Week of May 26-June 1

QUOTES OF THE WEEK:

“You never forget your first time, right? Or your second time. Or the third time. Do they all count as the first time if you group ’em together? One big lump of firsts, you know what I mean? Over and over and over...” —Cora Apple, The Apple Sisters

“Yeah, it’s that start-up community out by where the Newbridge River was before they filled it with colored marbles and paved it over.”—Dom Scharpling, Best Show Gems

“Instinctively I like to be provocative, and I’m excited to be like, ‘I’m naked in a movie,’ but when it comes out, it’ll be terrible for me. It’ll be like Kathy Bates in About Schmidt kind of stuff.”—Sarah Silverman, Doug Loves Movies

“I don’t want to make any generalizations about working dogs.”— Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week 

“I would set my wife and kids on fire and then kill myself.” —The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman on what he would do if faced with the zombie apocalypse, on The Nerdist.

“You are the only person using Google Voice.” —The Noncorporeal Google Voice to Paul F. Tompkins, The Pod F. Tompkast

RECOMMENDATION
Occasionally, we ask notable figures from the podcasting community what shows they’re currently enjoying. This week: Nerdist host Chris Hardwick’s suggestion:

“Currently, I am enjoying StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson is an astrophysicist, director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, and host of PBS’s NOVA ScienceNOW. The conversation is loose, fun, and informative without feeling superior or pedantic. In the most recent episode, Charles Liu, professor of astrophysics at the university with the vaginal-looking acronym ‘CUNY,’ uses the word ‘prosaic,’ to which Tyson casually responds, ‘I don’t remember what that word means.’ I LOVE THAT. Here’s a guy with a veritable Dread Pirate Roberts’ stash of degrees, and he is cool enough to admit that he doesn’t know a word. Being a part of nerd culture, I know that our mutant brain-narcissism (smart-icissm?) drives us to always try to bury people with our supreme knowledge over all things. (If you need an example of this, you may not need to look any further than what I’m assuming will be a landfill of ‘here’s how I’m smart and everyone else is fucking stupid’ comments in the thread below.) Tyson’s science is composed of acute knowledge cradled in kind vulnerability. This gives him a depth that is a pleasure to consume with my ears. 

As a nerdy podcaster, I was thrilled (and jealous) to hear John Hodgman compare Spock to lobsters and Jon Stewart describe carbon as ‘the sluttiest element.’ If you’re even a BORDERLINE science/comedy nerd, you will enjoy the meticulous multi-angle dissection of the commercial, theoretical, and practical applications of science. Topics range from climate control to space tourism to the physics of superheroes. Throw in the fact that comedians like Eugene Mirman sit in on the discussions for most of the episodes, and you have a show that squeezes science, philosophy, and comedy into a dense singularity of awesomeness.”

NEW

The Apple Sisters
A podcast for The Apple Sisters is such a forehead-slappingly obvious idea that it’s almost annoying no one had already thought of it. After all, the group couldn’t be better suited to the format: For years, The Apple Sisters have performed a sort of live radio variety show set during World War II, complete with commercials and harmony-laden songs clearly indebted to The Andrews Sisters. Candy (the tomboy), Seedy (the Jesus freak), and Cora (the slut)—veteran improvisers and performers Rebekka Johnson, Sarah Lowe, and Kimmy Gatewood, respectively—are brassy, fun-loving gals ostensibly putting on an all-American show, but peppered with irony and modern allusions. (In the first episode, one mentions moving into a “condo,” though all three are baffled as to what that is.) 

The debut episode spends most of the time establishing the place (“Hollywoodland,” 1943) and the women’s personalities. Candy’s the loveable tomboy who’s “so happy and gay...to be here,” and who also has a “husband” named Cheryl serving overseas. Seedy constantly makes sexual references to God, like, “You can turn my world around any day, God, and you won’t get any rest on the seventh day, wink!” And Cora can’t keep her clothes on or stop flirting with the guests, which in this episode include Buddy from sponsor Buddy’s Bargain Blowout (Ptolemy Solcum) and President Franklin Roosevelt (Paul F. Tompkins). The latter tries to hide his disability—he doesn’t use a wheelchair, but a “presidential rolling throne”—proclaiming, “Oh, I’m forever walking all over the place!” There’s also a commercial and a song (“Puddin,’” from last year’s well-received CD), all of it done in roughly 20 minutes. If it holds up, The Apple Sisters will be a lock for one of our favorite podcasts of the year. 

Affirmation Nation With Bob Ducca
In Podmass, we have frequently proclaimed our love for Bob Ducca, the character created by comedian Seth Morris for Comedy Bang Bang. As the sad-sack ex-stepfather of CBB host Scott Aukerman, Ducca has routinely delivered some of the biggest laughs of the show with his bizarre lists, uncomfortably sincere poetry, and general ineptitude. After debuting on Comedy Bang Bang last year, Ducca quickly became one of CBB’s most popular characters, so it was perhaps inevitable that he’d get his own show. But as Recordings: Volume 1—Morris’ digital Ducca album—showed, the shtick can sag when Ducca has to carry it on his own, so it’s a savvy move to make his podcast bite-sized. Affirmation Nation offers a small daily dose of Ducca’s “thoughts, concerns, meditations, recommendations, and ramblings,” each only a couple of minutes. That’s too short for “A Ship Called Hope,” but it works well here.

NEW (TO US)

Superego
Like every other Superego podcast, Episode 3.4’s stable of guest stars is an embarrassment of riches. This time around, the podcast boats a strong ensemble including Chelsea Lately’s Mike Rock, Julie Klausner, and frequent guest Paul F. Tompkins. However, the standout performances come from Eastbound And Down’s Andy Daly and comedian Patton Oswalt. Daly appears as sleazy Broadway producer Don Dimello, playing the lecherous old perv with raspy, blood-curdling perfection, and Oswalt excels as the exasperated head of a crunchy, hippie preschool. The only downside is that each sketch, or “case study,” feels a tad too short. However, that’s not an error on the Superego crew’s side; it’s just that each sketch is so solid and each concept is so strong that the actors could easily drag the action out for twice as long. Episode 3.4 clocks in at a little over 27 minutes and definitely leaves the listener wanting more. However, there’s something to be said for a comedy podcast that doesn’t wear out its welcome, especially when it isn’t burdened by dead air, awkward pauses, or wasted words. 


THE BEST

The Best Show on WFMU 
This week, both host Tom Scharpling and guest Marc Maron repeatedly threaten to die on the air, if for no other reason than to match the energy of the terminally dull early callers. Maron is always ready to dwell on himself and his creative process, and here he provides some fascinating behind-the-scenes perspective on WTF interviews. Scharpling’s own skill in grappling with dull, meandering callers makes him the perfect interviewer for Maron, who does his best to procure solid comedy success stories from subjects who sometimes have little tangible personality. Scharpling provides a list of WTF guests—such as Joe Rogan, Dane Cook, and Everybody Loves Raymond co-creator Phil Rosenthal—whom Maron seemed to want to strangle, and Maron giddily spills the beans on how hard he had to yank to pull entertaining sentences from their maws. Scharpling lets the show head into much darker material than usual, trusting Maron’s ability to steer it to a comedic place. As a result, every minute of the podcast is well-spent, right up to the final reflections on suicide and Maron’s role in the life of Sam Kinison.

Culture Gabfest: We’re F---ing F---ed Edition
After two weeks away for her honeymoon, Julia Turner returns to Culture Gabfest duty, but only halfway: She hasn’t yet seen Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life and can only question its conspicuous hippie-ness from the sidelines, and she reserves her endorsement for the grand adventure of driving a car in a foreign country. Slate editorial assistant Forrest Wickman gets brought into the Malick discussion instead, and he and regular hosts Stephen Metcalf and Dana Stevens are mostly in agreement about its masterpiece status, though Metcalf wants more time to process. The best segment has music critic Jody Rosen detailing the legacy of the late Gil-Scott Heron, touching on the less fortunate aspects of Heron’s life (his crack addiction, his inspiration to the poetry slam movement) while making a convincing argument for the timeless brilliance of his music. The last third, on playwright David Mamet’s right-wing conversion, gets a range of responses, but Metcalf’s seems smartest—it’s not the conversion itself that bothers him, but the specious, thoughtless nature of it. 

Doug Loves Movies: Jonathan Lipnicki, Sarah Silverman, And Greg Behrendt
Jonathan Lipnicki graduated from being “the Jerry Maguire kid” to being a well-adjusted 20-year-old actor, who these days mostly appears in theatrical roles—and the occasional “kid stars: before and after” Internet slideshow. And while he did have to file a restraining order against an ex recently, the most sordid he gets in this taping is a description of Tom Cruise’s undue glee at eating under the Animatronic canopy of Rainforest Cafe. The truly shocking stuff is left instead to Sarah Silverman, who prevents the episode from getting too high-minded by dropping an anecdote about accidentally flashing her labia at Sarah Polley on the set of Take This Waltz. In its mixture of inflammatory frankness and legitimate humiliation, the story is vintage Silverman, which hopefully means she’s workshopping it into a new stand-up routine.

Hang Up And Listen: The Platonic Ideal Of Team Edition
With Josh Levin out of town for a second week, Stefan Fatsis again takes over hosting duties and brings in guest Franklin Foer, a soccer aficionado, to round out the trio with Mike Pesca. Perhaps not surprisingly, the segments on Barcelona’s bravura Champions League performance against Manchester United and the newly reelected FIFA president Sepp Blatter (who ran unopposed) are the strongest, drawing out keen insights from Foer on soccer tactics and politics and Fatsis’ ever-wonderful “blue-blazered sportocrat” impersonation. Other topics include the beginning of the NBA Finals, which gives the HUAL hosts another opportunity to decry the unfair vilification of Lebron James; Ohio State coach Jim Tressel’s resignation on Memorial Day morning; and a great discussion with former Olympic swimming gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar on the chicanery of Quinnipiac University trying to use competitive cheerleading as a way to make itself Title IX compliant. 

Judge John Hodgman #26: The Toot Dispute 
A mother and her 30-year-old son arguing over his farting habits? Well, what else is our justice system for? While it’s apparently never occurred to plaintiff Jason to just not fart in front of his mom, this case does reveal the true depths of her passive-aggressive obsession with getting him married off. Click on over to the podcast’s website to see, among other evidence, a couple-themed Valentine’s Day card Jason’s mom gave him, crossing out the card’s references to “the two of you” and “daughter-in-law.” Judge Hodgman traces Jason’s farting problem to his college days: “He probably read a lot about literary theory, probably [saw] some weird arthouse movies, maybe started wearing a toupee, and also stopped saying ‘excuse me’ upon flatulence.”

The Nerdist #93: Robert Kirkman
This may be one of the crudest episodes in Nerdist history, with plenty of gay jokes, dick talk, and an ongoing gag revolving around deviant sexcapades involving Sasquatch—the latter of which pays off surprisingly well during the audience Q&A session. Yes, this is another live episode, featuring The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, who happily wallows in the vulgarity—even exacerbating it, as he gleefully makes digs at Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira that end up escalating into extended bouts of one-upmanship. But there’s a good bit of humor in the shit-talking—such as when Kirkman mocks Hardwick’s terrible Morgan Freeman impression—and the four of them do eventually get around to talking zombies. Things get slightly more focused with the arrival of the episode’s “surprise guest” Damon Lindelof, a big Walking Dead fan who reveals the comic’s impact on Lost—and strongly warns Kirkman against answering a fan’s question about whether he has an endpoint in mind for the series. (“This is Future Damon. Do not answer that fucking question!”) It’s a packed, extra-long episode with even more diversions than usual, but it’s lively enough to merit the excess. 

The Pod F. Tompkast #11
June’s segments are all massively fun, anchored by Cake Boss botching a quest through space-time and tales of a noirish 11-year-old Jen Kirkman recording a Corn Flakes demo. The tone is brooding for much of the show, with the famously dapper Paul F. Tompkins confessing at the beginning that he was once addicted to shooter video games, and that he still considers all game designers to be cackling, Mountain Dew Code Red-swilling sociopaths. But the clear highlight is the final installment of Google Voice Theater, a recurring segment where Tompkins takes famous writing, has Google Voice transcribe it, then has actors do spirited readings that match the original intended tone with the broken, insane misconceptions of the Google Voice service. Tompkins confesses he cannot bear to have the awful service attached to his very real voicemail any longer, and sends the segment off in style with a reading of Jaws that takes a turn for the high-concept. Also, pay attention to the sleepy voice of the Internet at the beginning for your long-awaited proof that John Hodgman is a were-circuit-board.

Sklarbro Country #44: Nathan Corddry, Jesse Thorn
The tragicomic misadventures of identical twins Jose and Ozzie Canseco have long fascinated the Brothers Sklar. Jose is rapidly turning into the Ol’ Dirty Bastard of steroid-addled has-been athletes, so you can only imagine how excited the brothers were to discover that guest Nathan Corddry played in a pick-up softball game with Canseco and lived out his childhood dream of catching a Canseco pop fly. Corddry proves an enthusiastic and delightful guest as he discusses his family’s tour of major-league ballparks and his father’s profound pride at having professional ballplayers geek out at being in the general vicinity of the guy from Hot Tub Time Machine. Jesse Thorn has been filling in for Chris Cox on Sklarbro Country intermittently with some weird, meta “fantasy reports” on fantasy sports that exist only in Thorn’s marvelous mind. This week, he delivers his funniest, weirdest, and most meta report yet: a fantasy report about fantasy sports prognosticators. Not surprisingly, Thorn’s got a good feeling about this Thorn kid.

This American Life #436: The Psychopath Test
This week’s episode rebounds from the show’s recent slump with two excellent acts looking at a test designed to determine psychopathy, developed by psychologist Bob Hare. Act One looks at how the test’s implementation in the prison system affects the likelihood of inmates being granted parole. The originator of the test bemoans its use outside the clinic, and the segment explores the dangers of the test being administered by unqualified individuals. Act Two does just that: Jon Ronson recounts his preposterous encounter with a business executive whom he believes to be a psychopath, based on his gleeful firing skills and predator-themed sculpture collection. It’s gravity next to absurdity, a line This American Life walks well when it’s at its best

WTF With Marc Maron #179: Dan Harmon
Community and The Sarah Silverman Program creator Dan Harmon has a reputation as a hot-headed eccentric whose fierce perfectionism and dedication to his craft has led to him doing things like calling Steven Spielberg a moron in a letter to a 7-year-old distressed by Monster House (Harmon co-wrote the screenplay) and sending enraged emails to TV critics. Harmon’s dedication to his craft and fierce professional neuroses come through in his conversation with Marc Maron, but the interview focuses largely on the professional rather than the personal—though in Harmon’s (and Maron’s) case, the two are so intertwined that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to separate them. Harmon strikes a familiar note when he talks about how professional envy and competition fuels much of what he does, especially his conviction that a ghost of Tina Fey is always laughing at him (or rather not laughing at him) and watching in bemusement while Community tries to do what she and her show seem to do so effortlessly. Of course, if Fey were on WTF (hopefully when Fey is on WTF), she would probably speak enviously of Harmon in similar terms. Such is the way of the crazy-making comedy world that Maron chronicles with such keen insight. 

WTF With Marc Maron #178: Live From Australia
Live episodes give Maron an opportunity to get out of his head and the fur-laden confines of the Cat Ranch and mix it up with the world. It’s always fascinating and sometimes a little uncomfortable watching him attempt to process other cultures—and for that matter, anything outside himself—though the episodes usually peak during rambling introductions where Maron reads emails from listeners who seem to have a more intense, surreal relationship with him than anyone in their actual lives, despite never having met him. That’s the case here, as Maron reads a missive from a reader who had a bizarre dream involving Maron as a blurry-headed professor and a letter from a confused reader seeking tips on how best to care for her backyard-type lizard. Incidentally, if you’re looking for lizard-maintenance tips, WTF is not the place to find them. The show gets off to such a rollicking start, the panel almost can’t help but feel anti-climactic, but guests like Greg Fleet keep things rolling along merrily, keeping the show’s hot streak—NPR recently announced it is going to run edited interviews from the archive—going strong.


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
Casual fans can skip the Ace show this week. In order of descending interest: Porn & publishing magnate Larry Flynt and co-author David Eisenbach plug their new book, One Nation Under Sex, discussing whether Abraham Lincoln was gay and the eternal popularity of infidelity. Ace goes off-topic and turns to news, Flynt immediately bails, and you might be left wondering why it doesn’t happen more often. Superfan Giovanni holds a one-on-one Q&A that covers Ace’s career from Loveline to the boxing movie The Hammer. Topher Grace reflects on his career from dead-end teenager to That ‘70s Show (and the career arcs of his co-stars) on through his current supporting role in HBO’s Too Big To Fail. Comedian and podcaster Eddie Ifft reports on his documentary about how the rest of the world views Americans, and he and Ace trade stories about misadventures while being high. After Adam and Bryan’s feedback on Thor, comedian Bill Burr‘s appearance is practically all live-audience questions and news. 

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
Even though he gets the full profile treatment in this weekend’s New York Times Sunday Magazine and is prepping to launch his newest venture, Grantland, Simmons remains squarely focused on the NBA playoffs throughout his podcasts this week. First up is ESPN’s Ric Bucher, who breaks down the Dallas Mavericks heading into the NBA Finals and takes a look back at the playoffs as a whole to this point. And, of course, Simmons can’t approach the championship series of his favorite sport without having a blowout podcast: Bucher returns, joined by other ESPN NBA writers Marc Stein, John Hollinger, and Chad Millman, plus Simmons pal Joe House for a preview of the Heat-Mavs match-up that is entertaining as always, but at 100 minutes, best suited to diehard basketball or Simmons fans. Simmons takes a break from the NBA to start his final podcast of the week, talking up the Stanley Cup Finals—pitting the Vancouver Canucks against Simmons’ hometown Boston Bruins—with Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski (who picks the Canucks in six games while Simmons, owning up to his own bias, picks the Bruins in six). Wrapping up this final podcast is a visit from actor Michael Rapaport, who talks about that A Tribe Called Quest documentary, the state of his beloved Knicks, and gives an entertaining account of his celebrity basketball career.

Best Show Gems: Tom’s Brother Dom Calls
Any Best Show bit that features one of Tom’s brothers should appeal to longtime fans. Even if the jokes are ho-hum, it’s an opportunity for Tom to fill in more of the details of his fictional life as a Newbridge schlub punching the time clock at Consolidated Cardboard. This is a weaker episode, but it does score some laughs with Dom’s Ancient Chinese Secret TV pitch and with his participation in The Eastern Part Of America division of the belt-whipping league. 

Comedy Bang-Bang #106.5: Andy Richter, Paul F. Tompkins
If you listened to #106, you know what’s in store: Andy Richter and Paul F. Tompkins as the Cake Boss. He continues to channel Chewbacca, and we finally have an answer to the question that’s haunted Star Wars fans for nearly four decades: Yes, Chewbacca was in love with Han Solo. Oh, and Cake Boss is also a Cakewolf, a sort of dessert-oriented werewolf. Like we said last week, just go with it.

Extra Hot Great: #33: The 1st Annual TV Extrys
One of the reasons why the super-niche-y nature of podcasts is so valuable: You can enter an alternative universe where the likes of Terriers, Archer, and Friday Night Lights triumph in awards shows, instead of the junk the Emmys will inevitably honor this year. Though this hour-long roundup of TV’s finest shows and performances—featuring guests Mark Blankenship and Pamela Ribon—eliminates the diversity of a typical Extra Hot Great episode, the winners and the clips are persuasive. 

Firewall & Iceberg No. 76: Franklin & Bash, Teen Wolf, And More
Hitftix.com critics Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall take listener mail and discuss TNT’s “unamusing” Malcolm McDowell lawyer dramedy Franklin & Bash, season 2.5 of TNT’s Men Of A Certain Age, the AMC whodunit The Killing, and HBO’s Game Of Thrones (by far their favorite of the batch). But their most passionate analysis is the leadoff segment on the MTV reboot of Teen Wolf, which has frak-all to do with the ’80s version. Notes Sepinwall, “It’s more of a straightforward teen-angst horror story… It’s not good.” They also announce the subject of this year’s weekly summer rewatch: Twin Peaks, season one.

How Was Your Week No. 10: The Young & The Messy: Jackée 
Julie Klausner’s interview with comic actress Jackée Harry is pretty much what you’d expect from a conversation with Jackée: a lot of girlfriend-y discussion about men followed by loud laughter. Klausner also parses the Oprah Winfrey Show finale and analyzes what makes the Police song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”—and Sting himself—so awful.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour No. 10: Chris Fairbanks
Perhaps not surprisingly, Paul Gilmartin’s mental illness-themed podcast can feel like eavesdropping on someone else’s therapy. Sometimes that creates an incredible sense of intimacy; sometimes it feels like the therapist is reaching for something, conversationally, that he never quite finds. That seems to be the case when Gilmartin sits down to talk to Chris Fairbanks for an engaging but occasionally rambling conversation about his mother’s battles with alcoholism and Alzheimer’s that doesn’t quite meet the exceedingly high expectations set by previous shows. 

The Moth: James Foster & Kathleen Miller: SLAM Stories
It’s two short, slight stories this week, the first about a savvy—or so he thinks—Detroit native who gets his car stolen, the second about a middle-school nerd who inadvertently poisons her classmates—or so she thinks. There’s a loose theme about trusting others tying the two tales together, but mostly they’re just a couple of funny anecdotes told by two charming, engaging storytellers. 

The Sound Of Young America: Demetri Martin 
Jesse Thorn interviews comic and new author Demetri Martin about his passion for skateboarding, his impressive academic background, his love of puzzles, and his appreciation for the standup stylings of Steven Wright. If you love dry, wordplay-based humor, then this interview is for you.  Also this week, Thorn speaks with The A.V. Club’s own Nathan Rabin and Josh Modell about The Lonely Island’s new record, the new DVD release of Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, rapper Elzhi’s new mix-tape, and the disturbing Korean movie I Saw the Devil.  

Sound Opinions: Mike Watt
Listening to Mike Watt talk about anything is always a treasure, and Greg and Jim invite the former Minuteman to discuss the greatest triumph of his career, 1984’s Double Nickels On The Dime. The double-album, 45-song classic was mixed in one night and cost only $1,100, reveals Watt, who otherwise rehashes old but interesting stories familiar to anyone who’s seen the essential documentary We Jam Econo: The Story Of The Minutemen. (If you haven’t seen it, watch it on Netflix Instant, like, right now.)