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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
8th Anniversary: Jon Gabrus, Paul F. Tompkins, Lauren Lapkus, Zeke Nicholson, Carl Tart, Mary Holland, Mike Hanford, Jessica McKenna, Tawny Newsome, Tim Baltz, Ryan Gaul, Drew Tarver, Jeremy Rowley, Nick Kroll
One can’t help but be struck with the feeling on this, the show’s eighth-anniversary episode, that the world doesn’t deserve a soul as pure as Scott Aukerman. In many ways, Aukerman has curated the voice of modern comedy, connecting a panoply of the field’s greatest minds through his program as well as giving unheralded performers a platform from which to grow. In celebration of the show’s latest milestone, Aukerman is joined by a positively enormous lineup of guests from just about every era of the podcast’s truly impressive run. Equally remarkable is how the episode’s laughter rains down in wild torrents throughout its jam-packed three-hour runtime, letting up only so that more guests can pack into the Earwolf studio. A great deal of the joy comes from the boisterous off-mic laughter pealing through the assembled throngs, giving the impression that everyone is playing to crack up their fellow performers first and foremost. Though it seems that there is no rhyme or reason to the assortment of guests, by the time Nick Kroll’s R. Schrift shows up their individual sensibilities are playing perfectly off each other. Would that all of life’s anniversaries were this wonderful.
In the face of demoralizing news at home (a surge of violence directed at brown people) and abroad (dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan), hosts Zahra and Taz are so overcome that they can’t even properly celebrate the humiliating downfall of Bill O’Reilly. The pair does manage to gush over the rap video “Hijabi” featuring a very pregnant Mona Haydar, as well as the meme-ification of DJ Khaled’s love for his young son, Asahd. They are able to find some joy celebrating gay leather daddy Ali Mushtaq, a 27-year-old Pakistani-American competing at this year’s International Mr. Leather, before rallying to issue fatwas against the finale of Girls and the word “empower.” Then, it’s time to move on to recollections of some of the most awkward “Ask A Muslim” encounters they’ve experienced while flying. Shout-outs are given to White House Correspondents’ Dinner host Hasan Minhaj and British Palestinian musician Shadia Mansour, who learned Arabic specifically to rap in the language.
How Did This Get Made?
The Fate Of The Furious
As is sacred tradition, Jason Mantzoukas, June Diane Raphael, and Paul Scheer are joined this week by Adam Scott to discuss the latest installment of the Fast And Furious franchise: The Fate Of The Furious. Like most Fast episodes, it’s less of a scathing breakdown of the film’s faults (which is really the basis of the show) and more of a communal gushing about everything the franchise gets right. It’s always fun to listen to the group’s unabashed enthusiasm for a movie, and paired with Scott’s expertise, this is no exception. Listening to Raphael express her total infatuation with Vin Diesel will never get old, and the men’s reaction when she declares him more attractive than The Rock is hilarious. Her vocal and repeated support for Diesel is so genuine, and it’s just one of many traits (like her suspicion of auto-piloted vehicles) that make Raphael vital to the dynamic of the show. The hosts also vehemently pitch themselves to be in the next film, particularly Mantzoukas, and carve out possible storylines for Helen Mirren-level actors to join in the canon, like a time-traveling Daniel Day-Lewis, of course.
Modern Day Philosophers
Fred Armisen & Marshall McLuhan
In the first episode of season eight, Danny Lobell is joined by comedian and actor Fred Armisen to discuss the ideas of Marshall McLuhan. Armisen proves to be an insightful and thoughtful guest, sharing his experience coming up as a “failed musician”; Lobell shares some of his struggles with the jealousy and grind faced by many working comedians, with which Armisen not only commiserates, but provides his approach to dealing with similar sentiments. Kind and encouraging, Armisen has a lot in common with Lobell, and once they dive into the philosophical theories of McLuhan, the two find themselves in an enthralling conversation on the impact that artists, philosophers, and people in general leave on the world after they die. With the assistance of Alex Fossella (a New York-based comedian and former philosophy major), Modern Day Philosophers is a show that tailors the choice of philosopher with each episode’s respective guest. McLuhan, therefore, is a good fit for the creator of Documentary Now!, having coined the phrase “The medium is the message” and predicting the invention of the internet.
Postloudness debuted Mystic this month, a podcast focused on sharing “a brief history of witchcraft old and new, told through the stories of women across five centuries.” Hosted by Bronte Mansfield, Mystic promises a concise education on modern paganism and magic traditions through untold (and, as Mansfield puts it, “often mis-told”) stories of pagans and witches pieced together using historical records, archival audio, field reporting, and interviews. “Weird Sisters” starts with a look at the three witches from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, debunking a few misconceptions about women of this nature, and explaining in detail the true and gruesome torture witches endured. Take, for example, pilliwinks, or the thumbscrew, which was a vice used to slowly crush a person’s fingers, in this case to keep them from performing magic. Catching its stride as it goes along, Mystic finishes strong with a focus on Margot Adler’s seminal 1979 book Drawing Down The Moon, which opened the floor for a discussion about the connections between witches and feminism. If Mansfield can continue turning forward motion into true progress, Mystic will be a strong contender in the podsphere.
Pod Save The People
DeRay Mckesson first rose to public prominence in the wake of Michael Brown’s 2014 shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. He built up a sizable social media following, first as a civil rights activist with Black Lives Matter, and later as a 31-year-old candidate in the 2016 Baltimore mayoral election. Though he placed sixth in the Democratic primary, he probably has the largest national profile of anyone in that race, and it’s only getting bigger. This week saw the premiere of his new social justice podcast, Pod Save The People, through Crooked Media. The show isn’t so playful as the political network’s other offerings, but it seems on track to be the most substantive. In the debut episode, Mckesson has a long (as in thorough, not boring) policy talk with Cory Booker in which the senator from New Jersey directly addresses the pharmaceutical vote that’s been dogging him with progressives since January. And that’s only about half the episode. For an audience increasingly hungry for quality discussion of deadly serious matters like health care, this show will likely be eagerly consumed.
The Dog Who Walks With His Cats
Today’s podcast landscape is a crowded one, and shows live or die on their ability to attract and keep an audience. This need for differentiation means that there is no shortage of shows based around exceedingly novel concepts. That being said, the hook for Roam Schooled feels refreshing. Each week, Jim Brunberg and his twin 7-year-old daughters, Vern and Dana, pick a question or topic to investigate, approaching it in a scientific manner. The precociousness levels are off the charts, and the show manages to employ both a charming and autodidactic approach to understanding the world. This week’s episode begins as an exploration into the origins of keeping animals as pets, but it goes into much more interesting territory somewhere around the middle, when a skeptical Brunberg contracts the services of a clairaudient animal communicator. It is in these later moments when Roam Schooled really shows its depth: This program ostensibly about curious kids is surreptitiously also one about Brunberg’s search to understand his own life.
Science Solved It
Don’t Be Alarmed, But The Rocks Are Crawling
For years, a mystery bloomed inside a dry, sunbaked lake bed in Death Valley. Rocks—some tiny, some the size of a mini-fridge—move. All on their own, without explanation. Discovered by miners in the early 1900s, the rocks were speculated about by scientists and conspiracy theorists for decades. It wasn’t until two brothers created custom-designed GPS units and software that the mystery was solved. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t due to “acoustic levitation”—a mythical process in which sound vibrations carry ultra-heavy stones—though that theory was certainly presented. This is a podcast called Science Solved It, after all, and its goal is not to quash enjoyably weird curiosities so much as provide an equally weird vision of how phenomena can be proven by science. That’s exactly what host (and Motherboard staff writer) Kaleigh Rogers does in this episode about the “sailing stones,” bringing in one of the brothers who solved the mystery to show how the scientific explanation is still, in its own way, “magical.” The audio exudes a certain amount of magic itself, as the podcast is impeccably produced and punctuated with playful strains of ambient sound that grace each story with an aura of whimsy.
Song Talks With Richard Marx
This week on Song Talks, musician Richard Marx chats with “yacht rocker” Kenny Loggins about the latter’s notable songwriting career. Loggins already had success as one half of Loggins & Messina (he was the Loggins) before branching out on his own, crafting hit after hit, a good deal of them for major motion pictures. Loggins recalls working with Michael McDonald for the first time, a partnership so smooth that they co-wrote “What A Fool Believes” within five actual minutes of meeting each other. The “King Of The Movie Soundtrack” also looks back on composing the one-note bridge on “I’m Alright” (featured in Caddyshack), how he and Marx both thought “Footloose” was a dud, and how a mismanaged deal with Toto led to Loggins recording the Giorgio Moroder/Tom Whitlock-penned “Danger Zone” for the Top Gun soundtrack. Loggins also shares an amusing—and very southern California—anecdote about accidentally eating a Mary Jane-laced granola bar before having to appear on a string of morning shows, terrified he wouldn’t remember how to play the guitar.
The IRE Radio Podcast
One Killer Algorithm
Longtime investigative reporter Thomas Hargrove owes his first journalism job to the skills he learned in college working with large data sets. Decades later, that expertise again set him apart when he developed an algorithm to hunt serial killers. Indexing crime data listed in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report against information known about America’s most prolific serial killer, Gary Ridgway, Hargrove developed a formula that spotted clusters of related unsolved killings. Synthesizing similarities in location, age, gender, and weapon illuminated clear patterns, and Hargrove actually found some hot spots that burned brighter than Ridgway’s. A pattern in Youngstown, Ohio, for instance, led to a phone call that revealed local police were certain an unknown serial killer operated in the area throughout the 1990s. A separate call to Gary, Indiana resulted in blanket dismissals from local officials, until a suspect was later caught and confessed to a string of unsolved homicides. Since launching the website Murderdata.org, Hargrove has obtained stats for 23,000 unreported murders, providing the most accurate snapshot of how many of the nation’s murders go unsolved.