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.
Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
One thing that makes listening to Alison Rosen’s podcast, Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend, so enjoyable is that she is an excellent interviewer—the kind that makes listening to two strangers talking to each other sound like a conversation between old friends. This is especially true with guest Cameron Esposito, the Chicago-born comic who now lives in Los Angeles with her wife and business partner Rhea Butcher. (The two star together in the new Seeso show, Take My Wife.) Rosen and Esposito talk for nearly two hours, covering a range of topics like Esposito’s relationship with the Catholic Church and her realization in college that she was gay (at Boston University, where at the time you could be expelled if you were out), making the switch from improv to stand-up comedy, being loud about your beliefs when the world tells women they should be quiet, and how “business Cameron Esposito” handles the word “no.” Esposito is already an excellent interview subject—she’s candid, extremely articulate and thoughtful, and her background as a comic means she has no problem voicing her opinions clearly and convincingly—but Rosen’s signature ability to follow the flow of the conversation, wherever it leads, makes this episode one of the most informative of the series.
Beef And Dairy Network
Eli Roberts Goes Legit
On the latest episode of Beef And Dairy Network, Eli Roberts—formerly of the disgraced Roberts Slaughterhouse—returns to discuss his latest business venture, Mosquito Mayhem. It’s a mosquito-themed park he describes as a “thrill ride from the moment you arrive”, with different zones like “Zika Zoo,” “Dengue Dungeon,” and “Malaria Mountain.” Roberts, played by Mike Bubbins, is a fascinating and hilarious character in the Beef And Dairy world, theorizing that the experience of coming out of Mosquito Mayhem makes you a stronger person who is ready to face the hardships of life, with every day afterward a blessing. As Eli’s ranting gets darker, his cynicism is cut with optimism for his newest project, and that balance makes him an endlessly entertaining character. The episode takes a quick turn in the middle when some voice messages regarding the ominous “fifth meat” are played, each seeming to end in the brutal murder of the person who claimed to have tasted it. It’s a montage of voices and stories about the mysterious meat, underscored by a rap song on the subject. The show’s attention to quality production continues to set it apart, and this interlude is just one of many examples.
Black Girl Nerds
The Luke Cage Show
It’s hard to imagine an audience more excited for the new Marvel’s Luke Cage Netflix series than the people at Black Girl Nerds headquarters. They did us all a solid and dedicated an entire spoiler-free episode to superhero Luke Cage that’s full of interviews with the creators and cast. They touch on a range of issues, from the racial demographics of the comic book industry to the unique tone of Luke Cage compared to the other Marvel franchise entities. The first interview is with series creator, Cheo Hodari Coker, known for films like Notorious and television shows like Southland. The conversation is centered on how Luke Cage is, as host Jamie Broadnax describes it, “unapologetically black.” “Yeah, because I don’t plan on apologizing,” responds Coker. Listeners learn how the cinematography, hip-hop musical scoring, and authentic-to-Harlem writing style were of equal importance in the development of Coker’s vision for the season. Black Girl Nerds is consistently great at giving subscribers a 360-degree look at the subjects they focus on. Moving on from the Coker chat, the episode ends with roundtable cast interviews from San Diego Comic-Con, making for a perfect finale of nerdiness.
An Inside Look At Rolling Stone
On the surface, Steven Hyden’s conversation with Brian Hiatt seems like a must-listen for any aspiring music journalist. After all, the man’s interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen (multiple times) to Prince and Future for the cover. But the big takeaway is a bit more sobering: Very few pop-culture journalists write solely about music anymore (just look at the site you’re reading), Hiatt included. On the same note, Rolling Stone has never been solely a music magazine, which might be the key to its longevity. It ends up being that kind of realism—not salacious stories about the various artists Hiatt’s met—that makes this installment of Celebration Rock a true look inside what might be the most famous pop-culture publication on the planet. Rather than view its history and current state through rose-colored glasses, Hyden and Hiatt dive into what’s worked at the magazine, what hasn’t worked, and why founder Jann Wenner—frequently criticized for his bias toward classic-rock elder statesmen—might have a more distinct editorial voice than readers think.
Which is worse, standing nearby as someone embarrasses his or herself in public with an unintentional stream of offhanded and unconsidered prejudiced blather, or realizing that you’re the idiot doing the blathering? It’s either infuriating or mortifying, and just about everybody has experienced this exchange from one or the other vantage point at some point in their lives. An unfortunately large percentage from both. In this week’s episode of NPR’s Code Switch, co-hosts Shereen Marisol Meraji, Gene Demby, and Karen Grigsby Bates get a little help from writer-editor Nicole Chung to figure out the best course of action when an incident of casual racism suddenly breaks out at an otherwise pleasant social event. Is it incumbent upon you to speak up? And if you do, what exactly are you hoping to accomplish—just making it stop or teaching a lesson. As you can probably imagine, there’s no definitive answer to this question. It depends on the room, the company, the offender, and your own levels of comfort with all of the above. The panel cites specific examples from their own lives, share what how they handled it, and muse upon how they wished they’d handled it.
Dino And Andy's Skull Juice
Live With Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Scott Adsit, Louis CK, Robert Smigel, Michael Stoyanov, Jeff B. Davis, & Robbie Fulks
You read the names in this episode title correctly. Before Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Scott Adsit, Louis CK, and the other performers on this episode of Skull Juice were the comedy (or musical) juggernauts that they are regarded as today, they wrote a pilot—one of those things that could have been long forgotten and never heard of. Luckily, hosts Andy Dick and Dino Stamatopoulos brought this remarkable cast to City Winery in New York to read the script in front of a sold-out crowd. The premise may sound familiar, as it’s set behind the scenes of a Saturday Night Live-style TV show. Stamatopoulos and Dick essentially started off as comedy partners, and before they kick off the show they refresh themselves on the odd points of their friendship and careers. They all play different parts in the reading, but for each reader there is one character that undeniably represents who they are. For instance, one of Fey’s characters is a woman named Jeanie who is a staff writer for the show. Most of the laughs come from hearing them refresh themselves on where they were at when the pilot was written in 1998. The result is pod magic.
With their L.A. Podfest debut, the Doughboys hosts prove that their excellent first live installment was not a fluke: by once again sticking closely to the show’s normal, in-studio format, they end up with a (relatively) lean and very satisfying episode, with a couple of exciting, unpredictable flourishes throughout. The ’boys also chose wisely by bringing Christine Nangle back to guest again, as she not only perfectly understands the dynamic of the show but also knows just what role to play in order to heighten all of the best elements of the show in all the right ways: antagonizing both hosts equally, hyping Nang Gang, and bringing some genuinely great surprises of her own. It’s unfortunate that their takes on Dairy Queen can hardly be considered definitive on account of poor planning and a dearth of DQ locations in the Los Angeles area, but the promise of a return trip is an enticing one, assuming they manage to survive four straight trips to Red Lobster over the course of RockLobsterFest.
The Family Tree
In the Aristotelian view of life, what sets humanity apart from all other species is its tendency toward rationality. Part and parcel with this understanding of human nature is that when faced with wholly unbelievable information, our first reaction isn’t rejection, but often inspection. The desire to point to concrete reasoning through research and investigation as to why something cannot be is infinitely more satisfying than to deny its existence outright. It is this natural human curiosity that helps elevate the excellently intriguing new criminal investigation podcast The Family Tree to a higher level than other examples of the genre. The show is a narrative exploration by British podcaster Dave Pickering as he attempts to investigate the mysterious death of his long-lost friend Mark Sullivan. Pickering’s conversational style and unabashedly amateur sleuthing, coupled with the mystery’s lightly supernatural elements—a missing arm, seemingly returned in death—make for such a uniquely compelling combination that it nearly comes as a surprise to learn that the show is a scripted affair—by Pickering and co-writer J Adamthwaite. If the show’s debut is any indication, the series’ naturalistic and quietly intense take on magical realism make it a program well worth following.
The Filip & Fredrik podcast
You Had To Be There
Throughout life’s myriad moments, there are generally few genuinely galvanic ones. Those times when every detail seems to be lit by a brilliant halide light, burning the entire experience indelibly into one’s brain. In this week’s installment of the delightful Swedish comedy show The Filip & Fredrik Podcast, hosts Filip Hammar and Fredrik Wikingsson stumble accidentally into a shared memory of similar luminance. Such is their special rapport that within the episode’s first seconds a Manchurian Candidate-style key phrase thrusts the pair back into ’90s, their nostalgia activated instantaneously. What follows is a hilarious and interesting exploration of the pair’s scrappy, imposter escapades through New York and Los Angeles, chasing respectability, wild times, and whichever celebrities they could swindle into “interviews” that they had no intention of writing. This is best encapsulated by a humorously anticlimactic chat with an unimpressed Steven Bochco. As is their wont, Hammar and Wikingsson continually attempt to endow these moments with deeper connective tissue, returning often to the distinctive, metaphorically rich image of The Standard Club’s cheekily inverted logo. As the episode title says, these stories were likely better for those who lived them, but they’re so excellently told, they completely deserve to be heard.
High And Mighty
Porn: Jake Hurwitz, Bob Castrone
High And Mighty’s endearingly aimless approach to podcasting succeeds best when the topic of conversation is ripe with different avenues to explore, complementing host Jon Gabrus’ tendency for tangents. Porn is the perfect kind of subject for this show, not only because Gabrus and his guests—Jake Hurwitz (Jake And Amir) and Bob Castrone (Not Safe With Nikki Glaser)—fancy themselves experts, but because anyone can be an expert on porn. Porn is a broad and relatable enough subject that there are many different ways to approach a conversation about it. What makes this episode special, is these three friends talking about their particular experiences. The episode begs for anecdotes and gets them in spades, from Castrone talking about trying to watch porn with his wife, to Hurwitz partying with the Bangbros. They are all extremely candid throughout, seemingly unfazed by the idea of a listening audience as they discuss their specific porn search terms, favorite porn stars, sexual experiences of their youth, and the instant shame experienced after getting off to porn. It’s refreshing to hear a conversation on porn and sexuality that is so casual and fun, and the trio’s unabashed honesty is hilarious and charming, especially when things get extra-explicit.
In 1999, in front of thousands of fans, professional wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death from the rafters of Kansas City’s Kemper Arena. It’s one of the industry’s most horrific accidents, and has sadly come to eclipse the career of the youngest Hart brother. That unfortunate truth, however, makes Hart an ideal subject for Kefin Mahon’s How2Wrestling, wherein the warm, articulate host guides budding wrestling fan Jo Graham through the lives and careers of the industry’s most notable figures. Instead of focusing on Hart’s passing, Mahon and Graham celebrate what made him such a inimitable performer, from his hilarious heel work to his nimble, high-flying style, a clear influence on the industry’s current crop of cruiser weights. Hart’s death is saved for the podcast’s final act, and the discussion navigates the complexities of everything that followed, including the control Hart’s widow has held over his legacy. Mahon is passionate about every performer he and Graham explore, but it’s no secret that Hart is his all-time favorite. The enthusiasm and reverence he brings to this discussion makes that evident, as does the melancholy that creeps into his voice as he recounts the accident that took his life.
This week on the Longform Podcast, hosts Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky, and Evan Ratliff do what they do best: feature in-depth interviews by writers with other writers that also serve as meditations on topics like writing, publishing and journalism, and the often uncertain future of these mediums. The future is particularly uncertain with this latest episode, Lammer’s interview with former Gawker editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio, who is legally on the hook for $115.1 million in a joint suit against him and his former employer after publishing a story featuring a short clip from a sex tape of Hulk Hogan and his friend’s wife. Lammer and Daulerio, who says he doesn’t regret publishing the piece that would majorly disrupt his life, discuss how the lawsuit has affected him, both financially (the suit has brought him to the edge of bankruptcy) and emotionally, and what it means for the future of journalism if celebrities and businessmen with deep pockets continue to use the legal system to shut down entire media enterprises. “This isn’t going to stop anytime soon,” warns Daulerio. “It’s worthwhile for people to know that somebody has to stop it, and the only way to stop it is for journalists to do their job.”
Love + Radio
A Girl Of Ivory
After a nine-month hiatus, Love + Radio has made a triumphant return to your podcast feed with the episode “A Girl Of Ivory.” This is a story about an unconventional relationship between three people who are all in love with one another and the unique challenges that come with being part of a romantic partnership that doesn’t look like the monogamous, cisgendered, heterosexual relationships that movies and television have taught us to expect. The episode starts with the love story between a man named Davecat and a woman named Sidore—how they first met and fell in love at first sight, moved in together quickly afterward, and got married. Both Davecat and Sidore explain they found in each other a love that they had never expected was possible. Attracted to the obvious love in this dedicated partnership, a bisexual Russian woman named Elena connects with the couple over the internet and realizes that she’s in love, too—with both Davecat and Sidore, and moves across the world to live with them in Detroit. It’s a story that grows more fascinating as it continues, spurred on by producer Nick Van Der Kolk’s incisive questions—and if you think you’re curious at the beginning of the episode, just wait until you reach the end.
Rumble Strip Vermont
When The Food Runs Out
The myth of universal prosperity in the United States has been slowly eroding for the last half century or more, but in the past decade it seems to have both intensified. There is no particular facet of life where this poverty is more immediate than food security and hunger. At the same time, food access has ruefully become a politicized topic. There are many reasons why this has happened, none larger than the simple shame-induced reticence of those struggling through these dire circumstances. This week’s necessary episode Rumble Strip Vermont provides an immense service then, not just for those who go unfed and unheard, but also for those who would never otherwise encounter the desperation such conditions engender. Intrepid show producer Erica Heilman interviews a panoply of Vermonters, all prevented from being able to reliably provide for themselves or their families due of a variety of factors. True to Heilman’s excellent form, the show avoids painting in broad strokes, with stories exploring a wide range of situations and dispositions—like how to get three meals from a Lunchable, or Heilman’s crash course in beer-can chicken—giving listeners an honest picture of a problem that deserves every community’s attention.
Marc Maron has never shied away from addressing heavy topics with his guests. It’s that very thing that’s made his podcast famous, at least in its early days. But even when considering his inclination toward the dark, his conversation with Katie Couric feels like something special. Throughout most of her adult life, the iconic journalist has had to confront a high number of personal tragedies head-on, including losing both her sister and her first husband to cancer. As she tells Maron, she’s somehow converted this enduring of hardships into fuel for a consistently optimistic outlook. That served her well when, on the morning of September 11, 2001, she suddenly found herself tasked with guiding her viewers through one of the most horrific times in U.S. history, in real-time, no less. But even when she reveals that, on that day, she truly and secretly thought the world was ending, she never loses her sense of comfort and rationality. In that way, she’s the perfect Maron guest, able to match the host’s pragmatism, humor, and straightforwardness when discussing truly worrying times. Unfortunately, that might be an essential skill for achieving happiness in the coming months.
We see what you said there
“In standup, if you’re agreeable, you’re failing. [Standup comedy] is about what is your specific viewpoint, and how do you convince people, and think it out, so it’s not irrational, and then also explain it to people. And get them on your side.”—Cameron Esposito on why she made the transition from improv to stand-up comedy, Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
“What will stay with you is that wonderful feeling that, ‘Christ, life is hard.’”—Mike Bubbins as Eli Roberts on the experience of surviving Mosquito Mayhem, Beef And Dairy Network
“People have a certain idea about who’s on the cover… I think people have that sort of joke, that Tim Heidecker idea. But Steve Winwood is not on the cover of Rolling Stone. There’s a tiny group of legends: Dylan, McCartney, Springsteen, and maybe two other guys of that generation who can still be on the cover.”—Rolling Stone profile writer Brian Hiatt on the magazine’s coverage, Celebration Rock