Week of April 28-May 4

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I consider Greeks the Jews of the sea.” —Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week?

“You shake a tree, expect to piss off the leaves.” —Paul Scheer as “Truck Bastien,” Comedy Death-Ray Radio

“I don’t want to mess with Paul Simon. I hear he’s a boxer.”
“You know what you heard? The sound of silence.” —Pat Francis and Jimmy Pardo, Never Not Funny

“I like that your choice [for craved book adaptations] is essentially ‘I wish somebody would adapt a John Grisham book!’”
“Oh, what’s your choice, Smartsy McReadalong?… ‘I’m gonna base this on the last thing I read. I’m talking about Cheerios: The Box.’” —Stephen Thompson and Linda Holmes, Pop Culture Happy Hour

 “Love it. Live it. Smoke your fucking pot and fuck your fucking brains out.” —Dan Savage, Savage Lovecast

 “My riff gun jammed.” —Jay Mohr, Sklarbro Country

“What is this, 127 Hours? I feel like I’m falling flat.” —Nick Kroll as El Chupacabra, Comedy Death-Ray Radio

 “I can’t believe how funny you are now.” —Michael Rooker to Doug Benson, Doug Loves Movies

 “Andy Dick’s breath smells like semen and regret.” —Andy Dick on a favorite tweet, WTF With Marc Maron  

“And I’ll be, oh, I don’t know, ‘King Schlong.’” —Jordan Morris picks a new nickname, Jordan, Jesse Go!

NEW
Professor Blastoff
The Earwolf podcasting network—created by Comedy Death-Ray Radio’s Scott Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich—has been on an expansion streak lately. In March, it debuted Eardrop, a daily podcast where comics call in and leave one-minute messages. This week, Earwolf launches Professor Blastoff, a weekly show that’s undoubtedly Earwolf’s most highfalutin (relatively speaking) podcast. Each week, hosts Tig Notaro, comedian David Huntsberger, and Kyle Dunnigan (best known as Kerri Kenny-Silver’s serial-killer husband on Reno 911!) “focus on a central theme they find interesting,” with topics ranging “from scientific to philosophical to metaphysical.” Which sounds fine, but that’s loosely wrapped up in a convoluted conceit: Nobel laureate R.L. Blastoff Ph.D created a time machine in the 1940s, but became trapped in the space-time continuum. The show’s hosts stumbled across his lab, where they found a radio he uses to send thoughts back to himself should he ever return. Near the start of the episode, Blastoff’s transmission suggests a topic for discussion—in this case, exploring the idea of two brains in a person’s head. This prompts a long, windy discussion of Freud’s model of the psyche and mental illness featuring audio clips from unnamed sources that expand on the topics. It’s not as dry as that sounds; in fact, it’s perhaps overly conversational, like your friends talking about a topic they only know a little bit about. That seems to be the point, though future episodes will feature expert guests as well as celebrity friends. “We’re not necessarily going to have answers,” Notaro says. “We should take away ‘not necessarily’—we will not have answers,” adds Huntsberger. Dunnigan’s more optimistic: “We may answer something big.” They’re funny together, but this first episode felt a little too loose. There isn’t much here that people casually familiar with Freud or psychological illness won’t already know. But it’s a pilot, and Professor Blastoff has promise, especially with Notaro at the helm. It’s nice to see a comedian attempting something beyond a typical, chatty comedy podcast.  

THE BEST
The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons: Adam Carolla
After a week that focused exclusively on sports, Simmons brings in Adam Carolla to break down Fast Five, the newest entry in the Fast And Furious series. A little of Carolla can go a long way; his rant on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s name is particularly tedious. But, on the whole, the episode is as entertaining as last year’s entry that focused on the fourth movie. Besides the usual dissection of action-movie tropes, the guys analyze the movie’s plausibility. The end result is essentially two buddies yakking about a movie they just saw. Carolla’s deep knowledge of cars lends surprising weight to his comments, and the segment where the guys muse over why Paul Walker (“the new Keanu”) never appears on talk shows is amusing. Despite—or, perhaps, because of—the endlessly clichéd nature of the film, they enthusiastically endorse Fast Five. Of course, there are spoilers aplenty, so this is probably better enjoyed after having seen the movie.

Comedy Death-Ray Radio #103: Paul F. Tompkins, Reggie Watts, Andrew Daly, Paul Scheer, Tig Notaro, Nick Kroll, James Adomian
Comedy Death-Ray Radio always has an undercurrent of strangeness, but this two-hour two-year anniversary show sets a new high-water mark. According to host Scott Aukerman, the show will have a new name next week, Comedy Bang Bang, because the current title doesn’t fit the original intent of the show. Aukerman initially imagined it being more or less a radio version of the weekly Comedy Death-Ray stand-up show in LA, but the show has morphed into something else in the two years since. Listeners can even vote on a new theme song (performed live by Reggie Watts —no, for real this time). The second big announcement Aukerman makes is old news if you’ve read The A.V. Club: He’s adapting Comedy Death-Ray into a show for IFC. But the biggest announcement—on the fate of “What’s up hot dog?”—comes at the end of the episode. Spoiler: It’s staying, but not as Aukerman’s official catchphrase. Episode #103 is packed, with Tompkins and Watts around the entire two hours and appearances by favorites: the always reliable Andy Daly (as Clive Dundee, who’s written all of the “middle eight” breaks for U2), Paul Scheer as a hack journalist named Truck Bastien, Nick Kroll as El Chupacabra and Chicken Baby, and James Adomian as Huell Howser and Jesse Ventura. The show gets especially bizarre at the end, when Tompkins and Adomian begin layering versions of their characters for the most metaphysical comedy bit you’ll encounter this week. 

Culture Gabfest: “Where Are Our Manners?” Edition
Filling in for a sick Julia Turner, John Swansburg joins regular hosts Stephen Metcalf and Dana Stevens for a discussion of the cultural ramifications of the week’s two big news stories: the royal wedding and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. They smartly ask the same question of each: What is the appropriate public response? Should we feel comfortable with the boisterous celebrations of Bin Laden’s death? (Perhaps, at least until the beach balls come out.) And what does the hoopla about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding say about British and American culture? On the latter question, the gang brings in British journalist Johann Hari, who sharply and hilariously skewers the sick, embarrassing state of the monarchy. The third segment grapples with Swansburg’s recent New York magazine article on the extracurricular comic stylings of NBC anchor Brian Williams. Metcalf teases Swansburg relentlessly for being “in the bag” for Williams (“John, do you believe this argument for one second or was this just a quick paycheck?”), but it leads to a good discussion on the state of broadcast news in general and Williams’ comedic chops in particular. 

Doug Loves Movies: Ellen Page, Michael Rooker, James Gunn, Sean Gunn, and Steve Agee
In an overbooked companion piece to the Simon Pegg, Rainn Wilson, and James Gunn episode of Doug Loves Movies, Gunn returns with more of his Super cast to marvel at Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer star (and recent Random Rules subject) Michael Rooker and his dumbfounding anti-lucidity. Given the nature of Doug Benson’s offstage habits, it’s a fair to assume Rooker’s in an altered state, making the panel’s nervous laughter a little less anxious. (Although Benson is obviously put off by Rooker’s insistence that the comedian wasn’t funny during a previous promotional engagement for Super.) If Rooker isn’t stoned out of his mind, then this episode is either a train wreck or a fascinating, unvarnished encounter with a creative nutbag. (Bonus revelation: Gunn’s brother Sean played Kirk on Gilmore Girls. The more you know.)

Hang Up And Listen: The Huge Win For America Edition
The cheeky title comes from a hilarious quote from New York Mets manager Terry Collins, interviewed after the Mets beat the Philadelphia Phillies and Osama Bin Laden’s death was announced: “This is a good win for us, and obviously a huge win for America tonight.” But the gang doesn’t waste much time on big news of the day, diving quickly into a discussion of the much-anticipated Miami Heat-Boston Celtics playoffs matchup and the state of NBA rooting interest in general. Josh Levin makes the good point that the current deification of Memphis Grizzlies star Zach Randolph and the ongoing demonization of Lebron James is misplaced, given that Randolph has a laundry list of offenses, from the criminal to the trivial (our favorite: going to a strip club while on bereavement leave in 2007) while James’ only crime is making a spectacle of his free agency. The real highlight of the show, however, is an interview with veteran New York Times columnist Robert Lipsyte, who expounds brilliantly (and profanely) on everything from Mickey Mantle’s nasty temperament to his surprising excitement over how sportswriting has evolved in the Internet age. 

How Was Your Week? #8: “All The Way To Canada”: Neko Case & Joe Mande
Singer-songwriter Neko Case is salty, clever, and opinionated in How Was Your Week?, discussing with Julie Klausner everything from pet talk to being a woman in the dude-dominated rock world to Twitter fights to the suckiness of being single. Joe Mande also guests, with more pet talk and meditations on Easter candy. Klausner reviews the new Carol Channing documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, and it should come as no surprise that she can pull off a very entertaining Channing impression.

Jordan, Jesse, Go! #173: Enos With Mary Roach
This week, Jesse Thorn sounds more at peace with entering his fourth decade, and so he and Jordan Morris return to their traditionally upbeat mood with guest Mary Roach, author of Bonk, Packing For Mars, and Stiff. Roach is too polite to butt in and riff as much as a traditional JJGo guest, which is a shame because her anecdotes about space boners and masturbating chimps are fascinating. The episode also includes a discussion regarding the disturbing trend of girls acting like nerds to impress guys, and an action item for listeners to call in with stories about the craziest personal information their parents have ever revealed to them.

Judge John Hodgman #22: Tips And Tricks And Justice
Hodgman weighs a dispute over whether using video-game strategy guides constitutes cheating (specifically at Mega Man). Morgan Webb of G4 TV appears as a sort of expert witness. Prepare for talk of that old Game Genie gadget and made-up George Plimpton-themed video games, including George Plimpton’s Video Falconry and George Plimpton Watches The Rumble In The Jungle.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: A Long Day’s Journey To Mork And Mindy’s House
This week features one of PCHH’s best installments to date, thanks to an unusually broad topic, some terrific stories, and mass giggling. First the crew uses HBO’s Game Of Thrones as a launching point to talk about book adaptations: Rather than just listening a few they like or don’t (though there’s some of that as well), they kick the topic in a lot of directions: what they retain from books vs. what they get from a film, what gets lost in an adaptation, what they never want to see adapted, and what they do. Glen Weldon steals the show by demanding a Muppets adaptation of a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, to be known as Jesus Christ Superfrog, which prompts various horrific/hilarious Muppets impressions and discussion of casting choices. (Weldon says he’s been planning this since college, and even wrote Jim Henson a letter suggesting it.) A second segment features each of the participants telling a touching story about a personal crossover between pop culture and travel, whether it’s journeying to see specific sites from a favorite film or TV show or listening to a song about a place while in that place. And this week’s What’s Making Us Happy gives Stephen Thompson a chance to talk about his role in brokering peace between the warring camps of Lady Gaga and “Weird Al” Yankovic. PCHH installments are usually hilarious and sometimes personally insightful, but rarely this much of both at the same time.

Sklarbro Country #40: Jay Mohr, Chris Cox
Jay Mohr has a bit of a reputation in the alternative-comedy world for being an asshole, a good-looking jock in a realm largely populated by awkward geeks. On a recent WTF With Marc Maron, a bewildered Bobcat Goldthwait mentioned how Mohr used to crank-call comedy clubs where Goldthwait was performing with fake reservations—this after Mohr had hooked up with Goldthwait’s ex-wife, Nikki Cox. On this breezy Sklarbro Country appearance, Mohr at least proves himself to be a funny asshole.  He uncorks his signature five impressions, calls the brothers “adorable,” and waxes self-righteous about enjoying his glorious, rich, fulfilling life while the online haters stew in their own bitterness. Mohr’s testosterone-fueled swagger does nothing to contradict the brothers’ contention that he has an extra Y chromosome, but on Sklarbro Country, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

The Sound Of Young America: Phil Rosenthal
Everybody Loves Raymond creator Rosenthal had some trouble exporting the massively popular show to Russia, as captured in the new documentary Exporting Raymond. (Is it sad that the Russians find Ray Romano and his family troubles “soft,” when American audiences ate it up?) He and Jesse Thorn discuss that and the American version’s 200-plus-episode run. It’s more interesting for Raymond fans, but it’s never dull to hear the origin of a hit series. Bonus this week: another installment of Jordan Ranks America, the delightfully absurd two-minute humor series. 

Sound Opinions #283: Bob Dylan: Going Electric
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’ ongoing series on Bob Dylan’s career constantly runs the risk of covering well-trod territory, but this installment scores in large part due to contributions from Al Kooper, the celebrated bandleader and “Zelig of the rock world” who proves ideal at both celebrating Dylan’s remarkable mid-’60s output and debunking some moldy myths. On the latter point, he insists that Dylan wasn’t booed during his historic performance at Newport for “going electric,” but because he only played three songs with his band. (He also calls the old story about Pete Seeger running to cut the electric chords with an ax “garbage.”) Kooper’s stories about being Dylan’s in-studio musical director during the sessions for Blonde On Blonde in Nashville are also fascinating, including the one about hiring one of Elvis Presley’s bodyguards to keep the rednecks away from him, Dylan, and Robbie Robertson.  

WTF With Marc Maron #170: Andy Dick
When Marc Maron plumbs the depths of Andy Dick’s soul, he starts in the deep end, then works from there. The emotional exhibitionists compare early sexual experimentation involving babysitters, pachinko balls, and blowjobs before addressing Dick’s rocky road to infamy. The most moving and darkly funny portions of the podcast involve Dick’s family issues, including a poignant segment on Dick’s relationship with father figure/mentor Phil Hartman and an emotionally loaded reunion with a macho, bullying boxer father who abandoned him. Dick would come to realize that the “primordial wound” left by parental abandonment would never go away, no matter how successful he became. Dick bleeds all over the garage about his battles with alcoholism, being a good father to his three children, his tattered reputation, and his rage at having Nick Kroll portray him as a lisping queen on American Dad. (Dick would have been happy to do it himself, as he does on Family Guy.) As is often the case with WTF, this exposes the sensitive, vulnerable, and complicated man behind the wacky, larger-than-life comic persona. 


THE REST
The Adam Carolla Show
This week is all Ace’s recurring pet topics and “America, Fuck Yeah.” In order of descending interest: Phil Rosenthal visits to plug Exporting Raymond, a documentary about his struggles trying to adapt the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond to Russian TV—which gives Ace a chance to go off on his favorite rant: “Unfunny people explaining to you what’s funny or why your thing isn’t funny.” This time, it’s more interesting than redundant. Tom Arnold talks about his 12-step life of use and abuse, from his current sobriety back to being sexually abused as a kid and later confronting the molester. Regular Greg Fitzsimmons elicits an Ace strategy for living: “Having my Dukes of Hazzard Dixie Flag hanging in the window of the living room [lets] everybody know I have a gun,” Carolla says. “[It] makes you an asshole in the eyes of your neighbors, but you’re not getting broken into.” Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison talks NFL player lockout, and Dr. Bruce joins to discuss long-term health complications from playing football. Comic Matt Walsh of the Upright Citizens Brigade listens to popular Ace chestnuts Unfunny Comedy Executives, My Aborted Sitcom Pilot, and Magic-Eye Devices In Public Restrooms. 

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
After going all in on pop culture with Carolla to start the week, Simmons swings the other way for his other two podcasts, focusing exclusively on the NBA. First, he’s joined by ESPN NBA writer Brian Windhorst. A former Cleveland resident and Cavs beat-writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Windhorst has followed LeBron James since the megastar was in high school and has some intriguing insight to James and the rest of the Heat. The Celtics-Heat series gets the bulk of the conversation, but just as interesting are Windhorst’s anecdotes about the chilly reaction when he left Cleveland for the ESPN job, not unlike James leaving the Cavs. Simmons then talks to his buddy Joe House for more NBA playoff talk. It’s a fun conversation—more entertaining than watching most of the talking head shows on ESPN, anyway—and the rundown of the five most intriguing players in the playoffs is a solid segment, but the podcast was recorded before the Lakers and Celtics went down 2-0 in their respective series, meaning Simmons is a bit more carefree here than he’s feeling now.

Best Show Gems: Reverend Ken Miller of Newbridge Episcopalian
Jon Wurster’s gallery of kooky characters tends to go about everything in the worst conceivable way. In this podcast, for example, Wurster slips into the clammy skin of an Episcopalian minister with some very novel, very bad ideas on how to increase membership at his church. Like many Best Show Gems, this feels a little thin, but Wurster scores some neat variations out of a rather limited conceit.

Extra Hot Great: #29 Ding Dong
The gang brings on two theater-going guest hosts in Mark Blankenship and Adam Grosswirth for a discussion of the Trey Parker/Matt Stone musical The Book Of Mormon, which everyone praises for its humor and songcraft, as well as its thoughtful, not entirely dismissive consideration of faith. They also ponder the implications of Steve Carell’s departure from The Office, consider the Canon-worthiness of the good-by-Canadian-standards TV show Slings And Arrows, and praise the genius of fake Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip Twitter feeds. 

Firewall & Iceberg #71: Justified, Fringe, Parks And Recreation & more
It’s a quiet week before an imminent glut of finales and up-front previews, so Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall give non-spoilery, season-finale previews of Justified and Fringe, then it’s on to inside baseball about ratings and how networks can create them. Responding to listener mail about Parks And Recreation, they discuss whether a comedy can be the best show on TV. And, inspired by The Office, the episode ends with talk about shows that have survived the departure of key cast members.

How Did This Get Made? #9: Fast Five Adam Scott
The schadenfreude enthusiasts over at How Did This Get Made? raced over to the studio immediately after seeing Fast Five, so they are all still riding a massive testosterone wave that helps explain why this podcast is even geekier and more exuberant than usual. That’s impressive, considering the baseline is already incredibly high. The question here isn’t “How did this get made” so much as “What the fuck is going on?” They never quite figure that one out, but have a blast making the attempt. 

The Moth: Jim Gates: Go Tell It On The Mountain
A theoretical physicist tells an appropriately conceptual story, using his hike up a mountain in Iceland as a framing device to explore the “mountains” he’s scaled and paths he’s taken in his life—most of them having to do with the expectations and prejudices he’s encountered as a black man. Gates’ insights are honest, but not particularly remarkable, and the story kind of peters out. If nothing else, Gates’ voice, deep and deliberate and welcoming, is worth the 15 minutes.

Nerdist #84: Adam Carolla and #85 Damon Lindelof
Nerdist turns in another bonus episode this week with its first repeat guest, Adam Carolla, though the term “bonus” is charitable—“residue” would be more appropriate. Carolla spews out several of his signature rants, including a severely misguided tirade against “stealing” other people’s art that steamrolls over the concepts of genre and sampling—which Carolla hypocritically forgets later in the podcast when he announces he’s working on his own Rifftrax rip-off—while a solo Chris Hardwick dutifully agrees. (Hardwick’s genial manner is part of his appeal, but he should be more willing to challenge his guests when they act like this.) There’s also some deep podcasting/comedy navel-gazing that devolves into a numbers discussion (“How many people listen to your show”) that’s somewhat enlightening, but also off-putting. Hardwick and Co.’s discussion with Lost/Star Trek honcho Damon Lindelof is much less grating, but also somewhat slight. Lindelof is a funny guy, and forthcoming about Lost and the mania surrounding it (yes, he talks about the finale), but there’s not much here that’ll be new to fans, and Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira are chattier than usual—there are long stretches where Lindelof’s voice isn’t heard at all. Hardwick invites him back at the end; hopefully, Lindelof will be Nerdist’s second repeat guest and go a little deeper next time. 

Never Not Funny Live In Atlanta and #823 Joe Lo Truglio
Never Not Funny covers familiar territory this week, and it mostly makes for some of the biggest laughs. Per their established live-show set, Jimmy Pardo opens by proving why his day job is warming up crowds for Conan, Pat Francis shares his recent concert experience/celebrity stalking and reads his maximum-words-allowed eBay letter, and Matt Belknap acts as the audience surrogate by questioning their lunacy. Because it’s Atlanta, Cajun Jimmy makes an inevitable appearance. The shining moment comes when Pardo’s favorite non-hard-rocker Ellis Paul leads the crowd in a sing-along to “Kick Out The Lights,” a brand-new song based on Johnny Cash’s ban from the Grand Ole Opry. This second episode this week, with actor Joe Lo Truglio, could have used that sense of direction. The conversation struggles to find much footing in their love of guitar, nerdy board games, or even Lo Truglio’s work with Wet Hot American Summer and The State. Lo Truglio is game and likable, and most of his humor comes from self-editing his rambling stories, but for a conversation that draws frequent “Haven't we already talked about this?” moments, it’s certainly not a memorable one.

The Pod F. Tompkast EXTRASODE: Prince? Charming!
Tompkins spent much of last month in Australia, so it’s not surprising the May edition of the Tompkast is delayed. In the meantime, he offers this excerpt from his regular Paul F. Tompkins Show at Largo, where he does a not-at-all realistic (but very funny) impression of Prince. The Purple One is currently doing a run of apparently mind-bogglingly awesome shows in LA. So good, in fact, Prince Tompkins insists people kill themselves afterward.

Savage Lovecast #237
To regular Savage Love listeners, this week’s episode was pretty standard. To new listeners, it is a shocking broadcast wherein perverts confess to an opinionated homosexual their experiences with rape fantasies, drug use, cross-dressing, and men who desire to eat semen. The show also includes a rally cry to end sex toy double standards: For far too long, men have been oppressed by women who don’t understand that sometimes a guy just needs a pocket vagina.

This American Life #186: Prom
With a new Sweet Valley installment from Francine Pascal on the shelves and with tornadoes having recently ripped through the South, This American Life dips deep into the archives for 2001’s relevant but largely mediocre “Prom.” The first act looks at a group of kids whose town was destroyed while they danced, then Pascal steps in to talk about the meaning of prom. Two additional proms follow, but unless you find riled-up teenagers inherently fascinating, take a week off. (It might be worth clicking through, however, to check out Ira Glass in his prom attire.)

WTF With Marc Maron #171: Craig Robinson, Pete Holmes, Ari Shaffer, Jim Earl, Eddie Pepitone
Longtime listeners of WTF With Marc Maron know Craig Robinson as a guest who is forever cancelling his appearances, but he finally shows up here with Ari Shaffer, Pete Holmes, Jim Earl, and Eddie Pepitone on a rollicking WTF recorded live at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles. The guests are all lively and fun, but the podcast is never stronger than when it’s just Maron responding to emails from his ferociously engaged listeners, most of whom seem more emotionally invested in Maron’s happiness than they are in the happiness of their own families.

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