The best podcasts for the week of May 24-30

The best podcasts for the week of May 24-30

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

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“It sounds like Paddington Bear’s gay cousin.”—Sklarbro Country on Benedict Cumberbatch’s hopelessly British name

“I’m a little much.”—Pete Holmes, You Made It Weird
“It was one of the most believable computer animations I’ve ever seen.” —9-year-old Alina Foley’s rave review of John Carter, Doug Loves Movies

“Light one up or pour one down, and let’s all get together and put on wings like Icarus and see how high we can fucking go tonight before the horrible fucking sun that The Man made out of his hideous nuclear agenda burns our fucking delicate artistic wings and sends our sensitive ass spiraling back to the ground like a burnt McNugget full of regret. Or let’s just fucking bullshit around until something funny happens.” —Greg Proops’ particularly odd introductory ramble, The Smartest Man In The World

“They should have a podcaster game where it’s like, us and Marc Maron and Ira Glass and Jesse Thorn, and we’re all out there trying to kill each other, and Judge John Hodgman presides over the whole thing.”
“Who would you kill first?”
“Um… you.” —Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark attempting to immerse themselves in the topic of videogame violence, Stuff You Should Know

“When you look at me, you just see, like, a big yellow Jewish star, right?” —Sarah Silverman to Scott Aukerman, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding: It’s on The Learning Channel, for learning.”Dave Shumka, Stop Podcasting Yourself

NEW (TO US)

Talkin Toons With Rob Paulsen
Looking over the list of guests who have appeared on Talkin Toons—a podcast dedicated to the art of voice acting—only a small handful of names really stick out. Seeing the guests’ lists of credits and hearing them showcase their most famous characters, though, it becomes apparent that it’s a who’s-who of the most noteworthy voice actors of the past 25 years. That’s certainly true of host Rob Paulsen—best known as Pinky from Pinky And The Brain and Yakko Warner on Animaniacs, among more 300 other credits—whose enthusiasm for the craft is the lifeblood of the show. His passion is almost always matched by that of his guests, who typically recap the paths their professional careers took before the conversations careen into storytelling riff-fests. The respect and admiration Paulsen declares for all of his guests initially comes off as typical Hollywood back-patting, but it soon becomes obvious that he’s about as genuine as it gets.

Even the most seasoned veterans of the field seemingly harbor no cynicism, perhaps best illustrated by Billy West’s appearance on Episode 19. It’s one of the least focused episodes of Talkin Toons, but also one of the most fun, particularly when West and Paulsen riff while shifting seamlessly in and out of character voices and impressions at a dizzying pace. West shares some terrific stories, too, including one about touring as a guitarist with Brian Wilson (which culminates in an impromptu and fine rendition of “California Girls”), as well a recounting of the serendipitous way in which he discovered how to precisely replicate Jack Mercer’s Popeye voice. [CG]


OUTLIERS

Hip To Be A Square
On Hip To Be A Square, Pam “The Head Rhombus” shares a mix of personal stories and informative explanations on how to create quilts and other sewing projects. The tone is heavily nerdy, as Pam makes Star Wars quilts and giggles like a geeky schoolgirl over obscure sewing references that may go over the audience’s head. Some episodes are more updates on ongoing projects than anything new or informative, and the host can be low-energy, but when the show is info-packed and bright, it really shines. Episode 81 is the most energetic episode in recent history, albeit very disorganized due to interferences from the kindergarten graduation of Pam’s daughter. The show does have a lot of good tips on what to do with leftover triangle scraps, though, so that’s something. Quilters will enjoy the passion for the medium and the audience interaction, but it’s unlikely non-quilters will find much to grab a hold of here. [AJ]


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
After returning from vacation with something of a lackluster episode, Tom Scharpling is back with a vengeance this week. Inching closer toward The Best Show’s 500th episode, the self-appointed King Of Free Entertainment takes aim at everything from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Band to Tom Cruise’s latest bewildering vehicle, Rock Of Ages. Philly Boy Roy calls in to regale Tom with his antics from Memorial Day and to discuss his failed music festival “Panzerfest,” nicely supplementing a recent episode of Best Show Gems. Some of the other calls fall flat, but the debut of the new single from famed puppet Gary Tha Squirrel, “Hey AP Mike,” rounds out one of the best episodes of the year thus far. [AF]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #160: Slow Dance Boner: Sarah Silverman, Kyle Dunnigan
What happens on Comedy Bang! Bang! when characters can’t really compete with a guest’s bizarre stories? Listeners learn this week, when Professor Blastoff co-host—and Sarah Silverman boyfriend—Kyle Dunnigan tells a long, sad, but funny story that starts with him getting a boner during a slow dance at a wedding and ends with him getting called a faggot by a fratboy. Between that and his references to his overbearing mother, Dunnigan’s characters—Earwolf intern Craig (who sounds a lot like his Reno 911! character Craig) and former vaudevillian Dell LaRue—are a little less interesting. But he and Silverman are funny together, and Scott Aukerman’s new game, “Jeans Or Shorts,” is appropriately weird. (News update: NBC passed on Silverman’s pilot.) [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Dave Foley, Chelsea Peretti, Martin Starr, And Samm “The Ma’am” Levine
This week’s lineup is stacked with DLM spotlight-stealers—even Martin Starr, whose determination to say as little as possible is captivating in its own weird way—but the real star is the unbilled member of the panel: Dave Foley’s 9-year-old daughter, Alina (who plays Ellie on The League). While she’s a lively presence in her own right, her effect on the other panel members is hilarious: Doug Benson giggles with delight at her every utterance, a clearly bemused Chelsea Peretti gets schooled on the nuances of vegetarianism, and Lil’ Wolverine’s responds with characteristic frustration to the assistance Alina receives during ABC-Deez Nutz. Dave Foley is mostly relegated to the role of middleman—there’s a lot of semi-distracting off-mic chatter between dad and daughter—but his amusement is audible, and the presence of a minor thankfully doesn’t hinder DLM in any way (though it does necessitate the introduction of a swear jar). [GK]

Hang Up And Listen: The Everyone Flops Edition
A diverse set of topics—including the issue of flopping in the NBA, the dictatorial powers of NFL commissioner Roger Godell, and the interest of professional athletes in sports stories—yields another solid Hang Up And Listen episode, but forget all that because there’s field-hockey news. In his “Afterball” segment, Stefan Fatsis uncovers a dramatic storyline developing in the upcoming London Olympics that revives, of all things, England and Argentina’s dispute over the Falklands. Fernando Zylberberg, a player for the Argentine side, appeared in a provocative commercial where he’s shown training in front of recognizable landmarks in the Falklands. The tagline: “To compete on English soil, we are training on Argentine soil.” So sports fans are advised to break out their Rubik’s Cubes and pet rocks, because they may be in for some retro-’80s nationalism. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #62: Joe Matarese
Joe Matarese could easily fall under the quite broad heading of “yeah, yeah, another emotionally damaged stand-up on Mental Illness Happy Hour.” What keeps the episode interesting is that Paul Gilmartin catches Matarese at just the right moment to talk about his troubles: He’s just leveled-out enough to speak honestly about things like going nuts on hecklers, but these things are still fresh in his head. Gilmartin and Matarese also sync up with a good balance of punchiness and vulnerability, which can make a big difference in discussions of mother issues and antidepressants. [SG]

Monday Morning Podcast
With the exception of brief chunks on the NBA playoffs and action heroes, almost the entirety of this episode is dedicated to relationship advice, whether it comes from Burr’s mouth or the lyrics of LL Cool J’s “Big Ole Butt.” What sets this episode apart from similar episodes is that most of the emails come from women rather than the male listeners who essentially keep asking the same questions every week. Whether this handful of “man-bashing” emails can really negate Burr’s self-proclaimed “woman-bashing” spread across five years of podcasting—as he asserts it might do—is certainly arguable, but it sure is refreshing either way. [CG]

The Moth: Tom Herndon And Christine Blackburn: StorySLAM Favorites
This week’s Moth offers a two-fer on the degradations of air travel, and it’s one of the podcast’s funniest and most squirm-inducing installments of late. The usual complaints about flying are reassuring clichés compared to Tom Herndon’s childhood tale about his mother’s sad money-making scheme with airport luggage carts, and Christine Blackburn’s story about her flight-attendant career. Sure, there’s often plenty of weird physical comedy embedded in Moth tales, but it’s rarely as gruesomely funny as Blackburn cheerfully pretending a just-deceased passenger is still alive. [SG]

Nerdist #210: Scott Aukerman 
Scott Aukerman, the host of podcast-turned-television-show Comedy Bang! Bang!, joins Chris Hardwick for a discussion that covers their shared history, as well as Aukerman’s expanding career. It’s evident early on that there’s a mutual fondness and admiration between the two, but it thankfully doesn’t become an interview full of them tossing compliments at each other. There’s a great deal of joking, but it’s tempered by their reminiscence of the early days of Comedy Death-Ray, and the steps that led them to be two of podcasting’s most familiar faces. The episode never stalls, maintaining an energetic and joyful air throughout. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1024: Hot Coffee With Rachel Quaintance
There’s a clear comedic sine wave to this week’s episode. The nadir comes toward the middle, when guest Rachel Quaintance tells a ho-hum story about meeting Magic Johnson, somehow leading to gloomy rumination on childhood and divorce from Matt Belknap. That’s a rare, stark dip in the funny though, as Jimmy Pardo delivers his most manic, inventive, and cleverly worded introduction in some time, he and Belknap mine their trip to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire for all it’s worth, and after the break, the energy level of the three rises to the point where Pardo’s new “Motorboating Nixon” character barking “Taking Care Of Business” is a natural and well-earned piece of business. Quaintance herself is not particularly funny, but she freely admits that, and her quick patter and detailed, if meandering, stories give more than enough material for the two to amend, adapt, or mock as they see fit. [SM]

[pagebreak]

Sklarbro Country #96: Jason Mantzoukas, Jesse Thorn
When it comes to incest, the hill people of Appalachia have nothing on podcasting. Even by the lenient standards of podcasting, the latest Sklarbro Country feels awfully incestuous, pairing the Earwolf podcast with fellow Earwolf podcaster Jason Mantzoukas and Earwolf sponsor Comedy Bang! Bang! (the television show). Thankfully, this incest results in another rock-solid episode of Sklarbro Country rather than an inbred, mutated baby, as Mantzoukas discusses improvising filthily on Parks And Recreation, how he overcame the handicap of knowing nothing about sports on a show about sports fandom (The League), and debating whether Popeye was a sailor or nuclear scientist with Sacha Baron Cohen on the set of The Dictator. But the podcast’s highlight is another wonderfully absurd riff on fantasy leagues in the form of Jesse Thorn’s report on mythological gods. The icing on the cake is a big announcement that promises to bring more Sklarbro Country to the masses. [NR]

Sklarbro Country: Sklarbro County 1
The Brothers Sklar have determined that a once-a-week podcast isn’t enough sustenance for Sklar Brothers devotees, so they’re now offering the promising “Sklarbro County,” a “mid-week snack” that’s winnowed down to stories and small comic bits. The big change is they’ve brought the great Dan Van Kirk, their behind-the-scenes collaborator (and the voice of Mark Wahlberg), into the mix to feed them funny stories that aren’t necessarily sports-related. Though three of the four segments on the inaugural episode have at least some tangential relationship to sports—like, say, the odd spectacle of Will Smith presenting Roger Federer with a signed Men In Black suit at a tournament in Europe—while another follows the criminal odyssey of a man who fled from police, ran to the top of a mosque, and was somehow given shelter by a family that allowed him to take a shower and hide out in their kid’s bed. And that’s not even the kicker. [ST]

The Smartest Man In The World #160: Cramps
It's reasonable to assume Greg Proops has no filter, given Smartest Man’s abundance of singing, sociopolitical lectures, and effusive pop-culture trivia. Well, there must be one, because it seems to be off for a good portion of this week’s episode, in which Proops takes a lot more risks with the audience’s comfort level. There’s a sense that something far weirder than Proops’ usual weirdness needed to come out—how often does he say things quite as odd as “I want Charlton Heston to play me as a child, and Charles Bronson to play me as an adult,” or “I’m sorry I ever mistrusted you, Greg. Your wisdom is a camp that I live in as a tenant”? When he’s a bit surlier and a little less controlled, his nasal dorkiness goes a lot further. [SG]

Sound Opinions: #339: Disco Doesn’t Suck And Reviews Of Beach House And Killer Mike
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis could have given Donna Summer and Robin Gibb a standard obituary send-off. Instead, they take these closely timed deaths as an opportunity to stand up for the merits of disco. Sure, there are some of those typical, breathless references to sales figures and whatnot, but the hosts take care to put disco in context, both in an intro-to-electronic-music sense and in the music’s kinship with punk and the gay community. This level-headed approach carries over nicely to reviews of albums from Beach House (they’re ambivalent) and Killer Mike (they love it). [SG]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Nikola Tesla And The War Of Currents Part 1
Apparently hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey are regularly harassed to cover the life of infamous inventor Nikola Tesla. Given that he’s been portrayed by David Bowie and people play Nintendo theme songs on giant Tesla Coils, the man does have a kind of trendy legacy. Tesla had read all of Voltaire by age 5 and was elbow deep in engineering at a very early age. His fascination with electricity grabbed his imagination to the point where he often appeared physically ill with passion. That passion also resulted in long-running conflict between Tesla and Thomas Edison, with Tesla on the side of “alternating current,” which was more difficult to set up, but capable of distributing itself over greater distances. Chakraborty and Dowdey make it easy to empathize with the lonely inventor’s obsession, and Part 2 should prove even more dramatic. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassP.T. Barnum’s Biggest Stars
The recent episode of SYMIHC dedicated to P.T. Barnum was a bit dark given the inherent exploitation in running a freak show. This episode attempts to solve the problem by confronting the strangeness of the freak shows directly. According to the hosts, Barnum’s performers were often businesspeople, and Barnum kept a strong personal relationship with most of them. Famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker only briefly worked with Barnum before embarking on a surprisingly liberating life, and while Charles Stratton may have been better known as “General Tom Thumb,” his ability to shed his stage persona at the end of the day made his real name remarkably respected for a little person of his day. There are other tales here with a bit less to do with freak shows, but the lack of spectacle makes them no less interesting. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Do Video Games Produce Real Life Violence?
Parents have had the topic of videogame violence drilled into their brains by the media, but what’s of particular interest here is that there isn’t really any accurate data on the topic so much as there are largely irrelevant studies with nearly meaningless tangential data poured through highly suspect propaganda machines. Hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant need only cast a glance back into recent history to reveal that we have always had psychotics and murderers, suggesting there might be a bit more to the personality type than the advent of videogames. The hosts also draw sensible historical comparisons and try to include the best biological and psychological research available. It’s a well-researched episode, highlighted by the hosts’ ability to see things from every side. [DT]

This American Life #465: What Happened At Dos Erres
This week’s episode focuses on one story, the 1982 massacre of the inhabitants of the Guatemalan town of Dos Erres by Special Forces commandos of the Guatemalan Army. There’s a lot to cover, from the way the town was briefly forgotten in the country’s sad collective memory to how, against all odds, some justice was actually achieved as some of the accused killers were tried and found guilty. A large part of the episode focuses on the son of one of the accused killers who realizes that his biological father was actually one of the few residents of Dos Erres who escaped murder. The aftermath of this revelation could have been explored much further, but TALs that leave you wanting more are always preferable to the alternative. [CZ]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #73: The Cross-Time Adventures Of Colonel Tick-Tock: The Wilde Party
This week’s episode almost falls short of the Thrilling Adventure Hour standard, if only because the live-radio-drama approach doesn’t translate so smoothly to podcast form when there are more silences and slightly less-frequent audience reactions. But the show’s writing instincts kick in strong when it introduces the conflict: Seven Oscar Wildes pile up in a room, thanks to a rift in time that hero Colonel Tick-Tock must now fix. Vain to the end, the Wildes try out last words on each other in a wiggy but sharply timed cacophony of narcissism and wit. [SG]

The Todd Glass Show #46: Rory Scovel And Daniel Kinno
The Todd Glass Show is a little like Best Show Gems in that it has constructed such an elaborate mythology of inside jokes, zany characters, and riffs that it can be damn near inscrutable to outsiders. That’s certainly true of the latest episode, a simultaneously dense and loose collection of running bits and improvised wackiness involving a talking cat, found audio of Buddy Rich chewing out his band—which leads to an inspired riff in which the gang “finds” audio of Rory Scovel similarly bitching out a comedy club in a manner humiliating to both him and Glass—and a left-field callback to a Jonas Brothers joke from a few episodes back. The resulting anarchy suggests an unusually playful alternate-universe morning zoo. [NR]

Uhh Yeah Dude #324
For a pop-culture-focused comedy duo, Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli spend a lot of time spinning out semi-serious conspiracy theories and imagining gruesome end-of-the-world scenarios. This week, alongside some uniformly excellent riffs on early Jay Leno and Kid Rock’s Chillin’ The Most Cruise, the duo risks the ire of the medical establishment by discouraging listeners from ticking that “organ donor” box. Whether their logic holds up or not, episode 324 is one for the books, offering a satisfying smattering of stories and sincere discussion, all anchored by a truly exceptional round of Playboy Advisor. [CW]

Walking The Room #105: Ventura Blow Out And Junk Eating
Walking The Room feels like a self-contained world, one welcoming of all walks of life, and outliers in particular. So what happens when that world threatens to collapse in on itself? That’s the premise of this week’s episode, which raises the question, “Is there any value in this, any pertinent information?” This new perspective offers an underlying theme to each of the segments: Dave Anthony and Greg Behrendt are losing their ability to relate to the outside world. Even the news of a face-eating man in Miami results in the two lamenting that their lives aren’t interesting enough. This fear becomes most apparent in Behrendt’s concern about his stand-up career, in which demand for him is dropping but the supply of stand-up comedians is rising. It’s not nearly as much of a downer as it seems, and even if Anthony and Behrendt end up alone with only Walking The Room fans to keep them company, they should be proud of the enjoyably bizarre world they’ve created. [SM]

WTF With Marc Maron #282: Killer Beaz
For years, Marc Maron knew stand-up Killer Beaz only as a ubiquitous headshot at comedy clubs, a catchphrase, and a silly name. (Among the insights gleaned on the podcast: Killer Beaz is not his birth name.) Maron finally caught up with Beaz at the Cat Ranch for a meeting of somewhat dissimilar minds. Beaz’s cornpone shtick is a little grating and eyeroll-inducing at first, but the popular Southern attraction eventually reveals himself to be a good-natured survivor with a colorful past that includes playing in a garage-rock band, struggling with drug abuse, and working in both an ambulance and a funeral home. Beaz and Maron even find common ground in their shared love of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The result is a good-natured culture-clash podcast that paves the way for visits to the Cat Ranch by Larry The Cable Guy and all the Blue Collar Comedy gentlemen. [NR]

WTF With Marc Maron #283: Bo Burnham
Internet comedy/music sensation Bo Burnham is the kind of performer who Marc Maron normally might resent for his youth, success, and relatively non-turbulent background. The 21-year-old is reflective and insightful, however, with just enough neuroses and career-related paranoia that Maron takes him under his wing. At times it almost feels like Maron’s conversation with Burnham is a talk with his former self. Burnham praises his parents, discusses the assumptions that he’s gay, and reflects on his comedic idols along with his fears about getting older, which Maron, in a slight change of pace, soothes rather than encourages via commiseration. [CZ]

You Made It Weird #52: Natasha Leggero
Like its admitted inspiration WTF With Marc Maron, Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird is often as much about the host as it is the guest, if not more so. That’s especially true of the latest podcast, where comedian and Chelsea Lately fixture Natasha Leggero assumes the role of interviewer/therapist at one point to discuss the factors leading to the disintegration of Holmes’ marriage. Holmes is his usual forthright self, but Leggero is more guarded, giving the podcast an interesting tension. Leggero is very clear in setting boundaries about she will and won’t talk about, but that doesn’t preclude fascinating banter about the pros and cons of dating fellow comedians in general, and what it was like dating former guest Duncan Trussell in particular. As Holmes notes more than once, this is mellower than most episodes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. [NR]

You Made It Weird #52: Alison Rosen
On the latest installment of You Made It Weird, Pete Holmes says that when he sits down to record a podcast he’s aiming for an organic, free-flowing conversation rather than a conventional interview or Q&A. That’s just what Holmes gets with Alison Rosen of The Adam Carolla Show and Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend, a terrific new podcast that had Holmes on as its first guest. Holmes and Rosen have a natural, easy rhythm that allows them to explore some darkly fascinating subject matter, particularly Rosen’s creepy, mildly dispiriting introduction to the frequently creepy, mildly dispiriting world of sex. It’s not always clear who’s driving the conversation here, but that’s part of the episode (and the podcast’s) casual charm. [NR]


THE REST

The Bugle #195: A Drop Of Reagan’s Blood 
A perfectly serviceable episode is punctuated with a couple of good chuckles, but nothing noteworthy, and even a few duds regarding Ronald Regan’s for-sale blood. [AJ]

Doug Loves Movies: Sean Cullen, Graham Elwood And Christa Martin Guest
Due to a recording snafu, an in-studio Doug Benson has to recap 20 lost minutes of the show; the rest of the episode never quite gels from there. [GK]

Nerdist #211: Billy Eichner
The host of Billy On The Street, Billy Eichner lacks the anecdotes or humor to ever get this episode of Nerdist off the ground. [DA]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #219: Cameron Reed
The hosts and part-time musician Cameron Reed improv some a capella dubstep, then goof on electronic music, turntablism, “CDJs,” and Jewel. [DXF]

Stuff You Should Know: Are We Obsessed With Goals?
If this premise of “goals” sounds wishy-washy, it’s because it is; anyone who isn’t a fan of life-coaching may want to steer clear. [DT]

Who Charted? #78: G The D A C: Paul F. Tompkins
Five-time guest Paul F. Tompkins returns for a fun, but ultimately forgettable episode. [MS]