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.
Challenging & Unpredictable: Melissa Harris-Perry
This episode hits the ground running as hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton engage in a candid talk with journalist Melissa Harris-Perry, who luckily never signed a nondisclosure agreement with her former employer, MSNBC. She details the progression of her strained relationship with the network that lead to the leaked email she sent to co-workers and then her departure from the company. The conversation is likely the best document of Harris-Perry’s perspective on the issue, which has already sparked numerous think pieces and critiques. It’s a real dialogue that isn’t reduced to soundbites or limited for commercial breaks. While workplace contention is always complicated, it’s also heightened when people are in positions that require being in the public eye. Nigatu and Clayton expertly navigate the emotional terrain, allowing Harris-Perry to breathe, contemplate, and take deeper dives into what it is that she truly feels about the situation. This episode gives listeners a true insider view on the miscommunications, unspoken rules, and passive-aggressive-filled undertones of media workplace politics. “I was working with people who truly did not care about me,” says Harris-Perry who still works as a professor at Wake Forest University. She seems to miss the host chair, but she also regrets nothing.
Ron Paul’s Baby
Chris Gethard is right in his wheelhouse for his first weekly phone call with an unidentified partner, as he attempts to talk a stagnant customer service drone from Denton into drastic action. The caller is slow to warm up, but when pressed for his origin story it becomes clear that he’s fully aware of the remarkable parts—he was conceived at a carnival and delivered into the world by then-OB-GYN Texas Representative Ron Paul when his mother was permitted to temporarily leave prison in order to give birth—and knows how to keep the intrigue up while divulging little by little. Still, frustration sets in for Gethard when he tries to convince the man to fulfill his daydream of performing a set of stand-up comedy he admits is already written. Gethard demands that the man let out a scream in his work parking lot and he does, but when he eventually instructs him to yell that he’s going to do an open mic night tomorrow, the sheepishness returns just in time for the producers to hang up on the call.
Pod Night Shyamacast: The Happening
Blank Check With Griffin & David is a UCB comedy podcast in which comedian Griffin Newman and critic (and A.V. Club alum) David Sims take on the film industry’s most notorious personalities with a miniseries within the show that chronicles every film that director has made. Currently, they are in the midst of Pod Night Shyamacast, their miniseries dedicated to M. Night Shyamalan. In this episode, they tackle Shyamalan’s first ever rated- R film, 2008’s shrug of a movie, The Happening. The two hilariously break down the bewildering choice to have Mark Wahlberg play the lead character, a character the hosts believe he is constantly making fun of within his portrayal. It inspires some classic Wahlberg impressions, as well as an interesting analysis of the actor’s strange career arc and subsequent transition into complete movie stardom. They also discuss the permeating use of 9/11 imagery in movies at the time, and successfully rewrite the film within minutes. Newman and Sims act as highly reliable narrators in the story of Shyamalan’s career, their attention to detail and nerd level of cinematic knowledge making it a fun but truly enthralling listen, even for those who thought they didn’t particularly care about Shyamalan’s work. They use the director’s filmography as a platform to telegraph a decade in film, and what the hits and misses in Shyamalan’s career amount to in an industry that has enough money to continue to blindly fund an artist whose consistency is questionable at best.
Any interview with Zach Galifianakis is haunted by the spectre that things could take an awkward turn toward Between Two Ferns. In fact, Galifianakis does sound like he’s wearing a little bit of press-junket sarcasm-armor, at least at the beginning of the discussion interview. Fortunately, that’s quickly dropped as he starts talking about the characters in his new FX series, Baskets. Galifianakis discusses Chip Baskets’ character arc, argues that true depictions of meanness is often overlooked in television, and praises the performance that Louie Anderson gives as Chip’s mother. For the second half of the episode, Michael K. Williams talks about his latest project, Sundance’s excellent Hap And Leonard. From The Wire to Boardwalk Empire and beyond, Williams is known for his magnetic, emotionally available performances; it’s unsurprising to find that’s a defining trait in the actor’s personality. Even still, it’s gripping to hear Williams break down and openly weep upon hearing a clip of the song that led to his first break as a professional dancer. Williams deftly deconstructs what is so affecting about Omar as a character, and provides some insights into real-life neighborhood characters who inspired his performance. The profound gratitude that Williams expresses for his journey from club kid to gifted actor should leave listeners just as grateful for the opportunity to hear Williams’ story.
There are few pages on Facebook that have attained a level of fame which nearly outstrips even the platform itself, but Brandon Stanton’s “Humans Of New York” is almost certainly the exception to the rule. Combining understated street photography with poignant, compassionate, and sometimes unspeakably heartbreaking quotes from his subjects, the project has grown well beyond Stanton’s initial aims. The tale of “HONY’s” creation is detailed on this week’s episode of Design Matters, the usually more inside-baseball podcast about the world of graphic design from the phenomenal Debbie Millman, and it is a corker. The way in which Stanton came to develop the project is more than a little roundabout, but the key features seem to be his abiding internal drive with the janusian pairing of his systematic precision with a penchant for sometimes risky behavior; whether it be betting $3,000 of student loan money on Obama’s presidential election, or in his deciding that to become a full-time street photographer without any formal training or safety net. Millman’s deep research and convivial interview style dovetails nicely with Stanton’s gregariousness, generating a wealth of great stories and moments in their conversation, making for a wonderfully frank and utterly captivating listen.
In this age of reality entertainment the evergreen criticism levied against such shows is that their stars lack any ostensible talent to make them worth watching. However, this week’s episode of The Dollop puts these claims in stark relief as hosts Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds look back at America’s mad fascination with the sport of pedestrianism in the late 1800s. The development of this bonkers spectacle—nothing more than competitive endurance walking events, like being able to walk 100 miles in under 24 hours—is a subject so perfectly suited for Anthony and Reynolds to provide heaps of hilarity it seems a wonder it hasn’t been covered previously. Central to the story are Edward Westin, known across the country as “Westin The Walker,” and the upstart Irishman Dan O’Leary, whose talents for walking long distances made them among the most famous people of their day. Reynolds’ incredulity only grows throughout the episode, underscoring each new development with refrains of exasperation whether it be the rampant gambling, attendant match fixing, or the massive crowds that events drew. The “Walking Fever” which captivated America gives listeners one of the show’s most humorous tales to date, but also provides a prism through which to see just how truly ridiculous all sporting events are.
Don't Get Me Started
On the latest episode of Don’t Get Me Started, hosts Will Hines and Anthony King are joined by playwright Dan O’Brien to discuss his obsession with the myth of Sasquatch. Before that, Hines and King present their “minor obsessions” of the week, King discussing the opening of A Chorus Line, while Hines get’s hilariously specific with his fixation on a singular symbol crash in the song “What A Fool Believes.” That subsequently leads into discussing a particular chord change in “All My Loving,” which appropriately inspires conversation on the conspiracy that Paul McCartney is dead. Already it is evident that O’Brien is generally well versed in various conspiracies, and his knowledge is further explored as they tackle the idea of Sasquatch. King also happens to have an impressive amount of insight on the topic, and while neither him nor O’Brien are true believers, Hines’ skepticism only makes for an even more interesting dynamic. O’Brien’s obsession lies mainly in the people who believe in Sasquatch, and his perspective on the distinctly American belief structure that allows for such conspiracies to hold longevity is, to say the least, a compelling way to view a concept that others, in a knee-jerk reaction, might deem as downright incoherent fantasy.
The Ezra Klein Show
Michael Needham On The Republican Party’s Crack-up
Maybe it’s because there’s no five-minute clock to fight against or visual element to contend with, but politicians and pundits seem to have a much harder time bullshitting on podcasts than they do during Sunday morning shows or cable interviews. In a year that has already made “dumpster fire” a political science term, shows like David Axelrod’s The Axe Files and Vox editor-in-chief’s The Ezra Klein Show have become assets that provide alternative outlets for moving beyond whataboutisms and ad hominem during policy debates. That’s never more apparent than it is during conversations featuring ideologically opposed titans like this week’s chat with conservative bogeyman Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action For America. The points of disagreement are obvious (Klein shows remarkable restraint and message discipline whenever Needham drops “baby body parts for Lamborghinis” or the intentionally needling “Democrat Party”), but more interesting are both’s longview assessments of how the Republican Party exploited social issues to stir up a resentful base without the means putting out the fire when Congress couldn’t deliver on Planned Parenthood or anti-LGBT action.
If I Were You
Chex—Live In Austin: Ben Schwartz
If I Were You is an advice podcast hosted by comedians Jake and Amir (of the webseries of the same name) where they attempt to impart wisdom on questions sent in by listeners. In this live from SXSW episode, they are joined by friend and Jake And Amir frequenter, Ben Schwartz, whose usual schtick on the podcast is to derail the answering of questions at all costs. Schwartz messes around at the top of the show in his usual form, but eventually decides to behave as they take on some truly wild (all sexual) questions. All hilarious and natural performers, the three thrive in a live setting, the energy of the crowd palpable as they take on topics including losing one’s virginity when insecure about penis size, masturbating techniques, and being caught watching your new hot neighbor sunbathe. Schwartz acts as the voice of the listener as he repeatedly asks, “What is going on with this podcast right now?” The hosts feed on the outrageousness of the questions, and it simply makes for the best version of the show, with everyone at the height of their bit game. With some shouted contributions from the hilarious Gil Ozeri in the audience, the episode perfectly captures the atmosphere of the event for all of the fans that weren’t in Austin that night.
When Risky Sex Means Jail
HIV disclosure laws were enacted by many states in the 1980s and 1990s during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, requiring that HIV-positive individuals disclose their status to sexual partners or face jail time. These laws were intended to prevent the spread of HIV and protect individuals from being unknowingly infected with the disease. This week Only Human takes a closer look at these laws and how they further stigmatize and criminalize HIV-positive individuals. In certain states, you don’t have have to infect someone to be prosecuted; you can still be charged for exposing someone to HIV through sex with a condom, oral sex, and even spitting or biting. In Missouri, gay college student Michael Johnson was sentenced to 30 years in prison under the state’s HIV disclosure laws after infecting and exposing several sex partners with HIV. Dr. David Malebranche, who calls Johnson’s sentencing ridiculous, points out that these laws are driven by a prevalent perception that individuals with HIV are inherently dangerous. But as evidence is mounting that strict disclosure laws actually discourage people from getting tested, states like Iowa are starting to pass reforms so that “HIV-positive individuals are no longer one accusation away from finding themselves in a courtroom.”
Jesse Case And Brooks Wheelan
Listening to the Probably Science podcast can often feel like being in on a special thing. The reason is a little hard to pin down when listening, but frankly it’s right there in the title. As a show ostensibly about science, that is rarely the initial draw. Instead its value is found in the exceedingly congenial hosts and their nonlinear discussions about life, comedy, and, well, probably some science for good measure. Over the past four years the show has been hosted by various configurations comprised of comedians Jesse Case, Matt Kirshen, Brooks Wheelan, and Andy Wood. Presently hosting duties are shared by Kirshen and Wood, but for this week the gang are finally back together again. Though the reunion is just for this particular episode—the show’s 200th—it is a distinct pleasure to hear Case rejoin Kirshen and Wood for the first time since beginning treatment for colon cancer last July. The same is true of having original co-host Wheelan back aboard as well. The group discuss everything from the superior underwater vision of the Moken people to the fallacy that Mohawk indians are not afraid of heights, and points in between. It’s a shambolic, frequently hilarious episode that feels rather unlike a milestone victory lap, completely befitting such a singular show.
Tesla Charging Station—Live From Largo: Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Cackowski, Chris Tallman, Jean Villepique
Fans of improv know that there are ups and downs. It’s impossible to hit a homerun every time you step up to the plate. Fortunately, this live episode of Spontaneanation, recorded at Largo, knocks it out of the park. This crushing of comedy is due in no small part to the episode’s designated hitter, Keegan-Michael Key. Hilariously honest and contagiously upbeat, Key dives head first into the deep-end in the interview. Asked about secrets he’s kept from his family, the actor/writer/comedian reveals that he’s much too close to his adoptive parents to keep secrets; on the contrary, their occupations as social workers have led Key down a path of being too honest. The highlight of the interview is Key’s revelation that this propensity for oversharing led to a deliciously embarrassing introduction with Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen. This isn’t the first Spontaneanation rodeo for improvisors Craig Cackowski, Chris Tallman, and Jean Villepique, and they recognize narrative gold when they hear it. The veteran trio latches onto nuggets of Key’s interview with unprecedented gusto (as does Key himself, continuing the trend of interviewees participating in the improvisation). Following his guests’ cue, Tompkins secures MVP status with his performance as an intrepid, flashback-afflicted Hannibal Lecter.
Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer
It’s hard to tell who’s more excited for Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s guest appearances on Dan Savage’s sex advice podcast: the guests or the hosts. The creators and stars of Comedy Central’s Broad City appear on the show for the ostensible purpose of adjudicating an issue for a young woman who was inspired to take up pegging by their characters, but it’s pretty clear that they’re in the studio because Savage is such a fan of their show and its brazen depictions of sexuality. Unsurprisingly, the two comedians stick around to lend their opinions on a few other call-in questions, speaking out with a level of confidence and acumen that fans of theirs would expect. Any listeners who are unfamiliar with definition or logistics of a “blumpkin” at the start of the episode will find themselves thoroughly enlightened by its end. Also of note: Savage uses his introductory rant to thank presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her recent memorial praise of former first lady Nancy Reagan for the work she did for HIV/AIDS, because it gave every liberal blogger and journalist the perfect opportunity to explain just how wrong Clinton was and highlight how truly awful the Reagans were in dealing with the matter.
Is Trump A Racist?
Just a year ago, the idea of a semi-daily podcast devoted to the study of billionaire reality star Donald Trump would have seemed like something one would find on the Earwolf network, probably co-hosted by Scott Aukerman and some other comedian with an equally surreal sense of humor. The fact this non-hypothetical Trumpcast is produced by Slate and hosted by the Slate Group’s editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg says everything you need to know about the terrifying predicament the U.S. is in at the moment. In the premier episode—with the Betteridge’s law-breaking title “Is Donald Trump A Racist?”—Slate political correspondent Jamelle Bouie discusses his cover story “How Trump Happened and places the Republican front runner’s race-baiting dog whistle tactics into some historical context. On the subsequent episode (together both installments are under a half-hour), clinical psychologist Dr. Ben Michaelis makes his case for why Trump’s seeming self-confidence and disregard for facts is best understood once you’ve familiarized yourself with the checklist for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder. If the reason for its existence was not so dire, this would probably be an exceptionally fun and fascinating podcast. As it is, it’s simply fascinating.
We Hate Movies
Perhaps it should go without saying, but the hosts of We Hate Movies really do hate a large proportion of the movies they talk about on the podcast, with the rage induced by those movies serving as the main wellspring of comedy for most episodes. And while there’s no denying that the crew hates aspects of Umberto Lenzi’s sleazy and somewhat late-to-the-party 1988 slasher film Nightmare Beach—Andrew Jupin’s impassioned and borderline irrational hatred of an obnoxious prankster character in the film is especially hilarious—it’s clear yet that they very much enjoyed watching the movie, even before they heartily recommend that their listeners check it out toward the end, because there’s a certain amount of delight in their voices as each and every baffling directorial choice and plot development comes up along the way. It’s a thoroughly hilarious and thoroughly engaging episode, to be sure, all the further enhanced by touches like Eric Szyszka quite genuinely asking whether or not Bam Margera’s late uncle Don Vito died by exploding.
“Are those birds? Do I hear birds around there?”—Chris Gethard, a beat after screaming into the microphone at the top of his lungs, Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People
“I love how through an hour you never stopped saying, ‘It’s walking!’”
“Dave, I’ll never stop saying, ‘It’s walking!‘ You know why? Because it’s walking. They were walking. Everything you’re saying makes sense, except for the activity. All the lifestyle, the ups and the downs, the talent, the showmanship, the crowd fanfare… all that makes sense but when you tell me what it’s for… I can’t process it.”—Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds on the 1860s “sport” of pedestrianism, The Dollop
“Here in Texas / Eating Tex-Mex / Bowl of Chex mix / Can I have it for Christmas? / I don’t know what you all eat / If it’s Jew or gentile / Don’t be mentile / Eat what you want / Eat it from a bowl / Eat it from a cup / Eat it from your soul / Eat it from your heart / Eat if from your mind / Eat it from in front / Eat it from behind”—Amir Blumenfeld’s freestyle rap over Ben Schwartz’s beat boxing, If I Were You
“Did we lose Jesse?”
“I mean, on Skype… On Skype.”—Brooks Wheelan and Andy Wood’s darkly comic exchange about Jesse Case, death, and Skype, Probably Science