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“With me, Andy Zaltzman the laughter-crafter who gives birth to mirth, and then suckles chuckles at the tits of wits… and joining me by the hidden witchcraft of communications technology from New York City, it’s the snicker-dicker who unshackles cackles from the chortle portal and serves them up for the human consumer with quick bits before planting his gag flag on the moon of lampoon, it’s the doctor of comedy himself, open your mouth and say, ‘Ha,’ it’s John Oliver!” —Andy Zaltzman, The Bugle

“You seem to enjoy the company of Jews.”  —Dick Van Dyke quoting Mel Brooks, WTF

“Does anyone have a cricket that they keep playing?”
“No, that’s really comedy failing.” —Scott Aukerman and Jesse Ventura (James Adomian), after one of Aukerman’s bits falls flat, Comedy Bang! Bang!

I’m the sympathetic character in this story!” —Richard Kind chiding an audience member mid-story, The Moth

“I went on to work with that monkey again.” —Rachel Quaintance, Never Not Funny

“It’s mostly Hollywood power-players that listen to this, right?” —DC Pierson plugging a movie adaptation of his book, Crap Kingdom, Doug Loves Movies



The Organist
The Organist is the stellar new semi-monthly podcast from the editors of The Believer, and like its parent magazine, it brings together an impressive list of contributors—comedians, musicians, writers—for thoughtful and engaged examinations of culture. Episodes examine a broad theme and consist of segments in a number of genres, covering a lot of ground in a single hour. Taking up the topic of language, the first episode contains a reading on the etymology of “podcast” performed by Nick Offerman, an examination of experimental forms of composition by electronic music duo Matmos, a fascinating interview with George Saunders, a radio essay on sound design, and more. These segments flow seamlessly from one to the next, with little introduction from host and Believer editor Andrew Leland, giving episodes remarkable depth and richness. Leland’s hands-off style trusts that listeners are intelligent enough to discover common connections and themes, making The Organist an engrossing experience that leaves listeners with plenty to think about long after episodes have ended. [DF]




Welcome To Night Vale
The field of free-form, conversational podcasts featuring comedians is vast and growing, so the scripted, differently constructed Welcome To Night Vale is a bit refreshing. But it’s also really well done, offering a surrealist/absurdist (and occasionally existentialist) take on community radio, with dispatches from the small, delectably nightmarish desert town of Night Vale. There are reports of bizarre occurrences, strange lights, mysterious vortexes, hooded figures, and shadow governments, plus blood, death, spiders, and scientists with perfect hair—all delivered in a pitch-perfect, carefully crafted, sinister simulacrum of small-town radio. There are only 20 episodes so far, averaging a slim 20 minutes and featuring regular callbacks to previous episodes, so the first episode is the best starting point. But the recent coverage of a massive sandstorm is also noteworthy: Split into two parts, first from the usual perspective of Night Vale and then from that of its bitter rivals in the nearby Desert Bluffs, both halves of episode 19 are inventive and immensely entertaining. [CG]



The Bugle #228: Rome’s Most Eligible Bachelor
Andy Zaltzman kicks off one of funniest Bugles in months with a zippy intro bursting at the seams with fun wordplay and pitch-perfect delivery. The goodwill is not wasted as co-host John Oliver launches into a bit imagining a time-traveling Thomas Jefferson shooting—and being terrified by—a fully automatic machine gun. Soon they move into standout coverage of the new pope, providing background information on his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who apparently wore a coat made of birdseed. They manage to get a lot of mileage out of the strange situation of having two popes, and masterfully find a way to sneak in (Bugle favorite) The Iron Sheik’s take on the election. Papal jokes constitute much of the remainder, and the episode closes strong with bits on a new Israeli TV network for dogs and a new smartphone boasting preposterous tech claims. [MK]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #207: Live From SXSW 2013 II: Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Natasha Leggero, Reggie Watts, James Adomian
There are a lot of impressive names on the bill of Comedy Bang! Bang!’s second live broadcast from South By Southwest, mostly culled from the cast of Burning Love, the Bachelor-spoofing vehicle for fan favorite Ken Marino. But the only one that really matters is James Adomian, who appears deep in the episode as sentient conspiracy theory Jesse Ventura, then dominates the proceedings with his free-floating paranoia and hilarious non-sequiturs. Listeners’ enjoyment of the episode will depend entirely on their fondness for Adomian’s hard-charging Ventura impersonation, but for those onboard with his over-the-top conspiracy-mongering, it’s a loopy delight. This is largely Adomian’s show, but Marino steals the spotlight briefly with a surprisingly haunting Nina Simone impersonation. [NR]


Comedy Bang! Bang! #208: Zombie Candles: Steven Yeun, Doug Benson, Paul F. Tompkins
First-time guest Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead is a veteran improviser and sketch-comedy guy, but it’s tough to keep up with the likes of Paul F. Tompkins as Cake Boss (Cake Boss!) in this week’s episode. But he, Aukerman, Doug Benson, and Tompkins make for a great episode, as they play off each other and explore a number of tangents. One of the funniest moments comes when a viewer question asks Cake Boss about the most erotic cake he’s ever made, leading to a long build-up by Tompkins that ends with a sort of punchline that slays everyone in the room. It’s also available on video, so everyone can see Tompkins in a bad wig and chef’s whites to add some verisimilitude his Buddy Valastro. Party on, Girth! [KR]


Doug Loves Movies: Kumail Nanjiani, Jay Chandrasekhar, Moshe Kasher and DC Pierson
Doug Loves Movies fans who are in it for the games could probably skip this week’s episode, but they’d miss out on a great example of the show in its freewheeling-discussion form. All four guests this week are pretty much equally matched when it comes to making the most of their time in the spotlight—though DC Pierson and Kumail Nanjiani are the standouts, particularly during a long riff on Doug Benson’s inability to pronounce Jay Chandrasekhar’s name—and there’s lots of movie talk, something that can’t always be said of this movie-centric podcast. The Leonard Maltin Game is a casualty of the packed discussion section, but it’s almost made up for with the glorious (and probably last) return of Lincoln Or Bane. The game’s outcome isn’t especially exciting due to the lower-than-usual stakes, but the fun of getting there more than makes up for it. [GK]

The Fogelnest Files #27: 1-900 KISS MY BUTT: Joe Randazzo
It’s not entirely clear if Jake Fogelnest intentionally picks guests who will counterbalance his off-the-wall persona. Either way, this week’s episode with Thing X creative director Joe Randazzo shows how successfully the podcast’s guest-host dynamic can work when the guest takes hold of the reins. Randazzo doesn’t quite commandeer the show, but he does guide it more deeply into bits that Fogelnest typically plumbs only for a gag or two. When Fogelnest presents a series of commercials for 1-900 numbers, for example, Randazzo initiates an improv scene between a caller and DJ Jazzy Jeff that goes on for longer than expected without feeling forced. Throughout the episode, he slows Fogelnest down and explores a few worthwhile tangents that Fogelnest, if left to his own devices, would have most likely tackled in half a second before moving on. Although this one is consistently solid, the highlight is definitely the lengthy reminiscence about 1-900 numbers. [AB]


Hang Up And Listen: The Cinderella Man Edition
With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament kicking off this weekend, HUAL devotes all three segments to various aspects of March Madness, from the vulnerability of this year’s No. 1 seeds (and the weakness of the college game period) to the statistical meaninglessness of some seeds over others to the death (and rebirth) of the Big East conference. The highlight is an interview with Rick Byrd, who’s coached the Belmont Bruins, a tiny Division I program from Nashville, for 27 years and earned five tournament berths. He hasn’t won yet, but his team famously took Duke down to the final shot as a No. 15 seed in 2008. The episode also features a rare but terrific scuffle between Mike Pesca and Stefan Fatsis over the Big East and the nature of fandom. [ST]


Improv4Humans #72: Blue Cash: Andy Daly, Stephanie Allynne, Chris Kula
For the second week in a row, Improv4Humans tackles Matt Besser’s father’s racist teapot, but this time gets it right. While last week’s Case Closed conversation was intercut with choppy scenes that failed to launch, this week’s take blossoms into the wonderfully absurd territory Besser is known for, and simultaneously works its way into a biting satire of President Obama’s iffy drone policy. The rest of the episode flies by with great stories coming from Comedy Bang! Bang! favorite Andy Daly and Stephanie Allynne. A quick thread on awful summer jobs becomes fodder for the program’s standout scene, which blends Besser and Allynne’s stories into a tale of hapless Blockbuster employees and a bank robber’s attempt at passing off his contraband bills as simply “blue money.” The four carry this momentum all the way to the end, making for a great episode. [MK]

The J.V. Club #53: Andrea Savage 
Janet Varney starts year two of her podcast by bringing on actress/writer/fellow Chris Hardwick ex-girlfriend Andrea Savage, and the two women have outstanding chemistry that results in a delightful, wide-ranging conversation. Talking about Savage’s daughter naturally segues into talking about the guest’s childhood and adolescence, but they also spend a lot of time discussing experiences abroad as a young adult and the difficulties of being a woman in Hollywood. The anecdotes run the gamut from disturbing—a man tried to masturbate on Savage at a nude beach in Portugal—to hilarious, and Savage’s current experience raising a young daughter makes it easy for her to tap into the memories of her youth. The highlight of the episode is when the two women realize that their non-Hardwick ex-boyfriends both used to spray their letters with Drakkar Noir, igniting a discussion that reveals Hardwick’s love of Abercrombie cologne. It’s a strong start to the new year, and hopefully the next 51 episodes will be just as insightful and entertaining. [OS]


The MothRichard Kind: I Don’t
The bumbling sweetness that actor Richard Kind brings to his characters apparently carries seamlessly into real life, to judge from this Moth entry. Granted, he comes off a lot more well-adjusted than the obsessive, dark fellow he played in A Serious Man, but his story about getting engaged has its share of screwiness. Kind succeeds in coming off as a well-intentioned boyfriend with a shaky temper and a tendency to create odd situations. And the story ends happily, which makes its mildly disastrous turns more charming. [SG]


Nerdist #333: Patrick Warburton
Patrick Warburton starts by describing his devotion to Pearl Jam, which may not be the most fascinating topic, but his enthusiasm for and experiences with the Seattle band—including the time he helped frontman Eddie Vedder write a set list—are pretty endearing. As the episode progresses, he discusses his career and opens up about the times his personal ideologies have clashed with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s, and how his mother writes letters to get the show taken off the air. The episode goes in many directions, all of which help give a better look at Warburton and what drives him. [DA]

Never Not Funny #1210: Dialing It In With Rachel Quaintance
Late into a recollection of her early stand-up days, Rachel Quaintance clarifies that while she performed comedy, she was never a comedian; rather, she was a verbose storyteller who was forced to insert jokes. Her appearance on Never Not Funny doesn’t contradict that distinction, but it is reductive of the charm and emotional engagement she brings to what’s very much a hangout session with her old pal Jimmy Pardo. In place of those jokes—which Matt Belknap dutifully provides in her stead—Quaintance’s appearance is defined by the range of emotions provoked by her and Pardo’s anecdotes, like empathy for musicians at smaller gigs than they deserve, bemusement at racists, and anger at “modern age” articles or oblivious strangers. (For such a chipper guest, Quaintance is ironically at her best when angered.) It’s all interspersed with more chummy, nebulous banter than usual, and capped off by a live phone-call version of SQOTW. [SM] 



Professor Blastoff #96: Character (w/ Al Madrigal) 
The addition of sleepy-voiced The Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal to the hatch could have made this episode a favorite of the outspoken Professor Blastoff listeners who use it in place of Ambien, but a frenzied opening gives the show a lively energy that rarely dips. Surprising for a room of adamant non-tokers, that energy is sparked by a goofy pot story from Kyle Dunnigan, ignites during a slaphappy game of “Name That Punky,” and saturates the remaining discussion of this week’s topic. Even for a straightforward conversation with a few potential down moments—Madrigal was once a 19-year-old in charge of firing employees of a staffing agency—the tone remains relentlessly jovial as the focus shifts from character flaws to first impressions to morality, before ultimately ending on the high note of celebrating the best and nicest people they know. [SM]


Sklarbro Country #138: Outer DB: Elizabeth Banks, Max Handelman, Jason Nash
Elizabeth Banks has starred in several landmark comedies, but her husband Max Handelman is no slouch, having co-written a book on the phenomenal cultural industry of fantasy football. The couple share several interesting stories, the best being about the time they were seated next to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian while out to dinner for their anniversary. Banks and Handelman are both up for a detailed and humorous discussion of sports with the Sklars, covering the Patriots, Greg Oden’s short-lived career with the Portland Trailblazers, and Lamar Odom falling asleep during a custody hearing. [KM]

Sound Opinions #381: David Bowie Producer Tony Visconti
Though it’s an old interview, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kott’s conversation with Tony Visconti, longtime producer for David Bowie and T. Rex, makes a lot of sense given the surprise of a new Bowie record after 10 years of silence and presumed retirement. For anyone who needs a crash course in Bowie and glam-rock history, Visconti is a good starting point. While the interview doesn’t offer anything particularly new, at least the review of The Next Day has some feisty disagreement: Greg thinks Bowie is an essential recording artist of the last 40 years, but Jim (surprise, surprise) finds Bowie to be a charlatan. The opening interview with the head of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is also an enlightening look at a nomination and voting process that usually remains shrouded in secrecy. [KM]


Stuff You Should Know: How Apartheid Worked
Opening with a discussion of artists who performed at the segregated white resort town of Sun City, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant pick apart the racial strife of 20th-century South Africa. Though South Africans were not necessarily made into slaves, they were dominated for centuries by white settlers who were hungry for diamonds and insistent that the indigenous tribes be declared legal servants. The more brutal chapters of Apartheid unfolded in those diamond mines, and continued in years far too close to the present as the world levied various boycotts on the country. This episode was partially inspired by the success of the film Searching For Sugar Man, and those who have already enjoyed the movie but are unfamiliar with the horrors of this era will be struck by the history Clark and Bryant reveal. [DT]


Stuff You Should Know: How The U.S. Postal Service Works
The United States Postal Service is bleeding money, primarily because of an unusual policy involving prepaid employee benefits. Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant walk listeners through how a government service could be broken by such unusual policies. Covering everything from the ongoing debate over Saturday service to the development of state-of-the-art sorting facilities, the discussion reveals why our mail can’t seem to fund itself no matter how essential or relevant it tries to be. The cliché of “going postal” is also explained thoroughly, and not treated as just a punchline. Clark and Bryant have a genuine appreciation for this corner of the executive branch of government, and their simple tips for how to address a letter are as fun as the lengthy history they cover. [DT]

Uhh Yeah Dude: #363
The fact that Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette still have the ability to surprise each other after 361 hours of show is heartwarming—even if the surprises themselves are Larroquette doing poppers at a club and Romatelli installing a mammoth 55-inch 3-D TV. The index cards prompt plenty of good discussion this week—Alabama barbecue-offs, deadly muscle-car racing through California canyons, the evergreen topic of pedophiles on the loose—but hearing especially spontaneous moments in what’s already a freewheeling format is the real reward. [CW]


WTF #369: Lynn Shawcroft
Best known as Mitch Hedberg’s widow, comedian Lynn Shawcroft has opened up before about her husband’s death. But Marc Maron shared a manager with Hedberg, and can somewhat recall a drug-filled co-headlining gig in Seattle with Hedberg and Shawcroft, so his personal connection draws out an easier discussion. Shawcroft understandably deflects a lot of the nitty-gritty questions surrounding exact drug use—out of grief, but also out of guilt—the pervasive rumor of a leg amputation, and Hedberg’s final days, but does discuss their relationship in frank detail. This isn’t a world-changing exclusive interview that reveals tons of never-before-heard information, but it’s a compelling and honest discussion of Hedberg’s thought process, and the addiction that led to his early demise. [KM]


WTF #370: Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke has been on this planet for almost 90 years, and with his many interviews, recent autobiography, and SAG lifetime-achievement award, not a lot about him has been left unexamined. But that doesn’t make Marc Maron’s interview with the entertainer any less charming. Van Dyke gives a shorthand account of his career, but Maron pulls him into asides for the most interesting bits, like his status as a girlhood crush, his alcoholism, his penchant for Jewish comic writers, and his critical opinion of the verisimilitude of Mad Men. There’s also a nice parallel between Maron approaching Van Dyke and his guest’s stories of his own pilgrimages to meet idols Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton. [CZ]

You Made It Weird #134: Beth Stelling
Somehow it seems like a sign of maturity that Pete Holmes’ approach to personal talk is much the same with female guests as it is with male ones. It helps that comedian Beth Stelling just doesn’t seem to mind rolling with Holmes’ musings on body issues and the cervix. YMIW is always a mix of the serious stuff and loose riffing, but this episode just puts those two elements in better-than-average balance. It finds both comedians “on,” but not too on. [SG]


You Made It Weird #135: Dane Cook
It’s hard to see Pete Holmes’ sit-down with Dane Cook as some kind of “good comic-vs.-reviled comic” encounter in the vein of Cook’s notorious sit-down with Marc Maron on WTF, especially the way it starts out. Early on, the two compare notes on sleazy managers and what it’s like to be drawn in MAD magazine. Their conversation reinforces the notion that the easy rapport Holmes has with his YMIW guests isn’t simply the path of least resistance; it takes skill, and it’s refreshing to hear Holmes steer the conversation away from the cloud of stigma that hangs over Cook. [SG]


The Best Show On WFMU
Even Jon Wurster’s Bishop Fontana character can’t save this episode, which is weighed down by a string of callers who talk over Tom or simply have nothing significant to contribute. [AF]


How Was Your Week #106: “In The Presence Of Poison”: Claudia Lonow, Carol Sue Gershman
Interviews with 77-year-old memoirist and self-help author Carol Sue Gershman and writer and television showrunner Claudia Lonow are charming, but not essential listening. [DF]

Judge John Hodgman: Justice Abhors A Vacuum
A surprisingly byzantine dispute over the borrowing, destroying, and replacing of a shop vac muck up an episode that’s pleasing in the margins, particularly whenever Judge Hodgman calls on guest witness Jonathan Coulton. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #105: Ali Handal
Ali Handal talks about violating her 19-year-old ex-boyfriend’s privacy and being horrified to find (gasp!) a messy room, pornography, marijuana, and a mildly off-putting piece of handwritten erotica. The musician and self-described “entrepreneur” comes across like an unrepentant bully, which makes for a lousy episode. [TC]


Mohr Stories #141: Jen Murphy
Mohr and late-blooming comedian Jen Murphy pitch in for a generic conversation about being a teenage misfit who grew up into a romantically awkward adult with a ticking biological clock; tangential highlights cover marathoners, sex, and the perils of Paxil. [DXF]

Mohr Stories #142: Phil Hendrie
Legendary radio-host-turned-podcaster Phil Hendrie breaks down the technique behind various incarnations of his improv-heavy show, a long-running, Jerky Boys-style interactive radio satire in which real callers argue with fake guests; it’s an intriguing teaser, though an off-the-cuff session with Mohr lacks its essential spark. [DXF]

Monday Morning Podcast
Bill Burr’s very brief aside about how frustrated he is with his recent eating habits is an oasis of funny in an ocean of blandness. [CG]


My Brother, My Brother And Me #144: Kick It Forward
Besides a rather disturbing, off-color joke involving owls by Justin McElroy, many of the goofs this week simply fall flat. [CG]

Nerdist #334: Macklemore
Rapper Macklemore is still riding high off of the success of “Thrift Shop,” and while he comes off both humble and quick-witted, this episode never finds a way to engage those who aren’t already fans. [DA]

Sklarbro Country: Sklarbro County #43: Matt Kirshen, Chris Cox, Dan Van Kirk
British comedian Matt Kirshen joins the Sklars for a jovial and energetic episode that will satisfy fans looking for a few laughs, but nothing remarkable stands out this week. [KM]


Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Famous Speech Chief Seattle Never Made
Chief Seattle’s legendary speech may have actually been a letter written to the president after Seattle’s death, and its questionable authenticity keeps this episode from feeling essential. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Life Of Johnny Appleseed
An influential conservationist and failed capitalist, Johnny Appleseed lived a life that remains relatively humble and not quite exciting enough to sustain this episode. [DT]

The Thrilling Adventure Hour #109: Beyond Belief, “How To Spell Revenge”
Performed for an audience of Kickstarter backers, this is a charmingly well-written edition of TAH’s supernatural series with Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster, but with a smaller crowd it doesn’t translate quite as well into podcast form. [SG]


The Todd Glass Show #94: Family Show
This run of family shows is entertaining, but the return of Daniel Kinno and a featured guest would be a nice change of pace. [MS]

Who Charted? #120: Live From SXSW 2013 w/ Matt And Kim
Guests Matt And Kim are likable enough, but they try a little too hard to make clumsy punchlines land, especially when joking about their sex life. [MS]