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.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Best of 2015 Pt. 4
In this fourth and final installment of host Scott Aukerman and special guest Paul F. Tompkins counting down the best eps of Comedy Bang! Bang! in 2015, there’s a sense that listeners are peering into the mouth of madness. This is because all of the dialogue between Aukerman and Tompkins, which frames clips from each of the year’s top 10 shows, was recorded sequentially, meaning that this final episode finds the hosts at around the four-hour mark of their conversation and the results are predictably loopy. It bears mentioning that in 2015 Comedy Bang! Bang! provided listeners with probably the best, most consistently funny year in its much vaunted existence, and the top three spots are filled with some classic material. In fact, so much has occurred this year that one nearly forgets that it was the year of the final “Farts And Procreation” episode. It is a real joy to listen to that episode, especially these many months removed from the tragedy that surrounded its release. It is no surprise that the top spot is claimed by instant classic “Hey Nong Man,” and Aukerman and Tompkins are joined by special guest Jason Mantzoukas to revel in their shared glory.
Call Your Girlfriend
Phone-a-Friend: Shani Hilton Of BuzzFeed News
Good friends and rad creators Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, hosts of the Robyn-inspired Call Your Girlfriend podcast, recently debuted a Phone-A-Friend interview series featuring conversations with interesting women in media. This week Sow calls up BuzzFeed News executive editor Shani Hilton, who manages more than 100 reporters and the direction of the website’s newsroom, which includes her push to build a more diverse staff of writers. Sow and Hilton talk work/life balance, historically black colleges and universities, families who lie about their ethnic background, and Shonda Rhimes. Hilton, who was recently included in Marie Claire’s “Top 50 Most Influential Women In America” list, is very humble for someone in such a powerful position, automatically listing her staff’s accomplishments until Sow pushes her to talk about her own. But that doesn’t mean Hilton is out of touch with her own ambition—far from it. As she explains, women of color have been poised to take over the workplace for years, it’s just that the world that isn’t ready for them. “Black women have had their foot on the gas since the beginning of time,” Sow agrees. “Ughhhh. Whatever. One of us will change it.”
Death, Sex & Money
Living Alone, One Year Later
Last year, Death, Sex & Money host Anna Sale asked her listeners to send her their stories about living alone—what they love about it, what they miss about living with other people, and the struggle to cope with the transitions that come with having your own space, especially for the first time. Sale then checked back in with some of her interviewees a year later to see what has changed since their first talk—like Ashley, the 30-year-old new to living alone in Los Angeles, who said having her own apartment was like playing dress-up in her mother’s shoes. She says it’s getting better now that she’s bought her own couch. There’s also 60-year-old Walid Shantur, who started living alone for the first time after his wife moved out nine years ago. He likes living alone, but enjoys it a lot less now after recently meeting a woman who “made him feel alive again,” but who lives in Europe. Sale also talks about the challenges she’s faced in her own life since moving in with her new husband recently—like the debate over how many animal parts to display in their home thanks to his job as a wildlife ecologist—and negotiating time for herself, something she never had to do when she lived alone.
I Was There Too
Classic—Inglourious Basterds: Paul Rust
Matt Gourley declares repeatedly before this throwback episode begins that it is one of his favorites to date. Not only is Paul Rust a perfect guest, conversational and brimming with anecdotes, Inglorious Basterds happens to be Gourley’s favorite Quentin Tarantino movie. Throughout their discussion, Gourley is excited and knowledgeable, watching his dreams for the podcast come true. Rust plays Pfc. Andy Kagan, one of the 10 Basterds. Though Rust had no lines in the film, he is present throughout many iconic scenes, including Brad Pitt’s monologue as Lt. Aldo Raine, which he offers hilarious insight on. Rust is both willing and able to talk about the more technical aspects of making the film—from learning how to scalp, to lighting and guns—but also enjoys sharing juicy anecdotes about the environment of the film set and the people on it. He discusses Tarantino’s respect for actors and writers, and offers perfect stories about the director keeping spirits up during the long shoots. From playing music during technical set ups, popping champagne at film breaks, and making everyone chant “We love making movies!” when things get tedious, everything Rust offers is exactly what this podcast aims to reveal. Gourley’s swooning is almost audible.
The Infinite Monkey Cage
The Infinite Monkey Cage Christmas Special: Ross Noble, Fay Dowker, Paul Franklin, Victor Stock
Sci-fi and fantasy TV shows have made much grist for the academic mill: Titles like Buffy The Vampire Slayer And Philosophy, Battlestar Galactica And International Relations, and Star Trek And Philosophy: The Wrath Of Kant don’t even scratch the surface. If only those books brought the expertise and charisma of Professor Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince. In this Christmas day special, the hosts and their panel tackle the science of Doctor Who, from space-time wormholes (not to be confused with wormholes made by worms) to something that is really and truly called “the crotch singularity” to how Doctor Who science fiction has become just plain science since the show first aired in 1963. That last part is especially interesting, as our knowledge of black holes and wormholes has advanced significantly in the last 50 years. The panel is well rounded, and includes a comedian (Ross Noble), a professor of physics (Fay Dowker), a special-effects supervisor who has worked on movies like Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises (Paul Franklin), and a “very cheeky reverend” (Victor Stock). It all makes for a surprisingly warm and funny episode, and it’s a must-listen for even the casual Whovian of any era.
[Laura M. Browning]
This week on Only Human, host Mary Harris asks a question almost everyone has asked at some point in their lives, “Why is healthcare so expensive?” Harris has wondered this many times, especially as a former patient being treated for breast cancer, which she details in Only Human’s inaugural episode. To get more insight regarding the issue, Harris interviews Zeke Emanuel, an oncologist and medical ethicist who worked with the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act. Emanuel talks about how responsible healthcare consumption works in his own life—like refusing unnecessary tests, such as the one for prostate cancer, which he views as an unnecessary expense that can lead to more problems. Translating complicated medical bills is another piece that makes healthcare unnecessarily difficult for patients—it’s hard to save money if you don’t understand what you’re spending it on and why. But until the nation’s system—which includes doctors who are not trained properly to do preventive work to keep people healthy and actually pays them for each procedure they do on sick patients, however unnecessary—changes, there isn’t much individual patients can do to bring healthcare costs down except stay healthy and say no to medical tests that aren’t absolutely necessary.
Roderick On The Line
Here Comes Nacho
When Merlin Mann and the rest of John Roderick’s captive audience last left him, he was cruising down Interstate 5 in his $4,000 GMC RV, sleeping in the same Hawaiian shirt for days at a time, living without a care off the pay-it-forward, little black book economy of the recreational vehicle community—a dream come true. But when his RV broke down on the mountainous, curved, and rapidly darkening highways of Redding, California, that dream became a waking nightmare. Not even Roderick’s AAA Premier membership would budge a tow truck to rescue him and his family, trapping them—including his infant daughter—in a heatless death trap three days and 600 miles from Christmas. The bumbling call center employees and unhelpful mechanics bring empathy to what would otherwise be just another one of Roderick’s many extravagant anecdotes, and the story is as well told as any with huge stakes lightened by Mann’s intermittent chuckling. With the family eventually safe, the conversation shifts to potential solutions and the larger lessons listeners expect from Roderick and Mann, including musings on the kindness of strangers, the value of work, and whether experiences like that RV are worth a damn thing to begin with.
Why doesn’t anyone care about vagina size? This week on the New York Magazine’s Sex Lives Podcast, David Wallace-Wells and Maureen O’Connor ask why our culture is so dick-obsessed, thanks to a piece by anthropology professor Holly Dunsworth exploring why evolutionary scientists spend so much time trying to figure out why the penis looks the way it does today, yet fail to ask the same questions about the female anatomy. Wallace-Wells and O’Connor also interview Kevin Allison, host of the popular storytelling podcast Risk!, which features true stories people would normally be afraid to share in public, which are often stories about sex. Allison, who is gay, talks about the origins of the podcast, going to kink camp on a dare, finding a kink-aware therapist, coming to terms with the shame associated with certain sexual interests, rejection in sex clubs, and whether it’s problematic to have a sexual preference for certain races.
So Many Damn Books
Christopher And Drew’s Top Six Of 2015
In this week’s episode of So Many Damn Books, hosts Christopher Hermelin and Drew Broussard say goodbye to 2015 with a list of their favorite books of the year—right after admitting to each other that they both have a problem with the culture of ranking things in year-end lists. “Here’s the thing about list culture: It’s not that great. Making a list of the things? That doesn’t make any sense,” Hermelin says. But they do have a list of six books ready—they just haven’t ranked them in any particular order, outside of “awesome.” Favorites include You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, by Alexandra Kleeman, who was on an earlier episode of the podcast; “the unjustly overlooked” Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal; and Between The World And Me by Ta‑Nehisi Coates, which Hermelin and Broussard call the most important book that was published in 2015. Hermelin also gives a shoutout to fellow podcasters Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu for their incredible Another Round interview on with Coates earlier this year. They wrap up the episode by discussing the things they’re most looking forward to in 2016—from new book releases to exciting changes to new happenings on the podcast including more interviews and a possible new logo. “We do all of this for [the listeners],” says Hermelin. “I don’t know. I might do this for me.”
Story And Star Wars
The Force Awakens: Alastair Stephens
Aside from a handful of professional film reviewers and irritating friends on Facebook, society in general might not be ready to view J.J. Abrams’ offering to the Star Wars canon with anything approaching objectivity. Though The Force Awakens seems likely to nestle itself between Empire and Jedi, once everyone’s excitement over the series’ seeming return to form settles down, there’s no way to know for sure. As such, StoryWonk’s Alastair Stephens dissects the narrative somersaults and pratfalls of Episode VII with the caveat and promise that he will return to the subject in a later episode, once he’s had the chance to watch it a few dozen more times on DVD. That said, the host has a firm understanding of the latticework of good storytelling and delivers genuine insights into why this new film seems to work so well. The 10 previous episodes of Story And Star Wars—in which Stephens breaks down the narrative engines of each film individually and in relation to the rest, explaining where the original trilogy went off the tracks and why the prequels don’t feel like Star Wars movies—are more than worth the time for a certain breed of fan. (They know who they are.)
This American Life
Say Yes To Christmas: Chris Gethard, Mike Birbiglia, Aidy Bryant, Scott Adsit, Tami Sagher, Sasheer Zamata, Stephanie Foo
Christmas is just not the same when you’re an adult. The excitement, the wonder, the feeling that anything can happen fades quick. Ira Glass posits that it’s nearly impossible to hold on to that magic as you get older, and decides to explore where to find the same sort of feeling in the adult world. He realizes that one of the only places adults truly give in to the notion that anything can happen, is at an improv comedy show. So, for the meat of this episode of, listeners hear a live recording of a Christmas themed improv show Glass stages in New York with an all-star lineup of seasoned improvisers including Chris Gethard, Mike Birbiglia, Aidy Bryant, Scott Adsit, Tami Sagher, and Sasheer Zamata. The strength of their improv combined with their honest personal monologues makes for a special and personal segment, as well as a consistently hilarious one. The following segments continue to explore the idea of wonder through different eyes. Stephanie Foo investigates her fascination with Turkey Fryer PSAs, a.k.a. “turkey explosion,” and why they fill her with such joy. In the last segment contains a brief yet heartwarming story of two newly adopted children from the Democratic Republic Of Congo experiencing their first Christmas. The episode hinges on a balance between the amusing and the sincere, and does so perfectly.
We Should Have A Podcast
A Very Special Episode
As regular listeners of We Should Have A Podcast are aware, hosts Corey Podell and Courtney Pauroso are typically brazen and hilarious, so the tentative tones at the top of this week’s episode signal that listeners are definitely in for something different. Following last week’s surprising and powerful viral Instagram post by stand-up comedian Beth Stelling, detailing the serious physical and emotional abuse she endured from her now ex-boyfriend, Pauroso reveals her own experiences at the hands of the same individual. What follows is a stark and nakedly emotionally hour of honest conversation about rape, abuse, and the long shadow that domestic violence casts on the lives of its victims. In their conversation Podell and Pauroso are able to find a lot of hope as they talk about the reality of moving forward from these tragic events. As always with We Should Have A Podcast there is a lot of humor to be found, even with the serious nature of the topic. In the end, the sad reality is that Pauroso and Stelling’s experiences with intimate partner abuse are anything but unique, as such their discussion is absolutely necessary listening for just about any compassionate individual.
“People want to put you on lists for being black or for being female, but actually I just wanna be the best and crush all the competition under my boot heel.”—Shani Hinton, executive editor of Buzzfeed News, on her ambition to be not just the most successful black person or a black woman, but the most successful person in her field, Call Your Girlfriend
“The scientific consensus on the crotch is that it produces an infinite burst of energy.” —Professor Fay Dowker on the crotch singularity and comparing universes to trousers,The Infinite Monkey Cage
“I think very clearly that this RV, which catches on fire and leaks and has upholstery the color of Pepto Bismol—both my friends and my enemies seem to agree that it’s what I deserve.”—John Roderick, Roderick On The Line
“Have we almost reached the point where the kinkiest thing you can do is not be kinky?”—Maureen O’Connor, Sex Lives