Murf Meyer and Diana Kolsky of Ménage A Trois

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 podmass@avclub.com.

Distraction Pieces
Jon Ronson Part 1 And 2

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

The Distraction Pieces hot streak continues to burn ever brighter. Coming off of last week’s important and touching Refugee Week interview, host Scroobius Pip welcomes the fascinating Jon Ronson onto the program for a wide-ranging discussion that spans nearly two hours of wonderful and interesting stories. Ronson, fresh off a publicity tour for his latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, gets things started by using the book as a screen to filter his reaction to the recent story of Rachel Dolezal’s race-bending. Ronson highlights his belief that there needs to be a buffer between the time when journalists learn about a story and when they write about it, so as to digest some of the humanity at the center of it rather than immediately telegraphing outrage. The pair have a great conversational chemistry, allowing for the interview to feel less formal. Ronson has accumulated an impressive arsenal of stories over his career, many of which he recounts for Pip, and they make for thrilling listening. Whether it be when Ronson was followed by agents from the shadowy Bilderberg group, to his playing a sidekick of sorts to real-life Seattle crime fighter Phoenix Jones, these two episodes simply fly by.
[Ben Cannon]


Everything Is Stories
But Not With Silver: Abraham Bolden

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

In podcasting, as in life, there are few things more affecting than an amazing story simply told. That is the central conceit of the Everything Is Stories podcast, an audio high-wire act which dazzles with its relative austerity of production and narration. What listeners get is a compelling and heartrending tale of overcoming, and ultimately falling prey to, racial prejudices in the 1950s and ’60s in America. The teller is Abraham Bolden, who was the first black Secret Serviceman to serve on the Presidential Protective Division guarding John F. Kennedy before ending up in prison under mysterious circumstances. Bolden, at 80 years old, has such crisp, lucid memories of his life, from meeting Miles Davis as a boy, to the chance situation that led to him getting the presidential assignment. Each serves to make the story all the more engaging. The matter-of-fact nature in which Bolden relates his trials and tribulations is amazing, especially when he admits to being driven nearly to rock bottom, contemplating the murder of a judge who was set to sentence him to prison. This is a thorny piece of history rarely told, and even more so, rarely told this well.
[Ben Cannon]


Everything's Coming Up Podcast!
“Marge Be Not Proud” & “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation”: Mike Scully

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Comedian Julia Prescott and musician Allie Goertz co-host this relatively new podcast, which finds the funny, affable gals chatting with comics, animators, and more about their favorite Simpsons episodes. It’s a simple conceit that pays dividends, as old-school Simpsons fans would be happy just listening to somebody quote golden-era episodes. But Prescott and Goertz establish themselves as more than mere fangirls in this interview with longtime Simpsons writer and former showrunner Mike Scully. Scully is a game guest, sharing fascinating anecdotes and behind-the-scenes details about two of his most revered episodes, “Marge Be Not Proud” (“Buy me ‘Bonestorm’ or go to hell!”) and “How I Spent my Summer Vacation” (featuring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Tom Petty). Scully, also a veteran of Everyone Loves Raymond and Parks And Recreation, has led a fascinating career, and the way he reflects on the show’s legacy and unimpeachable place in the pop culture canon is both humble and heartwarming. Considering the show’s storied litany of guest stars, Scully’s also got some great celebrity anecdotes. Bono? Loves booze. Lawrence Tierney? “Biggest dick in the world.” Bruce Springsteen? The “one that got away.”
[Randall Colburn]


Hello, From The Magic Tavern
Spintax The Green

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Once again this inventive puzzle-box of a show has another sequence slip into place, further unfolding its fantasy world in unexpected ways. But let’s not bury the lede—this week’s winningly jocular entry features the debut of one its best characters to date, the wizard Spintax the Green. Played with what can justly be called intense perfection by Charlie McCrackin, Spintax serves as an ideal foil for Matt Young’s wizard character, Usidore the Blue, allowing the cast to play the wizards against each other to great comic effect. McCrackin’s Spintax exudes charm—despite his nasal tone and quick patter—using his magic in cheap, David Blaine-like fashion to awe host Arnie Niekamp and his co-host Chunt (now returned to being a talking badger). Usidore, arriving late to the podcast taping, is immediately beside himself to find Spintax as the week’s special guest, as it is soon revealed that the two wizards have a complicated history. Several of the episode’s best elements come out of the clearly defined adversarial relationship between the pair, which is handled superbly by McCrackin and Young who are able to convey much through simple vocal inflections. Another humorous high point for a show exhibiting no signs of slowing down. Assuming the Dark Lord doesn’t destroy them all, that is.
[Ben Cannon]


Judge John Hodgman
An Alchemic Clark Bar Of Delight

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Some Judge John Hodgman listeners may find “clearing the docket” episodes to be easily skipped, but it’s a waste to do so. That’s because these types of episodes—when the honorable fake internet judge hears extra cases—have two things the regular episodes don’t. First, there’s the increased riffing between Hodgman and bailiff Jesse Thorn. Second, Hodgman gets to weigh a case strictly on how it’s initially presented. While much of the fun of a typical “Jay-Jay-Ho” episode comes from the inevitable friendship that blossoms between Hodgman and the litigants, there’s something sublime about listening to the judge take an argument and wander off into the playground of his legal imagination. Also, without guests to win over their capricious host, listeners get to hear a curmudgeonly Hodgman take absentee litigants to task. And that’s exactly what happens here, as the Judge weighs in on several cases brought before the court. Monsters who face the judicial wrath include a terrible boyfriend who wants to define candy as any “food without merit beyond its flavor,” a horrible daughter who wants to decline an invitation to her mother’s 60th birthday (which is 14 months away), and a gross wife who tortures her husband by leaving snot rags lying about the house.
[B.G. Henne]


Ménage A Trois Radio
Bethany Hall Of The Chris Gethard Show

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Inimitable Chris Gethard Show hype man Murf Meyer and his wife Diana Kolsky have built a world-class sex and dating show right under the noses of the Savage Lovecast, Sex Nerd Sandra scene. Building on their relationship with New York City’s underground comedy elite, the couple invites fellow entertainers and show businesspeople for mixed drinks and conversation at their apartment. Many regular sketch- and improv-style segments pepper the interviews—they give their takes on sex in the news, answer listener mail, and enact mock first dates, for example—and the whole affair’s friendly and inclusive tone leads to sometimes unexpectedly legitimate wisdom. This week finds fellow Gethard Show cast member Bethany Hall in the hot seat, whose longtime friendship with Meyer and Kolsky helps her stand out even against more big name guests, despite her usual soft-spoken nature. It’s a typical episode for the program, with each of the aforementioned recurring segments accounted for, but that says less about Hall’s involvement and more about Ménage Á Trois’ consistent quality.
[Nowah Jacobs]


Never Not Funny
Nikki Glaser

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

A short while into her latest Never Not Funny appearance, Nikki Glaser reveals to the crew that she hasn’t been listening to the show as regularly as she used to, mostly because she’s been busy. While it’s unfortunate for her that she’s been missing out on some very good episodes, it makes a whole lot of sense that she’s a Never Not Funny fan, because she is a nearly perfect guest for the show and seems to enjoy Jimmy Pardo and company’s presence as much as they enjoy her being there. While their discussion of bad MCs is a highlight, there’s no show-stopping bit or particularly quotable one-liners—and most of the opening, pre-guest time is dedicated to mocking the show’s videographer’s Facebook posts—but the episode is brilliant and hilarious nonetheless, and a suitable encapsulation of Never Not Funny as a whole: consistently great without ever really calling attention to itself in any way.
[Colin Griffith]


Reply All
The Takeover: Thomas Oscar

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

“The Takeover” is a quintessential Reply All episode that shows just how quickly you can take a left turn on the internet and wind up in the weird part. Enter Thomas Oscar, an Australian teen who kills boredom by creating oddly specific, parody Facebook groups. Inspired by his mother’s office job, which he saw as petty and soul-crushing, Oscar birthed Stackswell and Co., a Facebook group for a fake business that people could apply to “work” for. Imagine an online role-playing community, but instead of slaying Kobolds and finding treasure, people were changing toner, moving units, and filing TPS reports. Originally conceived as an inside joke, Stackswell and Co. went viral, with thousands seeking employment. “The Takeover” raises more questions than it can fully answer in a half hour, such as, why would anybody in their right mind want to spend time role-playing as an office drone? Why would Oscar spend hours managing a business that doesn’t even exist? The questions get even weirder when Oscar doesn’t like how he sees the company changing before his eyes. How do you deal with a corporate culture that completely fails to live up to your original satirical vision? And what happens when you’re a fake CEO that everybody wants to oust?
[B.G. Henne]


Rumble Strip Vermont
Three Weeks: Susan Wahlrab

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

There aren’t many podcasts that have the ability to set one on edge with just the episode description, but such is the case with this week’s Rumble Strip Vermont. Then again, there aren’t many podcasts that would be willing to cover a topic as sensitive as the death of an infant child and how it affects the lives of its parents. Rumble Strip Vermont host Erica Heilman sits down with painter Susan Wahlrab who bravely tells the tale of her son Grayson, who contracted a rare viral infection within days of being born, dying just three weeks later. This is a topic which requires an amazing amount of courage to talk about openly, even 18 years after the fact as is Wahlrab’s case, but as Heilman stresses, talking about death should be a necessary facet of life and the story of this episode is no exception. There is such a surfeit of emotions to be found herein, but it is not just sadness. Wahlrab explains how sometimes she found strength in the act of being irreverent with another mother who had lost her baby. It is an honor to be able to share in this intensely personal recollection, and to better understand the emotions of such intense trauma.
[Ben Cannon]


SPONTANEANATION
A Dental Convention In Scottsdale, Arizona: Colin Hanks, Craig Cackowski, Marc Evan Jackson, Janet Varney

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Colin Hanks once took ecstasy and saw Jon Lovitz sing the national anthem at Dodger Stadium. That’s the takeaway from his free-form conversation with Paul F. Tompkins, which began innocuously enough with the question (posed as always by the previous episode’s guest), “Why did you wear that today?” Only 13 episodes deep, Tompkins did not wait long to take his newest podcast out for a live show (at Earwolf’s venue of choice, Largo At The Coronet in L.A.). Hanks provides an amazingly specific setting, “A dental convention In Scottsdale, Arizona, on the hottest day of the year,” which kicks off a long-form sketch that exhaustively references everything from the previous discussion. This week’s troupe includes Janet Varney (for a fifth appearance) and fellow Thrilling Adventure Hour alums Craig Cackowski and Marc Evan Jackson. But it’s Tompkins himself who steals the show, as both Lovitz warming up to perform the national anthem, and as “Dr. Baseball Ecstasy,” a dentist from Narnia who is the profession’s foremost authority on knocking people’s teeth out with a tiny hammer. Meanwhile, the audience is all in for the off-the-rails storytelling and flawless execution, which is quickly becoming Spontaneanation’s specialty.
[B.G. Henne]


Stuff You Missed In History Class
Henry Gerber And Chicago’s Society For Human Rights

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Founded almost 100 years ago to give gay people equal rights, Chicago’s Society For Human Rights was near the center of the very beginnings of modern history’s bloodshed and turmoil in the LGBTQ community. The episode unpacks the major accomplishments of Henry Gerber and his own struggle to exist in a world he often found distasteful. A legendary curmudgeon and introvert with sometimes troubling views of lesbians and bisexuals, he was one of the first American citizens to focus on how to get the government to recognize being gay as a perfectly legal and functional state of being. Yet an almost universally unsympathetic public plagued him. The language he had to choose in his organization’s flyers were maddeningly vague, and the offices of the Chicago Society For Human Rights were raided after one of its members—a man Gerber thought to be single, but turned out to be married with a wife—noticed his suspicious behavior. To this day none of Gerber’s flyers remain, having been destroyed by the government. It makes one all the more grateful for a podcast like Stuff You Missed In History Class, where one can often find essential stories that continue the oral tradition of history. It’s one thing to read a story like Gerber’s online; it’s another to hear sympathetic voices like hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey extol it intimately into one’s earbuds.
[Dan Telfer]


A Talking Cast
Andrew Helm

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Nobody, aside from a kid here or there, was really supposed to see A Talking Cat!?! But then it hit Netflix, and, with the help of an article from this very site, this misguided children’s film about an anthropomorphic cat voiced by Eric Roberts entered the cultural zeitgeist. And for the better part of a year now, A Talking Cast!?! has dissected the film minute-by-minute, a concept that’s yielded heretofore overlooked details, running jokes, and earnest discussions about cinema. Now that they’ve finished the movie, A Talking Cast!?! concludes its run by interviewing A Talking Cat?!? screenwriter Andrew Helm. Helm is self aware of the film’s legacy, but never apologetic, and his anecdotes about the limitations imposed upon him by director David DeCoteau go a long way toward explaining some of the movie’s more baffling choices. More importantly, the interview—led by co-host Dylan Reid Miller and Alcohollywood’s Clint Worthington—offers an insider look at direct-to-video, “one movie a month” film studios like The Asylum, the minds behind Sharknado and “mockbusters” like Atlantic Rim. The best takeaway, however? A Talking Cat!?! was born out of Helm’s love for The Weakerthans’ gut-wrenchingly beautiful “Virtute The Cat Explains Her Departure.”
[Randall Colburn]


Tax Season
The Therapy Episode: Dr. Maya Pettiford

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

Introspection is often seen as a sign of weakness in masculine culture, and there are few places more acutely conscious of such perceptions than in the New York hip-hop scene. As a result of this misconception, the podcasts on the Loud Speakers Network of shows have bravely taken to inviting a psychologist, Dr. Maya Pettiford, onto their programs annually and recording her therapy sessions with various show hosts. These sessions have allowed for open discussions with the hosts about their feelings, free from the usual macho posturing. This week the newest member of the podcast network, Tax Season host Darryl Campbell, a.k.a. Taxstone, got his turn to sit down with Dr. Pettiford, and it was an illuminating chat. Campbell is an interesting personality; brusque and willing to speak his mind without any filter, he has become something of a celebrity for his controversial opinions on Twitter and now on his podcast. Which is to say, the episode is at times an intense act of evasion, with Dr. Pettiford trying to peel away at what makes Tax tick. But even more, it serves as a stark reminder of the wringer that life often puts young black men through, and that talking about it is necessary.
[Ben Cannon]


Turned Out A Punk
Jon Spencer (Pussy Galore)

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

With this week’s interview with the legendary Jon Spencer, Turned Out A Punk covers new ground as it marks the first time Damian Abraham sits down with someone he’s never met before. Spencer is a legendary figure in underground rock, the front man of hugely influential bands like Pussy Galore, Boss Hog, Heavy Trash, and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Abraham, who counts Spencer (and especially Boss Hog) as an influence, is excited to be talking with him. Because Abraham and Spencer don’t know each other, the interview is more straightforward with fewer of the punk die-hard tangents that pepper most of these conversations, which makes this a good introduction to Spencer’s many bands and influences (everything from new wave to The Fall to Swans). The best chunk focuses on Spencer’s time in Pussy Galore and how the band’s aggressively negative and hate-filled songs propelled it forward and caused conflict among the members, all of which contributed to the band’s 1990 breakup. Final questions about Spencer’s Blues Explosion-era collaborations with Dan The Automator, GZA, and “Weird Al” show that the intimidating frontman also has a sense of humor. His verdicts: positive, not so positive, and weird, respectively.
[Dan Fitchette]


With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus
Chick Chat With Bishop Gertrude Steinham: Cameron Esposito:

[Subscribe on iTunes]

Advertisement

After a few off weeks for the podcast (seriously, what was up with that Ben Schwartz episode?), Cameron Esposito dropped by With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus to get things back on track. Though she’s definitely more of a stand-up than an improviser, the characters Esposito creates—Bishop Gertrude Steinham for herself, and head of the women’s studies department at Sarah Lawrence, Miss Sarah Lawrence (spelled the same, pronounced differently) for Lapkus—are immediately hilarious. They get a lot of mileage out of the characters’ disdain for men: Steinham decides declawing men is ideal, but inhumane for cats, and Lawrence explains why she doesn’t want men to have the ability to gain muscle mass. As always, Lapkus commits at full throttle to the character, from the way she speaks to the character’s point of view. Her delivery of, “Honestly, whenever anyone says ‘men are welcome,’ what we mean is ‘go away.’ Can we agree? Men are welcome, but don’t” is spit take worthy. Esposito matches her energy, and the two really work together throughout the hour. And when they push their characters into wackier territory, the true fun begins.
[Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]


We see what you said there

“I don’t think I made out at all until I was much older, which is why I think we’re doing this podcast.”—Allie Goertz, Everything’s Coming Up Podcast!

Advertisement