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 email@example.com.
Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
Michael Ian Black
This week Alison Rosen chats with Michael Ian Black about podcasting, personas, and his latest book Navel Gazing: True Tales of Bodies, Mostly Mine (But Also My Mom’s, Which I know Sounds Weird). The book is extremely personal, and the episode echoes that sense of intimacy. Rosen is clearly a huge fan of Black, asking the questions she sincerely wants answered. When a host is this genuinely excited to pick their guest’s brain, it makes for the most listenable kind of interview. The two delve into his chaotic upbringing, his mother’s battle with cancer and electroshock therapy as a teenager, and growing up without a male figure in his life. They break down how his mother’s sexuality was dealt with when she was young, and how her presence affected the friendships he decided to have as a child, as well as how skipping a grade in middle school was an awful decision. They also discuss how he felt trapped by his comedic persona, and what he’s done to escape it. Despite the heavy topics being discussed, the episode still manages to be funny at times, since he and Rosen are so innately charming.
The Art Of Wrestling
Pro Wrestling Fringe: Dave Meltzer
Pro wrestling podcasting trailblazer Colt Cabana is following the trends with a new venture through Howl—a short form, post-produced storytelling show called Pro Wrestling Fringe. Cabana cites Radiolab’s episode on the Montreal Screwjob as a major inspiration, and while the influence is clear, Cabana’s take is much simpler. The few music cues and Cabana’s cadence remind instead of an Ira Glass piece, only the host is speaking frankly about Vince McMahon’s infamously misguided attempt in the late 1980s to find a new marquee star. McMahon was enamored with Tom Magee, a world-class strongman and black belt in karate with flowing blond hair and an alleged affinity for gymnastics. But a passable debut match with Bret Hart only prolonged the inevitable as Magee kept a low profile touring farm towns and failing to get much better. When Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter joins Cabana by phone later in the show, he notes that Hart fooled everyone from the fans to the man himself into thinking Magee was “my next champion; who needs Hulk Hogan?” The four-year fall from grace is the stuff of legend in the pro wrestling community, but Magee remains, to this day, squarely on the fringe.
“If you’re Peyton Manning, you have enough money. The first guy you kiss can’t be Papa John, okay? It can’t be!” As Tom Scharpling loops this clip ad nauseam, occasionally yelling along in near-perfect rhythm to Mike Francesa’s take on Manning’s post-Super Bowl celebration, it becomes clear that he’s trying to nail down the timing for an incoming sound collage. Minutes later, the now familiar opening scratches of “Frankie Teardrop” begin to take over some poor sap’s story about seeing Dirty Grandpa. The collage is a major highlight of the episode, one of Scharpling’s first post-WFMU shows without a phone call from Jon Wurster. The second week of the “most offensive song” topic anchors the remainder of the three hours, which provides ample opportunity for Scharpling’s typically delightful a capella renditions of rock songs, including a flawless impression of an out of breath Axl Rose explaining the genesis of his character to the tune of “Welcome To The Jungle.” When Scharpling talks openly about how many people still ask him if he misses doing The Best Show and how the Scharpling & Wurster box set didn’t make the cut for the Grammys, it’s characteristically self-deprecating, but even Kid Jersey’s most solemn 30 seconds still bring the mirth.
Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown
Please Welcome Erika Jayne!: Adam Pally
This week on Bitch Sesh—the preeminent Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills podcast—hosts Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider are joined by funny man and Housewives super-fan, Adam Pally, to discuss the latest episode of the show. Wilson and Pally go way back from their time together on the criminally underrated show, Happy Endings, and that friendship acts as the perfect foundation for an endlessly fun episode of the podcast. Throughout, the three discuss the “fuckability” of the housewives, dismantling the fourth wall, and the show’s need for a clean slate with a new cast. Pally reveals his theory that Yolanda Foster’s family got Lyme disease after they were attacked by “very angry deer,” prompting a spot-on impression of the housewife. They also briefly talk through their collective envious outrage at not being considered to audition for parts in The People V. O.J. Simpson. Pally says Wilson could’ve “crushed” the role of Kris Jenner, while he could’ve been Robert Kardashian (because he’s too Semitic to play Kato Kaelin) and Schneider would’ve been perfect for Marcia Clark. While this alternate casting is as dreamy as they come, for now at least fans have this episode where they can relish in the trio’s hilarious dynamic and fantasize about what could’ve been.
Issa Rae’s FRUIT Episode 2
Issa Rae is best known as the mid-level YouTube star and creator of Awkward Black Girl, but her new audio drama finds her showing off her serious side. Now strictly behind the microphone, Rae scripts the program with production by Midroll —the advertising agency that connects your WTFs to your Squarespaces. Her story tells of a man known only as X, a gay African-American football player narrating from the first person as he identifies and covertly explores his sexuality. The 10-part series makes big moves in its second installment, as X spends the bulk of his time at the office of his agent and sometimes lover Siya advocating to get drafted to a different team. The frequent use of X’s inward thought process proves successful for Rae in the lengthy office scene, betraying the audience just enough information to hear the doublespeak in his conversation with Siya. The fact that X’s first-person narration is told through the familiar lo fi crackle of a cell—or closed circuit prison?—phone, too, leaves listeners with increasingly complex questions. The miniseries will conclude with eight additional episodes on the paid Howl service, though the first three will be available on the Earwolf Presents feed to whet appetites.
For Colored Nerds
This week on For Colored Nerds, hosts Eric Eddings and Brittany Luse discuss the perks of Amazon Prime and Subscribe & Save, and spend most of the show answering an important question: “Is Michelle Obama the most perfect black American ever?” She’s made history as the first African-American first lady of the United States, she’s incited little controversy during her husband Barack Obama’s eight-year presidential term, and she’s almost effortlessly balanced her professional ambitions with raising her daughters in a way that is both conventional and unconventional. There’s no question that Michelle Obama’s time as FLOTUS has been very different than Hillary Clinton’s experience in the same role, but as Eddings and Luse explain, Clinton’s status as a white woman afforded her the privilege to approach the role in a way Michelle wouldn’t have been able to as a black woman. Luse adds that Michelle’s unapologetic, very public approach to being a wife and mother has been a model for her as a fellow ambitious black woman starting to think about balancing her own career with her desire for a “traditional” family. “Whether you agree or disagree with the notion that Michelle is, on paper, the most perfect black person, I don’t think anyone would disagree with her importance,” says Eddings. “She means everything to a lot of people.”
Who Needs Handwriting?
Now that correspondence letters have been so thoroughly usurped by the convenience of emails, and emails have been usurped by the convenience of a thumb symbol on Facebook, there’s less and less reason than ever before to pick up a pen and scrape it along a sheet of paper. As such, many people have gotten out of practice at physically writing letters and the legibility of their handwriting has taken a hit. A surprising majority of young people eschew cursive, and some students aren’t even taught it. While one may or may not lament the fact that kids these days can’t form a weird, curlicue “z” in script, it’s worth considering how this change in writing habits will affect our culture. Freakonomics host Stephen J. Dubner takes up this task and interviews a selection of people with varying opinions on and experiences with the dying art of penmanship. Is it sad that newer generations of people will be unable to read the U.S.’s founding documents in their original script? Is it any sadder that their parents and grandparents are unable to read the New Testament in its original language? Listeners should not be too shocked to find their own opinions on the matter shifting several times throughout the episode.
Getting On With James Urbaniak
“The Big Comeback” By Joseph Scrimshaw
Getting On is a fictional podcast performed by actor James Urbaniak, whose captivating voice was made for podcasting. Each episode he performs a different piece written by a different writer, all under the guise of being a further exploration of the character of the man himself, James Urbaniak. Each episode feels like momentarily living one of his past lives with him. This week, “The Big Comeback” by comedian and writer Joseph Scrimshaw explores the idea that Frank Sinatra is Urbaniak’s real father. Urbaniak’s performance is simultaneously impassioned and nonchalant, the brief 21 minutes feeling like a stream-of-conscious monologue, like this is always who and what Urbaniak has been. In this episode, Urbaniak is a former Blockbuster employee who, like his father, is an innovator in his own right. He explains that like Sinatra, he has vision—that vision being of a “revolutionary” app that matches snacks to movies. “Watching Moulin Rouge!? You’re gonna want cheese bread. Bad Boys II? Jalapeño peppers.” And the list goes on. The piece itself is hilarious in its sincerity, justifying increasingly ridiculous parallels between the lives of Urbaniak and Sinatra, while the performance and production quality is done with elegance. It all culminates with Urbaniak singing one of his ”father’s” songs, which is surprisingly touching.
Home: Stories From L.A.
A Home, A Murder, A Mystery (Or Two)
If you’re interested in the story of the “Los Feliz murder house,” you better be specific: There are at least three houses in the Los Angeles neighborhood that have earned that nickname. But the focus of this Home: Stories from L.A. episode is the Perelson house, the former home of Harold Perelson, who in December 1959 brutally murdered his wife and attempted to kill his oldest daughter while his other two children slept in a nearby room. The younger children woke up when they heard their older sister screaming and Perelson reassured them they were just having a nightmare and then killed himself before the police arrived. Since that night, the house has remained basically untouched; the family’s furniture, Christmas tree, and presents undisturbed for decades, which has only made the story of the house and the tragedy that happened there even more fascinating. The house used to be a popular stop on the city’s Dearly Departed bus tour (advertised as “a trip down bad memory lane” of Hollywood) until the neighbors made it clear that “murder groupies” making pilgrimages to the tragic house were no longer welcome in their neighborhood.
Heben Nigatu, Tracy Clayton
Since their BuzzFeed podcast Another Round launched last March, Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton have been included in countless podcast best-of lists, visited the White House, and interviewed guests like David Simon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Hillary Clinton. But this week Nigatu and Clayton are in the interview hot seats, talking to Longform host Max Linsky about their evolution from full-time writers to full-time podcast hosts, their dream podcast guests like Malia Obama and Stephen Colbert, and what you do when you forget to bring liquor to your interview with Hillary Clinton. During the second half of the show, Linsky separates Clayton and Nigatu to get a deeper look at their individual paths to BuzzFeed and eventual podcast stars, including Clayton’s reluctant move to New York City from Louisville, Kentucky, how Nigatu works actively to seem “more fun” for the show, and the hard work it takes to create a show that refuses to shy away from difficult conversations about mental illness and race. “[Media people] are like, ‘You talk about race so well, or effectively,’” says Nigatu. “And I’m like, ‘Well… one thing we’re doing is trying really hard. Have you thought about that?’”
Not Safe Podcast
Learning To Masturbate
Nikki Glaser is a star on the rise—her new podcast with co-host Dan St. Germain comes as a companion piece to her new Comedy Central program of the same name. The Not Safe Podcast, though, follows the classic two-person booth style of podcasting with Glaser and St. Germain talking P—which stands for positivity—about the writers’ room. The conversation is so natural and free flowing, it’s almost easy to miss some of the bigger laugh lines, like St. Germain recalling how the first time he masturbated to completion he unashamedly called his father into the room to ask if his semen was okay. Glaser and St. Germain’s chemistry is packaged with their shared experiences, as well, so that the people on their periphery like fellow comedian Rachel Feinstein and the dreamy Not Safe writer’s assistant Joe they tease for being a “horse cum sampler” always come fully realized; the pair rarely has to spend much time giving any context to set up their stories. Skype sex and getting sober round out another enjoyable episode.
The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers
“Brill Bruisers,” the titular first track of The New Pornographers’ sixth album, arises seemingly out of nowhere, opening the record with such a confident, driving beat that it almost feels like its intro is missing. Frontman Carl Newman explains in this week’s Song Exploder that this rock song was in fact inspired by a lack of confidence in his own rock star status: Singing about stage-diving into a sea of fans spoke to the surreality of this introverted supergroup drawing crowds of thousands. The lyrics that crucially transform “Brill Bruisers” into a call-and-response anthem aren’t really words at all: “Bo-PA, bo-pa-PA-BO” runs beneath the entire tune with a specificity Newman details with pride. “Some things I’m pretty lax about. That guitar is good enough, that bass is good enough. But with vocals? No, you have to do it this way.” Whether he’s joking, it’s easy to picture Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar, and the rest of their dexterous roster belting out nonsense syllables as long as it takes to get them just right.
The Tell Show
Brand new Buzzfeed podcast The Tell Show debuted this week, and hosts Summer Anne Burton and Isaac Fitzgerald don’t waste any time with small talk before getting started; small talk is the antithesis of the show’s mission of discussing intimate life details that most people don’t normally share. Every week Burton and Fitzgerald will get to know their guests by asking them questions like, “What’s wrong with you?” and listening to stories that have never been shared publicly before. The show’s first guest, writer, author of Wild, and Dear Sugar advice columnist Cheryl Strayed, is the perfect fit for a podcast based in brutal honesty; she doesn’t even flinch while playing a couple rounds of “Never Have I Ever,” that touches on topics like anal sex and masturbating on airplanes. It seems incredible that Strayed, who has built a writing career out of sharing some of her life’s most vulnerable, painful moments with readers, would have a story she’s never told anyone before, but she delivers with a surprising tale that involves a man on a horse, her first reporting job, a bank robbery, and a well-kept secret.
The Straight Talk Express
With New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primaries finally behind us, leaving pundits to fumble over one another to share their hot takes on the contests’ long term implications, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and imagine that Granite State voters wield an unwarranted degree of democratic power. In the the latest of episode of Slate’s Whistlestop podcast, host John Dickerson (of Face The Nation and Slate’s Political Gabfest) presents the remarkably compelling story of how in 2000 John McCain, through sheer force of determination and personality, out-campaigned and outperformed GOP establishment candidate George W. Bush and was handed a huge upset victory by New Hampshire primary voters. Dickerson—who covered the race from inside McCain’s campaign bus, the so-called Straight Talk Express—unwinds the narrative methodically with an author’s eye for telling details and valuable autobiographical asides. By the end, despite what we already know of electoral history, it’s easy to get caught up and believe the story has a happy ending for the senator from Arizona. What seemed monumental at the time was quickly erased by a handful Bush victories in subsequent states. Plus, it’s nice to be reminded of a time when McCain was arguably the most respected man in Congress.
Womp It Up!
Matt Besser—Spotlight On: B.B.
In another week of perfect casting, Marissa Wompler (Jessica St. Clair) and Charlotte Listler (Lennon Parham) meet B.B., Marina Del Rey’s local drug dealer played by Matt Besser. Besser’s absurdly unfiltered and often hilariously aimless improv style is essential in what makes this character work so well. At one point, Wompler points out how everything is like a word association game with B.B., which is a huge part of the fun of him. Everything he says is strange and hilariously in character, but his off-the-cuff remarks are sometimes so strangely specific, he hardly becomes a typical stoner character. From his “selective memory loss” (which accounts for the fact that he has no idea how old he is), to his strange vocal affectation and spontaneous crying, Besser’s B.B. is at once a gestural sketch of a character and one of the most developed they’ve had to date. We get another edition of “What’s Cheesins You?”, which leads into how Listler is convinced Jerry Garcia is one of the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Wompler is hell bent on using weed to get into Hill 16 so she can jerk someone off, and B.B. doesn’t understand how aliens could impregnate humans because their parts wouldn’t fit. The things that are said can only be found in an episode of Womp it Up!
“Yolanda has the bone structure of Dolph Lundgren”—Adam Pally on Yolanda Foster from The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, Bitch Sesh
“Frank Sinatra was the living embodiment of the American dream. He was an angry, poor, Italian kid from Hoboken, New Jersey, but he had a fire in his soul to conquer the world. I had the same fire when I worked at Blockbuster. That’s how I became manager.”—James Urbaniak performing Joseph Scrimshaw’s “The Big Comeback,” Getting On with James Urbaniak
“That’s one of the things I absolutely love about being a woman, and having such a discreet sexual organ. I could do it right now, while we’re doing this show, I could sort of just take care of myself, as every other woman on the planet can—it’s really pretty amazing.”—Cheryl Strayed on how easy it is for women to discreetly masturbate in public, The Tell Show