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Welcome To Night Vale’s Joseph Fink brings us Alice Isn’t Dead

In Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends 10–15 of the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
Greg Behrendt

This week Alison Rosen interviews “multihyphenate” Greg Behrendt, a comedian, musician, and the co-author of the dating advice book He’s Just Not That Into You, which became a cultural phenomenon when it was released in 2004 because of its straightforward approach to dating and rejection. The book’s success briefly transformed Behrendt’s career and reputation from stand-up comedian to “relationship guy” and Oprah favorite, resulting in an eventual on-stage nervous breakdown years later. Behrendt and Rosen also discuss his cancer diagnosis in Australia last year and recovery, his relationship with Janeane Garofalo, his short-lived daytime talk show, and his path to sobriety and later secret addiction to his dog’s pain medication. Behrendt’s laid-back approach to relationships and life, coupled with his sense of humor about some of his lowest moments, makes this episode a refreshing and inspiring listen.

Doin' It With Mike Sacks
Episode 2

Opening with a classic cut from National Lampoon Radio featuring Christopher Guest as Mr. Rogers in conversation with a bass player, before transitioning into a Herb Alpert-Public Enemy mashup, there is a certain striking quality to Doin’ It With Mike Sacks that makes it feel quite unlike any other comedy-focused podcast out right now. It’s tricky to say just what it is—perhaps it’s the interesting magazine format that the show follows, with segments bouncing from sketch to interview and back again. Perhaps it can be attributed to host Mike Sacks deep knowledge of comedy, something honed through writing And Here’s The Kicker and Poking A Dead Frog, books that have become comedy writers’ bibles. One of the show’s finer moments comes during the segment titled “NPR Fanfiction,” which is hilarious on numerous levels, especially in the way Sacks perfectly captures the halting cadence and unnecessarily indulgent tone of the genre. This month also features illuminating interviews with Reductress founder Beth Newell and Bill Hader about both the nature and process of creating comedy, a segment of nothing but Elvis babbling, and much more. All of it signals Doin’ It as a show well worth following.

Alice Isn't Dead
Omelet

Despite producing the never-ending puzzle box that is the Welcome To Night Vale podcast, along with touring live performances and publishing a novel adaptation, creator Joseph Fink has somehow found the bandwidth to launch a new podcast that doesn’t involve Cecil, Pamela Winchell, or dog parks. Alice inherits a fair share of its predecessor’s DNA; the story is unspooled through a lone narrator (who is as of yet unnamed but voiced by Night Vale alum Jasika Nicole). Alice replaces the community radio station with the CB radio of a big-rig semi. But if Night Vale invokes the whimsical macabre of an Addams’ family vacation to the American southwest, Alice feels like a chapter torn from Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. Fink resists the urge to show his hand too early. Instead, “Omelet” enjoys the deliberate, compact structure of a one-act play. The narrator recalls her first run-in with a menacing subhumanoid creature who takes equal delight in feasting on its host and tormenting those who bear witness to the act. By the end, we know little about the narrator’s Alice, her roadside bogeyman, or who is paying her to haul travel-sized deodorant across state lines. “I know what you’re thinking, Alice,” the narrator admits. “This is intentional avoidance. I don’t have to explain myself to you… but I will.” Fink has presented a promising start to his story, a meandering road trip across intentional avoidance and supernatural distractions, toward a horizon-thin promise of explanations.

The Bugle
The Chainsaw Of Futuristic Justice

Ah, finally: At long last a new edition of The Bugle has arrived in the digital post, and as always, it is a lovely treat to spend more time marinating in the cranial fluid surrounding the crooked minds of Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver. Since the release of the previous episode of The Bugle—on May 29th of last year—so much has happened in the world, meaning that almost all of the time is given over to recapping the events of the previous eight or nine months. This includes addressing several listener queries received during the show’s hiatus. As such there’s a hodgepodge quality to the show, but plenty of hilarity as well. Everything from gravitational waves, the etymology of the godawful portmanteau “brexit,” Oliver being to blame for Donald Trump, and the concept of “Secret Canada” are covered, among others. The episode’s title comes from Zaltzman’s interpretation of the republican presidential candidates’ answers regarding whether they would choose to kill a baby Hitler. In classic Bugle fashion, Zaltzman goes one step further, explaining how this is a classic republican mistake either way, choosing to simply attack a figurehead rather than solve the social and economic problems which would likely produce the same result absent the baby Hitler.

The Combat Jack Show
The No Malice Episode

Often when it is said that a particular band or recording group has an interesting backstory, the truth doesn’t begin to stack up to the self-aggrandizement. That is not the case with Clipse, the legendary rap duo of Malice and Pusha T—brothers Gene and Terrence Thornton, respectively—whose rise to fame began in perhaps the the most unlikely hotbed of hip-hop talent in the country, Virginia Beach. On this week’s episode of The Combat Jack Show, host Reggie Ossé—the eponymous Combat Jack—sits down with Gene Thornton to not only discuss Clipse’s illustrious history, but also to mine the intrigue surrounding the pair’s breakup, which saw Malice find a higher calling in religion, changing his professional name to No Malice. Thornton is incredibly vibrant in interview with Ossé, running through his past with great enthusiasm, openness, and clarity. Things take a bit of a wild turn later when Thornton claims to have had a premonition that showed him his manager was going to prison years before it came to pass. This revelation opens a discussion about the dark harassing dreams that have been nightly plaguing his sleep for five years, something that Thornton chalks up to forces attempting to stop him spreading his message of faith. In all, it is an excellent interview with one of rap’s most enigmatic figures.

Hopefully We Don't Breakup
John Robinson & Corren Conway

Hopefully We Don’t Break Up is a show about relationships hosted by two comedians who happen to be in one. Giulia Rozzi and Will Miles have developed a premise that simply allows them to talk to other couples and find out what makes their dynamic functional. It’s a step above your typical relationship advice podcast because advice isn’t necessarily the goal. Rozzi and Miles genuinely enjoy learning what works for their wide variety of guests, who are typically also in some aspect of the entertainment industry. Last week featured a conversation with hip-hop emcee John Robinson and photographer/filmmaker Corren Conway, who describe how they began dating, to the glee of the hosts who expand on certain details to draw points about their own love lives and relationships in general. Robinson and Conway seem to have discovered a meaningful way for their art to grow while being together for nearly four years. What’s the key to a successful relationship? There is no right or wrong answer, just answers; and the point of the show is to highlight all of them. If you enjoy podcasts about love that aren’t filled with doom and melodrama, let’s hope these hilarious hosts don’t break up. Although that would make the show all the more interesting.

Never Not Funny
Live At #PCAT16: Sarah Silverman, Matt Walsh, Andy Daly, Michael Sheen

Never Not Funny host Jimmy Pardo has a reputation as one of the more outwardly temperamental of comic podcasters, with cast members Garon Cockrell and Eliot Hochberg taking the brunt of his over-the-top outbursts, so it always seems to come as a slight surprise when Pardo uses his fame to raise funds for charity with his signature Pardcast-A-Thon event. This year Pardo, along with co-host Matt Belknap and longtime show friend Pat Francis, spent 12 hours recording celebrity interviews to once again benefit the Smile Train foundation. As such, this week’s episode is composed of several highlights from the PCAT, all full of hilarious interviews and plenty of the wonderful inane banter which has become the hallmark of NNF. In a wonderful conversation, Masters Of Sex star Michael Sheen continues to cement his status as the British Jon Hamm, being known first for his talents as a dramatic actor while slyly displaying prodigious comic abilities on various podcasts. The best is saved for last though, as Andy Daly comes on to discuss his lack of fear, the future of his career, and the surreal time when he shot a pilot with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo titled—at least briefly—Chev And Bev.

Off Message
Sanders Strategist Tad Devine: Losing Nevada Was A Game-changer

The dynamics of the democratic primary race have shifted somewhat since this interview with Bernie Sanders’ chief electoral strategist was recorded, but the Vermont senator’s surprise Michigan victory last week neither changes the fundamentals of his campaign nor devalues any of the insight that Tad Devine offered to Politico’s Glenn Thrush here. Sanders is still trailing in delegate count while simultaneously inspiring massive numbers of voters to demand systemic change in their government. Unfortunately, nearly all headlines accompanying stories about this interview made reference to Devine’s off-the-cuff remark that “maybe [Clinton’s team is] going to put him on the ticket then.” While the tease of a Clinton-Sanders unity ticket no doubt sent trills of excitement up many liberal spines, it was issued less-than-half-seriously and in the service of one of the conversation’s more prominent topics: his 74-year-old candidate’s enduring resonance with young voters and the difficulties that Clinton could have wooing them to her cause if she wins the nomination. “If” not “when”—Devine stresses that this is a continuing race, despite what many pundits say, and he spends some time outlining his team’s plan to upset conventional wisdom. As was evidenced last Tuesday in the Wolverine State, they might actually be onto something.

The Pollsters
Michi-can or Michi-can’t You Trust The Polls?

When Bernie Sanders defied all available polling and not only closed a 20 percentage point deficit, but pulled off a stunning win in Michigan last Tuesday, he accomplished a number of things, and gaining a handful of unexpected pledged delegates was the least of it. He changed the conversation about Hillary Clinton’s inevitability, breathed new life into his campaign, jacked up his already-energized supporters, and presented political junkies with a serious question: What are they to make of the polls going forward? If the pollsters and dataheads were this wrong about Sanders’ support in Michigan, might they be equally wrong about the rest of the Midwest and the country? The Pollsters—a weekly dive into electoral numbers hosted by two accomplished and respected pollsters/pundits, Democrat Margie Omero and Republican Kristen Soltis Anderson—faces that existential question head on and explains why the answer is yes, no, and maybe. Perhaps even more interesting is later in the episode, when Anderson delivers a heartfelt and insightful account of what it feels like for a lifelong conservative to try maintaining professional objectivity while watching a dangerous candidate highjack her political party. This podcast could be a useful supplement to FiveThirtyEight Elections for political obsessives.

Primary Concerns
Conservatism’s Crossroads

The latest podcast series from New Republic invites guest David Frum, senior editor of The Atlantic, to discuss the current dilemma faced by modern conservatives. Rather than digging into the particulars of Donald Trump’s antics, as too many pundits have ad nauseam, Frum takes a long view spanning back decades to contextualize the political climate incubating Trump’s popularity. Just as countless politicians since the 1980s have presented themselves as carbon copies of Ronald Reagan, so too will future candidates “sift through the aftermath” of Trump’s meteoric rise for examples of how to mount their own campaign. (That’s more than a little unsettling, given Trump’s disregard for every American institution except himself.) Though it’s not just the incidental convergence of historical factors that have brought us here; it’s the deliberate machinations by outlets like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News, all of which systematically incite hatred and suspicion. Indeed, Frum condemns them as “forces of stasis and rejection” that have calcified voters’ worst instincts and edge the GOP toward self-immolation. These forces must be rejected by voters, who can only salvage the political landscape with a renewed commitment to strengthening and protecting the middle class.

Radiolab
Debatable

What if the everything about the world of competitive academic debate was also up for debate? That question is at the heart of Radiolab this week, with a story about Ryan Wash, a queer, black, first-generation college student from Kansas City who made it his mission to challenge the very essence of academic debate—with his debates. In high school Wash and a debate partner won a tournament after bypassing the assigned topic to instead argue that the fast-talking, research-based style of academic debate is exclusionary to minority students at less affluent schools. In college, Wash continues to dedicate his debate career to unraveling the rules of debate, forming a team with another black queer student, Elijah Smith. By fully owning their identities as black, queer men poking holes into what it means to debate in a space that was—and still is—designed for white people, Smith and Wash become the first black team to win a national debate championship at the 2013 National Debate Tournament with arguments that highlight some of the most glaring weaknesses of debate itself. But did their historic win really change much about debate overall? That question, like everything else in this episode, also seems to be up for debate.

The Story Collider
Maryam Zaringhalam: Cheating My Way To Smart

This week on The Story Collider, a short-form science-themed storytelling podcast, Maryam Zaringhalam describes her grade school days as an absolute “garbage student,” picking her nose, daydreaming, and extending snack time and bath time to avoid homework. A cheating incident on a fourth-grade placement test elevated her to “level one” math, a purposely vague descriptor perhaps intended to shroud the truth about greater or lesser skill levels from the very students exhibiting them. Nevertheless, thrust into an environment she was grossly underprepared for, our narrator details her unlikely success story, studying harder so as to live up to the “smart kid” label that top-level classes saddled her with. Now a molecular biologist, Zaringhalam explains that this choice to cheat was a blessing in disguise—leading the listener to a murky set of conclusions. Should every student be made to feel like small fish in a big ocean? Is judgment from our peers an extrinsic motivator that inspires academic success? Or is Zaringhalam nothing more than a fascinating outlier? Above all, her story is an appeal to hopefulness, a rallying cry for every delinquent and nose-picker among us.

There Goes The Neighborhood
Mouth To Ear

WNYC and The Nation debuted a new podcast this week called There Goes The Neighborhood. The eight-part series will explore the multi-layered effects of gentrification in New York City’s Brooklyn neighborhood, which is now the least affordable housing market in the country. Hosted by Kai Wright, the first episode begins to confront what we really talk about when we talk about gentrification: money and systemic racism. Wright talks to Monica Bailey, who was pushed out of her home in Bedford-Stuyvesant after 30 years when it was purchased by a Brooklyn developer. She said black folks like her are disappearing from the historically black neighborhood as properties continue to be snatched up this way. They also talk to a Brooklyn developer about how he finds foreclosed properties through a “matchmaking” process. This developer isn’t that worried that often his purchase of new properties means families are forced out of their homes. He thinks gentrification and “income diversity”—which often is just thinly disguised racism—is good for the neighborhood. But he also isn’t the one who has to pressure people like Bailey to leave their homes—or suffer the indignity of being forced out and find a new place to live.

You Are Not So Smart
The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

Any person who enjoys engaging in unproductive and questionable online arguments—be it about politics, religion, health, or gaming ethics—without a working understanding of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is hobbling him- or herself unnecessarily. This logical fallacy, the bread and butter of conspiracy theorists, provides an invaluable tool for incorrectly reading statistics and mischaracterizing facts so as to make your unsubstantiated theory appear to have merit. As You Are Not So Smart’s David McRaney explains, the flawed methodology is a way of searching through the massive amounts of random information available to us on any given subject to find clusters of a coincidence with which to creative satisfying narratives. (Think of the urban legend surrounding the supposed similarities between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.) With the help of three critical thinking experts, McRaney takes the fallacy apart piece by piece and demonstrates how it works, why it’s so enticing, and how to spot it when it’s attempted. This is just one installment in an ongoing series on the many types of bad arguments one can use to become an true internet jerk, with other useful episodes including the ever-popular No True Scottsman fallacy and the ubiquitous Strawman fallacy.

We see what you said there

“We did Joan Rivers roasting in heaven, like a roast in heaven... heaven... how do people talk about heaven—like grown adults—like it’s real? Like everyone running for president believes in heaven? Like do they think that they’re gonna float on fluffy clouds or something?”—Sarah Silverman switching from a story about her first time hosting Saturday Night Live into a meditation on the ridiculousness of religion, Never Not Funny