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.
Guerrilla Public Service
Civilization’s attempts at modern design constantly fail, as society quickly advances and practical needs frequently fall through the cracks. The design podcast 99% Invisible and host Roman Mars highlight the people who are unwilling to wait for society’s gatekeepers to fix its own problems. Instead these people, like a partnership of artists who fixed a sign on the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles, build things that function and help all of society. Including, of course, themselves. Led by Richard Ankrom, this group of friends kept missing the I-5 ramp because all the 110 provided on a large green sign was a white lane arrow with no visual indication of what that lane would bring. Ankrom’s crew worked tirelessly to replicate a blue “5” shield that met the standards of the California Department Of Transportation so they could sneakily affix it. Not only did they get away with it, but Caltrans inspected it, approved it, and when it fell down they replaced it and added the shield to additional locations. 99% Invisible’s site includes harrowing photos and video of the incident, proving that some acts of innovation require breaking not only the rules but improving the rules while they’re being broken.
Detonating The C-Bomb
Even before hitting the four-minute mark of what may be the most cuss-filled 17 minutes in podcast history, The Allusionist hits a crescendo, playing an unabashedly funny version of “Ode To Joy” where nearly every word is replaced with “cunt” or variations thereof, including the luridly descriptive “piss flaps.” Thanks, Allusionist host Helen Zaltzman! Before the listener gets the wrong impression, this episode focuses on exploring and understanding the nature and power of taboo words. Zaltzman attempts to get to the bottom of why “cunt” has become the de facto nastiest word in the English language, as well as why more acceptable synonyms exist. In an interview, British television producer Leon Wilson says that a lot of the decision over whether to censor the word rests on the delivery, demarcating the difference between “aggressive cunt” versus “playful cunt.” The exploration is unfortunately a bit on the short side, but it raises some very interesting points, including the use of the term “swear word” as a piece of profanity itself. If nothing else, this funny, thoughtful segment just might forever change your perception of the sound a racquetball makes.
The Best Show
Bonus Show: The Half Hour Of Power
Tom Scharpling lost his father soon after the reboot of The Best Show, so was stuck trying to build momentum for the show while mired in grief. The tension over the airwaves has occasionally been palpable. But when the program went off the air last Tuesday, Scharpling remained in the studio with his loyal crew for a rapid-fire, unscreened overtime recorded off the air for podcast release. The consequence-free attitude ofThe Half Hour Of Power unleashes a particular element of callers who have kept to themselves in the past few months, and Scharpling is clearly giddier for it. He and Associate Producer Mike revel in a prank call from a stammering member of Anonymous purporting to have information connecting Scharpling to Narconon, and close the show by letting someone make fart noises into the phone for a full minute. The experiment is a promising representation of what Scharpling could choose to do with his show’s new independence, but more importantly, it’s a refreshing reminder of just how freewheeling and fun The Best Show can be.
Regular listeners know that whoever Dollop co-hosts Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds cover on any given episode will have a story that devolves into an irredeemable shit storm. So it might come as a surprise to see this week’s episode headed the recognizable name of baseball star Lenny Dykstra. Unlike the feint thrown a few weeks back on the “Cassius Clay” episode, this story is very much about the present-day Dykstra and not a historical namesake. The tale unravels slowly at first, with Dykstra’s wild antics as a member of the New York Mets seemingly of a piece with those of teammates Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, but once Dykstra retires, things go crazy. After Dykstra’s playing career ended in the early ’90s, he showed a voracious appetite for entrepreneurship and investment, albeit one divorced from the necessary intelligence to make such ventures successful. The story feels a little fresh, and later allegations of sexual assault turn the story from wacky to rotten, but Anthony and Reynolds manage to keep the episode light and hilarious.
How Did This Get Made?
If watching John Boorman’s 1974 Sean Connery vehicle Zardoz is supposed to be like doing acid, then listening to Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, and Brett Gelman haphazardly describe the film is an experience bordering on utter madness. Pure, hilarious madness. Nearly every aspect of the film beggars belief, whether it be the truly batshit plot, its lazy use of sci-fi allegory as social commentary, and its aggressively insouciant attitude toward sexual assault. Perhaps no aspect is more shocking than its pedigree, as Boorman’s previous film was the Best Picture-nominated Deliverance. The How Did This Get Made? crew, minus a sick June Diane Raphael, are in great form discussing Zardoz, mostly because the film is rife with so many half-baked ideas that they can’t help but be amazed by the film’s very existence. At one point an exasperated Mantzoukas blurts out, “This movie is fucking dumb!” But that doesn’t stop them from puzzling over every aspect, attempting to figure out the film’s greater purpose and meaning, helped along by a series of excerpts from Boorman’s commentary track, where he rather defeatedly apologizes for the film as the commentary proceeds.
Our Computers, Ourselves
For the final show of season one, Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller examine our rapidly changing relationships with computers and how computers, in turn, are changing us. They talk to a self-proclaimed cyborg who spends his waking hours hooked up to a screen on one eye and a keyboard on one hand for constant note-taking and note-referencing. The technophile unconvincingly claims that the only downside to his hardware is “you have to charge it,” but the point remains that we’re all likely to become more like this guy in the near future. It sounds good to enhance our real-life interactions with instant access to stores of knowledge, but what about all the nastiness that abounds online? The hosts gather research both scientific and anecdotal—including a story about a guy who used to tweet mean stuff about people on the N train—to reach a bleak conclusion: Anonymity makes us twice as likely to be cruel, and angry messages spread the quickest of all. The show ends (as it often does) on a flat note, with a tearjerking story fit for a mediocre TED Talk, but Invisibilia proves again that it can tackle broad topics in psychology and social science with deft storytelling.
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Empire And Public Radio Voices
This episode is made for radio nerds. Things start off with a lengthy discussion of Fox’s Empire, digging deep into the smash TV hit. Fans of Linda Holmes’ infamous “Mom cop, cop mom” theme song might have something to look forward to; the description of two characters as Business Son and White Wife is another catchy ditty waiting to happen. It’s interesting to hear conflicting opinions about a show that has been universally praised, not to mention how the group’s varying personal backgrounds affect the way they watch the show. Here’s where things get real nerdy: These public radio professionals discuss the infamous NPR voice and how it is affected by diversity, gender, and good ol’ regional diction. What makes someone sound “less black” or makes a person from a thickly accented region of Maryland convert to a life of speaking with nonregional diction? The episode dives into it all with the usual insight, charm, and candid spirit that makes the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew so delightful to listen to.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
The History Of Narcolepsy, Parts 1 And 2
Research compiled by Stuff You Missed In History Class indicates that narcolepsy is far more pervasive and common you might expect. Misdiagnosed and hard for sufferers to understand, it has only been identified by the medical world as something specific for just over a century. This two-parter charts how the disorder has been traditionally perceived since it was first noticed in the 1600s, and became appreciated as something more complex than the result of being struck by a brick by the mid-1880s. Narcolepsy is fascinating in how it relates to brain chemistry, but even more so for the social implications that result from its commonality. Modern research suggests that people usually have consciousness when experiencing this “micro-sleep,” but for some time it was considered nothing but an excuse for being drunk. The second part finally explains the progress of 20th-century medicine progress with the disorder, and how it is usually linked to moments (or triggers) like extreme emotional response. Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey seem quite sympathetic, but only hint at their own sleep problems. They present their research with a deft tone, leaving behind any hint that they might be reading some of it off of prepared paperwork.
Talk Is Jericho
Shawn Michaels Part 2
As it turns out, Chris Jericho and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels regard their 2008 rivalry as the highlight of their respective careers. They spend the better part of a two-hour-long chat at Michaels’ remote Texas ranch gushing to each other about it. Michaels astounds even the host as he draws attention to the nuances that thrilled him about the angle, whispering into the microphone in his captivating post-retirement growl. Jericho and Michaels both swell with pride recounting the Jeritron 5000 incident, the accidental inclusion of Mrs. Michaels, and how audience response forced upper-management to let them take over the World Heavyweight Championship scene. And though many others in the trade would assert that he was a dangerous, unprofessional backstage politician in the ’90s, the born-again Michaels openly atones for the sins he committed against Bret Hart–among others–in a truly moving oratory that starts as a plug for his new faith-based autobiography Wrestling For My Life but spins into a sincerely redemptive reflection.
Talk Is Jericho
Ghost Adventures’ Zak Bagans
“I just went through hell,” Zak Bagans sighs early in this interview, referring to his work on a forthcoming documentary about Gary, Indiana’s “demon house.” The steel-jawed host of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures bought the home last year, and this gripping, hour-long interview with Talk Is Jericho’s Chris Jericho touches on that case, which Bagans calls it “one of the most historic and credible tales of a haunting in America.” Bagans goes on to describe the exorcism he underwent at Bobby Mackey’s Music World and his status as “a conduit” for paranormal activity: “I honestly feel the ghosts themselves chose me to do this,” Bagans proclaims, with no hint of irony. Whether or not you’re a believer, it’s hard not to be swept up in the man’s unwavering conviction; either ghosts are real, or he’s neck-deep in his own delusion. Ultimately, though, Bagans’ passion makes this episode an engaging listen. And if the fact that Bagans’ landline randomly cuts out in the middle of the interview—he claims his computer, mouse, and email are also going “haywire”—doesn’t freak you out just a little, then you’re just not having enough fun.
The Tobolowsky Files
Circle Of Causation
Hooray! It’s the first new Tobolowsky Files episode since October, and this one’s a doozy. As usual, the episode is divvied up into three acts, which typically encompass Tobolowsky’s life as an actor, his personal struggles, and the concepts of myth, science, and religion he uses to find meaning and cohesion within them. It starts simple enough, with Tobo recounting his two different guest spots on Law & Order, but it soon morphs into something infinitely more cerebral once he begins exploring the Circle Of Causation, a political-science exercise that attempts to find who or what is to blame in any situation. He related this to a broken neck he suffered when horseback riding in Iceland, an event he’s touched on in previous episodes. It sounds exhausting, and it sort of is, but it’s also sad, lovely, and cathartic, an attempt to find the “why” in one of his life’s most tragic experiences. As always, he leavens it all with his good-hearted sense of humor, and the warmth with which he discusses his marriage and career. And if you stick around until the end, Tobo shares some Groundhog Day trivia he learned over a recent lunch with the film’s screenwriter.
U Talkin' U2 To Me?
Live From SF Sketchfest
“I think everyone just realized they’re sitting in a room watching two guys play songs on their phones,” Adam Scott repined after getting two songs into the hosts’ top 10 U2 tracks. The initial run of U Talkin’ U2 To Me? took audiences behind one of the world’s biggest bands, revealing a group that has spent decades achingly working to remain both relevant and beyond-successful. With every existing nook and cranny dissected, how can a podcast about said band stay relevant? The Scotts (Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman) give a formidable answer at this live taping from the SF Sketchfest: New podcasts are launched, fan Q’s receive A’s, and the aforementioned dual Top 10 duel. Most glorious, though, is the manifestation of one of the show’s early goals. The magic of U Talkin’ U2 To Me? lies in its ability to make us believe in the capacity to actualize our dreams—a joke about Todd Glass discussing the music of Staind as a vessel for a “stained glass” pun became one of the funniest episodes of the series. It is uncertain whether or not the Scotts will ever talk U2 with U2, but this episode finally brings them face-to-face with a real-life college girl. Fans of the show have reason to celebrate a new episode, period, but that silly jokes continue to become reality is an inspiration to all.
Spending time on Reddit can be such a mixed bag: a particular discussion can either be an ideal venue for intelligent discourse or so full of misfits as to resemble the Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina. Two months ago, the three PhD students of the episode title—Elena Glassman, Jean Yang, and Neha Narula—ventured openly onto the site to conduct an “ask me anything” about their field. This caught the attention of Upvoted host—and Reddit co-founder—Alexis Ohanian, who invited them on the show to partake in a wide-ranging discussion touching on topics like the growing gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, the current state of academia, and the overall importance of computational programming. The vital conversation between Ohanian, Glassman, Yang, and Narula highlights the sad fact that while technology is quickly taking over every aspect of modern life, the amount of women in the field is inversely proportional. Perhaps one of the more interesting, if slightly painful, stories comes when Glassman relates how she didn’t really experience sexism in the field until arriving in grad school, making it doubly hard for her, because didn’t have years worth of armor built up against it.
In her interview with Marc Maron, comedian Cameron Esposito—currently on a meteoric rise thanks to a game-changing set on Craig Ferguson and just generally being awesome—makes it clear that she doesn’t only want to be known for queer-centric humor. Fair enough. But it’s also so damn interesting to hear her talk about her experiences as a lesbian, which she delves into deeply on WTF. That isn’t to say she treats it as some sort of novelty—her stories would be interesting no matter what her sexuality is thanks to their attention to detail. The most compelling part of the episode when she recalls her first kiss, which preceded a nasty bout of ringworm that, at the time, she thought might be a sign from God that she was evil (she was raised Catholic). That’s just a small portion of a lengthy conversation that’s consistently funny, filled with admiration from Maron as well as the demystification of more than a few stereotypes.
“It was not supposed to be scary stuff for Halloween, but…”—Tracy V. Wilson on the horrifying brain problems that might also be in play when narcolepsy is diagnosed, Stuff You Missed In History Class
“I had contracted ringworm in Jamaica, and it had not shown up until the morning after I had kissed this girl for the first time.”—Cameron Esposito, WTF