Week of June 23-June 29

Week of June 23-June 29

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I don’t need an Emmy to validate my career choices, Rob. I have a podcast.” —Michael Ian Black to Rob Burnett, Mike And Tom Eat Snacks

“I’m a horrible immigrant coming here to take your jobs.” 
“Let me tell you what: In 1982 Colin Hay came over here, my buddy’s a singer-songwriter and hasn’t made a dime. He took his job away!”
“Even flaunted it by calling his band Men At Work. ‘Look at me, I’m working!’” —Aussie comic Wil Anderson, Jimmy Pardo, and Matt Belknap, Never Not Funny

“That is the stupid that made this country… You have to believe, ‘This is going to work.’” —Ira Glass on perseverance in the face of failure, The Adam Carolla Show

“Tubba Goo, Buffet Wrecker, and Fat Blob. I’m striking all those names.” —Tom Scharpling referring to his newfound sensitivity toward the overweight, The Best Show On WFMU

“Frankenstein no fear AIDS.” —Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week?

“The gay marriage [issue] is, I’d say, a pretty progressive pill to swallow. I’d say it’s not as cut-and-dried as, say, women’s right to vote… I don’t think we’re going to look back and be like, ‘What the fuck were we thinking?’ I think it’ll be sort of like don’t-ask-don’t-tell… It’s like Playboy: I think it’ll be like a sexual progression like, ‘Oh, we couldn’t see pubic hair in 1959, and we could in 1969.’” —Adam Carolla, The Adam Carolla Show 

NEW (TO US)

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #23: Fig Newtons
Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh starred together on NBC’s Ed for four seasons (and 2005’s Alchemy, about a scientist trying to make a woman fall in love with a computer), and in January they reunited for Mike And Tom Eat Snacks, a.k.a. MATES, whose title pretty much tells you everything. Each episode, Black and Cavanagh choose a snack (sometimes submitted by listeners) and discuss it. The premiere episode took on chip bastion Cheetos, but the duo has occasionally looked beyond the snack-food aisle to debate stuff like bananas (“God’s perfect creation?” asks the episode description), muffins, and yogurt. For the most part, though, Black and Cavanagh stick to the kinds of “food product” eaten in a moment of weakness then almost instantly regretted: Third Degree Burn Scorchin’ Habanero Doritos, Bugles, Cheez-Its, Slim Jims, etc. It’s a process they take with a funny seriousness, discussing the specifics of snack classification and inter-snack relationships, assessing ratings, and, as of the past couple episodes, bring on a guest for an outside perspective.

That’s Late Show With David Letterman producer Rob Burnett, who joins this discussion about Fig Newtons following an apparently contentious debate over Snyder’s Pretzels in episode 22. The trio devotes a good chunk of the episode to the (mock) hostility between Black and Burnett, as Black leans on the pompous assholery he does so well. It’s his comedic style, but it’s also funny to hear him genuinely crack up at something Cavanagh or Burnett says. Episode 23 has a lot of good moments, especially once the trio gets down to discussing Fig Newtons. (Black has no recollection of the product’s catchy jingle, which Cavanagh repeatedly sings.) Opinions are mixed—Burnett compares them to eating talcum powder—so the final ratings are relatively low. C’mon, everybody knows raspberry is the money Newton. Highly recommended.


THE BEST

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons: “Weird Al” Yankovic
In a twist that extends to branding the podcast as part of the new Grantland site, Simmons hands hosting duties for this pop culture-centric episode to Chuck Klosterman, who sits down with “Weird Al” Yankovic. Klosterman extracts some interesting tidbits, like what he’d sound like if he hadn’t chosen the parody path (They Might Be Giants and Ben Folds) and songs that are too weird even for him to parody (Klosterman suggests “Ohio”, Yankovic “Tears In Heaven”). Klosterman gets some other fun anecdotes out of Yankovic too: the full story surrounding the Lady Gaga kerfuffle (which he tells on The Sound Of Young America this week too) and a detailed description of Yankovic’s brief yet funny conversation with Kurt Cobain regarding permission to parody “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” If there’s one issue with the podcast, it’s that Klosterman lacks Simmons’ hosting experience, so some questions and comments fall flat; when Klosterman tells Yankovic that a friend allegedly spotted Yankovic in Rochester, Minnesota, home to the Mayo Clinic, he asks if Yankovic had a reason to be there—but Yankovic has no recollection of it. (You can read more with Yankovic in our interview with him and his edition of Set List.)

The Best Show On WFMU
Thanks goodness that two of Scharpling’s favorite comedy pals call in this episode, because people like Amadeus are out there. Despite his two-year ban from last week, the youngster still calls in and is forced to take on a writing assignment. It’s hard to imagine why, when people like Todd Barry and Julie Klausner are out there, snobs with nothing to say bother picking up their phone. But thankfully Barry calls in early and dishes on Louie, Comedy Central Roasts, and Nick Dipaulo’s now legendary taunting of Scharpling 10 years ago. Klausner also has a hysterical response to a passing mention of fictional-sounding Bernard McGuirk. But the highlight is the return of Jon Wurster, who hasn’t done a substantial call-in for a couple of weeks. Once again he portrays someone alone and in peril outside at night, this time trapped in quicksand. The call starts being about music, then segues into the fact that when he saw a sign that said “Warning: Quicksand,” he assumed it was a leftover sign from 20 years ago when the band Quicksand played Newbridge. 

Extra Hot Great: #37: Conan O’Brien Didn’t Shave
When Conan O’Brien went on his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television” tour between his dramatic departure from The Tonight Show and his re-emergence as host of TBS’ Conan, David T. Cole and Tara Ariano dutifully coughed up the $50 to see a show they describe more as a group-therapy session than a night of comedy. Their disappointment colors their perception of the new behind-the-scenes documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, but they nonetheless admire the film, especially the backstage scenes when O’Brien drops the self-pity and reveals himself as the sweet, brilliant, compulsive entertainer he is. Regular co-host Joe Reid and guest Sarah D. Bunting chime in on a good discussion, as well as talk of Celebrity Rehab’s return for another season on VH-1 and a wonderful Game Time segment on movie taglines. The show is tighter than usual, too, perhaps because a user-submitted Canon segment on a late-period Dawson’s Creek episode doesn’t warrant much analysis. 

Hang Up And Listen: The Amateur Vexillology Edition
With Stefan Fatsis in Germany covering the Women’s World Cup, guest Bryan Curtis takes him place more than capably as he, Josh Levin, and Mike Pesca discuss Mexico’s Gold Cup dominance over the United States soccer team, how the aging process affects athletes and the way they’re perceived, and the formative experiences that led them to become sports fans. That last segment spins off from Curtis’ touching Grantland essay, “The Fiberglass Backboard,” about the basketball hoop that became a childhood companion after his father committed suicide when he was 11 years old. Levin and Pesca’s sports-fan origin stories are considerably less dramatic, but the personal tone is a rare and welcome change for the podcast, and the rest of the show balances it out nicely. On a lighter front, Pesca’s trivia question linking baseball with the back cover of the Rush album Signals inspires an epic, brilliant (but wrong) answer, and his Afterball segment uncovers a hilarious professional bowling controversy called “Bottlegate”—or, as he prefers to call it, “The Crinkle Affair.”

How Was Your Week? #16: “So Many Ethans”: Ana Gasteyer & Vanessa Bayer
Klausner takes on Saturday Night Live women of the past and present in this week’s podcast. (May we suggest she aspire to interview all surviving SNL female cast members? Because that would be a worthy project). She speaks with current cast member Vanessa Bayer about her favorite ’90s movies (the main takeaway from Reality Bites being “used jeans are cool”), then takes on alumna Ana Gasteyer about her musical-theater background and her experiences on SNL. Yes, Schweddy balls are mentioned. Stick around for Klausner’s advice on how to cover your ass when you’re caught feeding a gyro to a guide dog, and her shameful confession of using Hitler as an excuse to cover up a youthful transgression. 

Never Not Funny: #904 Wil Anderson
During Jimmy Pardo’s introductory warm-up, Matt Belknap comments on how Australian comedian Wil Anderson is the perfect guest: He directs his stifled laughter straight into the microphone, sits quietly but attentively, and is apparently dashingly handsome. Belknap’s comment is made in jest, but it holds up; Anderson proves to be one of Never Not Funny’s most positive, glowing personalities. Once he’s introduced, Anderson launches into a story about a friend who won a contest of the most inventive way to masturbate, pausing briefly to question whether it was too early in the episode for such material. (“Never,” Pardo says.) From there, he touches on his experiences growing up on a farm, America’s relative unawareness of Australian culture (“It’s the same reason LeBron would never read an article about his bench”), and Russell Crowe’s ill-fated career as Rus Le Roq, frontman of the band Thirty Odd Foot Of Grunts (later renamed The Ordinary Fear Of God—same initials, so he could still sell the old T-shirts). Anderson’s ability to naturally advance the conversation in unexpected directions—without forcing a tangent or his own material—makes for a record number of open, unrestrained laughs from Pardo, and the best episode of this season yet.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: In Our Host’s Absence, We Invite ‘Company’
With regular PCHH host Linda Holmes busy at a film festival, Stephen Thompson hosts and has producer Mike Katzif and NPR digital news editor Tanya Ballard Brown step in for a review of Green Lantern. Brown, a previously quiet PCHH guest, has much more to say this time around, in part because she’s a comics vet with opinions on the Green Lantern mythos, though she’s still pretty laid-back compared to the normal crew. Then Brown leaves (Trey Graham: “Why does the black character always get killed first?”) and NPR film reviewer Bob Mondello steps in for a review of a recent star-studded stage version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company that was filmed and sent to select theaters. (Thompson describes the reviewer lineup as “40 percent of NPR’s gays sitting around a table.”) The discussion is meaty, serious, and coming from a place of intelligent expertise; even people not terribly interested in Sondheim or this particular show might find it informative and interesting. Also occasionally schoolboy-giggly. Still, Holmes’ light touch is missed.

Sklarbro Country #48: Bag Of Cell Phones: Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, Jason Nash
The folks over at Earwolf are never shy about cross-promotion. That’d be problematic if the podcasting network didn’t have such a strong, consistent voice. So there’s nothing at all jarring about Kyle Dunnigan and Tig Notaro of the newly launched Professor Blastoff podcast stopping by Sklarbro Country to kibitz with the brothers and inspire an avalanche of questionable Johnny Carson impersonations. As if often the case, the episode peaks with a closing bit, this time comedian Jason Nash’s cruelly accurate Bruce Jenner and his increasingly tragic existence as a gold medalist turned plastic surgery victim lurking about in the background of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Nash strikes just the right note of sad-sack hopelessness thinly masquerading as optimism as his pathetic ex-champion chipperly notes that he’s going to melt down all his gold medals to help pay for Kim Kardsahian’s $10 million wedding. He also pimps the funky tank tops currently available at his employer, Forever 21, who’s nice enough to let him contribute to its blog, The Skinny

The Sound Of Young America: Weird Al Returns
Yes, “Weird Al” Yankovic was on TSOYA fairly recently, but he wasn’t allowed to discuss Alpocalypse at that time, and are you really going to complain about too much Al? No, you are not. Jesse Thorn, rightfully giddy in Al’s presence, plays clips from the new album that are catchy as hell and serve to make us grudgingly admit that “Party In The USA” and “You Belong To Me” (retooled as “Party in the CIA” and “TMZ”) were pretty okay songs to begin with. Yankovic discusses which artists he had to go the extra mile to track down and tells the tale of his arduous path of getting Lady Gaga’s blessing for “Perform This Way.”

Sound Opinions #291: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis sometimes venture into full-blown fogeyism and classic-rock worship, which this installment exhibits in good and bad ways. Neither critics are fans of the new Bon Iver record, but while Kot states his ambivalence with typically well-measured doses of reason, DeRogatis’ comparison to Mike + The Mechanics and bombastic insistence that it’s among the worst records of the year smacks of reactionary hyperbole. Kot and DeRo are on much safer ground talking to Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the songwriters behind such standards as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “On Broadway.” While younger listeners might be a bit bored by the conversation, Mann and Weil actually prove to be great raconteurs, with Weil memorably recounting that her motivation to write with Mann was as much hormonal as artistic. 

The Tobolowsky Files: #48: The Zen Story 
Stephen Tobolowsky’s podcasts follow a fairly set structure that rarely varies. Dave Chen asks Tobolowsky about one of his movie roles, and he tells a short story about that film. He then pivots to an anecdote that leads into a larger story. After a musical interlude, he picks up another story that has a similar theme to the first story, but often isn’t connected in many other ways. Then there’s more music and information on where to find more Tobolowsky on the Internet. “The Zen Story” is so successful because it manages to weave together two stories that don’t seem to have a lot to do with each other on their surface, but end up having a remarkable series of dense connections going on down below. The first story—about Tobolowsky’s many encounters with a Zen tale of a Zen master meeting a bully holding a bird in his hand—offers a bittersweet example of how time and experience cause our understanding to grow. It also shows how the truly great stories are ones that will reveal new layers of meaning to us the older we get. The second—pivoting off Tobolowsky’s experiences in a Los Angeles production of experimental play Barabbas that to his getting cast in Spaceballs—is often wildly funny and filled with great stories of the stage. What do the two have in common? That’s information Tobolowsky saves for the end of each story, but as always, there’s the sense of deeply felt experience underlying it all.

WTF With Marc Maron #186: Jimmy Fallon
Like Joel McHale and BJ Novak on last week’s WTF, Saturday Night Live cut-up- turned-failed-movie-star-turned-successful-talk-show-host Jimmy Fallon is ostensibly the kind of stand-up comic Maron hates on principle: handsome, young, defiantly untortured, successful, and confident. Yet by the end of the episode, Maron is clearly so charmed by his guest that you half-expect them to tape a second podcast during a picnic together in Central Park. The eternally boyish Fallon delivers a string of self-deprecating anecdotes involving the impossible burden of following Jerry Seinfeld as a very young comic, his “cab movie,” his Troll Doll-intensive early stand-up, and his (annoying?) habit of laughing during SNL sketches. Fallon may be saner and more functional than WTF’s tormented genius, but this is nevertheless one of the breeziest and most entertaining episodes ever. 

WTF With Marc Maron #187: Larry Miller 
Like Fallon, venerable stand-up Larry Miller practices a very different, far more buttoned-up form of comedy than Marc Maron, yet Maron’s respect and affection for his guest is palpable. The genial, perpetually suit-clad character actor proves a delightful guest as he continually addresses Maron as his “brother” in what he lovingly and convincingly describes as a brotherhood of comics, not unlike the Cosa Nostra. If Miller weren’t so charming, his unrelenting positivity and niceness might come across as noxious or grating, but when he describes how getting mugged and beaten filled him with an appreciation not just for life, but gratitude toward the muggers for stopping at some point, he really seems to mean it. Maron has so much fun listening to Miller spin hilarious anecdotes and dispense homespun humanistic philosophy that the podcast barely touches upon Miller’s sideline as a ubiquitous character actor and ace improviser. Thankfully, that leaves plenty of ground left to cover for future visits to the Cat Ranch. Maron’s introduction is also unexpectedly moving and memorable—this is a super-strong episode all around. 


THE REST
The Adam Carolla Show
Ira Glass and Mike Birbiglia could have been the crossover event of the year, but Birbiglia barely contributes to recurring show bits like “What Can’t Adam Complain About?” Glass is an old Ace fan, and though his segment (starting at the 42-minute mark) starts off as an actual interview about This American Life and podcasting, it veers into decidedly non-TAL topics like the spank bank. If you’ve always wanted to hear Glass drop the f-bomb, skip to 57:14. When Carolla returns, he’s pissed that Glass questioned his most-downloaded-podcast status and accuses him of harboring nerd rage—and thus follows an examination of the eternal “dude vs. smart guy” conflict. Eventually that episode moves on to guest Gary Cole (Lumbergh from Office Space), who discusses the business of being a working actor. The Hines Ward and Jessa Lynn Hinton episode has interviews with Playboy’s Miss July (the MMA announcer likes it rough) and the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver who won Dancing With the Stars. (Carolla seems miffed that he actually plugged an upcoming project.) Comedian Jim Norton and Ace discuss massage-parlor etiquette, following listener calls that elicit Ace’s thoughts on body modification, from genital piercing to plastic surgery. And Facts Of Life alum Paul Provenza joins Carolla’s ongoing rants about flying and driving. 

The Apple Sisters #5: Manners
Five episodes in, the template for The Apple Sisters is starting to drag. The episodes are usually around 20 minutes, but the first five or so don’t change week to week: The sisters introduce themselves, make the same jokes (Cora shouts about seamen, Candy drops hints that she’s gay, Seedy talks about God), and talk about their show. The podcast is new enough that it still establishing itself, but listeners can basically skip to the five-minute mark every week to get to the good stuff. This week, Miss Manners (Eliza Skinner) offers etiquette tips that the ladies don’t like. 

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
Simmons opens a two-part podcast about the NBA Draft with Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn, who’s been a prominent punching bag for Simmons over the past two years. Kahn proves himself a good sport, and while Simmons is far more courteous to Kahn than he’s been previously, there’s still enough sparring to keep the chat lively. In part two of the podcast, Simmons talks to TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott (and Simmons pal Joe House) about the particularly thin draft class in a discussion that’s for hardcore fans only. 

Best Show Gems: Tom Gets A Call From High School Bully Troy Dershman
Troy “The Enforcer” Dershman ruled the roost during Tom’s high school days, but those three touchdowns against Tri-bridge are long in the past, and “TD” wants to make sure that the nerds from the class of ’86 still know their place. Hearing Tom politely refuse to munch a urinal cake is entertaining, and Troy’s current gig living in his old coach’s backyard is sweet, sweet geek revenge, but this episode is from the early, slightly fumbling days (August of 2001). The back and forth is strained in places, and the joke never really develops beyond “pathetic ex-bully”—for super-fans only. 

Comedy Bang Bang #110: Thumbs Yes! Colin Hanks, Myq Kaplan, Paul Scheer
The original plan for episode 110 fell through, so host Scott Aukerman had to scramble to find new guests on short notice, so this week’s episode is understandably scattershot. After guests Myq Kaplan (Last Comic Standing) and Colin Hanks (brother of Chet Haze) are introduced, they segue quickly into a game, which is the hallmark for an unplanned episode. Paul Scheer shows up later as a schizophrenic character. Not clinically—his character basis just keeps changing, from running a spa magazine to working at 7-Eleven to making weird T-shirts, etc. It has some funny moments, but #110 is skippable.

Culture Gabfest: Hornivores Of The Savannah Edition
Frequent fill-in Gabfester June Thomas comes on as a guest in the first and strongest segment on this week’s edition, talking about her six-part Slate piece on the history, importance, and possible death of the gay bar. The other two segments are less compelling: The gang’s disappointment over HBO’s civil-litigation documentary Hot Coffee seems to short-circuit the discussion, and their “brick-and-mortar” love lives limit their insights on Nick Paumgarten’s recent New Yorker article on online dating. 

Doug Loves Movies: TJ Miller, Scot Armstrong, and Brody Stevens
Blame it on the outside stress of filming The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled, blame it on the in-show stress of keeping TJ Miller and Brody Stevens in line, or blame it on the weed, but something is distracting Doug Benson this week. Whatever the cause, the episode’s various off-kilter moments culminate in the Leonard Maltin Game inadvertently bestowing statehood on the city of Denver. Good for the Mile High City, not necessarily good for Doug Loves Movies and its typically on-the-ball host.

Firewall & Iceberg: #81: Weeds, The Big C, Necessary Roughness & More
Ah, the circle of life: Raven-Symone is now big enough to be the subject of boob jokes in ABC Family’s gaggy sitcom State Of Georgia. Discussing it has critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall all but snoring by the time they move on to USA’s sports-psychologist/football drama Necessary Roughness. Showtime’s returning Weeds and The Big C get better marks. And The Voice leads Fienberg and Sepinwall to conclude that talent-competition shows are only as good as the competition. So are podcasts.

Judge John Hodgman #30: Ob-Law-Di, Ob-Law-Da
This week, two Beatles fans go to John Hodgman court because they can’t agree on the merits of The White Album (properly known as The Beatles, Hodgman reminds them in his chiding-schoolteacher way). It’s an affable discussion of the album but not especially revealing, unless you count Hodgman’s assertion that one of the friends is keeping orphans in his basement.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #14: Wendy Liebman
Stand-up comedian Wendy Liebman stops by Mental Illness Happy Hour to trade fears with Paul Gilmartin, discuss anxieties, and plumb shadowy psychological depths. While talk of eating disorders and how Liebman’s first DVD did and did not heal psychological wounds left by childhood rejection are engaging, this doesn’t quite have the depth of the podcast’s stronger episodes.  

The Moth: Leonard Lopate: The Rocket’s Red Glare
This week’s story from public radio host Leonard Lopate is a victim of The Moth’s sometimes-cruel time constraints: He’s forced to rush through his story’s conclusion, robbing it of some of its emotional resonance. However, Lopate’s excellent storytelling and attention to detail make his description of the fallout from a catastrophic bottlerocket-induced apartment fire an engaging listen from beginning to truncated end.

Nerdist #102: Alison Haislip
Chris Hardwick and Alison Haislip have been working together as correspondents on G4’s Attack Of The Show for several years, so their camaraderie is natural and mostly endearing on this episode (especially when Haislip teases Hardwick for getting mad when she calls him “scrawny”). Unfortunately, that camaraderie doesn’t lead to much new information or insight—with the exception of a short discussion of Haislip’s new gig as The Voice’s “social networking correspondent”—but rather a lot of “remember when”-ing and obnoxious marveling over how Haislip is, like, totally like a dude because she (gasp!) likes video games and has a messy apartment.  

Radiolab: Curious Sounds: A Radiolab Concert 
It’s an off-format hour for the show, leaving the scientific stuff behind to focus on the music of three very different artists, from indie rock types Buke & Gass to Wilco drummer and classical composer Glenn Kotche to all-purpose artist Reggie Watts. It’s not the usual for this podcast, but it’s a refreshing dip into three often experimental artists.

This American Life #439: A House Divided
Wrapped loosely around this week’s “house divided” theme, this week’s episode of This American Life is front-loaded with three excellent pieces on internal conflict, but slumps in final act with Jeanne Darst’s story about divorce. In the prologue, Ira Glass interviews a man whose family got him in trouble with a state trooper; Ben Calhoun takes a fascinating, in-depth look at how politics have changed in Wisconsin; and comedian Julian McCullough talks about the night stomach pains sent him to the hospital.