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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 Dope Queens
Billy Joel Has The Softest Hands
The long-anticipated WNYC podcast from comedians Jessica Williams (The Daily Show) and Phoebe Robinson (Broad City) was well worth the wait. In their debut week, they’ve already released two episodes and made it to No. 1 on iTunes, which isn’t surprising—2 Dope Queens is a needed breath of fresh air in the white, male-dominated world of podcasting. The show is recorded live from the popular Brooklyn-based storytelling and comedy show that Williams and Robinson have been hosting for two years. In the first episode, “Dad Bods,” they trade stories about racist cab drivers and strip clubs and showcase great sets from comics Aparna Nancherla, Gary Gulman, and Michelle Buteau. In the second episode, Williams and Robinson share a feminist conflict that popped up at a Billy Joel concert when they were upgraded to front row tickets because “Joel likes to look at pretty women when he plays” and feature stand-up sets from comedians Naomi Ekperigin, Sam Jay, and Beth Stelling—“It was a vagina bonanza!” Robinson jokes. That anyone anywhere can now look forward to the podcast version of this amazing show every Tuesday is pretty dope indeed.
Anna Faris Is Unqualified
Chris Evans And Jenny Slate Part One
The idea that all celebrities are best friends is a well-understood fallacy, so whenever a few of them actually are it can be engaging to experience. It is precisely that which makes this week’s episode such a delight. In what may be the most star-studded podcast of the year, platonic best friends Chris Evans and Jenny Slate join Anna Faris and her BFF/producer/co-host Sim Sarna, and Faris’ husband Chris Pratt even makes a special appearance. The convivial air runs high across two solid hours, with unvarnished discussions caroming wildly between topics in completely hilarious fashion. The most winning aspect of the Anna Faris Is Unqualified podcast is just how charmingly candid everything feels, with the patterns of conversation between this quintet of excellence sounding not dissimilar to some random DIY podcast—in the best way possible. This is because there is something so natural to their rambling discussion, whether talking about pubic hair, smelly balls, or recasting Three Men And A Baby, it all feels just as blue and discursive as a night spent bullshitting among friends. The show truly shines in its second hour, as it transitions into its listener question section. One can feel the panel fully invest in the concerns of their callers, only further adding to the magic of the experience.
A Body In A New Place
The latest entry in the thriving fictional found audio canon, Archive 81 is a new podcast series from production company Dead Signals in the tradition of The Message, The Black Tapes, and Limetown. While its predecessors have opted for earnest reporters as their framing device, episode one of Archive 81 establishes concentric circles of narration, beginning with the bumbling Daniel Powell, archivist for the Housing Historical Committee Of New York. Powell (and by extension the audience) plays aloud a jumble of disorganized tapes from 1994 that chronicle Melody Pendrass’ investigation of a New York high rise for signs of what might be the supernatural or satanic happenings therein. And there’s yet another layer of mediation: What we’re hearing is in fact the last known recording of Powell himself, who went missing over a year ago after the first shift of this archiving gig. Archive 81 has unfurled many possible paths for itself, and despite some pitfalls of the found audio genre—the sound of characters knocking on “doors” that sound suspiciously like laminate tabletops, scripted turns of phrase that characters use just often enough to feel unnatural—it will be worth discovering what paths the show chooses to follow.
Spend an hour and a half with Wende Curtis, the supremely articulate owner of Denver’s prestigious Comedy Works chain, and it’s no wonder how she became the tastemaker she is today. She had an innocuous start to her career in the organization as a cocktail waitress at the original downtown branch, and within six months was managing the whole place. From there, shrewd business decisions—most interestingly the way she scanned IDs at the downtown club to determine the best zip code in which to set up a second location—and, she admits, years of not taking a paycheck for herself in the face of massive credit card debt materialized the comedy institution. Curtis’ perspective on new talent, too, with her rigorous New Talent Night process and the way she structures her nightly shows to ensure that her protégés “get talked about at the water cooler the next day,” is a must-listen for aspiring comics. COScene’s Behind The Scene series has steadily focused on Denver’s underground music network, but even host Shon Cobbs is so rapt in the story that it seems likely he may dip further into the comedy scene. And Behind The Scene would be better for it, just as stand-up comedy is better for Curtis’ grit.
Past, Present, And Future Endeavors
Vince McMahon may still have kayfabe control of Monday Night Raw in his cold, allegedly alive hands, but David Shoemaker is not so lucky: His new gig as the pro wrestling writer for Bill Simmons’ forthcoming site, The Ringer, naturally puts him at irreconcilable odds with Cheap Heat’s parent company ESPN, and The Masked Man must leave town. That’s the lede buried beneath an enjoyable recap of the gang’s WrestleMania weekend by Shoemaker and Peter Rosenberg—with Greg The Virgin still in transit from Dallas, it’s an old-school two-person booth episode with the original two-person booth. The match reviews offer a measured take on “the worst WrestleMania of all time,” but the true fun is in the press junket anecdotes peppered throughout; those who watched the pair become more and more reputable throughout the years will especially find it charming. It’s the end of an era for Cheap Heat, which has always been an important part of the pro-wrestling podcast world as a show that’s comparatively sympathetic to sports entertainment, but Rosenberg insists that he and Greg will continue on with the name, and Simmons would be foolish to keep Shoemaker out of the broadcasting game for too long. Until then, Humanoids.
Death, Sex & Money
Dead People Don’t Have Any Secrets
When Amanda found out that her husband was cheating on her, she planned to confront him about it—until he died before she ever had the chance. This week on Death, Sex & Money, Anna Sale interviews Amanda, whose husband Sam was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma only a couple years after their twins were born. Because he seemed healthy for the first year and a half, they didn’t change much in their marriage or lives as a result of the diagnosis—and then he came down with a sudden sickness that progressed rapidly, from memory loss, to a coma, to his death a couple weeks later. Amanda found out about her husband’s affair when he was unconscious through texts on his phone. She talks candidly with Sale about what it was like to grieve the loss of her husband while also dealing with the anger and resentment she felt toward him after discovering the affair and other secrets he had kept from her while he was still alive—and the hard lessons that she learned from her first marriage that she is now applying to her second.
In the space of just two episodes NPR’s newly launched Embedded podcast has displayed signs that it might be the breakout show of the year. There are a number of factors which position it so highly—from a captivating premise to excellent production—but the most satisfying is its total commitment to delivering solid, transparent reporting. In a year where Spotlight took home Best Picture at the Oscars, there seems to be a culturally renewed appreciation for the journalistic process. This week’s excellent entry capitalizes on that, as host Kelly McEvers and reporter Tom Dreisbach do yeoman’s work tracking down the stories behind last year’s motorcycle gang shootout in Waco, Texas, which saw 9 people killed. Along the way the pair document the dead ends they had to follow before finally cracking things open. This comes when McEvers and Dreisbach are invited to meet with and record members of The Cossacks, one of the two groups involved in the melee. The audio that the pair capture is amazing and feels like a verité version of Sons Of Anarchy. It is a gripping look into a side of society that few truly know, full of humor, regressive machismo, and ultimately shock and sadness over how trivial—and poorly policed—the shootout turns out to have been.
The Garbage Time Podcast
Roy Wood Jr.
In the short time since Trevor Noah’s ascendancy to The Daily Show host chair vacated by Jon Stewart, no other cast member on the show has garnered as much praise and attention than newly added correspondent Roy Wood, Jr. On this week’s interview episode of The Garbage Time Podcast, host Katie Nolan sits down with Wood to get to the bottom of how he came to find himself in the catbird seat, so to speak. His path to stardom is one that doesn’t follow the usual routes and it is all the more engaging a listen for it. Though things start off fairly normal, touching on Wood’s history with sports and heckling, it gets interesting quickly as Wood details the way that he has had to tailor his comedy for different audiences throughout the South. The interview reaches its zenith in a breathlessly hilarious account of the political machinations behind how small town drug dealers organize comedy shows as a means of regaining public trust following a law enforcement raid, and how Wood got caught up in one such event. Equally amazing is Wood’s defense of why he still maintains an AOL email address. In all, it is a great look at the life of a journeyman comedian who has finally found his home.
High And Mighty
Road Dogs: Neil Casey, Brandon Gardner
High & Mighty is a Headgum podcast in which comedian Jon Gabrus talks to friends about almost anything, which he can get away with only because he is so fun to listen to. The show is aimless in the best way possible: Tangents overlap other tangents, and Gabrus’ charm carries it the whole way. On the latest episode, Gabrus is joined by long-time friends and fellow UCB TourCo companions Neil Casey and Brandon Gardner. The episode is dedicated solely to walking down memory lane as they share stories about their time touring the country doing improv together for UCB. Going to college parties as mid- to late-twentysomethings, playing awful gigs for a weirdly segregated room in Savannah, getting dangerously drunk, getting scrotal infections, falling asleep standing up, getting pranked in a New Orleans bar, doing an improv set for a girl and her boyfriend while in line to get fried chicken—the stories are truly wild and endlessly entertaining. They discuss the great sets and the terrible ones, and even though it was years ago, they can still remember the premise of some of their best and worst scenes. The episode is an improv nerd’s anecdotal heaven, and an interesting look at the less glamorous yet still rock ’n’ roll life style of a touring improv group.
Adam Sachs, Our Cool Bossfriend
An ever increasing element to the personas that Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport so expertly play on Hollywood Handbook is that at their core they are like children who just want to sit at the grown-ups’ table. This episode highlights that aspect of their characters like no other, start to finish. It begins as they fail to understand the concept of first-person perspective in Hardcore Henry, hilariously attempting to wrap their heads around how they both ended up in the same movie, and how the film got them to do such crazy things. “Trying to get my head around that I almost threw up!” Clements exclaims incredulously. It’s a fitting lead up to their segment with Adam Sachs, CEO of Earwolf, and Midroll, who is the perfect foil to their childlike antics. Sachs hardly has to say a word to be a great guest for the show. His mere presence allows Davenport and Clements to play the height of their characters as they incessantly pander, compliment, and try to out-do each other to impress him. From Clements’ overwhelming praise for The Wolf Den (“It’s blastin’ me to the moon, laughs wise.”) to Davenport claiming, “My weakness, I think, is I’m too brave,” the hosts are incredible at playing desperate for validation, and this episode is consistently an excellent showcase of how rock solid their characters are.
The American-made Another Round podcast has broken ground all over the internet for highlighting voices of color and the voices of women in particular. Melanin Millennials is a newer podcasts from across the pond that does the same, only with more bite. Hosts Imrie and Satia talk to each other about what’s happening in pop culture and their own lives in a way that’s distinctly British and black. “We’ve got regular jobs that we both hate,” Satia explains, mid-rant, “and we come back and do this for something that we both enjoy.” This episode features the shows signature segments #BlackTwitterMomentOfTheWeek, #ClashOfTheClapBacks and #SideEyeOfTheWeek, which segues perfectly into their anger-filled tribunal on social media culture. This is a podcast that isn’t afraid to call out the lack of diversity in the original Power Puff Girls cartoon, or have its hosts weigh the values of Chris Brown vs. Usher. If you love The Read but wish it had a U.K. accent and a slightly different perspective, this is an excellent start.
While many listeners might be tempted to skip through Glenn Thrush’s 10-minute introductory ramble, in which he takes the long route to explaining his podcasting philosophy, those who tough their way through it will be rewarded with an interesting perspective on the 45-minute conversation that follows. Because the host so adamantly explains how and why he lets his guests choose the topics of conversation, it becomes quite clear that the amount of time spent discussing Hillary Clinton’s 2000 senatorial campaign against Rudy Giuliani, and later and Rick Lazio, was a strategic decision. Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the former secretary of state wants to remind people about her then-opponents’ arguably sexist and ultimately feckless intimidation tactics during that New York race 16 years ago, some good guesses can be made. What’s particularly intriguing about this interview is that highlights how apt a politician Clinton has become over the years, even while she spends large chunks of time explaining that it’s a skill that never came easy to her. As is often the case, the most headline-grabbing moment, in which she questions whether Bernie Sanders is truly a Democrat, is also the least engaging.
Rumble Strip Vermont
When a family member grapples with a drug or alcohol addiction, its resulting effects on the entire family take on something of a half-life, never really going away, only radiating less strongly over time. No matter the degree of separation, the effects of the addiction are felt. It is, however, a much more acute situation when the addict is one’s own mother, a downright awful situation that is explored in this week’s painful, immediate, and yet illuminating episode of Rumble Strip Vermont. The story, as told through interviews with host Erica Heilman, is that of the eponymous—and pseudonymous—Jesse, a rural Vermont high schooler whose mother became addicted to opiates, supplied to her by own addict mother (Jesse’s grandma) before turning to methamphetamine following the death of Jesse’s younger brother. The level of normalcy to the way in which Jesse describes developing a utilitarian skill set for dealing with her mother’s drug problem is immensely heartbreaking, but it also highlights her resilience and strength of character. Heilman’s greatest skill is in connecting with people regardless of the enormity of the situation facing them, and here it provides listeners with insight as to how life continues when this ugly chemical influence seemingly overrules one’s own biological imperative.
These Things Matter
YouTube: Adrienne Stortz
When These Things Matter takes a detour from their hyper-specific pop culture lens and hosts Taylor Gonda and Kevin O’Brien are able to guide their guest into the big picture—like this week and in the the past two weeks’ episodes on diners and sandwiches—there’s no stopping them. YouTube cooking show host Adrienne Stortz of Xoxo Cooks joins them in the third seat for an innocuous chat about how growing up with YouTube has shaped her life, but it really heats up when the conversation shifts to O’Brien’s relationship with the site and streaming media in general. That’s when the trio gets into the different skill sets that turned YouTubers like Jenna Marbles and PewDiePie into cultural phenomenons from the comfort of their homes but left them crashing and burning on late-night television. O’Brien and Gonda come around to the platform in spite of advocating for only using it to watch old Johnny Carson clips, and the rest of the episode is a nostalgic trip through the evolution of computer videos from Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” to today.
When Trump Doesn’t Win
In his opening greeting, host Jacob Weisberg openly and casually refers to Donald Trump as a “national emergency,” a “dumpster fire,” and, in this installment, a “threat to civilized society.” But with political commentator E.J. Dionne, who’s hardly a Trump supporter himself, on the other end of the line, Weisberg ekes out the best episode of the relatively young Trumpcast by being surprisingly empathetic to Trump’s current predicament. In particular, Dionne identifies the way the Republican Party has been making false promises to its conservative base since the 1930s and rattles off quotations and sources about how the disenfranchised white men Trump so fiercely aims his rhetoric toward are polling for the same issues as the still-ignored black lower class. Those bibliographical references make all the difference for a show that’s been too focused recently on Trump’s most recent gaffes or on reading the Donald’s tweets aloud (by John Di Domenico, quickly becoming America’s premiere Trump impressionist). Dionne and Weisberg’s conversation is made sweeter by their acknowledgement that the country is increasingly yearning to view the man through fact-checked political punditry, Trump’s mortal enemy.
“On my website I have a Gmail address listed, and that’s so that comedy bookers won’t think I died years ago, but if you email me on the Gmail… it auto-forwards to my AOL.”—Roy Wood, Jr. on how deep his love for his AOL account runs, The Garbage Time Podcast
“I am someone who loves doing the job that I have. I would love having the job of president because I know how to do it. I know what the country needs. But the campaigning part is hard for me. I think I’ve gotten better.”—Hillary Clinton, Off Message
“So, I’m sorry, okay, you wanna be nice and put me in the movie? Great, I like that, I’ve been in movies before and it’s weird because I have to look at me looking out at me, but with this I get to be in the movie and I only see what I see, I don’t see me except for the parts of me that I can always see, like my hand pieces.” Sean Clements trying to understand first person perspective in Hardcore Henry, Hollywood Handbook
“Fake deep twitter… where all the Hotepians come out and their Neferatchets.” Satia, Melanin Millenials