Week of July 28-Aug. 3

Week of July 28-Aug. 3

A Podmass request: By and large, podcasts are not a lucrative business, so please consider donating to your favorites to keep them going. Most of the shows have donation pages that would gladly take a couple of bucks from listeners—like Earwolf Media, which recently moved into a new studio currently being funded out of pocket by producers Jeff Ullrich and Scott Aukerman. WTF offers a variety of donation packages; The Sound Of Young America and The Moth take fundraising to a whole new level; and others at least have T-shirts (or iPhone skins) you can buy to help keep things going. 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“Now I am picking pieces of my burnt penis out of the blow dryer… I’m sure more humiliating things have happened to someone, but not me.”—Penn Jillette, The Adam Carolla Show

“Does everything have to be a bit?”
“I mean, I don’t know. As long as I’ve known you, we’ve never had a real conversation.” —Todd Glass and Scott Aukerman, Comedy Bang Bang

“Why is it so dark? Why aren’t there any heads?” —Tricia Rose Burt, recalling her mother’s response to her artwork, The Moth

“Today, though, I want to talk about the pop-cultural root of all evil and aggression, which is not Scattergories, not Grand Theft Auto, not the music of The Screwed Up Click. It is the insidious, grudge-fueling, wrath-provoking waste of four hours that is the Parker Brothers classic Monopoly. The evil is right there in the title! Would you play a game called Anti-Trust? In which your goal was to drive up the price of gas and force everyone to take public transit? I say ye nay. We as a people have agreed for some insane reason to sit down with our families and try to drive them out of their homes. The republic is built on the sacred bond between citizen and property, and this game is about taking it away! How un-American is that? I mean, you might as well drive that little pewter car over the little pewter dog!” —Trey Graham, Pop Culture Happy Hour

NEW (TO US)

The Earwolf Challenge
Awhile back, a post on the Earwolf site asked for listener podcast submissions under the vague umbrella of “Project Tippy Toe.” That turned out to be The Earwolf Challenge, a reality competition where a group of handpicked comedy podcasts complete a battery of challenges with one podcast being eliminated each week. The entries were narrowed down to 10 podcasts that generally fall into three categories: sketch shows, interview shows, and shows where nerds shoot the breeze about movies, TV, and geek culture. The winning podcast will receive a one-year contract with Earwolf, joining the ranks of such established shows as Comedy Bang Bang and Sklarbro Country. UCB co-founder Matt Besser serves as host, but a slew of comedy-podcast regulars make appearances, including Maximum Fun’s Jesse Thorn, Paul F. Tompkins, Jimmy Pardo, and Earwolf folks. 

Calling this podcast a “reality show” seems a bit disingenuous. For starters, the show lacks the inflated drama, creative editing, and histrionic characters that we’ve come to expect from anything in the reality genre. However, the series does serve as a useful tutorial for anyone who has a podcast or is thinking of starting one, mainly due to the useful and constructive criticism provided by the likes of Tompkins and Besser. Some of the standout podcasts include the charming interview show Totally Laime and Ham Radio with Brett Hamil, a well-produced show where Hamil performs all of the voices. Although there can only be one winner, clearly all of the podcasts will benefit from the exposure of being in the challenge. Usually, the same can’t be said for reality-TV contestants. 


THE BEST

Comedy Bang Bang #116: When I Go To Queens...: Todd Glass, Jessica St. Clair
Comedian Todd Glass and host Scott Aukerman have known each other for nearly two decades, and that history gives the pair an easy rapport. They’ve known each other for long enough that Aukerman’s frequent digs at Glass—he’s too old, he tells hacky jokes, he can’t improvise well—come across as affectionate gibes, not mean-spirited mockery. They also frequently crack each other up, especially when Aukerman hilariously interjects in a couple of anecdotes, like when 15-year-old Comedy Bang Bang intern Marissa Wompler (Jessica St. Clair) mentions a funeral home changing her dead grandmother’s lips. (“Cock-sucking lips?” Aukerman asks.) This is St. Clair’s third appearance as the bubbly Wompler—look for her podcast at wompitup.com/wompupthejam—and she’s a funny foil for Aukerman, as is the frequently befuddled Glass. He legitimately stresses out during the What Am I Thinking? game, but Would You Rather offers some of the episode’s funniest moments. Womp it up! 

Culture Gabfest: “Daniel Craig In Chaps” Edition
It would be just like the Culture Gabfest folks to be disappointed with Cowboys And Aliens, as opposed to simply hating it. Such lowbrow-tolerant discussion is routine for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner, and Slate Foreign Editor June Thomas joins in gamely. It’s worth listening to this segment just to hear Thomas, an elegantly accented Brit, ruminating on the movie’s use of Daniel Craig’s ass: “We kept being treated to scenes of his buttocks, framed in the back of his chaps... we were forever behind him.” Next comes a discussion of Breaking Bad that’s fairly illuminating even for folks who haven’t seen the show, or at least makes a case for the character Walter White as a great TV antihero. Lastly, Jacob Weisberg comes by to discuss painter Lucian Freud, who died recently.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #19: Lawyer Tom 
The popular image of someone who smokes crack is of a filthy vagrant just barely clinging to the bottom rungs of society, but there are plenty of crack smokers who defy that image. In another riveting installment of The Mental Illness Happy Hour, host Paul Gilmartin has a frank and involving conversation with a lawyer friend named Tom, whose success belied an intense addiction to crack that nearly cost him his life. Lawyer Tom proves quite the raconteur, with a deep streak of pitch-black humor coursing through many of his anecdotes. He’s especially amusing chronicling an eventful day in court when he made the unfortunate leap from defense lawyer to defendant after he’s discovered with a lump of powder cocaine. This provides a fascinating look into the dual life of a man literally soaring to new heights—among his many achievements, Tom is an accomplished pilot—while simultaneously lurching unmistakably into the gutter before ultimately pulling himself out of a profound personal and professional tailspin. 

The Moth: Tricia Rose Burt: How To Draw A Nekkid Man
This week’s storyteller, Tricia Rose Burt, remains a sweet Southern lady in accent and wit, even if her story is about breaking with tradition and becoming an artist. After burning out in corporate public-relations, Burt took some classes to try and figure out what was next. When it came time to draw a nude male model in art class, she found herself backed against a wall, setting off a chain failure and turbulence that turned out to be good for her. 

Pop Culture Happy Hour: It’s Too Darn Hot, Board Games, And More
It’s summer, so a lot of podcasts are talking about heat-related entertainment, but Pop Culture Happy Hour has more fun than anyone with the subject, turning this week’s podcast into the series’ most quotable yet. Topics include stories about movies the participants saw largely to escape broken air conditioners (including when Linda Holmes stand-in Barrie Hardymon saw Braveheart largely because it was the longest movie playing at the theater) and general discussion of “pop-cultural cold showers,” covering artistic turn-offs from bad dialogue to unnecessary gore. Then there are the summer-antidote films they watch just to see a lot of refreshing coldness. (Glen Weldon: “I like to unwind with the frothy romp of the 1993 film Alive, about the Uruguayan soccer team that crashes in the Andes mountains. Because yeah, you’re gonna stink on a hot day, but you’re not gonna have to eat a foot.”) But the real gold, surprisingly, comes from a discussion of favorite board games, which turns into a soapbox for hyperbolic screeds: Trey Parker holds forth on the evils of Monopoly (see Quotes Of The Week above, though the print version can’t convey the hilarious wash of venom in his voice throughout his speech), while Weldon rants about a Scattergories slight in his past and decries Boggle, beginning “I think it is a truth universally acknowledged that there are, in the world, Boggle people and Scrabble people. And speaking as an avowed Scrabble person, I feel it is my duty to say to the Boggle people in our listenership that we are your betters.” Hardymon, progressively more smitten by Weldon’s commentary throughout the show, eventually asks him to prom.

Sklarbro Country #53: Paul Scheer, Kevin Seccia, Langhorne Slim
FX’s The League has posited itself as the sports comedy show for comedy geeks who don’t necessarily like sports, so it makes sense that star Paul Scheer would find his way onto Sklarbro Country, the indie rock and sports comedy podcast for comedy geeks who don’t necessarily like indie rock or sports. The How Did This Get Made? host discusses the show’s improvisational nature and lands some funny riffs, especially an extended bit about what the Sklars dub the “Homeless Man-cia”: homeless people who rip off other homeless people’s signs about just needing a free beer and the like. Impressionist Chris Cox has the week off, so Kevin Seccia, author of Punching Tom Hanks, discusses the various ways to physically defeat celebrities. It sounds like the silliest kind of impulse buy, but the passage Seccia reads—a guide to countering Steven Seagal’s quips during a fight—is legitimately hilarious. 

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Superego #3:6
Given Superego’s high production values and use of many of L.A.’s comedy luminaries, it’s surprising that the podcast hasn’t been tapped for some kind of Adult Swim development deal. The sketch where a befuddled high-school student has to get H.R. Giger to sign his permission slip is practically begging to be animated by the network that brought us a cartoon consisting of a levitating milkshake and a talking meatball. In episode 3:6, the Superego crew opens with a group of elderly participants in a bingo game. On any other podcast, this would come across as a stock premise, but with the help of Paul F. Tompkins, the improvisers manage to execute the scenario with a nuanced finesse. The sketch where a high-school principal reads the morning announcements is particularly effective, especially when he congratulates a student for altering the cover of a library book to read The Red Vadge Of Courage.  Even the moment where the group dissolves into laughter doesn’t disrupt the episode’s seamless flow. Of course, the fact that the podcast only comes out once a month probably gives the group ample time to pick and choose the segments that work—if only every other podcast used the same care and precision.

Uhh Yeah Dude #282
Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli have a lot of ideas for the entertainment industry this week, which gives UYD’s hour-long format a little extra momentum. Fictional reality TV shows suggested in this episode include We All Fuck and Secret Wife Killings, and Romatelli claims he should be included as a “ hometown hero” in Archie comics, because they are apparently based it on his high school in Massachusetts. A news item on back-to-school shopping leads to the two into jokes about preparing one’s eighth-grade lover for school, which would be creepy if they didn’t so amusingly mix the jailbait angle with the fashion-police angle. (“Is that a Selena Gomez half-shirt?”) Early in the episode, a reading from a ridiculous magazine feature on Sandra Bullock’s marriage proves how good UYD can be when the hosts turn their commentary into more of a real performance.

Walking The Room #62: Jonah Ray and Man Tennis
Jonah Ray, stand-up and Nerdist co-host, visits Walking The Room hosts Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony this week to debate the merits of releasing comedy on vinyl and explain how he turned a dicks-and-poop joke against a lowbrow crowd. Ray fits in nicely with Behrendt and Anthony’s rambling flow, enough that you might forget he’s a guest. At least it doesn’t stop Anthony from taking over with a brutally funny story about meeting and antagonizing Tom Hanks’ brother on the stand-up circuit. This leads to some killer hyperbolic riffing about how to abandon a baby—at the post office or “at the fire department for a ‘field trip’”—and what a “suite attendant” is.

WTF With Marc Maron #196: Wyatt Cenac, Horatio Sanz, Tom Scharpling, Sam Lipsyte, Kevin Allison 
Things regularly get raunchy over at WTF, but they rarely devolve into conversations as graphic as Marc Maron’s ribald chat with Kevin Allison of The State/RISK! podcast, which delves deep and lustily into the technicalities of anal sex and the sexualities of the members of Stella. Tom Scharpling and Maron have spent so much time kibitzing in public lately that they’re threatening to turn into a double act. Here, they even make vague plans to end their strange union by joining hands and walking into the ocean together dramatically. Horatio Sanz answers the requisite questions about Saturday Night Live, and Sam Lipsyte, the scribe behind The Ask and Home Land, gets all smart and writerly, but the highlight of the podcast is undeniably Wyatt Cenac poignantly wondering if Maron doesn’t like him enough to pepper him with the abuse, contempt, and passive-aggressive insults he lavishes upon his favorite comedians. In a glorious subversion of sentimentality, Maron lets Cenac know just how much he thinks of him by heartwarmingly sliding a little abuse his way. Gay, straight, black, white: Everyone is ultimately united by Marc Maron’s anger, resentment, and/or envy toward them. It is the glue holding us all together. 

WTF With Marc Maron: Just For Laughs Keynote Address
In a funny and often moving keynote speech for the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, former angry young man Marc Maron reflects on the surreal path he’s traveled and how talking to fellow fucked-up funny people in his garage has resurrected his career. True to form, Maron contemplates professional suicide and the seedy glamour of throwing it all away before his speech builds into a lovely meditation on the existential plight of the stand-up comedian and the long, hard work of what Maron refers to as “building your clown”—finding and refining your voice onstage. As is so often the case on WTF, there’s an undeniable romance to the craft of comedy; this is an unabashed love letter to the form and its exquisitely dysfunctional practitioners from a man who understands the comic mind like few else. 


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
The week in Ace, in order of descending interest: Magician-comedian-author Penn Jillette arrives with little preliminary filler, then moderates a spirited discussion about the distinctions between atheism and agnosticism—but the car-wreck-fascinating segment is a painfully detailed story about a young Jillette melting his penis on a hairdryer. Carolla and the Schmoes Know guys give an irreverent rundown of summer movies, including Thor, Cowboys & Aliens, Larry Crowne, and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Author Craig Machen gives a short tease for Still Life With Brass Pole, his memoir about his preteen, coked-up adventures in straight strip clubs with his gay dad. Football dude Kyle Turley recalls a smooth transition from surfer-skater to Rams offensive tackle and, later, musician—but has harsher words about the NFL and former Rams coach Mike Martz. Comedian/The Smartest Man In The World host Greg Proops’ main contribution is color commentary in a lengthy discussion of the upcoming Battleship movie; Carolla’s Loveline-style relationship calls are the real draw for longtime fans.

The Apple Sisters #10: Self-Defense
Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, and Sara Lowe—a.k.a. Cora, Candy, and Seedy Apple—work from a script for each episode of The Apple Sisters, but the podcast’s funniest parts come from their flubs and unscripted asides. To wit, episode 10’s plot, as it were, about the girls learning self-defense and nearly getting robbed, is fine—and the song is pretty great—but the bickering and silliness among Cora, Candy, and Seedy works best. 

The B.S. Report
With the NFL lockout over, Bill Simmons’ lone podcast for the week revolves around the league’s free-agent frenzy. First up was the NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi, a B.S. Report regular, who helps Simmons sift through some of the moves, offering analysis on what areas teams needed to improve. Grantland’s Bill Barnwell follows, offering more analysis, including the buzz around the Detroit Lions. The episode concludes with Simmons buddy and Redskins fan Joe House celebrating the departure of problem child Albert Haynesworth. It’s exciting to hear football talk again, but the post-lockout player movement has been so fast, much of the analysis was moot only days after the podcast posted. 

The Best Show On WFMU
This week, regular host Tom Scharpling takes time off, leaving Therese Mahler and Mike Lisk at the helm. The show is technically not The Best Show but Depravity’s Rainbow, where Lisk provides “depravity” and Mahler provides “rainbow.” They’re talented with callers, but gone is Scharpling’s lumbering rock score, replaced by soft jazz. Lisk’s dark segues set to this music is pretty funny, but when complacent callers like Spike receive generous airtime, it feels a bit like heresy.

Doug Loves Movies: Pat Francis, Gary Lucy, and Matt Belknap
Doug Benson once again extends his hands across the podcast waters, lending an hour-long plug to Rock Solid, Never Not Funny’s new music-centric spinoff. The episode functions as a good introduction to hosts Pat Francis and Gary Lucy and Rock Solid’s geekiness—though that makes for a scattershot episode of Doug Loves Movies. The digression-prone conversation requires a good deal of steering from Benson, and Matt Belknap has to step in to keep Lucy (who’s a little bit indie) and Francis (who’s a little bit rock ’n’ roll) from falling down the rockumentary rabbit hole. “Okay guys, take it to your own podcast,” Belknap says—and it’s likely they’ll take some of the audiophiles in the DLM audience with them.

Firewall & Iceberg #87: Press Tour, Whisker Wars, Twin Peaks & more
Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall open with a surprisingly non-negative look at IFC’s reality show about facial hair, Whisker Wars. Then the bulk of the show is a report from week one of the Television Critics Association press tour: They attended panels from marquee shows on AMC, CNN, ESPN, GMC [Gospel Music Channel], HBO, MTV, PBS, and others—which sounds fascinating, but you need to read their blogs for actual details (Sepinwall here, Fienberg here). The summer’s cursory Twin Peaks season one re-watch is unsurprisingly anticlimactic, and the ’cast wraps with 10 spoiler-filled minutes on the latest Breaking Bad

How Was Your Week? #21: “In The Business of Lying To You”: Dave Hill & John Ross Bowie
Julie Klausner is a mystery wrapped in an enigma topped with a kitty: In one podcast, she discusses her disdain for the new Miranda July movie, yet in a surprising twist, confesses how much she hates being called “dude.” After revealing her many contradictions, she interviews John Ross Bowie about his book on Heathers, which will be of interest to fans of the movie and leave others reserving it on Netflix. (The parallels between the film and the Columbine High School incident are creepy yet fascinating.) She also chats with writer and performer Dave Hill, posing to him the same questions asked of Usher in an old issue of Tiger Beat. 

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #28: Vanilla Ice Cream
Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh decide the first ice cream tried on their podcast should be Häagen-Dazs vanilla, reasoning, “Let’s crawl before we run.” This week’s ever-important non-food-review conversation ranges into hacky-sacking and running as an infant in the “World Games,” but otherwise it’s a relatively subdued and to-the-point installment, perhaps inspired by the elegant understatement Black and Cavanagh find in Häagen-Dazs’ packaging.

Nerdist #110: Todd Glass
With three decades of doing stand-up under his belt, Todd Glass has a lot of insight to contribute to this very insider discussion, including his stringent guidelines on what makes a good comedy performance space. However, that segues into a too-long digression about home-organization between him and the hosts, who seem much more interested in efficient sock organization than listeners probably will be. 

Nerdist #111: Live from SDCC with RiffTrax, Kevin Pereira & Judah Friedlander
The second live Nerdist recorded at San Diego Comic Con is massively overstuffed: The three hosts are joined by Attack Of The Show’s Kevin Pereira, Doug Benson, Judah Friedlander, the RiffTrax guys—Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett—and Paul & Storm. There are more guests than mics, so people are constantly cycling in and out of the conversation—which, due to this show’s 21-and-over designation, is even raunchier than usual, particularly Friedlander’s scatological contributions. There are good bits scattered throughout, but the unfocused, free-ranging discussion gets a little numbing over the course of nearly two hours.

Never Not Funny #909: Ken Marino
Ken Marino lost his voice before recording #909, but while he “can’t bring the funny, [he] can bring the energy.” His voice is fine, but that admission defines #909—though even the energy is lacking, possibly due to his anxiety about being on podcasts (which helps explain his lethargic appearance on last week’s Comedy Bang Bang). He eventually comes alive through a seven-minute argument over the definition of monkey bars, and that energy carries otherwise flat conversations on parenthood, old TVs, and Marino’s time on Party Down and The State.

The Sound Of Young America: Paul Provenza
It feels like we’re living in a golden age of discussing and dissecting stand-up comedy. In this week’s TSOYA, Jesse Thorn interviews the guy who interviews the comics, as he chats with The Green Room’s Paul Provenza about how to produce a talk show that encourages comedians to let their guard down. Thorn also asks Provenza, who produced The Aristocrats, the question we’ve all secretly wondered: Was that joke just made up for the sake of the movie?

Sound Opinions: #296: All-time favorite music duets
Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot come up with a list of reliably eclectic duets for this episode, including “The Battle Of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin (with Sandy Denny) and the all-time great oldie “Love Is Strange” by Mickey & Sylvia. Music fans will find reasons to quibble—c’mon, no Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”?—but this is one of those Sound Opinions episodes where it’s nice to just sit back and let the critics play DJ.

This American Life #442: Thugs
This week’s episode gets off to a slow start, with the prologue and first act dancing around curious stories without diving deep enough to really grab hold. Ira Glass looks briefly at a town in Mexico run by a drug cartel the residents actually like, and producer Nancy Updike checks in from Egypt, where the popular army could be abusing power. The second act, though, is a beautiful story out of Little Rock, Arkansas, where a woman named Ton’Nea Williams takes a young delinquent under her guidance, with disheartening results.

Who Charted? #35: Let’s Get Outta Here: Scott Aukerman
For the 35th edition of Who Charted?, Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack chat with Comedy Bang Bang host and Earwolf chief Scott Aukerman. This episode maintains a consistently fun and playful vibe, mainly due to Aukerman being married to co-host Vilaysack. However, his ham-fisted voices and impressions come across as more cringe-worthy and obnoxious than entertaining. One impression that never disappoints, though, is Kremer’s gravelly imitation of his brother Lee.

WTF With Marc Maron #197: Andrew Dice Clay, Max Silverstein 
Marc Maron falls faithfully into little-brother mode listening to Andrew “Dice” Clay, a.k.a. Andrew Silverstein, spin self-aggrandizing tales of his former glory and current comeback on WTF. Maron at one point asks Clay if things ever got pathetic, but otherwise abstains from asking the kinds of probing questions that would pierce the self-styled outlaw’s swaggering persona.  

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