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.
All Fantasy Everything
“I feel like it’s important now at the top to clarify: The definition of sandwich is just bread, and then something fucking up there in between, and then a second piece of bread,” explains comedian Ian Karmel near the top of All Fantasy Everything. While most fantasy drafts involve sports, Karmel lives in a universe where anything can and should be drafted, and All Fantasy Everything mixes his love for all subjects, ranging from pop culture to food. Bursting with the energy he’s known for bringing to the stage, he steamrolls through the topic of sandwiches with his guests Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld of the popular Jake And Amir webseries. They hammer out their sandwich choices and debate each of their merits with full force. By the end listeners can’t help but feel there is a science behind sandwiches that hasn’t been properly documented. “You only have so many sandwich opportunities in a week. Let’s say seven at most,” Blumenfeld says. They have stories attached to sandwiches and theories regarding sandwiches, and there is even a mutual love between them, perhaps discovered through power of food layered between bread.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not want you to get her likeness permanently inked onto your body. At least according to Irin Carmon, co-author of Notorious RBG: The Life And Times Of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who says the 83-year-old Supreme Court justice noted her discomfort with the surprising number of idolatrous tattoos that have accompanied her recent breakthrough into pop culture superstardom. Carmon joins Amicus host Dahlia Lithwick on the first episode of the new season of Slate’s SCOTUS podcast to trace Ginsburg’s difficult and unlikely ascension through the alpha-male-dominated legal world to eventually become one of the nine (or eight at the moment) most powerful legal arbitrators in the country. Along the way, they take time to analyze Ginsburg’s measured intellectual style of discourse, her surprisingly impolitic decision to rightfully trash-talk Donald Trump to the national press, and how the obstacles and criticisms she faced as the second female Supreme Court justice so closely resemble the ones currently facing Hillary Clinton. This is a good primer for anyone who knows that they should admire Ginsburg but doesn’t know exactly why.
Chapo Trap House
Uber For Ubermenschen: @nkulw, @EdZitron
The nuances and personalities of Turkish politics, the politics of bad movies, and the bizarre pathologies of pundits who always seem to be getting stuck in elevators have all been covered at length on Chapo Trap House at this point. While all of that is far from getting old, it’s nice when the show shifts focus to make an episode shine. Trap House’s 90-minute discussion of Silicon Valley awfulness not only stands out but also feels important. The crew brings on Vice News technology editor Noah Kulwin to discuss the staggering Theranos fiasco and PR guru/Scumbag co-host Ed Zitron to rip apart a recent article arguing for “disrupting” the 2016 presidential election. The episode is very funny from start to finish, but it also paints a rather bleak and alarming picture of the world that a number of Silicon Valley folks are striving to realize—one that would be a utopian paradise for them and dystopian wasteland for almost everyone else in the world; it’s something people really ought to hear.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Scrounging And Lounging: Tatiana Maslany, Kristian Bruun, Mary Holland, Paul F. Tompkins
The latest episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! boasts an undeniably compatible lineup of guests who all do their part to make it one of the best of the year. Orphan Black stars Tatiana Maslany and Kristian Bruun join host Scott Aukerman for the first segment, and there’s never a dull moment. They discuss the upcoming season of their show, a clown-based play where Bruun acts as the personification of CNN, and various times they’ve broken a foot. Maslany is a delightful presence on the show, committing fully to every scenario with permeating charm, and Bruun is a particularly strong asset, stocked with ample stories and always ready to break out a hilariously dramatic improvised monologue. Their combined energy carries over into the next segment, where Mary Holland, playing Janice Cramps, effortlessly capitalizes on the momentum. With one of the best character debuts in the history of the show, Holland is an incredible force in the episode, with a hysterically jarring opening line that causes some of the most uncontrollable off-mic laughs from Paul F. Tompkins. Janice Cramps is an instant classic character who can play with the best of them, even Tompkins’ exasperated children’s entertainer, Big Chunky Bubbles. With all five in the mix, their individual strengths coalesce effortlessly.
Everybody's Got Something
India Arie—Finding An Authentic Voice
Imbued with the sentimentality of a good Oprah episode, it’s easy to call Everybody’s Got Something a “momcast.” However, of all the podcasts out there constructed to tug on the heartstrings, not many are as genuine and far-reaching as this. Part of that range is owed simply to the notoriety of its host, Robin Roberts, who can be seen every morning on Good Morning America. But the podcast also has a personal mission statement. Inspired by both Robert’s life-saving bone marrow transplant and her mother’s favorite phrase, which is also the title of the show, episodes feature candid conversations with guests who open up about trials in their own lives. Her guest in this episode is singer-songwriter India Arie. After receiving many accolades, Arie succumbed to pressure and depression leading to her four-year departure from the spotlight. One drawback of the show is how similar the production is to a newscast, though it’s great to hear Roberts interact in extended interviews. “One of the critiques I always get about my music is that it’s too positive,” says Arie, “but what I’m always explaining to people, I choose to write about what I learn from a lesson instead of going through it.”
The year 2016 may be remembered, in part, as the one in which Canadian podcasters left a lasting mark on American audiences. As with Sook-Yin Lee’s excellent Sleepover, Jonathan Goldstein follows up his sublime CBC series Wiretap with the brand-new Gimlet podcast Heavyweight. Each episode is predicated on exploring someone’s life in an attempt to resolve, as Goldstein puts it, “the moment when it all went wrong.” What follows could be described (albeit, extremely reductively) as psychological Mystery Show—given both programs’ shared podcast network and creator pedigree—but that would be a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Heavyweight announces itself as a program of offbeat humor and beauty from its opening moments, benefiting especially from Goldstein’s considerable charm. In this week’s episode listeners meet the curious persona of Gregor, whose issue centers on having lent an interesting CD box set to a very famous recording artist many years ago, which undoubtedly helped put that artist on the map. To say more would ruin the surprise, but suffice it to say that it is a worthwhile listen with plenty of heart, humor, and some palm-sweating awkward moments for good measure.
Mike And Dave, Our Wedding Dates Not Needers
This week’s episode of Hollywood Handbook rewards listeners who notice patterns within the show, exploiting them in ways that are consistently hilarious and never pander to an audience outside of their direct fan base. Birthday Boys’ Mike Hanford and Dave Ferguson join the hosts in an episode that doesn’t really have a foundational idea to get them started, which subsequently becomes the bit in itself. Sean Clements reveals that he and fellow co-host Hayes Davenport didn’t have their usual conversation about what they’d do for the episode, so instead, Clements decides to read an email from Davenport with various ideas for guest activities. From neglecting to acknowledge Hanford’s new podcast and only paying attention to Ferguson’s fake projects, playing a game of basketball in the studio using bad sound effects, and forming a plan to destroy the Doughboys, they sample each idea. Each bit probably could’ve sustained the entire episode, but this way they deconstruct every idea and, by default, break down the show’s own motifs and moves that make it what it is. It’s an episode that flourishes in its delightfully meta specificity, and its brilliant new installment of the Now Hear This podcast festival ad story arc is the cherry on top.
Let’s talk Scientology. It’s the theme of this episode of Hound Tall, a monthly discussion series that Moshe Kasher hosts with experts and comedians as his aids. Recorded at the UCB Theatre in L.A., mere steps away from the Scientology Celebrity Center, Kasher jokes that “proximity-wise this is a terrible, just a terrible idea.” That proximity and the intimate audience make the conversation hilariously suspenseful. Kasher is joined by journalist Mark Ebner and comics Howard Kremer, Colton Dunn, and Emily Heller. Ebner made a name for himself as an undercover journalist, and in 1996 he wrote about his experiences entering the world of Scientology for Spy Magazine. This is a great insight into how indoctrination works, specifically for this group, which has maintained its shroud of mystery for good reason. “I don’t know what L. Ron Hubbard’s childhood was like, but I can tell you this: He was a really shitty science fiction writer,” claims Ebner. “And if you need proof of that, have a look at Battlefield Earth.”
My Brother, My Brother And Me
Which One Vapes?
The McElroys might be exhausted as they’ve just started filming their new Seeso show, but it’s hardly evident in this episode. If anything, having them all in the same place relying on the same deteriorating amount of rest just adds to their compelling chemistry. They answer questions about dead fish, using sports trivia for free sodas, and where Aquaman goes to the bathroom and even take a trip to the Munch Squad. But one Yahoo Answers question takes over the show early on: “How to convince my teacher to start vape club?” This question is the catalyst for a ridiculous and perfect McElroy downward spiral where the three simply cannot stop talking about vaping and which celebrities partake. Griffin is particularly invested as he finds a random-celebrity generator on the internet, with pairings like Howard Stern and Jennifer Garner, and Hulk Hogan and Sir Ian McKellen. As they roll out vape culture jargon and relish in their own goofs, it’s hard not to take part in the dumb fun.
Jill Stein: Trump May Have “Memory Problem”
Most people probably think of Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein as some sort of health-food-eating, folk-guitar-playing, world-music-appreciating environmentalist from an upper middle-class urban family. To be honest, that’s right on the money as we learn from her interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush. But that simplification of her character fails to express the deep intellect, the dedication to public well-being, and the sharp political instincts that are also plainly on display in this hour-long conversation. Progressive critics of Stein claiming an equivalency between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will likely find Stein to be a more impressive candidate than they’d been led to believe. On the other hand, some supporters might be a bit dismayed to hear the ease with which she spins facts and contorts in order to evade criticism and paint her intent to be wholly altruistic. Which, at the worst, makes her a politician like the three others she’s running against. But it also makes you wonder if maybe she doesn’t have more of a future in this business than people give her credit for.
Presidential Debate Tailgate With John Dickerson
There is so much weight behind this election season that it almost begs to never be taken seriously. Like the old story about Gene Wilder’s mother having a heart attack, it seems the most important thing to do at this time is to make one another laugh, lest society succumb to looming threats. At the same time it is important to be acutely aware, which is why Politically Reactive is such a knockout program, marrying excellent information on the state of American politics with hilarious banter. Hosts W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu are well-suited to the task, being as intelligent and charismatic in the realm of stand-up comedy as they are at savvy political commentary. The show’s convivial jocularity keeps the conversation fresh and accessible, with plenty of footnotes and asides to give listeners context. On this week’s debate-focused episode, the pair are joined by John Dickerson of CBS’s Face The Nation, who most recently moderated a debate in the Republican primary. Dickerson proves to be something of a perfect guest, showcasing a winning affability coupled with a great journalistic mind. With the nation’s eyes focused on tonight’s presidential debate, this episode is practically essential listening.
Chain of Fools
Last week’s episode of The Read starts off with Kid Fury’s expressive rendition of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s memorable Cruel Intentions monologue—“I’m the Marcia-fucking-Brady of the Upper East Side”—and keeps getting better from there. A lot has happened since their last show: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce, and white America is losing its collective mind (although Crissle and Kid Fury are positive Jennifer Aniston is doing just fine); Shawty Lo died in a car crash; Colin Powell’s emails were hacked, and he had some amazing things to say about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; Kid Cudi had a social media meltdown because Kanye West hurt his feelings; and Crissle went to the Emmy Awards for the first time. The duo has some great advice for a listener who is struggling to explain her celibacy to the men she dates and another whose pastor father openly disparages the Black Lives Matter movement. They also have some questions and choice words for people who can’t tell the difference between two very different black women, Marc Jacobs’ white models wearing cornrows, and white people who put apples in guacamole. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment in this episode because almost every word Crissle and Kid Fury have to say will have you either cry-laughing or just crying.
Peter Bjorn and John—Young Folks
In 2006, “Young Folks” was the kind of song that became so ubiquitous that it eventually didn’t seem like a song at all. Like any work of pop genius, it was as if Peter Bjorn and John’s breakout hit had always existed, having received extensive airplay on everything from Gossip Girl to Budweiser commercials in a short period of time. And that’s to say nothing of the numerous covers performed by other artists. Ten years later, it’s easy to forget how much work went into creating a piece of music that achieved such hard-won ubiquity. Song Exploder gives listeners a refresher, with all three members of the Swedish trio breaking down the minute yet important decisions that contributed to the success of “Young Folks.” The big takeaway is that this is mechanical music performed naturalistically. The inescapable hook could have been a synth line, but since it’s a whistle from an actual human being, the song can easily be replicated by anyone listening to it. The same goes for Bjorn’s bass line—played solely on the A string—and John’s self-described “idiot drumbeat.” Had it been created by a laptop, who knows if the single would have become such a cultural juggernaut.
In the United States, sending and receiving mail is simple; all you need is some postage and an address. But it isn’t easy for the four billion people all over the world who don’t have addresses. The latest episode of Surprisingly Awesome investigates how these people manage to circumvent this less-than-minor inconvenience in unique ways. Hosts Rachel Ward and Christine Driscoll interview a professor who lives in Beirut, where home mail delivery is so rare that she didn’t know how to explain the concept of mailmen to her young daughter. In the late ’90s, the country struck a deal with Canada to help bring addresses to Lebanon, but the project proved to be too ambitious. Interestingly enough, the people of Lebanon aren’t as frustrated as one might expect. They’ve found creative work-arounds to solve what seems like an unsolvable problem, such as paying the private company that runs the postal service to renew a passport. The episode’s conclusion is a lovely tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, who relished the chore of visiting the post office because it gave him an opportunity to spend time with people all over the world. It’s a reminder that sometimes there are more important things than convenience.
This Week Had Me Like
Rita Ora And Mother Teresa: Mitchell Sunderland, Matthew Hays
If social media has allowed us to get closer to the celebrities we love, it’s also given us unprecedented access to their foibles—from embarrassing Instagram hashtags to unpleasant Twitter flame wars to weird endorsements. And few people break down those mishaps and missteps better than Caroline Goldfarb on This Week Had Me Like. Known for her stoner humor on Instagram (@officialseanpenn), Goldfarb offers a rare combination of bite and empathy as she dissects bizarre celebrity minutiae. With the help of a rotating “expert” and “plebeian” (this week Broadly writer Mitchell Sunderland and L.A. comedian Matthew Hays, respectively), Goldfarb examines everything from Kirstie Alley’s enthusiastic tweets about Skrillex to Michael Chiklis’ new rock album to the logistics of the 700-person Shabbat dinner Jeffrey Katzenberg threw at Burning Man. Equal parts engaged with and distanced from the celebrity culture it’s scrutinizing, This Week Had Me Like melds low- and high-brow humor with ease; what starts as a scoffing conversation about the fact that Rita Ora performed at the Vatican becomes both an unexpected critique of Mother Teresa and a celebration of Ora’s fashion choices. Hyperspecific and hilarious, This Week Had Me Like harnesses a particular millennial voice that’s as loving as it is snarky.
We see what you said there
“It was like trying to put some spaghetti into a keyhole.”
—Mary Holland as Janice Cramps on having sex with her husband, Comedy Bang! Bang!
“Usually when you ask a question it’s because—”
“Because I’ve got this whole, like, thing queued up, and I, like, sort of let people flail around and they’re trying to come up with an answer but I thought of something good before? Well, this ain’t one of those times, buddy.”
—Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements, Hollywood Handbook
“That’s what’s so great about it—it’s pure-hearted shade, cause he’s not even trying to be mean; he’s just being real about what the problem is. He was like, ‘Hillary is smart, and driven, and courageous, and… a minion of Satan, and greedy, and all she wants is to win, and I don’t even halfway want to vote for her. She my friend or whatever, but she aight.’ Yes! Lay it out there. It was great. I mean, I feel sorry for him, cause that’s a breach of privacy or whatever, but the content was fantastic if you ask me.”
—Crissle on the delightful content in Colin Powell’s recently leaked emails, The Read
“Idiots can be the most groovy people in the world.”
—Peter Andreas Morén praising John Eriksson’s self-described “idiot drumbeat” on “Young Folks,” Song Exploder
“It’s satisfying to do it by hand. To do it yourself. To know it’s going to get done. It’s the human thing to do… You can put a layer of addresses on the world. But you can’t make the world conform to a layer of addresses. There are always going to be messy things; things will always go wrong. But humans always fix them. We don’t always do it in a big way, but it always gets fixed.”
—Rachel Ward on the the pros and cons of mailing addresses, Surprisingly Awesome
“I think we should all love our inner Courtney Stodden and love each other’s inner Courtney Stoddens. Because we’re all sad people inside who have the capability of shaving our heads and being weird on Instagram.”
—Caroline Goldfarb on social media posts of former child bride/reality star Courtney Stodden following her miscarriage, This Week Had Me Like