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.
Between The Liner Notes
The musical amalgamation of blues, ragtime, brass band, and African rhythms that makes up jazz was born into the world in the smoky barrooms of New Orleans. But it spent its formative years in the city’s legal red-light district most commonly known as Storyville. For two decades spanning across the turn of the 20th century, this neighborhood lured throngs of men and women with the promise of ethnically exotic prostitutes, lively games of chance, and an endless stream of intoxicants. It was in this swirling haze of vice that seminal musicians like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton tooled with proto-jazz styles and helped create a wholly original and dangerous product that would one day be cherished by dorkish uncles and somber college students everywhere. In this episode of Between The Liner Notes, host Matthew Billy enlists the aid of the curator of Tulane University’s jazz oral history archives to shine a light on the murky early days of this music form, and what’s revealed is genuinely fascinating.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Almost Mandatory: Jason Mantzoukas, Thomas Middleditch
Few things in the Earwolf universe are more gratifying than when Scott Aukerman and friends go off on an extended tangent about pop music, or more specifically, whatever was playing on KROQ during the ’90s. One moment with fan favorites Jason Mantzoukas and Thomas Middleditch this week harkens back to U Talkin’ U2 To Me?’s “Staind Glass,” when Aukerman fails to defend the idea that Smash Mouth had some inspired, non-Shrek related tracks (snippets from iTunes prove otherwise). Not surprisingly, Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” is closely held in Mantzoukas’ heart, and Middleditch chats about being moved by some goofing around footage of Elliott Smith in Heaven Adores You. There’s nothing as instant-classic as Kid Detectives or “heynong man,” but true to form, Middleditch’s British amateur barrister character achieves all the glorious, macabre goofiness Comedy Bang! Bang! thrives on. A benign conversation culminates in Aukerman trying to save Mantzoukas from a consensual murder-fuck party while “Edmond Carlyle” sings Oliver! in the background. Even funnier, though, is all three collectively realizing after the plugs that they forgot to wrap up a loose end they’d been building toward the whole show.
Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period
The Black Film Canon: Aisha Harris, Dan Kois
From the show’s inception, Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period hosts W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery have held fast to the notion that certain films fall into the category of “black people homework.” This is to say that they exist outside of the paradigm of movies simply as entertainment, being either of landmark importance in black filmmaking or about subject matter directly reflecting an important moment in the American black experience. On this week’s episode, the pair take a break from dissecting one of Denzel Washington’s films to bring on special guests, Slate writer Aisha Harris (returning, following her appearance on episode #16) and culture editor Dan Kois. Harris and Kois appear to talk about their recently released piece, “The Black Film Canon,” chronicling the 50 best films by black directors. The show provides a perfect platform for such a conversation, as it is basically a fully codified “black people homework.” The conversation between the four is delightfully convivial, insightful, and frequently hilarious. Things are especially funny when all parties make fun of Avery’s choices for the list, namely his stumping for The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, as well as his seeming inability to write interesting quotes explaining why the films are exemplary. The episode’s excellent, engaging discussion serves as another reminder of how important a show DWITGAOATP truly is.
Doin' It With Mike Sacks
Doin’ It is the podcast extension of the type of work Mike Sacks has become known for: interviewing comedy writers. As an expert humorist in his own right, it’s a mesh of his unique wit and desire to know more about how comedy writers tick. Before playing his conversation with guest, Megan Amram, who talks candidly about her experiences as a woman in TV writers’ rooms, Sacks gets personal. “I’ve been getting a lot of gruff lately about not revealing more personal details about myself,” he says at the top. To resolve this he reads a long list of things that he loves, like “having impromptu sex in the back of a car with Jerry Seinfeld driving.” Sacks describes Amram as “patient zero when it comes to comedy writers making the leap from the internet.” Starting as creatively funny twitter user, Amram bridged her massive level of retweets into a career writing for awards shows and later comedy series like Parks And Recreation. By highlighting the people behind the scenes, Doin’ It brings to light the complex logic of composing a joke and sustaining a lifestyle built around writing them.
The Conjuring 2
Some people, if you ask them how a movie was, they’ll say “It was pretty good,” or “I wasn’t that into it,” or “I like the part where the thing exploded.” Other people will spend an hour meticulously pulling it apart to explain each discrete piece of narrative that worked and each one that didn’t. The hosts of Film Junk are definitely in the latter group, which is brilliant for listeners who appreciate that sort of thing. This is not just a regular film review podcast. Every week, Sean Dwyer, Jay Cheel, and Frank Knezic talk for about an hour about a newish film, and they really drill down into its marrow. There’s not much by way of spoilers, but their conversation would probably be better appreciated by people who have also seen the film and will recognize the minute details they’re discussing. This week, in the course of debating the merits of James Wan’s newly released The Conjuring 2, they spend a decent amount of time picking apart the ‘70s-period set design and deliberating over how it serves the film’s overall tone. For the type of person who gets excited by that sentence, this is definitely a podcast worth subscribing to.
Live From Oakland’s Islamic Cultural Center
#GoodMuslimBadMuslim hosts Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh fill this episode with laughter as they entertain and inform a live audience at the Islamic Cultural Center in Oakland. Through a series of current topics, Ahmed and Noorbakhsh define, re-define and explore facets of the American female Muslim experience. (Note: this episode was actually recorded before the California primary.) Hearing the two interact is all the proof you need that Muslim people are not a monolith. Take Ramadan for example: Taz begins describing the elaborate process of finding out when the holiday begins that involves tracking the moon and counting the number of rings around it. In response, Zahra exclaims “No, you just Google it!” Listening may feel like too much of an insider experience for non-Muslims, but most of the talking points translate. The podcast has a great balance of serious and funny. Signature segments of the show like “Election Watch” pack as many laughs as they do troubling information. In response to news that people are using bullets dipped in pigs blood to shoot Muslims, Ahmed says “that makes more sense than just wrapped in bacon.”
The Great Debates
Beer Is Better Than Wine
There is much to love about The Great Debates, the freewheeling, comic podcast from the wild minds of hosts Steve Hely, Dave King, and Dan Medina. The premise is deceptive in its simplicity. Hely and King participate in a series of off-the-cuff debates over topics posed by moderator Medina without a modicum of seriousness. The brilliance of the show comes in the way Hely and King—both talented television writers for programs ranging from Parks And Recreation to Late Night With David Letterman—truly attack their chosen argument, whether for or against, despite having no real investment in the argument. This week’s topics concern whether planet Earth is simply too small, as well as the degree of difficulty inherent with performing the duties of a television weatherperson. The resulting positions held are often completely ludicrous, such as Hely’s argument that standing is among the hardest things to do in television. Between debates the hosts cover several topics, including whether actors having big heads indicate their use of human growth hormone. One of the best things comes when the three discuss how the show’s Donald Trump inspired hats, which read “Make America Debate Again,” have the unintended effect of being mistaken for actual Trump merchandise.
How To Be A Person
How To Write Cartoon Sound Effects: Ed Brubaker
On this week’s episode hosts comedy writers Mike Drucker and Jess Dweck welcome one of the most celebrated writers and creators of modern comics, Ed Brubaker, to the show for an entirely delightful hour of conversation. Brubaker, whose work on Marvel titles like Captain America and Daredevil would surely have cemented his reputation (he created The Winter Soldier, after all), but it has been his later work in collaboration with artist Sean Phillips—Criminal, Fatale, The Fade Out—that has really secured his place in the firmament of comics creators. For their part, Drucker and Dweck are a lively pair of co-hosts, guiding their interview with Brubaker into continually interesting territory. Listeners learn what it was like for Brubaker to grow up living in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and how that inspired his take on the revival of Bucky Barnes in the Captain America comics. Brubaker also dishes on the difference he’s experienced working now on HBO’s forthcoming Westworld series. At one point Dweck professes to not be as into comics as Drucker, she later reveals her connection to the now-defunct pioneering comics label Eclipse. The episode ends with Brubaker giving the pair a lesson in how he constructs onomatopoeic sound effects for his comics, after which they force him to give supervillain nicknames to a number of characters both real and imagined.
I Was There Too
Carrie And The Hustler: Piper Laurie
This week, Matt Gourley breaks away from his normal routine of interviewing people who had tiny, mostly unmemorable roles in big, highly memorable movies, but you’d never guess it from the tone of the conversation. Despite her remarkably successful and respected character, Piper Laurie recalls the highpoints of her six-decade acting career with all the pretentiousness of a crossing guard. She makes an appearance on I Was There Too specifically to discuss two films straddling either end of a 15-year hiatus. To hear her talk, the only aspect of filming Robert Rossen’s 1961 film The Hustler that was more intimidating than Paul Newman’s expansive blue eyes was the menace that seemed only marginally contained beneath George C. Scott’s solemn countenance. And her recollections of playing the protagonist’s unhinged mother in Brian DePalma’s 1976 horror classic Carrie—under the reasonably well-argued assumption that it was a secret comedy—will serve as an intriguing footnote for anyone lucky enough to have caught the new documentary DePalma. Later in the episode, Gourley talks his fiancée Amanda Lund into giving the listening audience a taste of her superpower: the ability to make up ridiculous alternative lyrics to songs on the spot.
The Personality Myth
One of the bedrock principles on which our understanding of the world is founded relies on the immutability of personality. People we interact with will likely behave a certain way based on who they are at their core. On this week’s thoroughly excellent and engrossingly thought-provoking Invisibilia, Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller confront that notion head on with striking results. Things get murky almost immediately, with Spiegel and Miller taking their exploration into some extremely uneasy territory. That is to say that it concerns an inmate convicted of committing a heinous crime—rape, in the case of this story—and whether their personality is resistant to change due to some inherent rottenness. This is countered with the psychological explanation that this idea may be part of our own flawed expectation of the world as being fundamentally constant. The story finds Spiegel, along with NPR colleague Nurith Aizenman, talking to Delia Cohen about her experience attempting to bring TEDx conferences to prisons, and how it forced her through an emotional crucible after learning of the reason why her inmate contact Dan was behind bars. The resulting discussion is a thorny one, but it gets to some very interesting points about the ephemeral, situational nature of the self.
Someone Else's Movie
Dana Gould On Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
Considering the particularly feverish election season the United States has endured over the past year, as well as the utter real-life satire events of last Thursday’s Brexit vote, there may be no more timely a film to represent the state of things than Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Cold War comedy, Dr. Strangelove. On this week’s episode of the always insightful film discussion podcast Someone Else’s Movie, host Norm Wilner is joined by the hilarious and vastly knowledgeable writer, producer, and comedian Dana Gould to talk about how the film just might be the perfect comedy. According to Gould, the essential elements of the film which help to make it such a landmark piece of cinema are found in its economy of plot and setting, as well as honest fear of the situation. That and the way that Sterling Hayden absolutely blows Peter Sellers off the screen with his menacing stillness. Wilner and Gould’s jovial discussion, larded with several fascinating pieces of trivia, wends through a kaleidoscope of different topics along the way, from Curtis LeMay to Donald Trump, the Star Wars and Planet Of The Apes series, and even the You Must Remember This podcast. This episode represents yet another wonderful entry in this consistently solid, worthwhile show.
Say what you will about the long intro’s attached to the top of most WTF episodes. At least you get to enter Marc Maron’s world for a bit before the conversation rolls. This episode, however, keeps it relatively short as a way to jump into the fascinating lives of two guests. First is Dweezil Zappa, who opens up about the public legal battle he’s having regarding the estate of his father, Frank Zappa. And second is Deon Cole, the comedian from Chicago who writes for and co-stars on Black-ish, and previously became the first black writer for Conan O’Brien back when Conan still had the keys to The Tonight Show desk. WTF has become a comfortable home for musicians just as much as comedians to talk frankly about their lives. This definitely isn’t the first time Maron has dissected the complicated legal battle of a guest, and his sympathetic engagement is a fresh entrance for listeners to understand how family friction can interfere with the Zappa musical legacy. Things are more relaxed in the conversation with Cole, which genuinely feels like something you’d overhear in a green room. The secret to Cole’s unique success may lie in who his top influences are: George Carlin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Steven Wright.
In terms of weirdness, Neil Young‘s in the middle of a renaissance—his past few albums are as strange and diverse as anything released during the infamous Geffen years. But despite skepticism from record producers, critics, and even some fans, his bizarre genre experiments have always been sincere, and that’s one of the big takeaways from his conversation with Marc Maron. He didn’t rejigger his latest live album, Earth, with applause loops and animal noises because he was trying to be funny. He did it because he’s Neil Young, and Neil Young just does things. The interview highlight comes in the home stretch, when the WTF host asks Young to look back on some of his other idiosyncratic LPs. Once they get to the heavily vocoded curiosity, Trans, the musician reminds listeners that the album’s often impenetrable synth-pop represented his struggle to communicate with his son Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy. As Maron learns, sometimes Neil Young at his oddest is also Neil Young at his most empathetic.
“Soccer is the anime of sports.”—We Hate Movies