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.
I Cry When I Run
“You’re about to hear me have more fun than I’ve ever had in the history of Beautiful/Anonymous,” says Chris Gethard at the top of this week’s episode, and what follows does not disappoint. The latest caller is a charming young man who talks about his experience being homeschooled, marrying young, discovering his own anxiety problems, and getting emotional while running. The episode goes through peaks and valleys in his life story, from the time when his father had a heart attack and his fear of genetic inevitability, to a hilarious story about when a yawn caused his jaw to lock and his mouth to hang open. Gethard is clearly amused by the caller, because he is undeniably likable and candid throughout. It’s also an episode with a few firsts, as Gethard asks to speak to the caller’s best friend from childhood. He even talks to the friend’s fiancée, who happened to be there at the time, adding to the casual joy of the call, as they share embarrassing stories and an early recording of their first screamo album as teens. It’s an episode that takes advantage of the real-time format, allowing for a consistently endearing hour in someone else’s shoes.
Bret Easton Ellis Podcast
Giving an actor a line reading is usually a cardinal sin for any film, theater, or television director. But it turns out Peter Bogdanovich does it all the time. During the shoot of The Last Picture Show, he even gave Timothy Bottoms the exact inflection of a particular sentence, making their already tense relationship more difficult. This anecdote, as told to Bret Easton Ellis, shows that, despite Bogdanovich getting lumped together with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma, the only thing the “New Hollywood” directors really had in common (other than a historical appreciation of the medium) was a love of breaking the rules. As if to drive home their differences, Ellis spends a large portion of the interview asking his guest what his thoughts are on several of his contemporaries, including Robert Altman (“We didn’t get along personally.”), Sam Peckinpah (“Not my cup of tea.”), and Stanley Kubrick (“I like early Kubrick.”). Thanks to the diplomatic calmness of his voice (Remember how much shit his character got away with saying on The Sopranos?), Bogdanovich’s statements and showbiz tales always come off more like scholarly observations than gripes, which only ups the entertainment factor of the episode. Hollywood just doesn’t make ’em like this anymore.
The Nostalgia Critic, Doug Walker, joins the CinemaJaw crew in a dissection on that week’s movie news and trivia. Hosts Matt Kubinski and Rye The Movie Guy along with with their engineer/ co-host Eliaz Rodriguez have developed this well-segmented show to near perfection. With highbrow film commentary that doesn’t make you want to puke and an infectious sense of fun, they review Sausage Party, weigh in on War Dogs, and debate which Steven Spielberg classics don’t hold up. The overarching theme of the episode is entrepreneur movies, like The Social Network. You’ll hear everyone’s favorite films of that genre and some funny stories attached to them. “I’ll never forget Eliaz’s story of watching The Wolf Of Wall Street with his girlfriend’s parents on Christmas day,” Kubinski laughs. Walker, who built a career off of a series of YouTube videos where he is an angsty critic, describes why he thinks his character resonates with viewers, saying, “It’s kind of morphed into something that the internet kind of represents and with that he can even sort of become the voice of reason.” CinemaJaw doesn’t claim to be the final word with its critiques, but it’s a damn good conversation.
All The President’s Men/The Parallax View
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Considering that, with every passing episode, the perennially great Chapo Trap House seems to be gradually turning into a film podcast itself, a new, film-centric offshoot of it may seem redundant. Even with its first episode, though, Frost/Christman has already established itself as a unique and eminently enjoyable standalone show. There is an abundance (if not an overabundance) of film podcasts out there, but hosts Amber A’Lee Frost and Matt Christman bring a perspective steeped in leftist politics, American history, film history, and delightful vulgarity that easily sets the show apart from the pack. It might take one or two more episodes for the pair to find their rhythm—and to sort out some minor technical issues—but if their tremendous discussion of Alan J. Pakula’s paranoia thrillers The Parallax View and All The President’s Men is anything to go by, the future of the show holds nothing but promise.
The Jackie And Laurie Show
Our Worst One Yet
Can we talk about jingles for a second? Love it or hate it, The Jackie And Laurie Show intro song will be stuck in your head all day upon listening. This episode captures the conclusion of co-hosts Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin’s recent week in New York. Recorded in a corner of The Stand comedy club, the ambience of the show taking place downstairs, with patrons walking up to mingle, adds more than it takes away. It feels like you’re welcomed into the world of comedy, especially because we’re listening in right after Kilmartin got off stage. “I was doing my Spanish ‘letting my kid drown’ joke,” Kilmartin says of her set. “And, I pushed him in the water because he can’t swim. And some girl goes, ‘Oh that sounds like he’s a black kid.’ And I’m like, what?” Every episode has a few honest dissections of comedy logic and the complex reality of the business. Kashian—who frequently opens for Brian Regan and Maria Bamford—talks about balancing opening sets with her own headlining work: “You don’t want to get lost in somebody else’s career, even if you love them!”
Jordan, Jesse GO!
We Love This Stuff: Travis McElroy
This week’s episode of Jordan, Jesse, Go! Is a Maximum Fun extravaganza, as the hosts are joined by prolific podcaster Travis McElroy. The chemistry among the three is instant and hilarious. It almost feels like McElroy was a third host all along, as the trio goofs on McElroy’s brush with childhood fame as an anchor on a local kids TV program called Kidsmag and begin mapping out a plan to fulfill Jordan Morris’ life-long dream of being on the local news. Morris and McElroy also try to help Jesse Thorn with a dilemma he’s been having with his youngest son about a restaurant called My Taco, with solutions ranging from gas-lighting to “daddy secrets.” One of the best segments in the episode is when McElroy mentions being caught by his wife while mindlessly singing, “I’m the scat man!” to himself. This inspires a conversation about weird habits that people develop when they’re alone, and how marriage affects them. Thorn confesses he doesn’t have any “alone skills” after being married for so long, Morris seems fearful of someone seeing him when he thinks he’s alone, and McElroy posits that a partner’s acceptance of those strange habits is one of the things that makes marriage great.
From the show’s inception, Open Run has been a basketball program on the outside of the NBA looking in. It’s a podcast by and for the hoops obsessed, riddled through with a rich vein of insouciant humor and cleverness, differentiating it from the wolf pack of status quo sports shows. But for all of the vitality that hosts Stefan Marolachakis and Jesse Williams brought to the table, the show was still a bit unpredictable. Case in point: Its last episode dropped after Game 6 of this year’s NBA Finals. The show is back, however, announcing a “relaunch” of sorts, and with it a new boss to ensure that Open Run operates on another level. As the title reveals that man is none other than Lebron James, with the podcast joining James’ multimedia network Uninterrupted, netting them a long-form interview with the man himself as a result. Listening to James is fantastic, with him coming across like a chess grandmaster mixed with a team general manager in the way that he is able to perceive the game. Marolachakis and Williams don’t hold back with their impish charm and it helps bring James to their level, eventually discussing what type of animal J.R. Smith is and the difference between the best hip-hop groups versus duos. Open Run has returned, and it’s as surprising and wonderful as ever.
The 2016 Summer Olympics may have drawn to a close, but the age of people walking around the gym with huge, conspicuous, perfectly circular marks on their bodies is only now entering its heyday. This is in large part thanks to the Olympic athletes, like 23-time gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps and realtor-turned-bronze-medal-gymnast Alex Naddour. As soon as they appeared on our television screens sporting those round, purple marks, people everywhere started asking, “What is that? And how can I make myself look equally ridiculous?” Turns out, this is the byproduct of an ancient Chinese medical practice called cupping, in which glass jars of hot air are applied mouth-down to the skin so that a suction is formed and, through some improbable series of events, damaged muscles are supposedly healed. Actual medical expert Dr. David Gorski of the blog Science-Based Medicine joins Point Of Inquiry host Josh Zepps to not only explain why this silly-sounding practice is just as silly as it sounds, but to walk us through a brief history of the unscientific fads that have swept the Olympics in years past. (Anyone remember Kinesio tape or magnetic bracelets?) If even after this, you still see the benefits of strategic self-hickeying, don’t worry, you’re in good company.
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Small Batch: You're Listening To Delilah
For listeners, one of the better trends to come out of the podcasting world in the last few years is the proliferation of timely, shorter-than-usual bonus episodes, like the ones weekly roundtable programs NPR Politics Podcast and Linda Holmes’ Pop Culture Happy Hour have embraced and now produce on a regular basis. Not only do those “Small Batch” and “Quick Take” segments acknowledge the reality that, for many people, podcasts are now the equivalent of daily newspapers, but they’re a way to curate relevant content across programs to different audiences who would have otherwise missed it. This week, Holmes lent the PCHH feed to Morning Edition host David Greene to share his eye-opening, thought-provoking conversation with radio personality Delilah (Delilah Rene Luke off-air), who celebrates her 20 years of empathizing with callers and dedicating songs. In a 10-minute chat, Rene Luke—whose personal history is incredible—makes a powerful case for the unique sense of companionship live radio can convey to listeners, and without saying it explicitly, conveys that her schmaltzy-seeming song choices and banter fall differently on the ears of the overworked, overstressed people to whom she speak directly.
The Room Where It's Happening
Adam Savage: Hamilton Is Our Shakespeare
Will America’s love with the Hamilton ever fade? Comedians Travon Free and Mike Drucker hope not. After all, they started a whole podcast about it. The fandom runs deep in this premier episode with Adam Savage (Myth Busters) and comedian Jess Dweck joining the duo as guests. The hosts’ respect for the musical may stem from their own writerly experiences in the entertainment industry. Free wrote for The Daily Show under Jon Stewart and currently writes for Any Given Wednesday, and Drucker writes for The Tonight Show, which has its own fair share of musically guided moments. Is it required that you have seen Hamilton to listen to this podcast? No. Does it help? Yes. Otherwise some of the references may catch you off guard. “I’ve devolved to the point where I can’t stop making other rhymes to the actual songs,” says Free. “One day I came up with the lyric: The Room Where I’m Crappin’.” Savage speaks with the most passion in the room, and when he quotes the lyrics, he finds deeper meanings in them, almost like a preacher dissecting the Bible. This is a great start to a wonderful series. The Room Where It’s Happening will easily convert you.
Rose Buddies is a podcast about the Bachelor franchise hosted by My Brother, My Brother And Me’s hilarious “babiest brother” Griffin McElroy and his wife Rachel McElroy. On this installment the two charmers recap Bachelor In Paradise, after the first full week without Chad, or as the McElroys call him, “Rod.” It’s refreshing to hear an episode that is excited to move away from that chapter of the franchise. They talk about bad kisses versus physically incompatible kisses, Mexico’s crab invasion, and most importantly, the Canadian prince, Daniel. Griffin’s pure joy when talking about Daniel’s belly button prank is infectious, and is just one of many instances in which the episode’s light-heartedness flourishes. They also discuss Evan’s creepy advances toward Carly and their subsequent hospital date, as well as the return of Ashley I and her date with Daniel. Griffin describes the two affectionately, saying “They’re both like little ducks, like little baby ducks and I just want them to take care of each other.” With quotes like that, the episode is recapping at its finest, and the show’s a perfect companion piece to everything Bachelor.
Andra Day - “Forever Mine”
Andra Day views “Forever Mine”—the opening track of her debut album, Cheers To The Fall—as equal parts hip-hop and doo-wop, and most of her Song Exploder episode centers on this dichotomy. But as she and co-writer and producer Rob Kleiner explain, it’s not a true dichotomy at all. Kleiner points out that many 1950s drumbeats are already “hip-hop-esque,” as they embody the “sampled, chewed-up tone” found in a lot of contemporary rap music. That percussive aesthetic—along with some undeniably hooky piano triplets—make The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You” the biggest influence on “Forever Mine.” But the songwriting duo also walks listeners through how they converted emulation to innovation, with Day throwing a Mobb Deep reference into the lyrics and repositioning the content as a love letter to God. That’s a very hip-hop thing to do, too. Or is it doo-wop?
Think it’s hard to imagine Luke Skywalker without his lightsaber, or Indiana Jones without his bull whip, or Hobo With A Shotgun without his shotgun? Try imagining Donald Trump without his Twitter account. It is without a doubt his weapon of choice in his ongoing battle against the forces of things that aren’t Donald Trump. But there was a time before the skin-thinned Putin aficionado had an immediate means of worldwide dissemination of whatever thought last stumbled through his head. On this episode of Trumpcast, host Jacob Weisberg meets the man who planted the 140 character seed in the garden of Trump. Peter Costanzo was a publicist tasked with making the world care about the supposed-billionaire’s latest book when, in 2009, he suggested that Donald Trump get in on this social media thing that was sweeping the internet. So, he created a Facebook page and whipped up the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account for his client, completely unaware that this would one day be used to share memes from white supremacist websites and popularize the word “Sad!” For what it’s worth, Costanzo doesn’t sound particularly contrite for his ignominious place in history. Nor should he. From a marketing standpoint, it was a tremendous success.
Marc Maron must have anticipated that an hour-plus chat with Werner Herzog would go to some philosophically heady places. So he starts off his latest double-feature episode by going back and forth with his good pal Godfrey. For roughly 30 minutes or so, the two comedians riff, perhaps in an effort to offset the more complex conversation to come. And when it does, it starts going deep right off the bat, touching on both existentialism and the benefits of tangible currency in just the first 10 minutes. But to Maron’s surprise, Herzog ends up being more optimistic and lighthearted compared to him, even encouraging Maron at several points to embrace the brighter side of his personality; the truer side, as the German director-writer-actor-everything sees it. While Herzog being funny, convivial, and playful probably isn’t a shock to anyone who knows his work, it’s still a conversation that stands out for how much ground it covers, and for how fun the two men have doing it. Between this and Maron’s landmark talk with President Obama last year, it’s becoming clear that he conducts some of his best interviews when he’s just a little bit intimidated.
How much of a bummer would it be to download the newest episode of WTF only discover midway through that Kristen Wiig—one of the funniest human beings currently alive—is kind of a jerk? Or maybe just boring and lame? It was probably at least mildly real concern for a number of fans, because the actor, comedian, and writer hasn’t agreed to many interviews as herself. She seems unusually eager to sidestep recorded conversations about her own history and private life in favor of arriving on late night talk shows as a bachelorette or a khaleesi or what have you. So, it would be easy to imagine she’d be kind of uneasy talking about anything outside the realm of promotion when she sat down in the Cat Ranch and subjected herself to Marc Maron’s interrogations. The good news is that that’s not the case. She’s warm and talkative and thoughtful and seemingly not full of herself in the slightest. She’s also clearly not super excited to be talking about her childhood or about the roundabout path that led to her career in comedy, and probably won’t put herself through any more of these ordeals than she has to, which is all the more reason to give the episode a listen.
How crazy would it be if the political beef between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hit the podcast level? Trump has yet to release an official cast, but this premier episode of With Her, launched on what one could call the Clinton Podcast Network, topped the charts upon its release. Sixteen minutes in length, this phone conversation between the former secretary of state and With Her co-host Max Linsky is an obvious humanizing effort that kind of does the trick. When anxiously asked how he should refer to the Democratic nominee, Mrs. Clinton says, “You can call me Hillary, you can call me Mrs. Secretary, you can call me Hey You. Anything you want.” The most intriguing line of discussion has to do with the Democratic National Convention. Clinton, who often appears scripted, reveals what it felt like to walk on the stage and address her party and the nation. “I can’t back out now!” she laughs. “It was both a liberating moment and a crushing sense of responsibility.” With Her is off to a great start, and if this podcast evolves from the checklist of softball questions that are asked here, it will succeed.
“[John] Ford said to me one time ‘Oh, that was just an accident. Most of the good things in pictures happen by accident.’ And I had made one film, and I thought, ‘Really?’”—Peter Bogdanovich, Bret Easton Ellis Podcast
“Everybody thinks I’m so nice… No, I’m just tired. [Laughs.] I’m exhausted, okay?”—Delilah Rene Luke on recording her syndicated nighttime radio show, Pop Culture Happy Hour
“It’s a TV show about competitive dumping! Like, that’s what it is. It’s the Olympics of dumps.”—Griffin McElroy on Bachelor In Paradise, Rose Buddies
“In this part, I wanted the rap feel. But I can’t rap. If I try to rap, the tone of my voice is just like ‘Girl, come on. This is not Sesame Street.’” —Andra Day on the bridge of “Forever Mine,” Song Exploder
“You don’t look like you’re being driven by dark forces. I’m sure you love a good steak once in a while.” —Werner Herzog being Werner Herzog, WTF