at a breakneck pace. If world leaders would just listen to this episode, gas might cost a nickel, democracy would thrive, and everyone would just have a laugh and get along. [AJ]

How Was Your Week? #56: “Jam Ghetto”: Sharon Needles, Whitney Jefferson
Julie Klausner records live in California this week, and the rerelease of Titanic in theaters has her pining for Leonardo DiCaprio circa 1997. There’s also a bit of basset-hound news that can’t go unmentioned, but the guests are the big attraction this week. Whitney Jefferson from Buzzfeed talks about Willard Scott, whom Klausner didn’t know was still living, including a bizarre anecdote about the Today Show mainstay singing the weather dressed as Boy George. (Sadly, it’s not on YouTube.) Klausner’s following talk with Sharon Needles of RuPaul’s Drag Race has everything fans could hope for: some trash talk on Lady Gaga and some discussion of G.G. Allin, Cindy Sherman, and gay culture. Needles comes off as brilliant, funny, and subversive, while Klausner has plenty of great questions that almost bring her guest to tears. The whole thing ends up being one of the most interesting and best conversations ever on How Was Your Week? [JD]

Judge John Hodgman, #53 Cannery Row
With the MaxFunDrive in effect, the JJH podcast has serendipitously produced two of its strongest episodes to date, starting with “Cannery Row,” which is notable less for comedy than for a wealth of information about proper canning technique. The dispute is between mother and daughter. The daughter complains that her mother, who’s been canning homemade preserves and salsas for the better part of 20 years, doesn’t follow the most sanitary procedures. The mother counters that she has experience and expertise, and that her unseasoned daughter is drawing haphazardly from the Internet and from books like Canning For Dummies. Despite his “resident expert” bona fides, Hodgman brings in Food Network guru Alton Brown to help him sort through issues of sanitation versus sterilization, “headspace,” and why canners dispose of the rings around jars after they’ve created a vacuum seal. It’s a lesson so rich in detail that listeners might be inspired to can their own tainted jellies and jams. [ST]

Judge John Hodgman, #54 Die Flederhaus
If “Die Flederhaus” isn’t the funniest JJH episode to date, then it’s certainly in close contention. Two brothers, Noah and Adam, live in a dilapidated “fiberglass shack” they bought out of foreclosure for $27,000, but the real owners of the house are a colony of bats that nest in the chimney, the basement, the attic, and the walls, and periodically come screeching out at them from a hole in the bathroom. Their living situation is funny enough, but it’s the brothers’ divergent personalities that give this episode a real kick. Noah is an animal-lover who’s afraid of the bats, but wants to find some humane way of expelling them from the house; Adam, by contrast, seems perfectly content with his current practice of killing the bat invaders with “flat, aerodynamic objects.” Adam’s blunt assessments of this incredibly absurd situation are comic gold, punctuated by Bailiff Jesse Thorn’s infectious gales of laughter. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #54: Meghan Parkansky (A Listener)
Mental Illness Happy Hour listeners already hear from other listeners regularly, thanks to Paul Gilmartin’s sharing of surveys people submit to him about their emotional lives. Doing a full-blown interview with a listener who got in touch seems riskier. Gilmartin and guest Meghan Parkansky make it work, keeping her story organized as they chart her gradual course from a pleasant-enough small-town upbringing to schizophrenia. It helps that Gilmartin knows which moments to seize on, most importantly the utter black comedy of the guest’s coming-out story. [SG]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #53: Zapp’s
Having accidentally deleted an episode about Kettle Chips (which partially explains a two-week gap), Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh make a big show of apologizing and arguing with each other. They manage to pick it up with help from Louisiana-based Zapp’s potato chips, and the resulting episode nicely balances what MATES does well, from the blather about the finer points of chip flavors to Black’s completely unrelated pronouncements. (On March Madness: “I had either Baylor or Juilliard to win it all.”) [SG]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr was tired, hungover, and generally frustrated when he recorded this week’s episode; luckily that’s a winning combination for him. He’s right when he says that this installment is only for those who derive a somewhat perverse sense of joy from hearing him struggle (and mostly fail) to be funny, which he does for pretty much the entire episode. He squeaks out a few gems of self-deprecation as he comes to grips with how unfunny his riffing is—e.g., “This [podcast] feels like there was some sort of unbelievable tragedy and I still had to come on the air.” It seems that he abandons more bits than he actually tries to finish as he despondently asserts that he is “out of comedy” and grows increasingly frustrated with himself. It’s not always comfortable to listen to, but it’s damn funny. [CG]

The Moth: Fathia Absie: My Sister’s Keeper
Plenty of Moth storytellers think they have problems, but Fathia Absie had to deal with bringing her family into the U.S. from the living hell of Somalia. On top of that, her sister puts herself at risk of being deported. Absie tries to reconcile optimism with a bitter sense of betrayal, while telling a story that depends on messy bureaucracies and the kind of complicated narrative that’s so chaotic it’s a little hard to choke down. The ending would normally seem too nice and neat, but she proves patient and genuine enough to make it all hold together. [SG]

Nerdist #187: Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche
Nerdist has always been on the lighthearted side of the comedy-podcast spectrum, to the benefit and detriment of the show. Here, Chris Hardwick welcomes voiceover actors Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche, who are best known by their work on Pinky And The Brain. Paulsen and LaMarche slip in and out of characters the entire episode, and it’s part of what makes the interview work so well. It maintains the Nerdist’s affable nature, but avoids becoming too annoyingly playful. Paulsen and LaMarche not only bust out their signature voices—which gives way to the least kid-friendly dialogue Pinky and the Brain have ever uttered—but the two have plenty of industry experience and compelling anecdotes about legends like Rodney Dangerfield and Mel Brooks. It’s an episode that highlights Nerdist’s strengths—and allows listeners to hear children’s cartoon characters cuss a lot. [DA]

Nerdist #188: Marc Maron
Fans of Marc Maron know his neurotic anger informs all facets of his personality, making his appearance on Nerdist seem at least somewhat out of character. However, the interplay between Maron and the Nerdist hosts is natural and downright fun. The group discusses podcasting at length, and Maron once again takes to task The A.V. Club’s Steve Heisler for his piece about comedy-podcast overload. Maron doesn’t dwell in the on this sore subject for long—in fact, he ends up sounding significantly more positive than fans may expect. The lengthy episode avoids rehashing the topics covered on Chris Hardwick’s WTF appearance, and it ends up serving as a lighter, more fun-filled yang to Maron’s typically anxious yin. [DA]

Never Not Funny: #1017 Cutting The Cord With Moshe Kasher
Never Not Funny is back in fine form this week with an appearance by friend and comedian Moshe Kasher, whose new memoir, Kasher In The Rye, provides much of the basis of conversation. Fortunately, Jimmy Pardo doesn’t delve in too deep into its potentially dour content—its subtitle, The True Tale Of A White Boy from Oakland Who Became A Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, And Then Turned 16, should explain its premise—instead taking joy in relentless plugs and titular puns. Winding through familiar topics of Mandy Patinkin and the Draw Something app, and a humorous riff on The Hunger Games stretched past its life expectancy, Kasher proves a reliably supportive guest, capable of polishing and building upon Pardo’s setups in unexpected ways. (“I’m just jumping into the dialogue. I don’t know what’s happening,” he says amidst a typical Pardo rant at intern Dan Katz.) Short on time, Kasher leaves on a high note with a startling bit on accidentally bringing a phone-sex worker out of retirement. Friend/comedian Dan Kaufman steps in to close out the episode with another game of MovieKatz. [SM]

RadioLab, Guts
RadioLab’s installment for April is a strong hour about all of the stuff between “your mutt and your butt,” as Robert Krulwich puts it in one host segment. It might seem as though the show would have trouble getting a full hour’s worth of material out of the stomach and intestines, but Krulwich and Jad Abumrad take on all manner of fascinating stories. They send a producer out to New Jersey to stick his hand in a cow’s stomach, to feel digestion in action. They dig into the history of the man who proved that the stomach wasn’t a land of magic in the 1800s, thanks to a gunshot victim whose wound healed improperly. And they relate the story of how your intestines are just a teeming mass of bacteria, waiting to break down the food you eat that slips past the stomach. The episode gets bonus points for a guest appearance by the hilarious author Mary Roach. [TV]

Sklarbro Country #88: Hurdler Backpack: Taran Killam, James Adomian, Dan Van Kirk
Randy and Jason Sklar are so honestly enthusiastic that it’s easy to believe they genuinely enjoy every incarnation of Saturday Night Live, with the possible exception of the notorious Jean Doumanian era. (This being Sklarbro Country, Doumanian is actually name-checked more than once, as is ’80s one-hit wonder Murray Head.) To wit, the brothers enthusiastically welcome SNL’s Taran Killam, who offers the inside scoop on his famous Tim Tebow-Jesus sketch, Lana Del Ray’s controversial performance, a bit involving a Sklar-esque pair of twin standup comedians, and more. Killam is funny and charming, and many of the riffs are hilarious, especially one about Killam as a white baby in Eddie Murphy’s entourage. (Why would Eddie Murphy have a white baby in his entourage? Because he can.) Then the always-welcome James Adomian shows up in the suspiciously energetic guise of Gary Busey to discuss how much he’s going to enjoy checking out Joan Baez and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at a South By Southwest festival he’s blissfully unaware has already come and gone. Dan Van Kirk also makes a brief (but hilarious) appearance as Mark Wahlberg. [NR]

The Smartest Man In The World #152: Pinkies
It’s easy to hear how much Greg Proops enjoys performing for a London audience that eats up his esoteric, encyclopedic banter about the eccentrics of stage and screen. Of course, as usual, it’s easy to lose track of how he’s even getting from one point to another. But perhaps because he’s emboldened by a strong response, he’s able to keep on taking chances, then glue things together with the most puzzling of elements, most admirably his Jeremy Irons-as-crazy-person voice. [SG]

Sound Opinions: #331: The Kills
Hearing Jim DeRogatis crack jokes about the new Madonna record might make for cheap and dry laughs—“Well, there is the fact that she can barely sing”—but it’s somehow enjoyable all the same. It helps that this episode takes the edge off with help from a usually more abrasive duo, The Kills. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince come in for an acoustic set that convincingly reveals a warmer side—even the Willie Nelson cover, “Crazy,” is rather nice. A review of Dr. John’s new album, Gris Gris, helps to round this one out into an engagingly well-balanced episode. [SG]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #211: Charlie Demers
This week’s consistently entertaining Stop Podcasting Yourself is an unusually linear conversation between hosts Graham Clark and Dave Shumka and guest Charlie Demers, who meshes seamlessly with their sensibilities and sense of humor. Demers is a standup comedian and adjunct professor, a combination whose bountiful overlap emerges as he discusses teaching Writing For New Media to a generation of students who, though only 10 years younger than he, hail from a different world. The episode has an informal recurring linguistic theme that touches on the plural of “fedora,” the past tense of “zing,” and variations on a celebrity shorthand nickname for Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence. [DXF]

Thrilling Adventure Hour #65:  Sparks Nevada, Marshal On Mars, “Showdown, You Move Too Fast”
Even in a slower installment of its Sparks Nevada series, Thrilling Adventure Hour has enough weird little paths to take it somewhere comedically. The plot is simply that the Mars-based lawman is continuing a courtship in the space-saloon—so, not a lot of action to play with—but the talking space-saloon computer and the awkward Martian Croach the Tracker become unlikely scene-stealers. An exhaustive running joke about how the bartender doesn’t want any trouble further proves the silly resourcefulness of the show’s writers. [SG]

The Todd Glass Show #38: Rory Scovel, Daniel Kinno
The Todd Glass Show seems to exist primarily to make Todd Glass laugh; that other people find it funny is a neat bonus. It can be a little intimidating to non-listeners, because so many of its bits feel like perverse inside jokes. When Rory Scovel and Daniel Kinno drop by for the podcast’s 38th installment, for example, much of the comedy comes from Glass and his compatriots repeatedly pranking Kinno by revealing a version of the Neil Diamond chestnut “Sweet Caroline” he professes to enjoy that was actually recorded by The Jonas Brothers. It’s a surreal tangent that occupies some strange middle ground between anti-comedy and The Rake Effect, the Simpsons-derived law that an inspired bit repeated enough times will be first hilarious, then tiresome, then hilarious again through sheer repetition. That proves true here, though heaven knows what people listening to the podcast for the first time would make of Glass and company’s gleefully repetitive, pathologically silly tomfoolery. [NR]

Uhh Yeah Dude #317
Jonathan Larroquette is generous with stories from his personal life, and his celebrity sightings, misspent youth, and druggy anecdotes are integral to the show’s flow. Seth Romatelli, though, is a little cagier, which is why episode 317—which opens with a long personal account about the start of the baseball season—is a welcome peek behind the curtain. The story segues into a takedown of Derek Jeter, some dubious neuroscience, and a lively, admiring discussion of “belly lava” (and its amazing powers of bike-digestion), before winding down with some light techno-paranoia about being watched by your own TV. The UYD winning streak continues with this especially animated entry. [CW]

Walking The Room #97: Broth And Heartbreak
It’s not surprising that Dave Anthony and Greg Behrendt trade stories about their teenage blackouts this week, nor that a couple key bits revolve around bodily fluids. However, most of these things become ridiculously involved and elaborate, in a way that gives Walking The Room’s hosts plenty of room for bizarre riffing, and one of them involves the image of Anthony in blackface. Earlier in the episode, Behrendt gets in one of his better anecdotes about family life, thanks to a tennis star giving his daughters a couple of sopping sweatbands. [SG]

Who Charted? #70: Daddy Issues: Moshe Kasher
So far, the best Who Charted? guests have been hip-hop enthusiasts, and comedian/author Moshe Kasher nearly tops that recent Jensen Karp episode. Kasher’s rapid speaking cadence serves him well as he covers an impressive amount of ground in just 76 minutes, offering a peek into his new memoir, Kasher In The Rye. Kasher tells a few stories of his drug-addled youth in Oakland, including one about his penchant for peeing into Wendy’s cups and his radiator when he was too strung out to get up and walk down the hall to the restroom. [MS]

WTF With Marc Maron #266: Jeffrey Tambor
Guests tend to be a little deferential toward Marc Maron during their visits to the Cat Ranch. They’re on Maron’s turf, after all, and the superstar podcaster has a reputation, merited or not, for being an intimidating figure. There’s none of that, however, with Maron’s gloriously unpredictable live interview with Jeffrey Tambor from South By Southwest. The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development cast member is, if anything, much pricklier and more combative than the show’s famously prickly and combative host. The sharp-witted veteran character actor gives as good as he gets in an interview defined by an invigorating tension as Maron quizzes Tambor about his early days acting opposite Al Pacino in …And Justice For All, finding the soft, squishy soul of Hank Kingsley, and the word “cunt” (a taboo epithet whose visceral impact Maron memorably compares to “if your mouth could throw a rock”). A casually confrontational, off-handedly witty Tambor keeps Maron on his toes rather than the other way around, and the two have chemistry as strong as it is explosive. They aren’t just an unusually engaged guest and host here; they’re practically an accidental comedy team. [NR]

WTF With Marc Maron #267: Carrie Brownstein
Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia and Wild Flag fame is a simpatico interview subject for Marc Maron: She’s a pet-lover who has a foot in the comedy and rock worlds, she’s been in hard-to-define relationships, and has a reputation for a prickly personality. (Brownstein has a funny but cringe-inducing story about being rude to REM’s Peter Buck.) Comedy is only a small part of the conversation as the two primarily discuss music (equipment specifically), the issues of being a woman in rock, and the downsides of touring. [CZ]


THE REST

Comedy Bang Bang #151: Fan Fiction: Fred Savage, Jackie Clarke, Gil Ozeri
Although Scott Aukerman and guest Fred Savage have never met before, they settle into an easy banter like old friends (unlike that Jon Heder episode), but Comedy Bang Bang tends to succeed or fail on the strength of its comic guests. This time, it’s Pam and Len Bicell (Jackie Clarke and Happy Endings writer Gil Ozeri), who won a charity auction to be on the show. Although they score some funny moments (like Len’s CBB slash fiction), their bizarre back story never really finds traction, and their appearance feels like a missed opportunity. [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair, Moshe Kasher, Brendon Walsh
This episode benefits from the energy of some enthusiastic new blood on the panel, in the form of Best Friends Forever co-stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham. Along with Moshe Kasher and Brendon Walsh, they make for some fun pre- and between-game chatter, but both Build-A-Title and the Leonard Maltin Game fizzle out pretty quickly, keeping this generally solid DLM outing from quite reaching “best” status. [GK]

Hang Up And Listen: The Wrestling Free WWE Edition
Although a typically solid HUAL episode—the high level of preparation and discussion makes a dud impossible—the segment with David Shoemaker (a.k.a. “The Masked Man”) doesn’t crack the mysteries of WWE fandom or its place in the sporting world. The “Afterball” segments are all terrific, however, especially Josh Levin’s reading of an 1898 memo to baseball teams warning them against profane phrases like “Oh, go fuck yourself” and “I’ll make you suck my ass.” [ST]

This American Life #461: Take The Money And Run For Office
This week’s episode examines the role of money in politics, from how campaign fundraising works to super PACs and potential reform. While a fair amount of the material is surprising—especially concerning how politicians interact with lobbyists—most of it’s stacked up front, and the episode begins to flounder after about 20 minutes. [EW]

You Made It Weird #36: Duncan Trussell
Pete Holmes is too delighted by how “wild” he finds comedian and podcaster Duncan Trussell and his notions of how the world works ever to segue into a different topic, and that turns out to be a bad thing. Some of Trussell’s points are insightful—like the media’s backward attitudes toward the depiction of violence vs. sexuality, and the deplorable effects of America’s long-standing patriarchy—but most of his ideas aren’t quite as profound (or coherent) as he seems to think. The novelty fades long before the 80-minute episode does. [CG]

You Made It Weird #37: Myq Kaplan
As an endlessly enthusiastic host who doles out laughter and praise as liberally as a drunken sailor tossing out beads at Mardi Gras, Pete Holmes tends to celebrate his guests and their foibles rather than challenge them. That’s generally endearing, but when his guest is as smug and self-satisfied as standup comedian, linguist, non-monogamist, and all-around know-it-all Myq Kaplan, it can be more than a little frustrating. [NR]