The best podcasts for the week of May 10-16 

The best podcasts for the week of May 10-16 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“Now, now, now. This is getting dangerously close to compromise before I’ve even had a chance to tell one of you that you’re wrong.”  —John Hodgman, Judge John Hodgman

“They actually offer a dinner with Jimmy Johnson and other ExtenZe users. Let’s hope the table is about four feet off the ground.” —Mike Pesca, breaking down Jimmy Johnson’s penis enlargement pills commercial, Hang Up And Listen

“It’s like Peter Dinklage—like, why do they always have to call him ‘Dinklage’?”
“I know! Because that’s the noise his tiny balls make.” —Jermaine Jones (Jordan Peele) and Scott Aukerman, Comedy Bang Bang

“And I said to Michael, ‘What’s the deal with the kids on the balcony?’” —Thomas Dolby, introducing a weird twist to his Michael Jackson story, The Moth

“By the way, for your listeners, I’m not fucking fat, so I didn’t have that much [weight] to lose, okay? Whatever you’re picturing, picture me thin.” —Jamie Denbo, revealing her troubled past but saving face, on The Mental Illness Happy Hour

“I just imagine burying you alive, throwing a shovelful of dirt on top of your mouth during that laugh… Out of pity, I would clunk the shovel on your head to put you out… but then I would jam dirt into your mouth and use the back side of the shovel to just jam it all the way down your throat.” [Laughs hysterically.]

“Wow, this has taken a very dark turn… And I’ve never seen you laugh this hard!” —Chelsea Peretti and Pete Holmes, You Made It Weird

“Every standup festival is a crazy sausage party.” —Graham Clark, Stop Podcasting Yourself

NEW (TO US)

99% Invisible
Though it started just a couple of years ago, 99% Invisible has already explained some of the world’s biggest mysteries. Maybe not mysteries like where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, but little, tiny things like why there are mirrors outside elevators or how cities are subtly divided into districts based on class. 99% Invisible explains the way things around us are designed the way they are, from coins to turnstiles. Hosted by the entirely charming Roman Mars and packaged in little 10- or 20-minute blurbs every week or two, the podcast is just enough information to make listeners feel informed on a specific topic. It’s fodder for bar talk, but it helps listeners take a little bit more notice of everything around them.

Take episode 54, “The Colour Of Money.” Hard American dollars might be something most people deal with on a daily basis, but most people haven’t really looked at just how hideous they are. There are eight different fonts on any given bill, and it all just looks old, like relics from when our paper currency system was first founded. Episode 54 takes a look at how U.S. currency could be could changed, from upgrading the material it’s printed on to making bills different sizes to help the blind. Ultimately, the podcast decides that we’ll probably get rid of hard currency before we turn the $50 bill orange, but learning why the $50 bill looks that looks the way is what makes 99% Invisible so interesting. [ME]


OUTLIERS

20 Sided Death
Every week 20 Sided Death features a new adventure, with seven friends playing a modified version of Dungeons And Dragons based on the fourth-edition D&D campaign “Greyhawk.” The first 15-20 minutes of each episode recaps the story thus far via a drunken dwarf named Thoradin, which is helpful in keeping track of the massive amount of content. While some parts of the show can get boring as dice are rolled and numbers are calculated, once the action gets going and the players have the freedom to come up with imaginative ways of crossing lava flows or searching dead bodies, the enthusiasm becomes infectious. Episode 49: Hydra Licks has a lot more dice rolling then the fun CSI antics of the previous episode, but the inclusion of references to Rancor pits and a unique take on how to open a locked door by asking which way the hinges are facing confirms that this D&D campaign is a versatile and creative experience because it has the right blend of people. [AJ]


THE BEST

Hang Up And Listen: The Live In Philadelphia Edition
Recording in front of a live audience at Penn University brings out the absolute best in the HUAL crew, putting a little mustard on the average show. The highlight is a special appearance by legendary sports writer/Internet crank Buzz Bissinger, who comes on to talk up his new memoir about fathering (Father’s Day) and a brief follow-up to his classic Friday Night Lights that’s been released as a Kindle Single. Bissinger’s relationship with Boobie Miles, the tragic central character of FNL, gets a particularly affecting airing. The “Afterball” segments are gold, too, including Mike Pesca’s phrase-by-phrase breakdown of Jimmy Johnson’s penis-enlargement pill commercial, Stefan Fatsis’ rousing retelling of Penn’s dramatic victory over Harvard in 1982, and Josh Levin’s interview with Dick Lane, a man who hit five homers in one game in 1948. (His secret? A terrible hangover.) [ST]

Judge John Hodgman: Spare The Hodg, Spoil The Child
This week’s case puts Judge Hodgman in the precarious position of having to advise a mother how best to raise her child, but he handles it with sensitivity and keen insight, deferring to her strict parenting philosophy while gently offering some guidance. At issue is a dispute between two sisters, Aimee and Gail, over Aimee’s 3-year-old son: Aimee doesn’t like Gail coddling the boy when he should be working through his emotions on his own, and they focus on an incident where they were out of town and the boy had a meltdown over a blankee he left back at the hotel. Once Hodgman figures out the reason why they were out of town—for a funeral—he talks wisely about the difficulties of explaining death to children who cannot yet comprehend it. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #60: Jamie Denbo
Paul Gilmartin’s usually even-handed enough on The Mental Illness Happy Hour that he doesn’t need to balance things out by apologizing for being too heavy or too self-indulgent in his discussion of “the battles in our heads.” Still, a little self-deprecating humor is refreshing, and that’s one thing Gilmartin and his guest, actress Jamie Denbo, share in during this episode. If anyone’s been jarred by Gilmartin’s own recent revelations about his relationship with his mother, it helps that Denbo provides a female counterpoint, especially the grotesque experience of having older ladies comment on her developing teenage body. [SG]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #48: Kraft String Cheese
Faced with a package sent by Kraft containing various string cheeses, Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanaugh end up turning in one of their best episodes. Black’s visceral response to the tomato-basil string cheese lingers throughout the episode, and it works well, with many references to past MATES jokes breaking up the review. The jokes are plentiful, and the banter is fresh and never forced. [DA]

The MothThomas Dolby: Never Never Land
In its own modest way, British pop singer Thomas Dolby’s story about befriending Michael Jackson acknowledges Jackson’s distressing private side without lapsing into tawdriness or outright scorn. He manages a tricky tonal feat: balancing the praise and the icky frankness that most conversations about Jackson keep miles apart. As much as Dolby stays on the side of understanding, it’s hard not to shudder a bit when he describes suddenly noticing “little faces” during a hang session at Jackson’s house. Even that doesn’t ultimately manage to shake the kindness and dignity of the story. [SG]

Nerdist #205: Cara Santa Maria
If there’s one thing Nerdist hosts Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray are capable of, it’s transforming some of science’s driest topics into a humorous, lighthearted interview. Neuroscientist Cara Santa Maria doesn’t take herself too seriously—which helps the Nerdist boys immensely—but even when they talk about the larger implications of topics such as dinosaurs, evolution, and the scientific method, the trio mixes humor and insight well enough that the episode never falters, keeping the conversation moving in thought-provoking directions. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1022: Measuring Up With Scott Aukerman
Scott Aukerman has always played the juvenile foil on Never Not Funny, but this week might be his most provocative appearance yet. Quickly falling into his self-defined role, Aukerman applauds Matt Belknap on the birth of his second child with characteristic mock-sincerity and giddy immaturity. (“Matthew, might I congratulate you? I had no idea… that your penis still worked.”) This sets the tone and topic for the remainder of the first half, in which they exclusively discuss all things penile, from the oddity of circumcision and the lack of privacy in school showers to a variety of records that Aukerman guesses with eerie accuracy. Attempts to switch topics in the second half mostly succeed, as they discuss Aukerman’s upcoming Comedy Bang Bang television series and their shared bemusement of astrology and spirit animals. No matter the subject, though, Aukerman’s tune hardly changes. After 16 consistently hilarious appearances, why bother growing up? [SM]

Sklarbro Country #94: Jon Hamm, Chris Cox, Dan Van Kirk 
Jon Hamm’s quick wit, sonorous voice, charming personality, and deep engagement with the comedy community make him an ideal podcast guest. The dashing Mad Men icon has such great chemistry with the Sklars in particular that he’s practically the third Sklar Brother. (It helps that they all hail from St. Louis.) Hamm proves predictably delightful on his second visit to the calming shores of Sklarbro Country, reminiscing about the good old days when a celebrity lunatic like Morganna The Kissing Bandit could run on the field at a ballgame and be politely escorted back to her seat for her troubles, and hilariously imitating a theoretical Oklahoma Thunder fan excited to have the male strippers of Thunder Down Under perform the halftime show. Hamm even closes the unusually strong episode with an epic voice-over-off with Chris Cox’s cantankerous Sam Elliott.  [NR]

The Smartest Man In The World #157: Sabotages
Greg Proops’ penchant for sincere rants can occasionally serve him well. During this performance, he pays tribute to the late Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys—not through lots of vocal histrionics this time, but with a sharp and reasoned lecture about Yauch’s admirable development as a person and artist. That, coupled with a bit about how his last name might go over in the South, is enough to compensate for the fact that, at another point in the episode, he literally recites recipes. [SG]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassThe Prince Of Humbug: P.T. Barnum
P.T. Barnum was an extremely unusual individual, arrested multiple times for libel when he was still a young man collecting biological oddities. Much of Barnum’s career had more in common with Ripley’s Believe It Or Not than the family-friendly circuses to which is name is still attached. He specialized in a museum and freak show, which became so popular that even Charles Dickens paid a visit. He also became obsessed with making his freak show wholesome, a fascinating line to have drawn in such an exploitative business. Like many episodes, the stories get quite dense, but Barnum’s private history with the museum just gets more and more bizarre, and it’s worth a listen to anyone with an interest in this 19th-century impresario. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Operation Mincemeat: Part 1
If wars can be won by individuals, Britain’s bizarre “Operation Mincemeat” may very well have been the crux of Nazi Germany’s downfall. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, was even involved in its inception. It’s an incredibly complicated story difficult to summarize here, but it ends in a fresh corpse being floated in the general direction of the Nazis with false military information. Hearing how British intelligence procured the corpse and created fine details of its false life in the name of saving the world makes for an exciting listen. Those with a respectable working knowledge of MI5, Fleming, or World War II may have heard this one a few times before, but hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey don’t stick so hard to their script that they lose the human element. Part 2 promises to tie up how the mission’s actual execution went. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: What Is A Shotgun House?
The “shotgun house” design is considered one of the most direct contributions of African culture to American architecture, and the hosts tie this deftly to the last 150 years in African-American culture. The shotgun house was responsible for the introduction of porches to the American home, it was affordable, and it has saved displaced communities over and over again. Interestingly, these houses are not named after guns; the name most likely comes from the term “shogun” or “God’s house” in the original Yoruba language, owing tradition to Haitian immigrants to New Orleans. Like most faded details in America’s history, the home’s traditions are worth hearing and remembering. [DT]

Thrilling Adventure Hour #71: Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer: Vild Vild Vest 
Even for The Thrilling Adventure Hour, the Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer serial is acrobatically ridiculous: It casts the disappeared pilot as a secret American operative who hunts down time-traveling Nazis. This time, it’s a time-travel story, a Nazi-fighting story, and a Western, with Earhart confronting some “krauts” (a word used often here, with amusing gusto) who’ve installed themselves in gunman Billy The Kid’s territory. As usual, the tropes are not only ambitiously mixed, but resourcefully tied together—as best exemplified by a Nazi spy who plays “Ride Of The Valkyries” on the saloon’s honky-tonk. [SG]

WTF With Marc Maron 278: Craig Ferguson
There’s an interesting disconnect in Craig Ferguson’s WTF episode between the nonchalant, self-deprecating way Ferguson discusses his life and the color, drama, and ingratiating weirdness of the life he’s describing. With Maron’s purposeful prodding, Ferguson recalls the strange, detour-filled path he took from working-class Scottish kid to punk-rock drummer to “Bing Hitler” (Ferguson’s early stand-up alter-ego) to being a bouncer and experimental dancer in New York, as well as a botched would-be break that found Ferguson starring in an American television show opposite a very young Gwyneth Paltrow and Zach Braff. After a bit of a prickly start, the host and guest eventually fall into a comfortable rhythm on a compelling, quietly insightful episode that covers a lot of ground. [NR]

You Made It Weird #48: Chelsea Peretti 2
This is Chelsea Peretti’s second guest appearance on You Made It Weird, but even casual listeners will recognize her name from Pete Holmes’ frequent dropping of it in his conversations with other guests. The episode takes the form of a clip show as the two play and comment on the compiled audio clips of all Holmes’ references to Peretti from the first 30 or so episodes. As the two hours elapse, Holmes gets more and more uncomfortable and Peretti’s playful barbs become more and more vicious—culminating in a detailed description of how she’d like to murder him—and both of their laughs grow more and more delirious. There’s not much in the way of insight, but it’s undeniably fun. [CG]

You Made It Weird #49: Bo Burnham
Singer, songwriter, actor, and stand-up comedian Bo Burnham is a grizzled comedy veteran at 21. Burnham followed an unusual path, being discovered and signed to Comedy Central Records while still a fresh-faced high-school student peddling naughty homemade ditties. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it from a You Made It Weird that deals only tangentially with Burnham’s history as a quintessential comedy prodigy, and instead mostly focuses on Burnham’s thoughts on women in comedy, sexuality, and what it’s like to be an effeminate heterosexual male whose proclivities are regularly called into question. Burnham and Pete Holmes share a thoughtful, introspective conversation about some very big issues while leaving enough fruitful, fascinating territory unexplored—namely Burnham’s singular career—to merit a repeat visit to the podcast. [NR]


THE REST

The Bugle #194: Global Election Round Up
There’s a disappointing lack of The Bugle’s signature charm and originality on this election-themed episode, and most of the jokes are extended well after they stop being funny. [AJ]

Comedy Bang Bang #158: Words With Friends: Gillian Jacobs, Jordan Peele
Gillian Jacobs is delightful, but Jordan Peele’s character takes a long time to get anywhere, producing only scattered laughs. [KR]

Doug Loves MoviesBobcat Goldthwait, Jimmy Pardo, Paul Scheer and Morgan Murphy
While there’s some good baby-killing humor from first-time guest Bobscratch Goldfarb, time gets away from this episode, the first in a long time to go without The Leonard Maltin Game. [GK]

How Did This Get Made #36: On The Line 
The slight 80 minutes of Lance Bass trying and failing to be a straight romantic lead doesn’t inspire the group’s best material, despite strong jokes about Joey Fatone’s Second City/UCB background. [OS]

Monday Morning Podcast: 5-14-12
This week’s episode, on topics ranging from the food supply to Chewbacca, is mildly entertaining throughout, but it never really goes much beyond that. [CG]

Nerdist #206: Tina Fey
Despite the jovial back-and-forth that starts the episode, Chris Hardwick’s reliance on fan-submitted questions for the second half derails it. [DA]

Sound OpinionsSongs For Mother’s Day And RIP Adam “MCA” Yauch
With help from John Lennon, Smashing Pumpkins, and even the Shangri-Las, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’ selection of mother-themed tunes takes on perhaps a more tragic and twisted bent than intended. [SG]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #217: Nicole Passmore 
Broke comic Nicole Passmore guests for a spitball session where nothing sticks, including bits about comedian psychology, frozen treats, and themed racehorses. [DXF]

Stuff You Should Know: Interpol: World Police
Interpol would be a remarkably interesting topic, but unfortunately color-coded faxes take up far more time than any one international police adventure. [DT]

The Todd Glass Show: Rory Scovel and Fake Problems
Without a strong guest to mix things up (Doug Benson canceled), this episode of The Todd Glass Show feels an awful lot like one long, fitfully amusing inside joke. [NR]

Uhh Yeah Dude #221
Seth recounts the incredible true story of Hitler’s bird-beshat Olympics while Jonathan stresses over his generational identity. Pockets of both greatness and slackness abound in this episode. [CW]

Walking The Room #103: Jet Ski And Ear Coin
A phishing email from a friend and updates on children, careers, and Greg Behrendt’s paintball trip comprise this mostly redundant episode. [SM]

Who Charted? #76: Summah Preview
Oddly, an interview with the exceedingly likable Janet Varney somehow results in a profoundly boring episode. [MS]

WTF With Marc Maron: #279 Live From SF Sketchfest
Aside from Pete Holmes’ “angry comedy dad, you know you love me” rapport with Maron and Laraine Newman dissing current SNL and Chevy Chase, the rest of the episode is fairly skippable. [CZ]

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