Week of Oct. 20-Oct. 26

Week of Oct. 20-Oct. 26

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“It was in perfect condition when I got it. But when I’m having a zeppelin party, it’s not a zeppelin party unless you have a fire-breather. Someone should have warned me.” —John Hodgman, Stuff You Should Know

“There really isn’t another good word for ‘virgin,’ you’re right.”

“Fuck-nots.” —Scott Aukerman and Harris Wittels, Comedy Bang Bang

“It’s about my hometown.” 

“Oh, you’re from baseball?” 

“No, I’m from Moneyball—it’s a Jewish suburb of baseball.” —Moshe Kasher and Doug Benson, Doug Loves Movies

“That skank was ahead of her time.” —Julie Klausner on Tonya Harding, How Was Your Week?

“Reading [a homophobic book review by John Updike] today—more than a decade has passed, and I am now freshly incensed, I don’t know why.”

“I feel like Freshly Incensed would be a great name for a podcast.”

“It’s a great name for the Internet.” —Glen Weldon, Stephen Thompson, and Trey Graham, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“If we got a black guest every week, we’d have endless guests that have never been on a podcast before.”

“From comedy or in general?”

“General. We’ve had only black generals, four-star or above. It’s called ‘Colin Powell.’” – Moshe Kasher and Jimmy Pardo about The Champs, Kasher’s podcast, Never Not Funny

“Look out, New York City merchants. Here comes Todd Barry, and his pockets are bulging.” —Tom Scharpling, The Best Show On WFMU

NEW

Here’s The Thing With Alec Baldwin
The silky tones of 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy finally conquer the world of podcasts as Alec Baldwin debuts his new show for New York’s public radio station, WNYC. Here’s The Thing promises a “unique entrée into the lives of artists, policymakers, and performers” on a bi-weekly basis. It’s something that makes perfect sense for Baldwin; he’s capitalizing on his career resurgence by publicly placing himself in smart situations, a move you could speculate has something to do with an eventual run for public office in New York. It wouldn’t be too off the mark to compare what Baldwin’s doing with a podcast like Marc Maron’s WTF, except Baldwin deals more with the rich and powerful, and less with funny people. 

The first episode features a conversation with Michael Douglas, covering a great deal of ground for being under 25 minutes: Douglas’ relationship with his equally famous father, Kirk, the fun in playing a villain (and 1-percenters who quote Douglas’ famous “Greed is good” catchphrase from Wall Street), working with good directors, etc. Baldwin is a natural host, and considering that his Rolodex, little black book, or whatever people keep phone numbers in these days is filled up with plenty of famous contacts, Here’s The Thing is probably only going to improve over time. And considering he might have some career downtime in his future, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.


OUTLIERS

The Legacy Music Hour
Some people believe videogames have evolved over the course of the past 30 years to become a more refined art form with truly great music—Legacy Music Hour hosts Brent Weinbach and Rob F. think those people are stupid. Each episode has a theme and focuses the best in 8-bit and 16-bit video game music, which is primarily anything from 1985 to 1994. The hosts are extremely knowledgeable, but ultimately terrible at talking on the mic, and they frequently fumble with the production. Episode #43: Ice And Snow shows the depth of the hosts’ knowledge and the range of music available on these older game systems, and provides a theme that speaks to any gamer who loved world six in Super Mario Brothers 3.


THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
Nobody ever talks about the things you learn from listening to The Best Show on a weekly basis. For instance, did you ever know that Americans actually go to other countries and ask people to speak in an American accent? Did you ever think to yourself that the reason Bob Dylan and Bill Cosby still tour during their senior years is because they just don’t want to go home? These are the things you learn from Tom Scharpling, and this time around, he invites the always-funny Todd Barry to get in on the conversation. 

The Bugle #169: Captain Crazy Corks It 
In an unusually energetic episode, John Oliver and Andy Zaltzmann provide an official “fuck-ulogy” to the late Moammar Gadhafi. Once Oliver stops telling stories about Florida, the episode takes off as the two discuss where they were when they heard Gadhafi died and how little they cared. Comparing him to a James Bond villain and mentioning his personal relationship with Nelly Furtado over any serious events, the summation of Gadhafi’s life is classic Bugle—Zaltzman’s rewording of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” is truly inspired. The episode does cover more than Gadhafi, but honestly, none of it compares to the heights that The Bugle achieves with its last skewering of the once powerful, and living, dictator. 

Doug Loves Movies: Matt Besser, Rob Huebel, and Moshe Kasher
Now that Samm Levine has ascended to the rank of Tournament Of Championships Champion—and thus tamped down the needling, pedantic tone of his Doug Loves Movies appearances—the podcast needs a new go-to heel. Rob Huebel’s the leading candidate for that role, with the added bonus that his outsized ego and self-aggrandizing anecdotes are obviously bits. (It’s never that clear with Levine.) Huebel’s at his dickish peak in this week’s episode, a digression-filled, riff-heavy hour that finds him constantly referring to his “friendship” with George Clooney and lightly mocking the size of the Kindle-cum-name tag he’s given by his audience partner for the Leonard Maltin Game. Another plus to Huebel-as-heel: He can banter with co-panelists without insulting them, a back-and-forth dynamic that builds to a hilarious flurry of jokes after Doug Benson inadvertently leads a Leonard Maltin Game clue (in the category “Horror Movies”) with the word “Screeeeeeeam.”

Hang Up And Listen: The Worst Great Quarterback Edition
The Hang Up And Listen crew ponders the enigma of Tim Tebow, the newly installed Denver Broncos starting quarterback, whose “miracle” comeback against the Miami Dolphins after three and a half quarters of utter futility added to his legend while flummoxing the empiricists who have long doubted his viability as a NFL-caliber QB. They also focus on the latest managerial developments in the World Series, but the real highlight of this episode is an interview with Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, who proposes the seemingly radical but actually quite reasonable idea of allowing athletes to major in sports. To her mind, sports can be—and are—intellectual as well as physical pursuits, and adding a sports major that answers to faculty boards would bring athletics more in line with a legitimate university experience. As it stands, Jenkins believes the NCAA is so consumed with its own economics that it’s turning potentially productive student-athletes into “shamateurs.” 

How Was Your Week? #33: “Pondering Tonya”: Martha Plimpton
Julie Klausner broadcasts from her bed in this week’s HWYW, hungover and happy from a successful live version of the podcast. She mulls over some relevant pop-culture topics like Ellen Barkin’s filthy tweets, the potential difficulty of being Cat Stevens’ daughter, and why Big Year might be the whitest movie of 2011. The podcast only features one guest this week: Raising Hope’s Martha Plimpton. Actors who have worked as long as she has seem to be either down to earth or have their heads up their asses, but fortunately Plimpton seems to be the former. She and Klausner discuss how the “Miss America” Emmy bit came together and what it’s like to perform in a play when one of your fellow actors has a heart attack onstage. Sadly, there’s no discussion about pretending to have sex with Keanu Reeves in the movie Parenthood

Judge John Hodgman #38: Pepperoni Pauper
Judge Hodgman would like listeners to know that he’s not as persnickety as they think—in summary judgment, for example, he rules that it’s perfectly okay to eat cereal out of a mug instead of a bowl—but he’s still unlikely to be sympathetic toward someone rooting through the trash. On this very funny episode, Hodgman considers the case of a young man who “sifts” through the trash at a Canadian pizza chain in search of discarded slice boxes with promotional tabs attached. Some of the tabs offer free slices or stuffed sandwiches, others a cash prize or even a motorcycle. Dubbing the place “The Canadian House Of Pizza And Garbage” (there’s even a jingle), Hodgman warns about the hidden cost of rummaging armpit-deep through the trash, and he and bailiff Jesse Thorn can’t resist tossing in a few Canada jokes while they’re at it. 

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #31: Nathan Rabin
Mental Illness Happy Hour host Paul Gilmartin visits The A.V. Club’s own Nathan Rabin this week. Gilmartin admits it might seem odd to have the guy who, until last week, was reviewing his podcast for Podmass (he recused himself for this episode and onward), but there’s no disputing that Gilmartin and Rabin share a predilection for the conversational yet brutally revelatory. Think of the pair’s discussion as a casual extension of what Rabin has endured and learned since publishing his memoir, The Big Rewind, including an abortive effort to go door-to-door selling copies of The Big Rewind

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #39: Banana Cream Pie
Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh spend this week’s episode with a banana cream pie that’s “just a little bit fucked-up” from the shipping process, but proves tasty nonetheless. The resulting podcast might not be as fun as some MATES has put out lately—like last week’s handmade guacamole adventure—but still gets in more than its share of weird, punchy exchanges. While Cavanagh’s never been a second-fiddle co-host, he frequently proves this week that this isn’t just Black’s show. That is, he interjects to mock the people of Vienna, Virginia (“Guys! Vienna is already a place! In... Italy!”), and continues to build MATES’ unheard engineer-producer Ian into a strange Norwegian caricature. But of course, it takes two to make a late-in-episode argument about what things are quintessentially “American” (“Armenians,” Black offers) even somewhat funny. 

The Moth: Adam Gopnik: Rare Romance, Well-Done Marriage
Adam Gopnik’s story this week has a lot of preamble for a Moth entry, something that’s easy to forgive if you’ve enjoyed his New Yorker stories or his book of essays on France, Paris To The Moon. Well, that, and the twisted family history he explains make it worthwhile. Delivered at a food-themed Moth night, Gopnik’s story concerns a long-running disagreement with his wife over the banality of well-done meat. (At the climax, she bullies him into re-cooking some lovingly prepared rare tuna.) His figurative parallel between meat preparation and marriage flirts with corny, but he knows it, and goes there with just enough playfulness to be funny: “In those juices, we renew our vows.” Gopnik can be nimble and funny on the page, but it’s still pleasantly surprising to hear him pull it off before a live crowd.

Nerdist #134: John Hodgman
In this lengthy Nerdist chat, the author of the forthcoming That Is All alternates freely between the personas of John Hodgman (the tweedy literary agent whose second career was kick-started by an appearance on The Daily Show and a subsequent Apple advertising campaign) and “John Hodgman” (the deranged millionaire who keeps several “panic suites” dispersed throughout the United States and is now flogging his third and final volume of complete world knowledge). And as hilarious as it is when Hodgman acts like a supervillain with a subscription to The Believer, it’s also nice to hear him let his guard down and get giddily nerdy, as when he, Chris Hardwick, and Jonah Ray take a dizzying run through cinematic references that ends in an incredible, unanticipated paraphrase from The Silence Of The Lambs. Hardwick and Ray cut through the thick layers of scholarly distance insulating “John Hodgman” to find the humble, driven wit powering the persona, and even get him to spill the beans about the time he accidentally stood up a real deranged billionaire—the late Steve Jobs.

Nerdist #135: T.J. Miller
Rising comic T.J. Miller loves comedy so much, he’s willing to do some stupid things for it—like making an audition tape for Yogi Bear with an actual bear, or releasing a 41-track musical-comedy album and titling it The Extended Play EP. As Miller tells it on the Nerdist, there are seemingly two questions dictating his entire career: “Is this funny?” and “Will it get a reaction—positive or negative—out of an audience?” His appearance on the podcast is both a worthwhile standalone listen and a clarification for his behavior on other podcasts, like the gadfly routine he frequently brings to Doug Loves Movies. Miller doesn’t care if you don’t think he’s funny, and that he can pull off that offbeat fearlessness without getting confrontational is downright refreshing. (It’s also refreshing to get a week of two quality, not-at-all-sluggish Nerdist episodes.)

Never Not Funny #921: Moshe Kasher
Another health warning at the open, another smart guest to complement Jimmy Pardo’s medicated punchiness. Claiming an excessive amount of cold medicine has left him edgy, Pardo sets the antagonistic (but still genial) tone, using a Family Feud reference to explain why Moshe Kasher had yet to be a guest on NNF. After introductions, Pardo allows the crew immunity to insult any celebrity, so long as they have a higher profile, giving way for the first half to come to a head with a riff on an edgy version of Family Feud. (“What’s the worst religion? Top five answers show…”) Through discussions of Kasher’s stereotypically hipster and Jewish lifestyle, the odd nature of comedians who leave stand-up once they become famous, and his charming approach to podcasting, Kasher develops an easy bond that defies the impression of the opening 20 minutes. With his perceptive deconstruction and emphatic fits of sarcasm, Kasher finds the funny as easily as his place in the conversation.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Aging Of Admiration And A TV Pool Update
This week’s PCHH doesn’t lend itself as much to quotes as others, because the funniest moments are purely auditory: the participants’ group Jerry Lewis impression during the otherwise laid-back quiz on Emily Post etiquette. The self-mocking über-nerd voices when Glen Weldon waxes enthusiastic about the season’s videogames. Weldon’s wary grunt when he’s asked about first-date politesse. Linda Holmes’ impression of The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff asking a facetious question about the ABC drama Revenge on a press tour, which involves shouting “Reveeeenge!” Those moments aside, though, this installment’s best segment is the opener, as a recently revisited decade-old homophobic book review by John Updike spins into a discussion of how admiration for an artist can develop or disappear over time. The topic travels thoughtfully through societal homophobia, the responsibility of critics, and the problems with being influenced decades ago by someone who’s no longer cool, but the depressing thread running through it all is the implication that artists are awesome when they’re young, then inevitably let everyone down when they get old and crotchety and lose their fire and flexibility. It’d be tempting to accuse the PCHHers of ageism, except that all their examples are sadly convincing.

Risk! #302: New At This
When Risk! host Kevin Allison tells some of his own sex tales on the show, they often seem like attempts to make listeners blush, except they don’t always come off as all that shocking. (And Allison’s stories can be some of Risk!’s weakest.) Here, Brian Babylon and Vince Gatton show the host how to do it, managing to generate surprise at two very distinct moments in their (non-sexual) stories. The others aren’t shocking but shouldn’t be missed, especially comedian and Best Week Ever pundit Christian Finnegan’s story about his crazy teenage art-school girlfriend, who was also a secret cutter. He was so crazy about her that “She wasn’t insane for cutting herself with a razor blade; I was a pussy for not cutting myself with a razorblade.” Joe LaSala ends the show with the touching story about his son Benjamin, who was born after just 23 weeks at 1 pound 12 ounces. “New At This” is one of the more well-rounded episodes of late, offering balance among surprise, sentiment, and comedy.

Sklarbro Country #65: Gumballs To The Wall: Andy Kindler, Jason Nash
Jason Nash’s exquisitely prissy take on Bryant Gumbel has quickly become one of the delights of the comedy-podcasting world, and the Sklars can barely contain their infectious laughter when he’s a guest. Nash has the quavering, unctuous, nasal voice down cold, but he really nails the sportscaster’s aggressive, alpha-male sense of entitlement. Nash’s latest visit to Sklarbro Country finds him once again trying to shift gears professionally and segue into a second career as a hacky stand-up comic. (His defiantly non-relatable catchphrase is “It’s enough to make a guy want to fly private!”) The results are predictably hilarious as he talks with the brothers about a prank series that seems designed primarily, if not exclusively, to further humiliate his brother Greg, and offers his thoughts on the ethnicity of comedian Tig Notaro.  And Nash is merely the dessert at the end of a long, satisfying meal distinguished by a riff avalanche on the tragicomic career of corpulent reality-show cop Steven Seagal and the brothers’ easy chemistry with old friend/inspiration/guest Andy Kindler. 

The Smartest Man In The World: Ships
The first segment of this week’s Proopcast, a small defense of Christopher Columbus, is sublime, a great example of Proops never losing focus while allowing tangents on conquistadors and Native Americans to provide context to his, “Yes, but…” argument against the Howard Zinns of the world. If that first segment was perfect, the second is more disjointed, though still entertaining: Proops starts off heralding filmmaker David Cronenberg before losing himself in a rant on Steven Spielberg (specifically Jurassic Park 2) so much that even he forgets the original topic. Still, it’s a sharp entry and features a discussion of children’s programming, Proops’ dead-on Jeremy Irons impression, and more expounding on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Stuff You Should Know: Do You Lose The Right To Privacy When You Die?
Unless you’d like to have a Life Is Hell comic strip about sodomy described to you, skip the first 10 minutes of this episode. But once Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant get to HIPAA, the podcast takes shape. CMG Worldwide, for instance, is a company that collects and manages the image rights of dead celebrities, and the government can tax you just for owning and protecting someone’s image. The suggestions for protecting yourself are fascinating, though sifting through it can be tough—the hosts’ senses of humor seem rather dented this episode. When discussing the posthumous publicity rights of Marilyn Monroe, Clark tries to toss in the zinger that she had “arguably among the sexiest death photos of all time.” He tries furiously to backpedal out of this line, but the clunker digs him a hole about 6 feet deep. (Get it?) Try not to turn this one off when you groan, and you will be rewarded.

Stuff You Should Know: How Anti-Matter Spacecraft Will Work
Having lost our government’s favor, NASA is whimpering in the corner like a puppy that peed on something rare and valuable. And because even your Richard Bransons can’t afford fuel these days, we’re going to need a whole new way to propel ourselves back into space. One single gram of anti-matter would provide as much energy as the fuel tanks of several dozen space shuttles. The downside is that it will probably take us until the end of time to locate it, let alone figure out how to put it in a jar and pour into a rocket. While this episode runs the risk of becoming “Stuff You Might Need To Know, Maybe Kinda,” the hosts do their best to tell us how projects like CERN are making headway. The topic ends rather early to make room for guest John Hodgman, who calls Clark and Bryant out on their tangents, gently promotes his book, and reminisces about his late speed-zeppelin “The HZ Hubris.” His voice sounds a bit raspy from all the yelling he’s been doing in Times Square.

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Civil War Medicine: Mary Edwards Walker
Surgeons during the war were actually pretty high-ranking (majors and captains), so you might assume they wouldn’t be women back in the days of the Civil War. And mostly, you would be right. Even an educated woman such as Mary Edwards Walker suffered government rejections and low pay for a long time, despite her medical education and willingness to perform surgery on the front lines. Her liberal, improvised attire (she wore men’s clothes her whole life) earned her the derisive name “medical monstrosity,” even from the Confederate soldiers who would later capture her. But Walker apparently carried herself with dignity that intimidated even her detractors. The podcast not only describes her accomplishments but her personality, painting the sort of picture that has made these podcasts so popular. 

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Secret Science: Alchemy!
The premise of Stuff You Missed In History Class is that the planet has turned so many times, even amazing stories slide through the cracks into history’s basement. And just about the coolest things to have ever happened in a basement are mad scientists transmuting metals. Sure, sometimes they tried to make little dudes out of semen and rotting horse feces (we can’t all be perfect), but these experiments led to the pursuit of the periodic table and ended up saving Nobel Prizes from the Nazis. Literally: A chemist used alchemy to transmute the gold in them while his home was under Nazi occupation. A technique called Diana’s Tree not only works, but sounds strikingly beautiful, and the hosts weave this lost art into a fascinating story of why early scientists got lost in their ambition and became enemies of their respective states. It’s a tricky job to make a compelling 20 minutes out of something that spans all of history, but this is one of the most memorable episodes in a long time for an already golden podcast.

This American Life #414: Right To Remain Silent
People get arrested in this episode, but there’s more than that going on in this week’s title. Not only do you have the right to remain silent—sometimes, law enforcement would prefer that you remain silent, especially if you’re causing them trouble. These two acts look at people who speak out, both foolishly and rightly, and the consequences of those actions. It’s a great, old-school This American Life that finds surprising stories and carefully pulls them out in what feels like a conversation, with the interviewer every bit as incredulous as we are. In Act One, self-proclaimed wise-guy Joe Lipari finds himself in trouble after wailing on the Apple Store, and in Act Two, police officer Adrian Schoolcraft disagrees with protocol. 

Uhh Yeah Dude #294
Even when the laughs are slightly fewer, there’s something irresistible about the way Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette hold forth on, say, the price structure of pure opium, or the particularities of lethal recalled toys. This week’s Uhh Yeah Dude miscellany even stays engaging through a personal turn, as the two talk about having a healthy acceptance of the bad times in life. (“Man plans, God laughs.” “If you think God doesn’t have a sense of humor, make a plan.”). They pick a good Twitter victim this week, Hugh Jackman, who is “loving San Fran, loving life.” Besides, it’s hard not to go along with their speculation over what happens when a Ford Focus’ automatic parallel-park feature goes awry, especially if it involves the headline “Tragedy at Nun Picnic.”

Walking The Room #74: Larry Omaha and Shia LaBoofed 
Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony have been gradually talking more and more lately about how odd it is that online sex-supply shop adameve.com now sponsors Walking The Room. Judging by this week’s opening segment, the promotion won’t fester into a tiresome weekly plug, but will fester into one of WTR’s lovable little running jokes, all dressed up in grisly awkwardness. (“They also have a mobile site you can go to, if you’re in need of a dildo on the go.”) Speaking of grisly, one of this week’s most engaging points is a story about playing a casino and repeatedly meeting just-ruined, abject gamblers. The pair also adds Perry Farrell to its repertoire of delightfully exaggerated and obnoxious voices and speculates that maybe someone beat up Shia LaBeouf on their behalf—both in WTR’s convoluted long-story vein of funny. It all crashes nicely to an end with some new campaign sloganeering for Ron Paul: “Ron Paul: Let’s Run Around!”; “For God’s Sake Release The Flies.” 


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
This week, Ace returns to L.A. from New York, where he’s working on a secret project. While on the East Coast, he taped more one-on-one interviews. A sit-down with New York comedy O.G. Dave Attell starts as a mutual-admiration session, but grows more interesting as Attell recalls coming up with comic heroes Greg Giraldo and Mitch Hedberg—then talk turns, inevitably, to porn and strip clubs. Nothing gets Carolla on point like a good DIY success story, and Ace delves into the minutiae of Mike Judge’s transition from certified physicist-engineer and full-time blues musician to Beavis And Butt-Head mastermind, TV mogul, and movie director. When Carolla returns to L.A., the show immediately reverts to free-form bull sessions: Before David Alan Grier arrives and gets the jet-lagged Carolla back on track, Ace grouses about his travel experience and rants about the Ohio exotic animal massacre, cars, Lindsay Lohan, and capital punishment. In the guest-free Rants And Blah Blah Blog episode that follows, Ace goes long about Libya, lazy garbage men, trail mix, and doughnuts. (While discussing the all the recent one-on-one sessions, he seems genuinely surprised he could conduct a real interview every day.) After Ace provides logistic tips for peeing in the sink, sitcom director Zane Buzby (Golden Girls, Blossom) discusses her humanitarian efforts for Holocaust survivors, then recounts growing up in ’80s California, where the cocaine flowed like wine.

Comedy Bang Bang #128: Coach? Coach? Coach?: Jon Heder, Harris Wittels, Seth Morris
Like its predecessor, episode 128 straddles the line between Best and Rest. On one hand, Harris Wittels dropping gems with Harris’ Foam Corner, and the always-welcome Seth Morris as Hank Williams Jr., Wiccan pop-culture obsessive. On the other, Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder, who’s friendly and game but whose sensibility doesn’t quite match Comedy Bang Bang’s. On one hand, Wittels’ hilarious impression of a shy Texan football player and a rap battle. On the other, an interminable “What Am I Thinking?” and a Morris character that never quite takes off. Maybe just skip to Foam Corner at 26:02.

Culture Gabfest: Explain It To Me Like I’m A Golden Retriever Edition
Segments where the Gabfesters review the TV/movie/record of the day tend not to be as compelling as those where they sound off on larger cultural trends and issues. So while mostly approving bits on the Wall Street drama Margin Call and the addictive Showtime series Homeland are thoughtful as usual, the best segment considers the legacy of late New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, whose conversational (and occasionally bullying) style has loomed large over the current generation of writers. 

Firewall & Iceberg #100: Chuck, Beavis And Butt-Head, Grimm & More
Hitfix critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall are structuralists, but they’re no snobs. Although they enjoy the return of MTV’s Beavis And Butt-Head, Sepinwall can’t help but muse on whether the two drooling morons should have been updated to have a more contemporary sensibility. This ’cast is heavy on zingers and coverage of new cartoons, as the hosts find Fox’s Allen Gregory an insufferable show about insufferable characters. Listener mail touches on the football demographic, a potential American remake of BBC’s Misfits, and why the podcast covers so few shows with predominantly African-American casts.

Freakonomics Radio: Misadventures In Baby-Making
One of the more controversial topics from the first Freakonomics book was the suggestion that the drop in the country’s crime rate could be linked to Roe v. Wade. Host Stephen Dubner brings that theory up again here, along with other birth-related topics, like the one-child policy in China. He also looks into whether the huge gender disparity in the Chinese population can be attributed to the ultrasound. While there are fascinating tidbits, Dubner barely scratches the surface on any of it, likely leaving too much relevant information unearthed. 

The Sound Of Young America: Marc Maron
Jesse Thorn chats with standup comic and WTF host Marc Maron a little about his past as a host for Air America and a little more about his personal issues. (This is Marc Maron after all.) Maron jokes that sometimes his audiences wonder if he’s okay, which is understandable—he discusses how he occasionally sabotages good standup sets to see if he can save them at the end, and how he uses his podcast as therapy. Thorn talks about Maron’s tendency to purposefully create tension in some of his WTF interviews, but disappointingly, the two don’t discuss actual examples.

Sound Opinions #308: Cut Copy
Australian dance-rock band Cut Copy has released one of 2011’s finest albums, Zonoscope, and is a must-see live act, both of which make the band worthy of attention, but this episode doesn’t present group mastermind Dan Whitford as a particularly compelling subject. The story of how Cut Copy went from being Whitford’s bedroom project to a festival headliner will be fairly interesting for fans, but neophytes will probably be a little bored by what amounts to standard rock-band background stuff. The episode only catches fire when Cut Copy performs songs from Zonoscope, particularly the wonderful lead-off track, “Need You Now.” Otherwise, you’re better off just listening to the record.

Who Charted? #47: Hey Redundancy: Jimmy Pardo
The one thing that can be said in Jimmy Pardo’s favor is that he has an anecdote for any topic, whether it’s about meeting Peter Cetera or working out at the same gym as Warren Zevon. The anecdote may not be interesting, but he always has one, so at least there’s no threat of dead air. On the downside, the fact that Pardo giggles when they get on the topic of El DeBarge’s propensity toward domestic violence is more disturbing than anything else.

WTF With Marc Maron #220: Hannibal Buress
Hannibal Buress and Marc Maron represent very different kinds of hip comics. Maron is an agitated ranter in the Lenny Bruce vein, while Buress skews more toward the deadpan, absurdist style of Mitch Hedberg. Buress is also black, and Maron has difficulties understanding black comedy. “You’re a black comic, huh? How’s that working out for you?” tends to be the tone of many WTF interviews with black comedians, including this one. Buress’ sly delivery is so funny he can make nearly anything hilarious merely through inflection (he’s funny even when he doesn’t mean to be) and he shares some fascinating stories about his days of semi-homelessness, but Maron and Burrs never fall into a natural rhythm. While listenable and occasionally compelling, this isn’t anywhere near the home run it should be. 

WTF With Marc Maron #221: Carrot Top
The meeting of Marc Maron and Scott “Carrot Top” Thompson fails to produce either Gallagher-style fireworks or Dane Cook-style revelations, largely due to the buffering presence of this episode’s third wheel, Charlie Viracola. As Thompson’s regular opener, Viracola has a vested interest in making his friend and collaborator look good—but his words of support curdle into sycophancy around the time he relays talk radio’s love for the Top, and he blocks both Thompson and Maron from any deeper introspection. (His allegiances cut both ways, as he’s a mutual acquaintance of the guest and his host.) But who knows? Maybe he prevented Thompson from storming out following Maron’s umpteenth prop dig.