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.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Michael Ableson, Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Daly, Lauren Lapkus
Like a modern-day Lorenzo De Medici, corporate litigator Michael Ableson acts not merely as a patron of the arts, but also as a subject for those selfsame artists. Ableson, having donated a tidy sum of $36,000 to an IndieGoGo campaign for Kulap Vilaysack’s documentary film Origin Story, is invited onto Comedy Bang! Bang! as a guest and allowed to choose the other players to appear. He amasses a murderers’ row of talent, tapping Paul F. Tompkins, Lauren Lapkus, and Andy Daly, who are in hilarious form despite the otherwise perfunctory nature of the occasion. Tompkins is the obvious standout, pulling double duty in co-host mode as Werner Herzog as well as Santa Claus on Skype. Lapkus, reprising her scene stealing HoHo The Naughty Elf from last year’s Christmas episode, is a caustic delight throughout as well. Daly appears as his Nine Sweaters-era character, the aloof French actor Jean-Claude Pepi, who has come to the States to act in a film that turns out to be a Geico commercial. Things get a little bogged down during a mid-show sequence of Tompkins and Daly acting out a scene from Nosferatu, as well as in the Would You Rather segment, but it certainly doesn’t detract from a very funny episode.
The Detour Podcast
The Year That Broke Austin
Part podcast, part walking tour, Detour delivers quality radio drama in the same setting as the story taking place. This week, just in time for South By Southwest, Detour released “The Year That Broke Austin,” the first episode not set in San Francisco. The 70-minute story about a serial killer in 1885 is also the first produced by Radiolab (Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwicht do not make an appearance, however). The experience is revelatory in its uniqueness even if the narrative itself is padded while music and silence score the longer walks. That said, the voice acting, interviews, and ambiance are fantastic and allows for an intimate and hidden look at downtown Austin. Real life punctuates and bends the story (a police motorcycle zoomed by at a particularly dramatic moment) in a way that a normal listening experience does not provide. Even during busy SXSW, “The Year That Broke Austin” lets listeners get lost in a way other podcast episodes cannot.
Dig Me Out
Bands Reuniting Round Table Discussion
While hosts Tim Minneci and Jason Dziak usually devote the time on their podcast to review alt records from the ’80s and ’90s, but their best episodes are ones like these where they gather a panel to discuss a single topic. This episode focuses on beloved bands from the ’80s and ’90s reuniting, with Veruca Salt’s Louise Post weighing in on the recent reunion upswing with firsthand experience. Chip Midnight of Kids Interview Bands and Tom Mullen of Washed Up Emo also join in to discuss bands that will likely never reunite, reunions that were a complete surprise, and reunions that were less than stellar (we’re looking at you, Jane’s Addiction). But amid all that, Post’s story of Veruca Salt falling apart and the band’s ultimate path to forgiveness and reunion is the real joy of this episode. Post is extremely candid about her current struggle to balance her family and the band while making new music in an attempt to avoid the label “nostalgia act.” Minneci and Dziak jokingly suggest bringing her back for an episode just full of backstage stories, but after the way she carried this episode, listeners can only hope that joke becomes a reality.
This is normally a fairly ridiculous show that is clearly two young guys having a good time. On this episode, however, musician Sam Phillips and executive producer Helen Pai join the guys for a behind the scenes look at Gilmore Girls and its music. A bit of seriousness works well for the titular duo, and it’s great to see them fawn over the middle-aged Phillips and Pai as if they are rock stars (which they kind of are). Phillips gets into the intricacies of her musical cues, like when a “la la” is more appropriate than a “ba da,” proving just how central the music was the to show and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s vision. Pai (the inspiration for the Lane Kim character) dives deep into the writers’ room and the obstacles Sherman-Palladino faced to maintain the very specific world she created. More than anything, this episode and the questions asked by hosts Kevin T. Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe prove that they are no Gilmore Girls amateurs; even newbie Adejuyigbe knows his stuff and has dedicated his existence to that of the life of a Gilly.
Kumail Nanjiani is a delight as a guest on any podcast, and here he seamlessly slips into Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport’s strange Hollywood existence where good guys are bad and bad guys are good. Things really pick up when Nanjiani is forced to voice the creepy main character of their new video game, requiring him to say out loud what he would do to a teenage girl in the game. Improv-savvy guests who are game for anything thrive in this format, and Nanjiani goes above and beyond as a guest who pushes Clements and Davenport and has the ability to beat them at their own game. Too often the audience is the one left squirming, and it’s a real delight to see the hosts breaking, unable to answer the questions that Nanjiani throws at them. And there’s really nothing like some solid video game and computer jokes from a noted video game expert.
The Mysterious James Tiptree
There always seem to be very interesting and important questions that arise when listening to Imaginary Worlds, a bi-weekly show about science fiction and fantasy literature. This week’s episode is fixated on the question of how much does—or should—an author’s gender affect a reader’s ability to enjoy a particular genre? Host Eric Molinsky tells the wonderfully complex story of a male science-fiction author, James Tiptree Jr., whose works were an important part of the early genre canon, but who was in reality a woman by the name of Alice Sheldon. Sheldon’s story is told in part through letters written, as Tiptree, to science-fiction author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro when Yarbro was breaking into the field. Sheldon’s life was a fascinating one, she had grown up in Africa with explorer parents, worked for both the OSS and the CIA, and more. Sheldon was bisexual but married to a man, so the open lusting of male characters in her stories didn’t read as false. Her cover was finally blown in 1976, and when she was exposed her writing became more guarded and less experimental. The questions and feelings that crop up, regarding gender and its fluidity, makes for an engaging and necessary show.
The Movie Crypt
Some interviews stink of cautious PR reps. Others feel shrewdly outlandish. Most feed into the public persona being cultivated by the subject. An interview with Pat Healy, however, feels like none of these things. In this talk with The Movie Crypt’s Adam Green and Joe Lynch, the cult actor and writer reflects on his lean years with a wise, weary self-awareness that should serve to shatter most people’s perception of your average Hollywood workhorse. “Why don’t people know that thing about the 1 percenters is the same in our business as it is in your business?” Healy asks near the end of the interview, when he admits that he filed for unemployment the previous week. This may sound crazy coming from someone who’s been in cult hits (Cheap Thrills, Ghost World), mainstream fare (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Pearl Harbor), and films from this generation’s greatest directors (Paul Thomas Anderson, Werner Herzog), but Healy occupies that odd space between a leading man and character actor, a space where work is scarce and paychecks can be slim. Healy’s blunt honesty makes him an especially good fit for The Movie Crypt, which aims to weave practical industry advice to the aspiring film artist into its feature-length interviews. Healy’s episode isn’t just for budding filmmakers, however; it’s for anyone who’s ever had to struggle to do what they love.
No Such Thing As A Fish
No Such Thing As Dodecahedral Shredded Wheat
No Such Thing As A Fish is increasing its number of live shows after quickly establishing itself as one of the most entertaining comedy podcasts in the London area. The second episode in a row at the Soho Theatre is less rowdy than the pub episodes. But in a bit of a tradition, it starts off with a huge laugh thanks to a fact that is inherently hilarious, delivered with deadpan wryness by Anna Ptaszynski. The panel of regular researchers from British TV Show Q.I. then turns up the silliness, riffing relentlessly on how the movie Titanic II (written by Shane Van Dyke of Hollywood’s famous Van Dyke family) managed to bring itself to life, something surprisingly contemporary and pop-culture related for the show, but ripe for a live comedy audience. The episode also opens by revealing the life of Scott Perky, whose father, Henry Perky, invented shredded wheat. Even more surprising is some of the other cereal facts that pop up later in the episode, including a shocker from Ptaszynski about literally radioactive prizes in cereal boxes that came out to “celebrate” the arrival of the atomic bomb in the 1940s.
Sleep With Me
Butter Churning Lessons For Ogers
Perhaps you have issues with insomnia. The concerns of the day ping-ponging around inside your skull have kept you from descending into the warm embrace of sleep for too long. So, you grabbed your phone, plugged up your ears with headphones, and summoned a podcast. However, it’s too engaging to provide sufficient mental numbness. What you want is a soft and gentle voice making sentence-like sounds in your ear, but without any of the provocative nature that usually comes with a person trying to keep your interest. What you probably want is the Sleep With Me podcast. You see, the vast majority of podcast hosts feel compelled to fight for your attention. A fraction of them do it well, but it’s still an inherent goal. Drew Ackerman, however, is attempting the exact opposite. He just wants to give you the kinds of human speech noises that will provide comforting and safe sleeping conditions. This results in odd, stream of consciousness stories about ogres and aqueducts, like listeners get in the newest episode. Is this a “good” podcast? Yes? Maybe? If you can make it far enough into an episode to form a solid opinion, the answer is probably no.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
The Night Witches
Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey swear this is the most requested topic they’ve ever had in the history of the show, mentioned briefly in a listener email that was sent to former host Sarah Dowdey, it has since tailspun into a deluge of emails, comments, and tweets sent to the podcast. After several other Internet media sources took turns covering the topic, the timing appears to finally be right for Stuff You Missed In History Class. The Night Witches were an all-female Russian flight squad that terrorized Germany in World War II. Formed by Russian pilot Marina Raskova, who had become a folk hero for surviving a dangerous flight crash, they were not seen as a joke by the Russian public, because they were simply too good at their missions and wartime created too tense an atmosphere for them to be publicly mocked. The hugely successful and well-used bombing regimen swelled the number of women who volunteered for the Soviet military. Add the history of their badass name and it’s easily the most engaging story the podcast has featured in months. Wilson and Frey pepper the story with striking details, explaining that the women were forced to wear ill-fitting uniforms originally made for men, but they made the decision to paint flowers on their fuselages.
Annie Clark With Andy Gill
At the start of her talk with Andy Gill, Annie Clark admits to being a guitar nerd—proving it by quickly referencing “the riff zone”—and tells Gill that her style of playing is deeply influenced by his writing with Gang Of Four. As the conversation unfolds, it quickly becomes clear that guitar style is just one of many ways that Clark has been influenced by Gill and Gang Of Four. As they venture into a discussion about authenticity onstage, things get a little heady when Clark and Gill find a common point of reference in Bertolt Brecht’s ideas of performance. Not that it’s all high concept: Steve Albini and his music also figure largely in the conversation. Gill questions Clark about St. Vincent’s excellent cover of Big Black’s “Kerosene” at the show Talkhouse editor-in-chief Michael Azerrad organized in 2011 for the 10th anniversary of his book Our Band Could Be Your Life. He also relates a great story about The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow hearing Albini’s band Shellac for the first time. Thoughtful and intelligent, Clark and Gill’s conversation offers guitar nerds and music fans intriguing insights into the music of both St. Vincent and Gang Of Four.
What's The Tee?
I Kissed a Girl… And I Didn’t Like It!
In lieu of a guest this week, RuPaul and Michelle Visage answer emails from listeners. But first, there are 43 minutes worth of other things to discuss. Ru kicks off the episode by talking about how he’s always felt connected to people who “find sanctuary and refuge in the irreverent,” and Visage demonstrates her own sanctuary of irreverence by praising her 14-year-old daughter’s interest in homoerotic fan fiction. It’s important for parents to be open about their sexuality in front of their kids, Ru says. Then he adds, “Have you ever dropped acid with someone and spent a lot of time with one person… and then… the voice in your head… is their voice?” RuPaul is not a celebrity known for being down to earth—he guesses in this episode that kids in fifth grade are 6-year-olds, for example—but once he and Visage get to the listeners’ emails, the grace that his female persona exudes is on full display. A 13-year-old girl who is unsure whether to come out as a lesbian and a 29-year-old virgin who wonders if he should see a prostitute are both treated with kindness and practical (if not legal) advice.
The Art Of Political Umbrage-Taking
Listeners of Slate’s Political Gabfest will recognize John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate magazine and political director of CBS News, as the calm, fact-listing voice that tries to get a word in edgewise between the righteously frustrated Emily Bazelon and grumpy devil’s advocate, David Plotz. His new solo venture, now in its third full installment, showcases a knack he frequently highlights as a panelist on PBS’ Washington Week with Gwen Ifill: reexamining whatever the political scandal du jour is through the lens of American history for precedent and comparison. In a recent episode, that meant giving credit where it was due to Republican presidential candidate George Romney, who in 1967 embarked on a nationwide tour of the country’s “slums” and “ghettos,” directly engaging in the sort of criticism and face-to-face debates that would be unfathomable for candidates of either party today. This week, Dickerson gives an overview of William Henry Harrison’s famed Log Cabin And Hard Cider campaign, the first ever undergone by any commander-in-chief. Even for non-political buffs, it’s fascinating stuff—opportunistic-offense taking, slogans, and swift-boating all started in the same cycle. As Dickerson points out, the fact that it all happened waist-deep in mud seems particularly prescient.
“I haven’t paid my rent this month and… oh shit, it’s the sixth.”—Pat Healy, The Movie Crypt
“Snap is always portrayed with a baker’s hat, Pop with a military cap and uniform of a marching band leader. Crackle’s red or white striped stocking cap leaves his occupation ambiguous.”—James Harkin, reading from the Wikipedia entry for Rice Krispies, No Such Thing As A Fish
“I’m just here to bore you to sleep. It doesn’t matter… Misusing words, that’s one of my favorite things to do. I say, ‘Well, that word’s in my head. I might as well say it. Why keep it in.’”—Drew Ackerman, Sleep With Me
“The planes had to be moved from one location to another during the day to give the women access to their targets at night.”—Tracy V. Wilson on how little the Soviet’s female bombing regimen had to work with during World War II, Stuff You Missed In History Class
“It is the Woodstock of elections. It is the Studio 54 of campaigning. It’s the election that cracked it all open. All the gooey madness that we know about now—the empty appeals to the crowd, the false advertising, the paradoxes, the booze, and the circus atmosphere all started with this campaign.”—John Dickerson, Whistlestop