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The best podcasts for the week of May 31-June 6

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.


“Hilarious. For a singer.”—Marc Maron’s measured praise for Tony Clifton’s rapid-fire Polish jokes, WTF With Marc Maron 

“The Braff is fucking you right now. How do you feel about it?”—Seth Romatelli channeling Zach Braff in pillow-talk mode, Uhh Yeah Dude

“Chili? I almost don’t know what that is. But you can expect some of the most insouciant paella this side of Jupiter. I hope you like saffron foam!” —Andy Richter as a pretentious cook on the Martian frontier, The Thrilling Adventure Hour

“Keeping my shit together is not second nature to me.” —Marc Maron, WTF With Marc Maron

“When you’re writing a graphic novel, it helps to picture a lot of people in their underwear.” — Brent Butt, Stop Podcasting Yourself


Answer Me This
On Answer Me This, hosts Helen Zaltzman (sister of The Bugle’s Andy Zaltzman) and Olly Mann take listener-submitted questions and give real answers while cracking a joke or two along the way. Such an endeavor seems somewhat silly in the age of Google, but it’s the very silly nature that makes Answer Me This so enjoyable. The cold, hard answers from Google lack the charm of Zaltzman and Mann’s repartee, which trades in the kind of friendly insult humor that makes listeners feel like they’re spending time with a familiar crowd at the pub. The sharply edited episodes are smooth and quick-paced, lacking the kind of gangly awkward moments found in similar podcasts such as My Brother, My Brother, And Me

Among the hard-hitting questions addressed on Episode 217: Did a listener see Zaltzman on a bus? Is it weird to ask strangers to put sunscreen on your back? And how did Princess Diana die? Mann delivers some of his foulest and most offensive jokes (including the phrase “granny gash”), which makes for a rare instance of speechlessness on Zaltzman’s part. And the realization that 11-year-olds weren’t alive when Princess Diana was is just as jarring to the hosts as it will be to most audience members born before 1990. This episode makes for a solid example of the way the show expertly blends a wide range of questions, goofy conspiracy theories, some helpful information, and enough bad language to keep small children away. [AJ]


The Palace Of Stories
Leo Sofer is a longtime children’s entertainer who shares a sampling of his short, kid-friendly stories on a monthly basis. Sofer’s voice is pitch-perfect for storytime, and combined with the mellow background music, it may well lull some listeners to sleep. The stories are mostly straightforward animal parables that often support the values of friendship and cooperation, as any good children’s story should. This month’s “The Flying Ox” is the story of an ox that is convinced he has wings by a crow, then later actually grows real wings and uses them to escape his tedious life of farm work. The voice work is a bit laughable when Sofer has to rapidly switch between a booming ox and a squeaky mouse, but the whole story has a nice happy ending and quick pacing that children will certainly enjoy. [AJ]


The Bugle #196: Jubilee Special
It’s the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne, and The Bugle keeps its stories very UK-centric as a result. It should come as no surprise that John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman are more biting and critical when they talk British news, and they really bare their fangs in this discussion of the ridiculousness of royal celebrations, doctors’ strikes, and gnomes—not to mention Zaltzman interrupting important news to give out inane British sports updates, one of the best Bugle traditions to date. There’s also a continuation of a joke from episode 194A, in which both hosts giggle incessantly while listening to LMFAO, and it works even better this week than it did before. While it’s one of the sillier Bugle episodes, it’s a good palate-cleanser in the face of all the recent, horrible news stories Oliver and Zaltzman could have chosen. [AJ] 

The Best Show On WFMU
Tom Scharpling once compared the increasingly idiosyncratic Best Show to The White Album, but as the show approaches its 500th episode, it may be entering its deeply experimental Wonderwall Music period. This week, the outstanding “Hey AP Mike” dis track by Gary The Squirrel is given a nightmarish speak-sung answer by associate producer Mike Lisk, with the “Spooky” parody “Gary.” First-time guest Kurt Braunohler fits in perfectly with the show’s unique pace and finds an instant rapport with Scharpling. Braunohler even teams with Lisk in the producer’s entertaining attacks on the squirrel puppet. After more than a decade since its debut and almost 1,500 hours on the air, the show’s 499th episode proves The Best Show is still as wonderfully bizarre and fun as it has ever been. [TC]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #161: Highly Illogical: Reggie Watts, Tim Heidecker, Andy Daly, Jon Daly
Earwolf rolls out the full promotional push for the debut of the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV series Friday night by bringing in some heavy-hitters for this week’s episode: Tim Heidecker’s Abso Lutely production company produced the TV show, Andy Daly and Jon Daly guest on it, and Reggie Watts is the co-host. Heidecker and Scott Aukerman bring out the absurdist in each other, so listeners shouldn’t be surprised by some long, dry stretches, but Heidecker’s description of the film he shot in China for Woody Allen (or is it Tim Allen?) is pretty funny, as are his awesomely terrible Star Trek impressions. Jon Daly brings the smoothness as jazzman Barry R., and Andy Daly is hilarious as Don Dimello. The episode’s highlight, though, is when everyone throws down some Borat and Star Trek impressions, leading to tantrum from Heidecker. [KR]

Hang Up And Listen: The No, No, No, No, Yes! Edition
Cup-stacking! Yes, the HUAL crew grapples with the issues of the day on this episode—the Western and Eastern Conference Finals in the NBA, the Los Angeles Kings’ dominance of the NHL playoffs, Johan Santana’s no-hitter for the New York Mets—but where else, besides various fringe websites, are sports fans going to get the cup-stacking coverage they crave? In his “Afterball,” Stefan Fatsis looks into the World Sport Stacking Association and discovers that it’s a young man’s game: All the world records are held by kids, who are more biologically capable of moving cups around at lightning speed. (The klopp-klopp sound is pleasing enough through the audio, but the world record clips are worth a look.) Elsewhere, Josh Levin uncovers the bizarre case of Montaous Walton, a phony baseball “prospect” who’s been trying to dupe reporters (like Levin) into giving him coverage. [ST]

Judge John Hodgman #61: Sibling Drivalry
By the time Luis brings this case against his older sister Alejandra, the issue has been resolved: He complains that she never gave him rides to school—in a car they ostensibly share—but now circumstances have changed and Luis has full control of the car. So it’s really a non-case at this point, but Luis and Alejandra have a hilariously frisky relationship, with Luis playing the earnest Charlie Brown type who follows his sister around and Alejandra playing the Lucy who always pulls the football away. Judge Hodgman breaks down this typical older sister/younger brother dynamic and offers a decision that allows Luis some sweet retribution, but would rather the two think about growing up instead. [ST]

Judge John Hodgman #62: My Dinner With Ennui
At the end of every JJH episode, Judge Hodgman and Bailiff Jesse Thorn head back to chambers for a “summary judgment” session, addressing disputes that are too minor for a full airing in the courtroom. Sometimes these sessions are livelier than the main case, as in this episode, where an adorable dispute between screenwriting partners over where they meet for lunchtime writing sessions is eclipsed by a bizarre “summary judgment” case involving a wedding speech, a panini press, and an act of vandalism. The complainant got in a fight with his friend over a panini press that he felt was improperly named a “sandwich maker,” when in fact it was more like a “sandwich warmer,” because the sandwich was already composed before use. This led to him sneaking into his friend’s room and relabeling the machine itself, a deplorable act that leads Judge Hodgman to question, among other things, why a guy was keeping a panini press in his bedroom. [ST]

Monday Morning Podcast
Much of the humor of Bill Burr’s persona is derived from how angry he gets over things both significant and slight. So whenever he begins an episode of Monday Morning Podcast with the assertion that he’s in a good mood, what follows is typically pleasant but mostly lackluster. This week’s episode signifies a break from that tradition in what’s probably the funniest “good mood” episode yet: Burr’s riffs on Axl Rose and the recent cannibal attacks are strong, and he even manages to cull substantial humor out of listener emails frivolous and consequential alike. This episode is perhaps elevated slightly by lowered expectations, but seems like it would hold up well on repeat listens. [CG]

Nerdist #212: Brent Spiner
Brent Spiner, perhaps best known in the nerd community for playing Lieutenant Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, joins the Nerdist crew for a live episode in Phoenix, Arizona. Spiner’s humor meshes well with that of Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and the overly enthused Matt Mira, allowing the episode to transcend far beyond simple sci-fi talking points. Although the “quemments” section at the end of the episode is lacking, it doesn’t harm the overall effectiveness of the episode. [DA]

Nerdist #214: Aaron Paul
Just before joining the Nerdist crew to film the Breaking Bad episode of “All Star Celebrity Bowling,” Aaron Paul sat down with the guys for a podcast that shows Paul bears few similarities to his Breaking Bad character Jesse Pinkman. Paul’s sense of humor fits right in with the Nerdist hosts, and the brief insights he gives about his personal life and Breaking Bad offer fans a more lighthearted look at the process of making one of television’s heaviest shows. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1025: Hawking Your Wares With Todd Glass
This week’s title comes from the ongoing promotion of the various subscription packages now available for Season 11, one of which includes a tablet sleeve made of “hand-tufted leather” and “vinypilorathane,” as Todd Glass puts it in a mesmerizing attempt at parodying breathless infomercial spiels. But the most noteworthy moment is a follow-up to Glass’ appearance on WTF With Marc Maron, which he claims, in a cartoonishly effeminate voice, was only a half-measure. Having addressed the elephant in the room, Jimmy Pardo ribs Glass on his announcement throughout the second half’s examination of his neurotic fear of Twitter, clutter, and home invasion. Glass is consistently enjoyable on Never Not Funny, but his tickled reactions and willing self-parody in response to Pardo’s playfully oppositional stereotyping elevates this episode to his, and perhaps this season’s, best guest appearance yet. [SM]

Sklarbro Country: Morgan Murphy, James Adomian
This was a big week for Sklarbro Country, what with the release of the spin-off “Sklarbro County,” but fans needn’t worry about the twins spreading one of the most reliable brands in comedy too thin: Randy and Jason remain peerless comic sharp-shooters, and they’ve landed another ideal guest in comedian and writer Morgan Murphy, a sports buff, high-school athlete, and tomboy who made an indelible impression on the Sklars by vomiting in their car back when she was still a teenager playing open mics. Murphy is the rare stand-up with a deep and passionate engagement with sports; she’s especially funny and revealing discussing the camaraderie and empowerment endemic to playing team sports in high school. The Sklars may be increasing their podcasting presence, but this rock-solid episode serves as a reassuring reminder that their standards remain impressively high. [NR]


The Smartest Man In The World #161: Gauges
Whatever got into Greg Proops during the last Smartest Man installment is largely still there this week. During a set in L.A., Proops manages to bring some whacked-out flavor to some drawn-out riffs about fast food, referring to Five Guys’ fries as “a white-people pyramid to Quetzalcoatl.” Generally, that which tends to be most troublesome about Proops turns out nicely this week, even some hectic blather about ancient history. His singing habit wins some redemption, too, when he bizarrely bursts out into a tune about abolitionism. [SG]

Sound Opinions #340: Screaming Females And Alan Lomax Archive
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis indisputably use Sound Opinions for good this week, exposing listeners to the terrific punk trio Screaming Females. In addition to playing songs from the new Ugly and 2010’s Castle Talk, Marissa Paternoster and bandmates get the chance to flesh out what the hosts mean when they breathlessly crow about “DIY.” (It just ain’t Sound Opinions without watchwords, is it?) Though Paternoster comes off shy at first, the whole trio is genial and unassuming, and the amusing house-show stories don’t hurt either. [SG]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Nikola Tesla And The War Of Currents (Part 2)
Part One of this story was about Nikola Tesla working to earn the same respect being given to Thomas Edison, so listeners might think that this episode beginning with Tesla being hired at Edison’s laboratory is a sign of things to come. But Tesla left the position almost immediately, soon finding investors for a lab in Manhattan where he could focus on his more ambitious, difficult-to-produce alternating-current system. Tesla accomplished much despite frequent setbacks that would have completely eradicated the ambitions of lesser inventors; other engineers hated working with him because he held complete visions in his head without so much as a prototype or a drawing. Tesla’s story makes him sound more artist than electrician, and it’s hard not to invest imagination in Tesla over the more famous Edison. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History ClassLaura Bridgman’s Education
Laura Bridgman is the first deaf-blind person in known history to learn language, blazing the trail for Helen Keller. Her story will sound familiar to those who remember Keller, yet Bridgman interacted with educators on an even more basic and revolutionary level. By the time Bridgman made it to her teens, she was a hilarious and social woman—though dark side of Bridgman’s story might be the best part, so it’s essential to make it to the second half of this episode. On the whole, this is an impressive lesson in the benefits of spending time with someone who doesn’t take in the world the same way others do. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Can It Rain Frogs?
It’s true that most of the weird mythos behind frog-rain is complete nonsense. That makes it no less interesting to hear about all the weird things people have claimed to see raining from the sky, such as blood, wool, and squid. But frogs in particular have been documented falling from the sky in citywide assaults. When it truly happens, it’s simply the result of a waterspout tornado with good aim; it could just as easily rip up a nest of voles, were there bushes that housed voles in great numbers the way a swamp houses frogs. As it turns out, it rains fish in Australia all the time. [DT]

Superego: Episode 3:13
After a long hiatus and an extended collaboration with The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Superego returns with an episode so meticulously constructed that it seems to fly right by. The episode opens with a new case study, “Brown Snowspeeder Squadron,” a sketch that takes place between actors on a George Lucas soundstage. The move to start the show with new concepts before revisiting some of the reliable recurring segments like “The Leffingwell Grocers” and “Buffum’s Fragrance Counter” really pays off. As usual, this installment makes good use of L.A.’s comedic talent, with guest spots from Andy Richter, Community’s Gillian Jacobs, Thrilling Adventure Hour’s Mark Gagliardi, and, of course, the omnipresent Paul F. Tompkins. All in all, Episode 3:13 is a nice reintroduction to a long-dormant podcast. [MS]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #74: Sparks Nevada, Marshal On Mars: Hypercattle Overdrive
The Thrilling Adventure Hour’s writers throw a lot of larger story arcs into what could be mere novel sketches, which makes it even more impressive when a drawn-out story stays fresh. In this installment of the “Sparks Nevada” series, the titular Martian law-enforcer and his barkeep friend find themselves displaced and working a “hyper-cattle” drive with a hysterically effete cook (Andy Richter). It turns out to be a funnier-than-average installment of this particular series, especially as Richter’s character bumbles in his attempts to give himself a cowboy name (“The Earth Kid”) and faces down a highway robber. [SG]

Uhh Yeah Dude #325
Because Uhh Yeah Dude’s format is so minimal, so reliant on conversational mojo and well-curated topics, the mood of its two hosts plays a big part in whether a particular episode feels like a week-making hangout or just a sleepy night in. Episode 325’s topics of parking-meter heroes, the national holiday from Zach Braff, and homoerotic potato chips don’t sound like much on paper, but the obvious and infectious pleasure Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli take in each other’s company sells the show. Even an overlong dip into the sordid tale of Amy Fisher, “The Long Island Lolita,” doesn’t do much to slow the conversation’s momentum, and the selection of cryptic Jada Pinkett-Smith quotes waiting on the other side rounds out the hour nicely. [CW]

Walking The Room #106: Suede Party And The End Of Linus
Dave Anthony and Greg Behrendt skim through much of the first half of this week’s episode, and ultimately reject what comes before the break as “disappointing.” The two may be slovenly, but they’re not lazy, and the following four segments are exponentially stronger. A rebuke of podcast-feed-stealing website Stitcher leads to engaging criticism of HBO’s Girls, which is insightful for its comparison to a real-life Walking The Room fantasy and Behrendt’s work experience with its predecessor, Sex And The City. Their giddy dismay at the rise in drug-related cannibalism and the invention of a “brony”—a stuffed pony for bros to fetishize—satisfy the proper funny/gross-out requirement, while Anthony debates the proper revenge on “Linus,” his hipster neighbor taking a post-breakup vacation that’s part Wes Anderson, part Eat Pray Love. Behrendt closes with an update on his stand-up career, which will now be focused solely on Walking The Room-related appearances. [SM]

WTF With Marc Maron #284: Craig Finn/Tony Clifton
As Marc Maron acknowledges, the latest installment of WTF alternates between extremes. First up, Maron plays straight man to purposefully abrasive Andy Kaufman/Bob Zmuda alter ego Tony Clifton, who waxes profane and willfully offensive as he casts aspersions on Danny DeVito and subjects Maron and his audience to a groan-inducing gauntlet of Polish jokes. Then Maron talks to an altogether more pleasant and cerebral artist, Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn. Finn cuts a genial and affable presence as he discusses literature, music, what it’s like being a relatively normal guy in the patently abnormal world of rock stardom, and why he wouldn’t necessarily want to meet Bob Dylan. [NR]

WTF With Marc Maron #285: Rick Shapiro
Marc Maron advises his listeners up front that his chat with comedian Rick Shapiro may be a rough ride. “He’s not well,” Maron says, warning that the chat “Goes places... in fragments.” This may give listeners flashbacks to the rambling, nonsensical, and disturbing talk Maron had with Matt Graham, but while Shapiro has clearly had his share of problems, Maron slightly oversells the unbalanced nature of his subject. Shapiro has struggled with drug addiction, prostitution, and mental and physical health problems, but he also bursts into cuttingly insightful observations on the comedy business and Maron himself. Part of Maron’s concern over Shapiro, it seems, is that Maron sees in his guest an alternate version of himself, had he not gotten clean and come into a reliably successful career. [CZ]

You Made It Weird #54: Kenya Barris
In one of the most insightful episodes of You Made It Weird yet, guest Kenya Barris offers a refreshing new perspective: that of a black television comedy writer. Not only have there been troublingly few black guests on You Made It Weird, but Barris makes it clear that he’s a hyper-minority in his chosen field, and his experience as such—constantly facing assimilation—makes for fascinating conversation in the first hour of the episode. After that he shares some fantastic stories, ranging from total fluff (visiting Will Smith’s singularly lavish estate) to rather harrowing (his mother shooting his abusive father out of self-defense). The episode is too long, and it does drag at points—a particularly tedious and unrelatable stretch revolves around indulging one’s materialistic urges—but Holmes’ typical charm mostly keeps things afloat. [CG]


Doug Loves Movies: Greg Proops, Brad Williams, Matt Weinhold And Candace Bailey
An otherwise fantastic episode is hampered by audio problems and a technical glitch that loses the end of The Leonard Maltin game. [MS]

How Did This Get Made? #37: Speed 2: Cruise Control With Scott Aukerman 
The nonsensical sequel to Speed elicits strong banter from the group, but hopefully stronger movie choices will reinvigorate the podcast, which has lost some steam in recent weeks. [OS]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #63: Lauren Tyree
While guest Laureen Tyree has plenty to offer as a Mental Illness subject, her conversation with Paul Gilmartin tends to come off a bit shy and tentative. [SG]

The Moth: Rachel Dratch: Horsemeat
Former Saturday Night Live cast member Rachel Dratch aims to tell more than just another story about dating a weird dude, but that’s about all it adds up to. [SG]

Nerdist #213: Eric McCormack
The former Will & Grace star spends his hour with Chris Hardwick discussing the minutia of theater, making this episode more tedious than fascinating. [DA]

Sklarbro Country: Sklarbro County 2
The second “Sklarbro Country” tries to squeeze in the contents of a normal episode, though it’s partially redeemed by a hilariously skeevy voicemail from NPR’s Robert Siegel. [ST]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #220: Brent Butt
Comedian Brent Butt drops some gems during a skippable “Overheards” and a conversation that covers UFC, sneeze envy, movie tropes, and whether 300 is historically accurate. [DXF]

Stuff You Should Know: How Moss Works
This isn’t a terrible episode for fans of science, but rhizoids and roots are a bit tough to focus on for half an hour. [DT]

The Todd Glass Show #47: Rory Scovel And Daniel Kinno
It eventually stumbles upon a funny bit, but it takes too long to get there, and the unusually short episode ends a little abruptly. [NR]

Who Charted? #79: Dinosaur Curmudgeon: Reggie Watts
This conversation with Reggie Watts is pleasant enough, but light on the laughs. [MS] 

You Made It Weird #55: Jenny Slate
This two and a half-hour episode with the former SNL cast member is giggly, loose, and self-indulgent even by this podcast’s standards. [NR]