Week of May 5-11 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“It’s a tough game, dude.”
“No, it’s not!”—Doug Benson consoling sullen Leonard Maltin Game loser “Bald” Bryan Bishop, Doug Loves Movies

“No. 1 music event in 1998? ‘Weird Al gets LASIK to cure his myopia. At the same time, he grows out his hair and shaves his mustache, drastically changing his look.’”—Janet Varney, reading from Wikipedia, Never Not Funny

NEW (TO US)

The Mental Illness Happy Hour
The Mental Illness Happy Hour has a simple, powerful message for people wrestling with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness: “You are not alone.” As host Paul Gilmartin—whose own battles with depression inspired the podcast—acknowledges, he started The Mental Illness Happy Hour for his own benefit as much as for the benefit of his guests and listeners. Depression is an inherently isolating disease, so it’s enormously satisfying listening to Gilmartin and his guests realize just how much they have in common in their struggles with depression. Past guests have included Gilmartin’s best friend Jimmy Pardo, depression poster boy Marc Maron (of course), and Adam Carolla, who shared tragicomic anecdotes about growing up with a terminally depressed hippie mom and a toxic extended family. Though it’s only on its seventh episode, The Mental Illness Happy Hour has featured an eclectic roster of guests, from podcast-world superstars like Maron, Pardo, and Carolla to a friend of Gilmartin’s identified only as “ex-con Murph,” a grizzled man whose brusque exterior masks a sensitive, vulnerable soul. 

For the seventh episode of Mental Illness Happy Hour, Gilmartin talks to Tyler Smith of the film website Battleship Pretension. Gilmartin aspires to be intimate without being invasive, and funny without being crass. He generally succeeds, but he’s also clearly cognizant that he’s riding a fine line, which he crosses with an offhanded incest quip to Smith, a devout Christian. Gilmartin is open about his suspicions of organized religion, but the two men find common ground in their battles with what is colorfully personified as the growling, cognac-swilling voice that confronts us every morning to deliver the news that we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough, and people don’t like us. Mental Illness Happy Hour oscillates between the psychological, spiritual, and practical; Smith’s aversion to anti-depressants as “mental steroids” leads to a discussion about whether depression masks or reveals the authentic self lurking under billowing clouds of grey despair. In this crazy, fucked-up modern world, a podcast devoted to figuring how to stay sane against long odds isn’t just entertaining, it’s important.


THE BEST

Comedy Bang Bang: The Podcast #104: Paul Feig, The Birthday Boys
“People hate change, unless they’re panhandlers.” So says a presumably smirking Scott Aukerman, referring to dissenting online chatter surrounding the decision to change the name of Earwolf’s flagship podcast to Comedy Bang Bang. Anyway, those spoilsports will likely tune out of—or skip through—that portion of the show, which is largely given over to a dry conversation with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. The momentum picks up when Feig’s fellow guests—select and nearly indistinguishable members of sketch troupe The Birthday Boys—blow the lid off the antechamber where all future CBB guests are kept. Employing a Gilbert Gottfried character who’s also a failed master of disguise, the bit starts out as a parody of typical CBB/CDR celebrity shenanigans before veering off into weirder and more giggle-filled moments. Suffice it to say, anyone in the Earwolf Studios could be Gottfried—though if you jumped ship after the name change, you’d never know that. 

Culture Gabfest #138: “Grody, Moldy Breath Of Tourists” Edition
This week’s arresting podcast title refers to a description of something that eventually damages ancient cave paintings, leading France to tightly regulate access to the recently discovered Chauvet Cave. But Werner Herzog got in for his new documentary, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, which the Gabfest trio mostly praises, in spite of their issues with Herzog’s pretentious voiceover and occasional ridiculously arty byways. The other two segments this week both touch carefully and tastefully on race: Slate’s culture blogger Nina Shen Rastogi joins in to pick apart Wesley Yang’s highly controversial New York cover story “Asian Like Me,” and Slate music critic Jody Rosen pitches in on a 25th-anniversary discussion of the Beastie Boys. The former topic is handled more aggressively, with a look at Yang’s application of broad stereotypes and blinkered assumptions (for instance, that his personal experience reflects a broad segment of the Asian-American population), while the latter focuses more on history and gushing praise, amid some musings about the relationship of the Beasties’ skin color to their long-term success in the hip-hop world. In both cases, it’s worthwhile just to see how smart people navigate a problematic topic without undue squeamishness or offensiveness.

Extra Hot Great #30: Off With His Pants
Tara Ariano, Joe Reid, and David T. Cole welcome Lindsay Robertson, formerly of the websites Videogum and Jezebel, currently of a yet-to-be-launched TV site, to discuss, among other things, the season finale of Justified (the group proclaims it one of the two great dramas on the air, along with Friday Night Lights), Top Gun, and a documentary called The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia, a film that prompts Joe to remark on just how unwelcome he would be in wide swathes of the country. Fortunately, the entire group would almost certainly be welcome in college dorm rooms of the mid-’90s, as Robertson suggests the second episode of Mr. Show With Bob And David, “What To Think,” for consideration in The Canon. Though this is Joe’s first experience with the show, all four participants are taken with the episode—which features what Robertson claims to be the funniest five minutes of TV comedy in history—and there’s solid discussion of Mr. Show’s place within the American sketch-comedy pantheon, including a suggestion that the cast of Mr. Show might have been the American equivalent of Monty Python. Finally, it’s game time, with a rousing series of questions about which shows featured which fictional bands, complete with a thrilling tie-breaker. And May sweeps continues apace, with a series of shocking revelations designed to reverberate for the rest of the month.

Firewall & Iceberg #72: Upfronts Preview and Listener Mail
This week, Hitftix.com critics Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall again prove that they’re more than just two dudes who watch a lot of TV. Split between listener mail and a preview of next week’s upfronts (network previews of their fall lineups), this Firewall & Iceberg is Pardon The Interruption with TV shows in the place of NBA playoffs. For 40 minutes, the hosts run through most prime-time shows and prognosticate their chances of returning in the fall, citing ratings, behind-the-scenes drama, Byzantine contract provisions, and boundless big-picture small-screen knowledge. Listener-mail subjects include Gossip Girl, non-English-language programming, and “donut shows”—shows whose supporting characters outshine the stars. (More of Sepinwall’s thoughts on the Bubble Watch—a.k.a. shows that may or may not be cancelled—are available here.)

How Was Your Week? #9: In The Face: Seth Rudetsky & Baratunde Thurston 
Anthony Bourdain had better watch his back, because he’s clearly on Julie Klausner’s shit list this week. (Although Klausner’s descriptions of Bourdain’s wife are always intriguing.) Aretha Franklin is also in Klausner’s sights for various reasons, her terrible salad recipe among them. Daniel Radcliffe escapes Klausner’s ire by resembling a dancing Tic-Tac in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and Catherine Zeta-Jones gets a pass for her confession that she suffers from Bipolar II (“bipolar lite”). Klausner’s guest interviews are enjoyable, if slightly less luminous than in the last few weeks. (That’s what happens when you suddenly start chatting with Neko Case, Joan Rivers, and Patton Oswalt.) She and Sirius XM radio host Seth Rudetsky chat about terrible ’70s variety shows and disaster movies before taking the show in an unusually serious direction with Baratunde Thurston (who is, among other things, The Onion’s digital director), who talks about Osama bin Laden’s death and Donald Trump’s demand for the president’s birth certificate. But what we really want to know is, who is Baratunde’s favorite Real Housewife?

Judge John Hodgman #23: Arbys-Tration
Is it appropriate to ask a cab driver to pull into a Wendy’s drive-thru on the way back from a bar? Judge Hodgman claims he doesn’t have to worry about this because he has a Game Of Thrones-themed rickshaw to cart him around Brooklyn, but a pair of friends from California can’t seem to agree. One thinks it’s a perfectly reasonable request, and the other argues that it’s rude to the cab driver. Hodgman tries to weigh the debate with nuance worthy of an esteemed jurist: Was this an understandable late-night whim, or an act of “premeditated, cruel chicken-getting”? How likely is the defendant to puke up spicy chicken nuggets in the cab? Is the defendant a good tipper when he’s drunk with power and, um, quinine? Hodgman finds legit comedy in what could be a boring dispute by dragging the parties through a series of amusingly awkward re-enactments, in which the cab driver (Hodgman) harangues his drunken passengers about eating crappy food.

The Pod F. Tompkast: Episode 10
The Tompkast suffered a touch of jet lag this week, coming late after Paul F. Tompkins’ trip to Australia and various other delays, for which he apologizes at the start of the show. But better late than never. Thanks to the return of “The Great Undiscovered Project,” we learn that John Wilkes Booth is John Lithgow’s favorite actor (although Mr. Brainwash, who has “little to no control over my life at this point,” steals the show.) Tompkins debuts a new live humor feature, “Advice To The Probably Dead,” wherein he answers questions submitted to long-ago advice columns, which are slightly more depressing than funny. The highlight of the show is Tompkins’ conversation with Jen Kirkman, who tells the sad, absurd tale of her experience in Fear Of Flight school.  

This American Life #434: This Week
Every episode of This American Life is a concept show—stories centered on a single unifying theme—but occasionally it starts off with the concept, then hunts for the stories. That bet sometimes pays off (“24 Hours At The Golden Apple” or “Rest Stop,” for which the producers hung out in one place for a while and looked for stories) but sometimes doesn’t (“Stories Pitched By Our Parents,” for example, which shows why the producers never acted on the stories in the first place). In this week’s episode, the reporters hustle to report only stories that took place the prior week. The staff picked an excellent week to do this, with Sunday night bringing the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Sarah Koenig looks into exactly why all those college students celebrated the night of his death, with surprisingly poignant findings. She manages to lend empathy to what looked from a distance like an unruly, vaguely patriotic frat party. In Act Two, Nancy Updike looks for reaction in Egypt, but instead finds a country too busy forming a new democracy to take much notice. That peaceful process serves as a nice contrast to Act Three, which documents a school-board meeting so rowdy that the police were called in. Mixed into the episode are small, snapshot-style portraits of a country going about its business: moving in together, learning to ride a bike, returning home after college—momentous private moments alongside Alabamans recovering from the tornado (Act Five) and Herman Cain’s performance at the first Republican presidential debate (Act Six). The episode slips at times, but is fast-paced and tight; the lesser moments pass quickly.

WTF With Marc Maron #173: Jonathan Winters
Marc Maron is a man with stories. So he’s naturally attracted to grizzled characters whose wizened visages tell boozy, sordid, sad tales. He’s inherently fascinated by men who have lived. Few comic icons have led richer or fuller lives than Jonathan Winters, who extends Maron the ultimate courtesy: He doesn’t try to impress him. Instead of going all-out with crazy voices and manic bits, Winters instead travels to a place deep within himself as he looks back at a remarkable life. Winters and Maron are both known for being loud, brash, aggressive characters, but as in Maron’s recent podcast with Paul Krassner—another comic elder who engenders something resembling awe from the host—this conversation is distinguished by a brave sense of quiet. Winters spends much of the podcast conducting animated conversations between colorful characters that reside inside his brain, but even those improvisational games have a strangely melancholy quality. In the most moving part of the podcast, Winters talks about receiving shock treatment for his pain as a younger man, and realizing that on a profound level, he needs that pain, that it’s the essence of his comedy. That’s true of Maron and WTF as well.


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
Ace puts his money where his mouth is this week. In order of descending interest: Tim Daly’s main contributions to the conversation are insights on the Schwarzenegger divorce. More compelling is the opening segment in which Carolla reveals he recently passed up a lucrative offer to return to radio, in favor of cultivating his own podcasts. The Andy Dick And Sheryl Lee Ralph show has it all: Dick—co-star of the Ace all-stars’ upcoming movie Division III: Football’s Finest — dishes on his recent arrest and feud with Jon Lovitz. Tony-nominated Dreamgirls actor Sheryl Lee Ralph talks gender, hair, education, and race. After a round of Made Up Movie, comedian and 40 Year Old Boy podcast host Mike Schmidt tells about his torturous existence when he weighed 500 pounds, and slimming down via a gastric bypass. When WTF‘s Marc Maron visits, they don’t talk podcasting, instead trading notes on comedy clubs. (Don’t you hate when the bartender keeps firing up the blender during your act?) The Lisa Ann Walter show is exceptionally nebulous: The comedian stops in for a few minutes to discuss Dr. Drew, but the bulk of the show—and, as usual, the week itself—is rapid-fire subject-shuffling.

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
Picking up where he left off last week, Simmons opens the week talking with ESPN Fantasy’s Matthew Berry and TrueHoops’ Henry Abbott about the struggle facing the Los Angeles Lakers and other subplots of the NBA playoffs. It’s fun to hear Simmons toy with Berry, who’s a long-time Lakers fan, but the two don’t really discuss the similar fate facing Simmons’ beloved Boston Celtics. A few days after the podcast was posted, the Dallas Mavericks swept the Lakers out of the playoffs. So the Lakers flame-out is also the subject on the next podcast, when Simmons talks with pal and ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, as well as Marc Stein, an NBA writer and ESPN’s resident Dallas Mavericks fan, who’s in full celebratory mode. Next, Simmons welcomes fellow sportswriter Mike Lupica, one of the few national sportswriters who has as many detractors as Simmons. The two talk NBA playoffs, of course, but also talk about Lupica’s career and even the evolution of sports stadiums, in a conversation that isn’t nearly as bad as the haters would have you believe. Finally, with the Celtics facing elimination, Simmons chooses instead to talk to MSNBC’s Willie Geist (of Way Too Early and Morning Joe) in what seems to mostly be an excuse for Simmons to talk about the killing of Osama bin Laden and surrounding conspiracies, though the pair does touch lightly on sports and ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series, produced by Simmons, being shut out at this year’s Sports Emmys. But with Boston now eliminated from the NBA playoffs, we should prepare for the Celtics postmortem in the upcoming week.

Doug Loves Movies: Adam Carolla, Jerry O’Connell, And “Bald” Bryan Bishop
Pity poor “Bald” Bryan Bishop: All he wanted for his second go-round on Doug Loves Movies was to nail a Leonard Maltin Game answer in zero names, thereby guaranteeing himself a spot in the Tournament Of Championships. Instead, Jerry O’Connell gets that spot, and Bishop’s boss, Adam Carolla, shits on him for 55 minutes. Too bad the Ricky Gervais Show podcast is no longer a going concern—The Adam Carolla Show already has an ongoing cultural exchange program with Doug Loves Movies, and Bishop might benefit from taking Karl Pilkington’s place as the brunt of someone else’s abuse.

The Moth: Mike Daisey: What Was Learned In London
Mike Daisey’s neurotic, Wallace Shawn-like delivery makes his story of his time in an acting program in London seem much more lighthearted and silly than it actually is, making his eventual revelation about his romantic relationship there a little jarring. The ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and the emotional button feels a little unearned; but like Daisey’s trip, it’s more about the journey than the destination, and it’s fun to get lost in his description of London bohemia for 15 minutes. 

The Nerdist #86 and #87: Dana Dearmond and Ed Helms
If nothing else, give credit to The Nerdist for exploring a wide swath of nerdy topics. This week in particular dug into a couple of niches outside the show’s usual purview of comedy, movies, and TV: namely porn, via “anal queen” and longtime friend of the Nerdist hosts Dana Dearmond, and bluegrass music, via The Office star and banjo aficionado Ed Helms. Surprisingly, Chris Hardwick and Co. delve much deeper into bluegrass with Helms than they do into porn with Dearmond. (Hardwick maintains that he isn’t really “into” porn, though he repeatedly mentions attending a porn convention.) This could be more a function of the hosts’ friendship with Dearmond than a disinterest in the porn world, but it’s slightly disappointing that the episode glosses over what could be interesting discussions about life as a porn star in favor of lots of “remember when” reminiscing among the old friends. (Though those curious about the upcoming Star Trek: The Next Generation porn parody, which Dearmond appears in, should have all their questions answered.) Helms’ chat is more enlightening—once it gets past a boring, rambling introductory conversation about remote iPad control, that is—splitting its time between discussions of Helms’ occupation, comedy, and his passion, bluegrass music. (Helms hosts an occasional bluegrass show at Largo in L.A.) There’s even an Easter egg at the end: Prompted by a joke about bluegrass covers of Radiohead songs, Hardwick ends the episode with a performance of “Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box” from bluegrass provocateurs and frequent Radiohead coverers Punch Brothers

Never Not Funny #824: Janet Varney
From calling out Jimmy Pardo for “obvious trivia” to more musical interludes than an episode with Ellis Paul, comedian and Dinner And A Movie co-host Janet Varney channels her inner Pardo so well that she could have hosted this episode herself. The energy and quick pace dips briefly for a meditation on bin Laden’s death, and while there’s little that hasn’t been covered in the two weeks since, it’s a relief to hear their bewilderment at the frat-boy celebrations that followed. Season eight is wrapping up soon, so what better way to entice listeners to pre-order season nine than closing an overly punchy episode with a Gummi Bear taste test and an on-camera haircut by Matt “The Barber” Belknap?

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Warrior Women And Movies That Call To Us
This week’s PCHH somehow gets from Osama bin Laden’s death to the role of women in action movies over the course of about 30 seconds. The discussion is more sincere and thoughtful than lively, and no great insights are offered—Linda Holmes asks whether women’s roles are actually changing, or we’re just noticing them differently, but that question and others never really get answered. Still, the participants smartly sum up a lot of salient points, particularly how Hollywood seems all too eager to claim that flops like The Golden Compass and Sucker Punch prove that audiences only want male heroes, whereas a Judd Apatow-derived flop doesn’t stop anyone from making man-child comedies. A second segment covers the mysteriously compelling (though not necessarily good—and sometimes not even enjoyable) movies the participants seemingly have to watch whenever they accidentally stumble across them, from Just One Of The Guys to The Fifth Element to Legend. Along the way, they talk about the phenomenon of sitting through a movie waiting for a specific moment, even though that moment is probably on YouTube somewhere. The weekly What’s Making Us Happy roundup focuses quite a bit on Free Comic Book Day, and why not everyone who works in a comic-book store is The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy. Also, Trey Graham is excited about lichen for some reason.

Radiolab: Radiolab Shorts: Cosmic Habituation
Reporter Jonathan Schooler drops by the Radiolab studios to discuss a potentially disquieting notion: Does the act of observing something make some experiments more difficult to duplicate? It seems like a strange, unverifiable notion, but Schooler provides countless examples from enough scientific practices to at least make listeners wonder what the hell could be going on. It’s nothing more than an intriguing nugget, but it certainly sets the mind spinning.

Sklarbro Country #41: Brett Erlich, Rhett Miller, Chris Cox
The Brothers Sklar have long been big music buffs, but they’ve only recently started having guests come on to perform music. On this typically strong episode of Sklarbro Country, they invite Rhett Miller of The Old 97’s to come on the podcast to play some songs and generally be affable and delightful alongside similarly ingratiating main guest Brett Erlich of Current TV. But the highlight of the episode is the closing bit from Chris Cox as Barack Obama. Cox’s Obama bears a distinct resemblance to his Tiger Woods—the rumbling pauses, the fetish for caution and restraint—but he’s nevertheless very funny as he does another victory lap following the killing of Osama bin Laden and compliments the riff-happy brothers for “rambling it good” with their sports-related natterings.

The Sound Of Young America: Sarah Vowell and Werner Herzog
Jesse Thorn talks with scribe Sarah Vowell in this week’s podcast, mostly pertaining to her new book, Unfamiliar Fishes. She talks research and compares the Puritans in the book with the ones featured in her previous book, The Wordy Shipmates, and how they’re all killjoys. Vowell is, of course, droll, but still charming. It’s a good interview, but if you’re a fan of Vowell, chances are good you’ve already heard most of the topics touched on here in other interviews with her, including ours. Thorn’s interview with Werner Herzog is relatively short, but fans of the director will enjoy this discussion of his new film, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. Herzog discusses the logistics of shooting in an ancient, protected, and semi-poisonous cave, as well as his philosophy of shooting like a poet, not a documentarian. Herzog sounds lighthearted and friendly in the conversation, which is always a fun contrast to his somewhat forbidding voice.

Sound Opinions: Titus Andronicus
The intensely charismatic Patrick Stickles of New Jersey punk band Titus Andronicus settles down with Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis to discuss his group’s year-old record, The Monitor. One of the most ambitious bands of its kind in music right now, Titus Andronicus proves to be a juicy topic of discussion for the critics, who have a ball chatting with the thoughtful, self-deprecating Stickles. Unfortunately, Titus Andronicus doesn’t come off as well during the in-studio performances, which sound muted and stiff. The joyous fury of the band needs to be experienced in a club or theater in order to be appreciated.

WTF With Marc Maron #172: Sue Costello
Half the pleasure of WTF With Marc Maron comes from the palpable, infectious delight Maron takes in the rambunctious larger-than-life personalities of friends like Sue Costello, a dramatic actress who reinvented herself as a shit-talking Boston stand-up comic. Costello wows Maron with her infectious laugh, Boston stories, and riveting account of how she insulted her way into a supporting role in The Fighter. It’s minor compared to Maron’s understatedly epic sit-down with Jonathan Winters this week, but filled with small moments of insight and self-perception.

Filed Under: Film

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