The Week of May 19-25

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“You are who you are. There’s no point in trying to get out of your karma or, like, do some stupid thing to change yourself. It’s better to just keep doing what you’re attracted to, and gradually it’ll fade away.”
“Exactly, and that’s what I tell all the other members of my puppet-fucking group.” —Duncan Trussell and Tom Lennon, The Lavender Hour

“Some of these news organizations do jocks a disservice when they say, ‘These guys don’t want to play with gay guys.’ That’s not true! You know who I don’t want to play with? Guys who suck at their sport.” —Charles Barkley on the ongoing issue of gay athletes

 “You take a shower, you come downstairs, and you pour yourself that first gin and tonic of the season. That first taste—when I take that first sip at 5 o’clock… the voices of my ancestors call to me when I first taste it, and what they’re saying is ‘Go. Colonize something. Subjugate a people,’ it says. ‘That subcontinent is just sitting there. They’re not using it! Go forth! You’ll be fine! You’re not going to get malaria—you’re drinking the tonic! Pick up your blunderbuss and go!’” —Glen Weldon, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“Cocaine addiction wasn’t even a problem on the charts at that point in history. It was just a party drug that made you popular with women you didn’t know and with guys who would eventually wanna steal your guitar. Cocaine was the substitute the 1980s came up with for having something interesting to say.” —Stephen Tobolowsky

“It’s weird that girls don’t seem to be throwing themselves at dudes that sing They Might Be Giants at karaoke... How many guys are in They Might Be Giants? I met one of those guys. Nice guy. Decent sort. Not exactly the music of Eros.” —Tom Scharpling reacting to a foul-mouthed caller and TMBG fan who asked for dating advice

NEW (TO US)

The Lavender Hour
The world of comedy podcasts is a seemingly small one, particularly among the performers associated with the loosely defined “alternative comedy” genre, as the guests of Comedy Bang Bang or Never Not Funny or the like often end up on podcasts like Doug Loves Movies, Walking The Room, or WTF. And there’s a good chance they have their own podcast—as Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick says, podcasts are the new comedy albums. The names of comedians Natasha Leggero and Duncan Trussell won’t be unfamiliar to podcast folks, as Leggero was on Comedy Bang Bang when it was called Comedy Death-Ray Radio (and was a judge on the most recent season of Last Comic Standing), and Trussell is a frequent guest on The Joe Rogan Experience. On The Lavender Hour, which debuted in January 2010, the couple comes together for “a weekly salon-style super show” apparently recorded in their living room. (At the beginning of episode 31, Leggero chides her barking dog.)  “Weekly” is misleading—as much as month can go pass between episodes. There’s often a familiar guest (Paul F. Tompkins, Chris Hardwick, Nick Thune, Andy Kindler, even Onion editor Joe Randazzo), or Leggero and Trussell will just discuss a topic like zebra safaris, raves, and pussy

Episode 31 features podcast all-star Tom Lennon of Reno 911! and The State fame, with a surprisingly long and frank (but lighthearted) discussion of the trio’s experiences with drugs. More disturbing is Lennon’s graphic description of what happens at bullfights (his tip: Don’t take your sensitive college girlfriend to one), but the group also spends some time discussing—again, frankly—Lennon’s TV and film work. When he’s not appearing as his mush-mouthed Comedy Bang Bang character Little Gary, Lennon is a genial, frequently hilarious podcast guest. He has an easy rapport with the hosts—maybe that’s why he’s the only one of the three properly miked. Leggero, in particular, sounds like she’s nowhere near a microphone, and Trussell sounds only slightly better. A segment with some Skype callers works surprisingly well, all things considered, but Leggero needs to be miked if she’d like to be heard on her own podcast. That said, episode 31’s loose, unstructured conversation is really enjoyable—and considering The Lavender Hour’s irregular schedule, it could be added to your rotation without overwhelming your iPod.


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
When host Tom Scharpling has a good call-in topic holstered or a good studio guest waiting, he fires his adrenaline off early. It’s easy to miss that the show has its first updated intro montage in years, which includes the strutting/omnipresent Mouse With A Cape and Associate Producer Mike slurring “Dontchu know I’m loco?” through a caffeinated booze-miasma during The Best Show’s legendary Four Loko drinking party. Early on, Scharpling swats down both a toilet-mouthed caller and Spike, who is booted for lazily introducing the rapture to the discussion table. Scharpling clearly has a plan for this topic, and he patiently explains that the people who believed in the rapture are sad already and do not deserve to be insulted. Instead, he giddily rakes the premise of the Rapture over the coals with guest Nick Flanagan, a musician and comedian from Canada. At one point, Scharpling asks Flanagan what he would do if he were forced to confront the headless body of Rush’s Neil Peart as it rides the apocalyptic landscape on a motorcycle.

The BS Report With Bill Simmons
To start the week, Simmons and guest co-host Chuck Klosterman welcome NBA legend and outspoken TNT NBA commentator Charles Barkley. After briefly touching on the playoffs and aging league veterans, talk turns to the ongoing issue of gay athletes, spurred by last week’s coming-out of Phoenix Suns exec Rick Welts. Barkley’s tendency to twist language produces a few odd statements, but he ultimately voices strong support for both gay marriage and gay rights in general. He likens it to the civil-rights movement, citing his own experience of growing up black during that time in Birmingham, Alabama. He also comes to the defense of the NBA, claiming it’s not a homophobic league—too bad the Bulls’ Joakim Noah would undermine Barkley a few days later by yelling a slur at a Miami Heat fan. Barkley is known for his candor, which makes for a good interview, especially when he defends himself against criticism about his NCAA basketball tournament coverage or talks about being on the “shit list”—the great players who never won a championship. Barkley departs halfway through the podcast, leaving Simmons and Klosterman to wax philosophical on the interview and his place in league history. The episode ends with talk of the NBA and NHL playoffs and Klosterman and Simmons sparring about athletes’ freedom of expression. 

Comedy Bang Bang #106.1: Andy Richter, Paul F. Tompkins
Paul F. Tompkins as the Cake Boss pretty much ensures this week’s Comedy Bang Bang will be good, just in case Andy Richter can’t carry the first part of this two-parter on his own. (He can.) The Conan sidekick is quite funny, especially when he speculates that game-show regular Jon “Bowzer” Bauman would put his fist in his mouth on TV as some kind of sexual training to fit four penises there. “It’s him reminding his gay lovers that he can fit four cocks in his mouth?” Aukerman asks. He also does a pretty great impression of Conan’s arch-nemesis, Jay Leno, later in the episode. Tompkins is funny as usual as the hyperactive Cake Boss, who uses his gift of the “second sight” to contact characters from pop culture who have died. This week, that includes Chewbacca (he died in a Star Wars novel), who has some very unkind things to say about Princess Leia. Just go with it. (That should be the Comedy Bang Bang motto.) The second part of the episode drops next week.

Culture Gabfest: “The Edge Of Glory Is Sitting On My Face, But Don’t Think Twice” Edition
Fireworks! It’s high time someone called out host Stephen Metcalf for his high-handed, blanket dismissals of respected cultural figures—see also: Tarantino, Quentin—and Slate music critic Jody Rosen, filling in for Julia Turner, brings the hammer down. A discussion of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday begins with the expected dissection of his many artistic faces, but takes an exciting turn when Metcalf attempts to write off the last 25 years of Dylan recordings and Rosen mounts a passionate—and at times apoplectic—defense of late-period Dylan, specifically Love And Theft and Modern Times. It’s an electrifying exchange, and one that Culture Gabfest could stand to feature more often. Other segments include a look at Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way, and her (Dylan-like) talent for persona engineering, and a smart defense (with caveats) of novelist Philip Roth in the wake of his controversial Booker Prize win. 

Extra Hot Great #32: Weddings And Chicken Fried Fox
The gang brings in Tomato Nation’s Sarah D. Bunting for an insightful discussion of the hit comedy Bridesmaids, which all agree is a) funny and b) carrying a needlessly burdensome load of cultural significance. Bridesmaids also leads to the sort of whimsical pop-culture topic the show does best: A segment on good and bad movie weddings, from the grim prospect of a wedding inside a VFW hall (The Deer Hunter) to the irreverent non-funeral parts of Four Weddings And A Funeral. Kim Reed also contributes her funniest The Most Awesome Thing I Saw On TV This Week segment with the 1997 Lifetime movie My Stepson, My Lover, the title of which says it all. And another terrific Gametime segment asks the panel to match movies with their fictional sports teams. 

Firewall & Iceberg
Hitfix.com critics Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall do double duty this week. First, they drop episode No. 74, an overview of CBS and the CW’s presentations at Upfronts Week. CBS, the network with the most viewers, has a few curious lineup shuffles and no end of lowest-common-denominator pilots, including a host of what Sepinwall calls “vocational irony narratives” like The Gifted Man and Unforgettable, in which Without A Trace’s Poppy Montgomery plays an investigator who can help everyone—expect herself! The CW has more shows about attractive young people (go figure), plus Kim Kardashian and Snooki’s reality show H8R, in which quasi-celebrities confront online shit-talkers. (It sounds predictably tepid because they couldn’t line up anyone as articulate as Jay and Silent Bob.) In episode No. 75, the “Season Finale Mega-Podcast,” they thoroughly evaluate the final episodes of Survivor, The Office, Community, Parks And Recreation, The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory, Chuck, Castle, The Good Wife, and Grey’s Anatomy. The season-end show prompts a healthy discussion of what makes an effective finale. It’s curious to see what sticks in the critics’ professional craws, like which elements they find unbelievable in a show like spy-comedy Chuck: Sepinwall can believe sidekick Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) downloading kung fu ability from a pair of sunglasses in the blink of an eye, but he doesn't buy the dialogue and staging (or lack thereof) that reveals it.

Hang Up And Listen: The How ESPN Changed The World Edition
With Josh Levin out of town, Stefan Fatsis capably takes over hosting duties and brings on guest host Richard Sandomir to join regular Mike Pesca for an episode mainly consumed—like much of the sporting world—with what ESPN is doing. On a press blitz for his (and co-author Tom Shales’) much-ballyhooed new oral history of the 30-year-old network, Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN, Jim Miller talks about the difficult process of winnowing down so many stories for the book, and gleaning the truth from a Rashomon-like myriad of perspectives. A segment on Comcast’s rumored attempts to challenge ESPN’s supremacy gets derailed by Olympics discussion, and a bit on New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon’s tomfoolery feels rote. But the episode picks up in the “Afterball” segment, with Pesca contributing some surprising economic data about cities that host (or bid for) the Olympics and Fatsis grousing about the inane talk broadcast from NBA sideline huddles.

How Was Your Week #11: “Enter Dancing”: Sally Kellerman, Paul Scheer
Julie Klausner boasts a pleasantly diverse show this week with two friendly, game guests who just happen to boast interesting careers, albeit in different stages. After talking about her made-up character Black Grimca (“It’s not racist,” she says), Klausner speaks first with comedian Paul Scheer about pop culture he pretends he’s familiar with but hasn’t actually experienced. (His interpretation of Catcher In The Rye is pretty right-on for never having read it.) For those who DVR Treme but never end up watching it, they help confirm your suspicion that it’s “‘homework television.” Then, Klausner chats with veteran actress Sally Kellerman about her nude scene as “Hot Lips” in the film M*A*S*H*, what it was like being Rodney Dangerfield’s love interest in Back To School, and being the voice of Hidden Valley Ranch and Milky Way. 

The Mental Illness Happy Hour Annabelle Gurwitch
If Paul Gilmartin were interviewing Annabelle Gurwitch during the first years they hosted Dinner And A Movie together on TBS, the conversation would be much different from this deep, satisfying, and emotional installment of The Mental Illness Happy Hour. As Gilmartin acknowledges, “hate” is not too strong a word to describe their feelings toward each other at that time. The two had such a poisonous, dysfunctional dynamic that the network actually sent them to couples therapy. Here, they recount how their own battles with depression and anxiety poisoned their attitudes toward one another and made a functional working environment impossible. A distinct strain of gallows humor informs the episode, especially when Gurwitch talks about how TBS told her they’d fire her simply because they thought they might get a little press by introducing a new female co-host. Gilmartin and Gurwitch are refreshingly candid as they trace their relationship’s evolution from toxic and contentious to healthy, and the podcast attains an additional element of emotional resonance from Gilmartin’s recent revelation that Dinner And A Movie has been cancelled following a 16-year run. 

Never Not Funny #826 Scott Aukerman
Scott Aukerman stops by for the season eight finale, just in time to continue his record as the only guest to appear in every season of Never Not Funny. (Pat Francis also claims that honor, but as Jimmy Pardo points out, he doesn’t count.) Freed from his Comedy Bang Bang hosting duties, Aukerman ably skips around the normal NNF quirks of inside jokes, self-references, and impromptu sing-alongs, often a step ahead of Pardo and Matt Belknap. The real charm comes when, after a clunky start between Pardo and Belknap, Aukerman subjects the crew to an exaggerated version of the tedious anti-host he sometimes plays on CBB. Aukerman relishes the role of prodding antagonist, listing every possible length of an Eardrop entry (“Sixty seconds, 59 seconds…”), gleefully dropping slurs and pussy jokes, and adopting a Nick Kroll-like “Season Nine Baby” character whenever a joke falls flat.  It’s a giddy, silly episode—perfect as a season finale, especially for anyone who’s a fan of Aukerman at his smirkiest.

The Moth: Todd Hanson: Sloth
Longtime Onion writer and self-professed slacker Todd Hanson uses his wealth of experience lying on couches—of both the living-room and psychologist’s variety—to trace the relationship between laziness, depression, and the concept of acedia, or a deep spiritual and emotional emptiness. It’s not a funny story per se, but Hanson injects lots of self-deprecating humor to keep the whole affair from becoming too navel-gazey. 

Nerdist #91: Patton Oswalt
Chris Hardwick is joined by his former Dungeons And Dragon buddy Patton Oswalt for a funny, amiable chat about movies, comedy, and the ascendance of “nerd culture,” something both have benefitted greatly from in recent years. Due to technical difficulties that leave Jonah Ray and Matt Mira mic-less, in combination with Hardwick and Oswalt’s rapport and Oswalt’s natural verbosity, the discussion is more focused than the typical Nerdist tangent-fest. The two spend a lot of time commiserating over the current mash-up and reboot-crazed Hollywood culture, leading Oswalt to share some examples from his side career doing script punch-up, such as a (thankfully shelved) remake of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty starring Owen Wilson. The conversation ends somewhat abruptly due to scheduling constraints, but not before Oswalt gets in some good stories about performing for audiences expecting to see his character from King Of Queens.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Our Super-Sunny Summer Spectacular
It may be time for regular PCHH participant (and A.V. Club founder) Stephen Thompson to stop being so cheerfully cavalier about his love of low culture and his general lack of interest in reading books; while it’s often funny to hear his three more bookish co-hosts groan at his gags about his illiteracy, or tease him for his ignorance (though that teasing is starting to feel less friendly than it once was), it gets a bit redundant and uncomfortable this week as Thompson laces an otherwise enthused, info-packed segment on summer book releases with the usual jokes at his own expense, plus a promise to read another listener-chosen book this year. (“I do need to come up with something to do between the end of Celebrity Apprentice and the beginning of Big Brother.”) That’s just the first in a series of linked segments that cover the podcasters’ thoughts on how to know when summer begins, how they plan to spend the summer, and music they love in summer. Embarrassment aside, it’s an appropriately laid-back, warm installment of the podcast, packed with great recommendations and some personal lifestyle insights, including an acknowledgement that for some (not Thompson, obviously), summer means holing up in a dark, air-conditioned room with a book, not basking and burning.

The Sound Of Young America: Mike Royce and Ray Romano of Men Of A Certain Age
Mike Royce and Ray Romano come off as relaxed, intelligent, down-to-earth guys who make the purportedly soul-sucking world of television sound fun and interesting—especially Romano, who manages to sound like a regular person despite being massively rich and famous (though it’s a little jarring to hear him utter the phrase “old fuck.”) Jesse Thorn, Royce, and Romano discuss growing old gracefully (baldies have an advantage), Romano’s comedy career, and his impetus to keep achieving after Everybody Loves Raymond’s massive success. Also on TSOYA this week, hip-hop blogger Noz stops by to recommend his favorite rap tracks. 

The Tobolowsky Files #47: The Metamorphic Man 
In another solid episode, Stephen Tobolowsky address people’s ability (or lack thereof) to change via a pair of stories mostly centered on his time on the stage. The first begins with a melancholic return to a place he associates heavily with ex-girlfriend Beth, a frequent subject of the podcast, but it soon segues into a story about his cocaine addiction in the ’80s. It hits the expected beats before making a surprising turn to Tobolowsky’s unusual method of breaking the addiction. The second story deals with Tobolowsky and some fellow actors attempting to turn the homeless man who washes their cars and has an interest in theater into an upstanding member of society. The bittersweet ending underscores Tobolowsky’s assertion that evolution is a process that takes eons, not weeks. While not as strong as other episodes, “The Metamorphic Man” nonetheless contains two funny and poignant stories well worth the time.

WTF With Marc Maron #177: Garry Shandling 
In his characteristically rambling introduction, Marc Maron describes Garry Shandling as someone with wisdom to dispense. He’s being only a little tongue-in-cheek: Maron has an ingratiating tendency to be deferential toward his comic elders. He’s a student of comedy with a keen sense of where he fits in the hierarchy, so he’s understandably in awe of his guest. Shandling is also clearly in awe of Shandling and delighted to have an opportunity to sit down and listen to the words and thoughts coming out of his own mouth. At worst, Maron’s reverence for the legends he interviews veers into effusiveness. That’s the case here, as Maron sits at the knee of the wise old mystic Shandling as the television and comic legend dispenses a fascinating combination of insight, life lessons, and pretentious bullshit. Shandling has earned the right to discourse loftily about comedy, but he sounds more than a little pompous whenever the conversation gets too abstract. This is an important and compelling meeting of two very different but distinct and strong comic minds, but it’s best approached with a strong bullshit filter. 

WTF With Marc Maron #176: Phil Rosenthal 
If Garry Shandling happily, if a little annoyingly, inhabits the role of the great Comic Sage dispensing wisdom from high atop a mountain during his WTF appearance, Phil Rosenthal lovingly and much more comfortably plays the role of the consummate mensch having a nice chat with his friend Marc, who should eat a little and maybe go to the synagogue, and would it kill him to visit his mother once in a while? As Maron affectionately notes, some people are born 75-year-old Jewish men. Rosenthal is such a man: He’s so wonderfully, unashamedly, overwhelmingly Jewish in his speech, manner, and humor that he makes the host look as goyish as Anderson Cooper by comparison. Rosenthal has a fascinating conversation with Maron about his new film Exporting Raymond, a documentary chronicling his mishap-laden efforts to create a Russian Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s rare to have a WTF interview focus so intently on a project the guest is promoting, but Rosenthal proves a wonderful storyteller. Any time he and Marc Maron get together in the Cat Garage is a simchah. 


THE REST

The BS Report With Bill Simmons
Simmons begins his two-guest episode with an interesting discussion about a major, frequently ignored, sport: hockey. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke talks about the NHL playoffs, expansion, and using advanced metrics to rate players. Later, TV critic Alan Sepinwall visits to talk about the recent TV upfronts, which leads to a discussion on the current state of television. Simmons laments the lack of good one-hour network dramas, disagreeing with an assertion by The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff proclaiming The Good Wife as the successor to The Wire. Sepinwall’s always a good guest, providing thoughtful commentary and great banter with Simmons, whom he scolds for not checking out Parks & Recreation.

Doug Loves Movies: The Benson Interruption: The Podcast with Special Guests
Doug Benson crashes on an apparently disgusting couch at Burbank’s Flappers Comedy Club to interrupt his main podcast and some of his comedian friends. The episode overstays its welcome right around the time it’s revealed Joe Rogan isn’t showing up, but Ngaio Bealum, Matt Besser, Graham Elwood, and Chris Porter manage a few Benson-assisted laughs. (Not enough to fill out 90 minutes, but hey, that’s the unpredictable world of podcasting for you.)

Judge John Hodgman #25: The Girlfriend And The Grasshopper
The cases before Judge John Hodgman don’t always feel tawdry or humiliating enough for any of those other “judge”-type shows, but a couple’s dispute over hiding food and overeating gets a little closer to that style. You won’t learn about boyfriend Jeff’s embarrassing sexual habits, but you will hear the good Judge drilling him over a wide array of snacks, from Chewy Chips Ahoy! to Long Island Pizza Crumb.

Sklarbro Country #43: Matt Braunger, Seth Morris, Nick Kroll
Seth Morris’ beloved Bob Ducca character leaves his natural habitat in the open-door world of the podcast formerly known as Comedy Death-Ray Radio for the calming shores of Sklarbro Country, but his sad-sack shtick falls surprisingly flat, as does an appearance by another podcast all-star, Nick Kroll, as Randy Moss’ dog. Guest Matt Braunger is strong, as are the always-dependable brothers, but this doesn’t live up to the sky-high expectations created by the much-ballyhooed appearance of two of the Earwolf’s revered cult figures. 

Sound Opinions #286: Low
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis spend most of the hour talking with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of A.V. Club favorite Low, exploring the group’s history, its solid new album C’mon, and, perhaps most interestingly, the spiritual content of its music. The critics also make sure to take a few whacks on the dead Tyler, The Creator horse. (They think he’s talented, but the misogyny and homophobia of Goblin goes too far.) 

This American Life #393: Infidelity
It's another mixed bag this week from This American Life, which is a disappointment given the dramatic potential of the topic. The show steps out of the way for prefab content, with all stories coming pre-written from other sources. The first story from Ruby Wright really lacks the careful producing TAL is known for—the characters bleed together with little introduction or explanation to help sort things out. Skip 20 minutes in for the two segments that deliver: an excellent monologue from James Braly via The Moth, and Dani Shapiro on being that clichéd young mistress driving a Ferrari and wearing a mink. 

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