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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The omni-present inflatable men outside of cell phone shops and used car dealerships have many variations and serve a bizarre, distracting purpose wherein a tall, slender man-thing appears to flail desperately, as if dying, even, to attract business. Host Roman Mars and correspondent Sam Greenspan pick at how and why these men were designed this way, and whether they really work. They’re banned in Houston and serve as scarecrows. For something so eye-catching they still blend into a cityscape, making their backstory all the more fascinating. Peter Minshall is a renowned artist living in Trinidad, and was originally known for festival art and parade puppets in the mid-’90s. Minshall was hired to create art for the1996 Olympics, where his giant dancing tube guys, or tallboys, were made to dance and jump. And these were also his first attempt to make puppets powered not just by humans but by blowing air. Minshall isn’t altogether pleased with the low-rent explosion of copy-cats, as they are largely the result of a licensing disagreement stemming from his original design. But 99% Invisible reveals this human struggle is complex and simple, entailing far more than the average layman might have guessed.
The Art Of Wrestling
CM Punk (Returns)
When professional wrestling’s favorite bad boy CM Punk appeared on his best friend Colt Cabana’s podcast last week to blow the lid off of why he seemingly abruptly quit his job with WWE in January, he didn’t expect to crash an entire email account as frenzied fans hungry for answers rushed to ask their own questions. Punk’s return to Cabana’s show is markedly less groundbreaking than his initial visit—it’d be tough to top being fired on his wedding day after working through an undiagnosed staph infection for months—but brings just the same charming aggression that the Second City Saints are known for. The primary audience for these tell-alls is most likely those who felt burned by Punk’s sudden disappearance from television seeking a modicum of closure, but Punk’s anecdotes from the road should frustrate and amaze the uninitiated as well. The tale of being pulled from a pre-existing $20,000 payday at Wizard World Comic Con to instead work four straight nights of street fights in Mexico for $5,000 highlights the latest installment in wrestling’s biggest, realest, and most divisive story of the year.
On The wAI Out
The Bugle co-host John Oliver has learned that he is on the long list for Time’s Person Of The Year, with 1.6 percent of the vote, between Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Oliver complains that while he doesn’t want to be voted Person Of The Year, he surely wants to be higher up the list than “fucking Bezos.” Christmas whisky reviews are this week’s section to go straight into the bin, and Stephen Hawking adds some flavor via a disccusion of his recent comments to the BBC regarding artificial intelligence and the power it has to take over humanity, given that its growth has so far outpaced biological evolution. Oliver notes that this was something that Hawking said during an interview on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver in June, and that it would likely have made headlines at the time had Oliver not then derailed the conversation by asking who would win in a fight between himself and a robot. Co-host Andy Zaltzman does a spectacular piece on the recent Chinese crackdown on puns by making as many Chinese puns as possible, showing that British punnery is on a completely different level than in the states. Finally, there’s an update on last episode’s competition “My Country ’Tis A Dick.”
Bob Odenkirk has been making the rounds on the podcast circuit as of late, publicizing his book A Load Of Hooey, and much like Odenkirk’s appearances in various films and television shows, each time is as refreshing as the next. Odenkirk reveals his predilection for playing the straight man in comedy comes out of feeling more like a dramatic actor. Specifically, when Odenkirk was sharing the stage at Second City with Chris Farley, he would mentally place himself in the audience and have a hard time imagining that anyone would pay attention to him over Farley, on account of not being as magnetic a personality. Things get interesting when Mr. Show is brought up, as Odenkirk is very open about the intentions of the show and how he is able to see it as a bit of a failure in the end, lamenting that the show simply did not reach a wider audience when it aired and in the time since. Though he is sensitive to the fact that it served to inspire a generation of comedians, it has still taken 16 years to gain a greater foothold. A general air sadness hangs over the interview, making for an unflinchingly honest and important listen.
We’re maybe never quite so vulnerable as we are when we have to shit, when sweat pours from foreheads and we’re meet with the horrible realization that the toilet’s just too far away. Doodie Calls revels in these moments, providing a safe space for comedians to share their most humiliating “bathroom attacks.” This latest episode finds hosts Doug Mand and Jack Dolgin—back from a three-month hiatus—welcoming Austen Earl, a writer who, in Mand’s terms, is “sitting on a shit mine.” He’s not kidding. Earl’s complicated relationship with crap began as a child, when the stench of his father’s shits—coupled with the hot steam still billowing from the shower—taught him that “a grown man has to take a shit every morning or his life will fall apart.” From there, Earl bounces between stories of an ill-fated jog, an episode of Frasier, and his poop-phobic girlfriend, all punctuated by Mand and Dolgin’s never-ending shit puns. It’s more than hilarious—it’s cathartic, a full-on embrace of something most of society is too embarrassed to ever acknowledge. Everybody poops, after all, and this consistently hilarious podcast touts that as something to celebrate, not hold in.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Part of the brilliance of the conceit of The Remake is that it seeks only middling films for the hosts and guest to hypothetically remake in pitch form. One doesn’t especially want to see classics remade, nor bottom-of-the-barrel fare, but films that exist in the middle ground? There is an entire world of C-grade films that could be salvaged through a retelling. This is spelled out explicitly in the episode by guests Abi Jenkins and Ross Menzies as a way of explaining what led them to choose The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Co-host Rob Grabowski agrees, stating it tops his own personal list, and is full of good ideas that are poorly executed. Remake co-host Josiah Jenkins seems to want only to remake the film because of the copious amount of legal nerdiness involved in the movie. Suggested remakes of the film include: a blind, feral Dennis Nedry; faking out audiences by disguising it as a run-of-the-mill horror movie set in Costa Rica; Ian Malcolm rage-hunting dinosaurs out of spite for the events of the first film; and a unique, poignant version from the point of view of the dinosaurs as they try to parse what is happening when the humans invade.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
Henry Hudson, Part 1and Part 2
Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey need to compensate a bit when they feature well-known historical figures on the program by digging so deeply into their lives that true oddities do in fact come out. A 17th century English explorer, Henry Hudson led an action-packed life that included diverse adventures from fighting storms to fighting mutinies, from terrorizing indigenous people to discovering mermaids. In part one we learn all of the above, as a tenacious Hudson attempts again and again to carve his way through the icy arctic and find a trade route over North America. It’s an impossible task, and it isn’t helped by Hudson’s insane tendency to lie to his crew about whether they are headed back to England to be reunited with their families or are actually forging into more icy wastelands (something he did to multiple crews on multiple occasions). Little is known of Hudson’s early life, so it is his professional actions that define him. Wilson and Frey paint a deeply flawed portrait of the man, who was survived by a remarkable legacy that seems to have overlooked his many failures as an explorer and ship’s captain. In the second episode of the podcast Wilson and Frey focus on what got Hudson killed. Though his early voyages suffered greatly from his poor communication skills and his belief in a flawed 80-year-old message that had misled him about this passage to the north, Hudson managed a third and final voyage that put the misery of his previous failures to shame. Traveling farther than before and sticking even harder to his fatal hubris, Hudson’s ship experienced mutinies that swelled with much greater ferocity than they had on previous voyages. Hudson ran arrogantly harsh mutiny trials, showed ridiculous favoritism, and ran a terrible miniature outpost on land when the boat became too cold during the winter. It’s impressive how much the future of North America hinged on how Hudson decided to distribute a winter coat belonging to a deceased crew member. The treachery and pettiness attached to that one decision would haunt Hudson and leave him floating in a small vessel off the coast of the Americas. Rumors persist both about Hudson’s final fate and whether he was making his brash decisions because he was a double agent for another government. And it’s this ambiguity that makes the double episode so potent and fascinating. His name is splattered across Western civilization, but no one knows what Henry Hudson really wanted to accomplish or where he finally met his end.
Turned Out A Punk
Meredith Graves (Perfect Pussy)
Early in his podcasting career Damian Abraham has proven that Turned Out A Punk is as essential a music-interview podcast as there’s ever been. There’s no pretense to Abraham’s interview style, as he opts to project the notion that every experience the listener had–whether it be an obsession with a go-nowhere local band or regrettable gateway punk band–is a shared part of the culture’s history. This is imperative to why this week’s chat–which is the longest in the podcast’s short history–with Meredith Graves is so thoroughly engaging. The interview focuses heavily on Graves formative years, and though the interplay between Abraham and Graves is fluid and natural, it’s her ability to recall details and set scenes that makes the story of how she snuck into a Murder Junkies show or snapped a photo with professional wrestlers Rob Van Dam and Booker T so enjoyable. Yet, it’s when Graves discusses the rampant problems with sexism in the punk and hardcore communities that this episode becomes essential. Her love of hardcore is marred by the bands and people that made going to shows feel like a danger purely because of her gender, and when she opens up about how these things made her briefly quit hardcore the podcast expresses just how complex these scenes can be, both internally and externally.
Over the course of 555 episodes host Marc Maron’s opening monologues have gone from narcissistic, skippable diatribes to an important component of the episode itself, showcasing that WTF isn’t so much about interviewing celebrities as an audio-diary with a hook. Perhaps time and familiarity have worn away listeners’ resistances, but Maron’s openness and honest emotion during this segment make it nearly as important as the interview that follows. This week legendary television producer Norman Lear drops by the Cat Ranch to discuss his life in television, along the way stunning listeners with his crystal-clear presence of mind at 92. Amazing insights abound, such as Lear relating a story about how seeing Frank Sinatra in a USO show while abroad informed his creation of Archie Bunker. There is a sense of loss that one feels listening to Lear’s tales of making it in Hollywood in the 1950s, with so much having changed in the way a person can break into the business. The conversation is lively, showing how in-touch Lear still is with the industry, as he confesses his adoration for South Park, noting that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have admitted Eric Cartman was their attempt at an updated take on Archie Bunker.
“They are men made of tubes, tubes full of air.”—Sam Greenspan describing the strange inflatable man phenomena, 99% Invisible
“I’m not a bad communicator, they just don’t like the way I communicate.”—CM Punk, The Art Of Wrestling
“I get away with probably eight out of 10, but the two that she hears? She’s so disgusted with me I couldn’t even imagine her knowing how many are actually happening.”—Austen Earl on farting in front of his girlfriend, Doodie Calls
“Oh, living dinosaurs? Yawn. Tell me more about the paperwork!”—Josiah Jenkins, on how The Lost World: Jurassic Park should have been an exciting movie about a non-disclosure agreement, The Remake