Strictly Business’s Drew Tarver on a 2016 episode of Watch What Happens Live. (Photo: Charles Sykes/Bravo)

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


A Podmass series spotlight

Strictly Business With Derek Contrera

Anyone paying attention to the comedy podcasting landscape will know that Drew Tarver is an unstoppable force. So it’s no surprise that starring in his own Stitcher Premium show (created by Nick Ciarelli and Brad Evans) would see him shine in a new and thrilling way. The half-scripted, half-improvised show, Strictly Business With Derek Contrera, allows Tarver to outfit a character with a rich backstory while also living in that pocket and discovering new things. With Derek Contrera—a former professional skateboarder who has hopes of becoming the next great American entrepreneur—writers Ciarelli and Evans get to build both a language and a type, which they clearly have fun doing. Derek Contrera is the type of guy who coins terms like “the try-or-die spirit,” “hustle juice,” and “the success gene,” and who would try to kill himself by sucking his own dick and snapping his neck. It’s an insane yet earnest character that gives Tarver a lot to play with.

Each episode sees Derek attempting to break ground in a new industry, whether it’s pitching an app to Scott Aukerman as Silicon Valley titan Fichoff Whif or discussing charity work with the insatiably horny Bill and Melinda Gates, played by Dan Klein and Kelly Hudson. The wonderful Carl Tart and Betsy Sodaro join the cast as Contrera’s hilariously ambitious sidekicks, shorter character segments breaking up each episode with the likes of Will Hines, Natalie Palamides, and more. It’s a hell of a lot of bang for your buck, and Jon Daly as the founder of the Hard Rock Cafe is worth the price of admission all on its own. Strictly Business builds a world simultaneously broad and hilariously specific, a character-driven comedy at its best. Each performer and writer fearlessly commits to creating a unique show that, despite the chaos of Derek Contrera, is shockingly cohesive. [Rebecca Bulnes]


2 Dope Queens
I Trimmed My Pubes For This?

Advertisement

Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are back at it with a new season of their popular podcast, 2 Dope Queens, chatting about everything from the pitfalls of fresh bikini lines to forgetting you have a tampon in. Later, the duo is joined by comedian Mike Birbiglia, and the conversation bounces around, leading to Williams posing the Oprah-inspired question, If you could sue anyone or anything, who or what would you sue? Birbiglia offers up anyone in the Trump administration, while Williams calls out Bono’s alter ego, The Shadow Man. Robinson gets sidetracked as she recounts a bizarre meeting with the ubiquitous rock star. Not only does Bono request images of Robinson before the rendezvous, he then paints her a picture based on said images and offers it up as a gift before placing a parting kiss on her inner thigh. The story is as fascinating as it is hilarious, and the entire podcast is high-quality comedy as usual, with additional fierce and fabulous guests Maeve Higgins and Gina Brillon sprinkling comedy gold into listeners’ ears as well. [Becca James]


Flyover
The Myth Of A “Bootstraps” America

Advertisement

New from Minnesota Public Radio, Flyover “focuses on issues of American identity and the changing American dream as they are lived and experienced in the cities, towns, and rural areas that lie beyond the media spotlights in New York, D.C., and L.A.” The second episode tackles the myth that hard work alone, or the idea that one need only “pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” allows anyone to climb the economic ladder. Host Kerri Miller is joined by Detroit Free Press editorial page editor Stephen Henderson and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living In Bootstrap America, and all three agree that there’s one thing a person needs for this bootstrap theory to work: money. Meanwhile, more than 8 million families live in poverty in the U.S. (with glaring racial inequity), and men’s median annual income was $10,000 more than women’s in 2016, which raises the question, Does the allure of the American dream cloud our ability to recognize systems that foster disparities? Offering a thorough and candid discussion, Flyover also allows listeners a voice as Miller introduces calls and social media comments into the conversation for a well-rounded podcast that rises above the noise. [Becca James]


LBJ’s War
The Preacher And The President

Advertisement

It’s easy to give LBJ short shrift. Bookended by the administrations of the dashing and ultimately tragic JFK and notorious Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson lacked the Shakespearean grandeur of the other two 1960s leaders. Yet LBJ was a complex and formidable, if easily caricatured, chief executive whose five-year administration transformed American social policy before splintering to pieces over Vietnam. It’s a time that is intimately explored in this limited-run podcast using audio from secretly recorded White House phone calls and rare archival interviews. The penultimate episode focuses on Johnson’s relationship with Martin Luther King. Never great friends, both men were at their zenith in the mid-’60s, working together on shared goals like civil rights and poverty reduction. During a call three days after Kennedy’s assassination, a humble Johnson tells King he will “try to be worthy of all your hopes.” [Zach Brooke]


My Thing Can Beat Your Thing
Firetruck V Ra

Advertisement

Hosts Nick and Phil begin this episode of their self-explanatory podcast, My Thing Can Beat Your Thing, by chatting about their milk preferences. Phil likes ice in his and Nick likes skim; neither appreciate whole. Afterward, the two proceed to introduce this week’s real “things”: Phil has chosen to present a firetruck and Nick has chosen the Egyptian sun god Ra. As per their process, Nick and Phil debate the merits of their respective things and assign statistics to three categories: Attack, Defense, and Skill. The conversation between the two hosts is inherently silly, with segues to Alanis Morissette, hieroglyphs, giggling over the goofiness of some of Ra’s mythological attributes, and a number of firetruck puns. Using their aforementioned ranking system, some special computer software, and improv storytelling, Nick and Phil tell the epic tale of an all-out battle between Ra and a firetruck. Which wins? You’ll have to tune in to find out. [Jose Nateras]


On Being
Junot Díaz: Radical Hope Is Our Best Weapon

Advertisement

On Being bills itself as “a social enterprise with a radio show at its heart,” addressing the question of what it means to be human and how we want to live. This makes Junot Díaz, known for his insightful writing, a perfect guest. Host Krista Tippett speaks with him almost a year after the publication of his essay “Under President Trump, Radical Hope Is Our Best Weapon,” in which he responded to the 2016 presidential election by suggesting readers “face this hard new world” with hopeful resistance. Díaz doubles down on his realistic optimism by citing the past (“Trump is the latest awful, awful turn but more than anything the world has been in an awful state for a long time.”), present (“What have we accomplished to date, and what does that accomplishment to date reveal?”), and future (“You’ll be amazed at how people get riled up about things and then slip back into the comfort of their historical privileges.”) as proof that this setback could ultimately “awaken those that have feasted well on our hegemonic structures.” Here’s hoping. [Becca James]


Pet Cinematary
The Thing

Advertisement

Pet Cinematary is a podcast dedicated to the oft overlooked animal stars from classic films. This time around, host Wendy Mays is joined by Courtney of the Chicks With Flicks podcast as they dive into John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing through the eyes of Jed the dog. The part wolf, part malamute—which also appeared alongside Ethan Hawke in White Fang—doesn’t have a lot of screen time, sure, but Jed is the catalyst that kicks off the paranoia and hysteria at Outpost 31, carrying the alien being into the research facility. Pet Cinematary is a terrifically fun podcast for any cinephile who enjoys film minutiae. The hosts deftly mix The Thing’s behind-the-scenes trivia and mythology, from Jed’s relationship with actor Richard Masur—who became friendly with Jed on the set—to a discussion of why on earth the dog didn’t assimilate Clark first. In the vast landscape of film-centric podcasts, Pet Cinematary offers a welcome and charming laser-focused alternative to the norm. Courtney also plugs her favorite animal rescues: Second Chance Animal Sanctuary and Safe Haven Animal Rescue in Oklahoma City. [Mike Vanderbilt]


The Action Boyz
Best Of The Best (1989)

Earwolf podcast listeners might recognize the voice of Jon Gabrus as the audio intern “Gino Lambardo” on Comedy Bang! Bang! or as one of Matt Besser’s MVP recurring guests on Improv4Humans. Over on the HeadGum network, Gabrus’ own High And Mighty inspired this Patreon spin-off series wherein he and fellow comedians Ben Rodgers and Ryan Stanger break down and riff on the sweaty, squib-filled, unironic, Übermensch-y action flicks of the ’80s and ’90s. Framed like a bad-movie podcast, the hosts pick at recurring tropes—Steven Seagal’s head-scratching ethnic backstories, Sylvester Stallone’s egomaniacal creative demands, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comedic chops—while lovingly dissecting what made that strange era of filmmaking so influential. This week, The Action Boyz tackles the montage-tastic Best Of The Best by discussing when it’s appropriate for adult actors to kiss their movie kids on the mouth (never), the movie’s barely audible dialogue, their personal martial arts history, Eric Roberts’ Of Mice And Men Lennie voice, and when on earth James Earl Jones’ character learned karate. [Dan Jakes]

Advertisement