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.
Jen Kirkman, Comedian, Author
Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman doesn’t come across as the kind of person with a lot of sage advice for achieving mindfulness. Her Twitter feed makes heavy use of the caps lock button, her demeanor onstage is a step up from manic, and her podcast I Seem Fun is a stream-of-consciousness grievance ventilation. But that kind of makes her an ideal guest for 10% Happier, a podcast about meditation that strives to ground the practice in normalcy. Host Dan Harris—who self-identifies as a “fidgety skeptic”—does not speak like a guru. He doesn’t have the sort of smooth, calming voice that might lull listeners into a cosmic stupor. There are no oms, chis, or chakras to be found here. The conversation is a no-bullshit back-and-forth about a calming, focusing practice as it has been experienced by two longtime practitioners. If you’re the kind of person who would like to be the kind of person who meditates, this podcast (and perhaps this episode) might be an appropriate starting point. If not, it’s still a chance to hear the always entertaining Kirkman speak off the cuff.
Boystown: How Chicago Got Its Gay Neighborhood
Although the Castro District in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York are two of the most high-profile examples of America’s relationship to its LGBTQ history, the first gayborhood to receive an official “gay village” designation was Chicago’s Boystown in 1997. Chicago’s earliest gay bars were mob-backed affairs. Mafiosos learned benevolence by way of capitalism and provided cover for establishments that would otherwise be raided out of existence by police. Later, urban renewal priced out many operators from prime locations, forcing them farther north where they could afford their own property. These new bars, in turn, became hotbeds of activism during the early gay rights movement and drew legions of fellow travelers to reside in their general proximity. The story of Boystown isn’t a utopia, however, as the area is saddled with the persistent criticism that it is solely a playground for gay men, predominantly white, and willfully discriminates against other groups. And mainstream acceptance means Boystown is now straighter than ever, as queer culture is not restricted to certain areas of the city. These facts prompt an open discussion of Boytown’s future.
High And Mighty
To mark his 100th episode of High And Mighty, Jon Gabrus is joined by his wife, Tiffany, to answer listener questions. It’s always exciting when a podcast breaks form and leans into more personal interactions; there’s not an overt atmosphere of vulnerability, but to give listeners a sense of his marriage’s dynamic, Gabrus invites them to see a more private side of himself. And it’s refreshingly honest, as they both express that they’re not sure if the episode is even a good idea or not. Tiffany is a great guest for myriad reasons: She has a natural charm and sense of humor, and once the (understandable) nervousness of being on the show fades, she’s bold and open. Poking fun at Gabrus as his sensitivity is brought up again and again, Tiffany underscores their comfort with each other, and eventually even college-era anecdotes find their way into the conversation. But the quieter, more sincere moments between the two are just as compelling. The episode feels like a peek behind the curtain of a relationship, making Gabrus even more accessible as a host.
My Neighbors Are Dead
The Omen With Alan Linic
A good horror movie can thrill its audience with the protagonist’s struggle to escape or survive, but it’s not always just the main character who’s struggling. There are often minor players just trying to live their day-to-day lives amid the bloodshed. New podcast My Neighbors Are Dead, a hilarious peek into the experience of the people on the periphery of the horror, is shining a light on just these kinds of unsung citizens. Host Adam Peacock interviews the oft overlooked ensemble of your favorite scary movies (all played with pitch-perfect improvisations by a selection of top-notch improvisers) to get their take on the events of the film. In this most recent episode, Peacock chats with Gerald Dean, the caterer from Damien Thorn’s birthday party. Those familiar with the 1976 classic The Omen, will recall this particular birthday party as the one where the young antichrist’s nanny publicly kills herself. The hysterical Alan Linic details this ordeal from Gerald’s perspective, and the results are comedic gold.
Post Mortem With Mick Garris
Roger Corman (LIVE from the Overlook Film Festival)
Filmmaker Roger Corman appeared at the Overlook Film Festival in Mt. Hood, Oregon, earlier this month to receive the Master Of Horror Award, celebrating his 60-plus years in the industry. Presenting the award was Mick Garris, who also sat down with Corman for his podcast to discuss the latter’s prolific career. At 91 years old, Corman retains his wry sense of humor and matter-of-fact tone, explaining artistry and commerce in his brand of low-budget filmmaking. The conversation explores Corman’s clairvoyance, naming his production company New World Pictures, rather than New World Films, as even by 1970 he foresaw a shift in how audiences consumed movies and the rise of home video. Of particular interest to cinephiles is a segment in which Corman explains how New World distributed foreign art films (outside of his normal exploitation wheelhouse), including works from Bergman, Fellini, and Kurosawa—and making sure everyone got paid. In a sly business movie, he even got Bergman’s Cries And Whispers to play at the drive-ins during their slow season on a double feature with (of all things) Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat.
The Secret Life Of Alex Goldman
Ever wondered what it’d be like to listen to your day-to-day life replayed back to you? In this week’s episode of Reply All, Alex Goldman experiences just that after allowing co-host PJ Vogt to hack his phone and turn it into a 24/7 surveillance device. Are scandalous secrets revealed? No. Goldman’s life is pretty normal. Vogt quickly finds this project exceedingly boring and hands it off to radio producer Emily Kennedy. Never having met Goldman, Kennedy brings fresh ears and a new perspective, with tiny details from his wiretapped life taking new form and making the whole project worthwhile. There’s a truly lovely clip of Goldman singing with his 2-year-old son, but the most gripping is a recording of him driving in his car, inexplicably laughing to himself for a solid minute. It’s impossible not to smile while hearing those genuine, private laughs and listening to Goldman react to the recording itself, mortified and cracking up all over again. The episode is offset by a segment on how the tool used to hack Goldman is commonly acquired by abusive spouses and the benevolent hackers who work to dismantle that vile network of intrusion.
The Belgian Revolution
In a departure from this series’ usual format, Revolutions is currently releasing several one-off episodes. This makes the heavy history podcast somewhat more approachable, but the trade-off is host Mike Duncan must condense a lot more context into an individual show, as is the case in this episode. As a larger revolution is unfolding in post-Napoleonic France, subjects in the territory now known as Belgium find themselves folded into a single state with their northern neighbors, the Dutch, beginning in 1815. Ruling this territory was William I, who was Dutch and Protestant and supported the rapid industrialization taking place in the northern Netherlands. This alienated subjects in the southern Netherlands (a.k.a. Belgium), who were largely, but not exclusively, French Catholic farmers. The payoff to all the buildup is a nebulous and ill-defined rebellion that breaks out during an opera, of all places, and escalates to a full-fledged independence movement. This ignites an international firestorm among the great powers of Europe that ends when historical heavyweight Talleyrand brokers a deal that appeases all parties, except for poor William, who must endure the loss of more than half his territory. He invades, only to wimp out. And scene.
Boss Hua And The Black Box
NPR’s Science Friday has spun off a new podcast called Undiscovered, which bills itself as “a look at the backstories of science.” In its premiere episode, hosts Elah Feder and Annie Minoff relate the tale of how some Harvard social scientists used big data to stumble onto a refined accounting of what the Chinese government censors on social media. By collecting all Chinese social media posts before they could be reviewed by government censors, the team could compare the content of posts that were allowed to remain online with posts that were eventually taken down. It turns out that back in 2013, citizens could criticize the government as much as they pleased, even to the point of accusing specific officials of corruption, as long as they did not include a call to action, such as a protest. One man, known online as Boss Hua, actually made a habit of identifying luxury watches sported by officials in news photos, watches that were clearly beyond their standard pay grade. His work helped lead to the conviction of one flamboyantly corrupt bureaucrat, forcing the government to crack down on the most influential social media personalities and further restrict internet speech.