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.
Bad With Money
Tokens For Your Tokens: Roxane Gay
This new podcast hosted by comedian Gaby Dunn gives out simple and seemingly obvious money advice and financial insights. Dunn assumes that her listeners, like her, just avoid financial strife until it becomes a big enough problem that it’s unavoidable. The newest episode opens with a real phone call Dunn has with Bank Of America to discuss payments on her car loan, including a revelation on how many times her payments have been late that shocks Dunn into awkward laughter. Roxane Gay guests and talks about making money as a writer, growing up with frugal parents, and her slew of day jobs from bartender to student loan collector. The pair touches on the disjointed writing rates offered to women and writers of color and writing for free, asking if love for the art outweighs financial security. Dunn is a passionate and outspoken host who manages to make a potentially boring subject anything but.
Lena Dunham Is The Problem
Type “blipster” into your word processor and you might find a squiggly red line beneath it. Created by comedians Felonious Munk and Dave Helem, the Blipster Life podcast is a forum for listeners who find themselves at a crossroads of a limited definition of black culture and whatever it means to wear skinny jeans. This is the second incarnation of the show, spruced up with infectious intro music and a connection to the Second City. There are new commentators in the fold as well: comedians Dewayne Perkins returns from the first episode along with MC Mr. Greenweedz. They fill the gaps with new segments like Perkins’ movie reviews and hilarious sketches that air during the breaks; likely inspired by the popular Second City-produced Afro-Futurism, of which they are all involved. It’s a striking mix with Munk’s serious yet comedic social commentary, Helem’s slow-burning wit, and the group’s collective improvisational skill set. There is still room, however, for more female voices on the show. Blipster Life is wide ranging, uncontainable, funny, and informative. A perfect combination for podcasting, but a show that could easily find a path to radio. If not now, perhaps in the not so distant afro future.
Why Do We Still Care About Tupac?
It’s been 20 years since the rapper Tupac Shakur—who was also a talented actor, poet, and activist—was shot and killed in September 1996 at the age of 25. On NPR’s Code Switch, hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji discuss Shakur’s decades-long legacy in music and pop culture since his death. It’s a fun conversation, given that Meraji’s love for the rapper is in stark contrast with Demby’s feelings. While Shakur was a major part of Merjai’s life soundtrack growing up, Demby says that as a kid he was unable to relate to, and was sometimes scared by, Shakur’s “dangerous black masculinity.” They also speak with writer Kevin Powell, who covered Shakur for three years for Vibe Magazine. Powell explains how the contradictions of Shakur’s life—from his activism, to his clashes with Civil Rights leaders, to his sexual assault conviction—make him so revered to fans all over the world. Meraji asks Powell if he thinks Shakur’s legacy would still be intact if his sexual assault conviction of a 19-year-old fan had happened in 2016. The rapper insisted he was innocent, but expressed regret to Powell for not stopping the other men involved from assaulting her. “How many men take ownership of [their] misogyny? If it happened now… Tupac could have been an example of the kind of masculinity we need to move toward in this country.”
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Damned Spot is one of the first podcasts from Amazon’s new venture, Audible Channels. The show takes a look at the locations where horrific tragedies have occurred and how they’ve transformed in the aftermath. Its debut episode, “McDonalds,” lays the groundwork for an interesting and engaging series that’s worth the Amazon Prime login. The episode takes a look at the 1984 San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre. While vivid descriptions from survivors make up the first half of the episode, the narrative truly shines when the focus is shifted to how those survivors have shaped their lives today. Wendy, one of the employees at the McDonald’s, gives a vivid retelling of being rescued and led through the blood and carnage by a SWAT team, but Damned Spot’s real value is seen when she describes her inability to cope and her need to surround herself with cheery, bright colors since that day. The show still needs time to find its voice––a departure into the point of view of McDonald’s reps as they debate re-opening the restaurant feels disconnected from the raw emotion put on display. When the show’s host solemnly states, “They could never serve burgers here again.” it’s easy to wonder why we’re supposed to care about that after hearing about the 21 lives that were lost. The show still manages to hit emotional peaks, but hopefully they’ll find a tasteful balance between these two narratives.
Dead Pilots Society
Formosa Written By Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant
As viewers of major network television can likely attest, shows that get picked up to series are often styrofoam bland. Simple and palatable programs, providing safe investments for studios. But for every one of these vanilla pudding premises that gets the nod, there are hundreds of envelope-pushing scripts purchased annually only to languish in obscurity. That is, until now. With their brilliant new podcast Dead Pilots Society, longtime television producer Andrew Reich and writer Ben Blacker (of The Writer’s Panel and Thrilling Adventure Hour podcasts) resurrect a pilot script each month and record a staged reading, showcasing genius works simply never given the chance to flourish. For their inaugural episode, Reich and Blacker tap Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant’s early 2000’s effort Formosa, an L.A. noir comedy about 1940s stag filmmakers. It is something special to hear the script, which feels well ahead of its time—even some 15 years later—especially given how small an audience it has had until now. For the show’s hilarious live read the inimitable talents of Paul F. Tompkins and Ben Schwartz lend their voices to the series’ leads. The script is sharp, the performances sharper, and Dead Pilots Society feels destined for success.
Death, Sex & Money
Sonia Manzano & Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Death, Sex & Money host Anna Sale is nearing the end of her maternity leave, but before her return, she’s handing the reins over to a few former guests for the next few episodes. This week Sesame Street veteran Sonia Manzano is in the host chair speaking with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The two women share more than just a first name, one they both hated as children. Manzano and Sotomayor are both from Puerto Rican families, raised in The South Bronx in New York City with alcoholic fathers, and share a deep reverence for the written word. Because they’ve known each other for years, they share an easy rapport that makes the episode a delight to listen to, although the interview’s most honest moments are often the most heartbreaking. They trade stories of how as children they each tried to prevent their parents’ violent fights in their own way; Manzano urges her parents to buy new dinnerware to stop their arguments over dirty dishes, and Sotomayor administers her own insulin shots so her diabetes was no longer a source of conflict. In another beautifully raw moment, Manzano reads from one of Sotomayor’s Supreme Court dissents about the significance of race to people of color in America worn down by relentless microaggressions. While reading a sentence about what it’s like for a young woman to be repeatedly asked, “Where are you really from?”, Manzano becomes audibly choked up. “Your words move me, my dear,” says Manzano, and if you listen, it’s likely you’ll be in tears too.
Hello, From The Magic Tavern
Real Estate Agent
There’s an old saying in the land of Foon: Never cross a wizard, a flower, a dragon, or a real estate agent. Hello, From The Magic Tavern extensively and uproariously demonstrates the latter this week by inviting the coy, possibly evil realtor Axelrod ReMax to appear as a guest on the podcast. Mark McConville provides the highbrow vocals for ReMax, who reveals he’s come to Foon to assess Usidore’s hovel at the request of an anonymous bidder who might want to appropriate it. Arnie—who has assumed the new nickname “Fat Shaggy” with surprising grace—remains a polite host despite ReMax’s sinister motives, asking the realtor all about his wife, Trulia, his work with the Cold Well Banker, and the machinations of rival realty group Centaur 21. This episode is a superlative entry in the HFTMT anthology, largely because the cast manages to flesh out not only who ReMax is, but also his role in the greater context of Foon, a strength previously seen in characters like Clax the Skeleton and D’athaniel Quen’yarvin. Episode 79 also contains one of the group’s funniest running jokes to date: a calamitous misinterpretation of the phrase “mind your Ps and Qs.”
The New Flesh
Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, John Brennan
The entertainment world is absolutely filled to bursting with unique personalities, but when all’s said and done there may be none more so than Lloyd Kaufman. The co-founder of legendary Troma Entertainment—the gleefully twisted independent horror-comedy house responsible for films like The Toxic Avenger and Class Of Nuke ’Em High—Kaufman has cut a reputation as a writer and director in the mold of Roger Corman, but filtered through the sensibilities of Mad Magazine. These qualities are on full display in this week’s episode of The New Flesh Podcast, as hosts Brett Arnold and Joe Avella interview Kaufman and partner John Brennan in Troma’s Long Island City headquarters, covering everything from the company’s illustrious history to its exciting future. At 70 years old Kaufman shows no signs of slowing down or softening his hilariously campy sense of humor, making the chat a characteristically rollicking affair with juvenile jizz jokes aplenty. The episode even contains a few big reveals, from Troma’s upcoming foray into virtual reality filmmaking, to Kaufman’s one-time attempt to convince a young Trey Parker and Matt Stone to set their then-untitled show in Tromaville rather than South Park, Colorado. A wonderful listen for film fans of any stripe.
Spontaneation listeners may overlook the contributions of pianist Eban Schletter. That’s by design; he’s not there to complement rather than distract. But make no mistake—Schletter is a key part of the show’s DNA. Kicked off by an accidental sour note, Schletter and host Paul F. Tompkins engage in some Martin and Lewis-style riffing, if Jerry Lewis were a sentient piano. After that great “monologue,” Tompkins enjoys the company of comedian Rhea Butcher. An avid baseball player/superfan, Butcher is ready to answer the previous guest’s questions about dreams, including one inspired by a real-life fight with an umpire. (Don’t ever tell Butcher that she’s crowding the plate.) Butcher’s setting for the third act improv, a concession stand, could have been problematic—broad settings can make for sloppier skits. But improvisers Brandon Johnson, Chris Tallman, and Jean Villepique have such a clear, immediate understanding of their characters, that they completely hold together their ridiculous premise. In fact, all you need to know is that Tompkins and Villepique affect awesomely bad accents as the married Russian owners of a roadside popcorn stand located outside of nowhere. From there, it’s Johnson who saves the day, playing a familiar culinary personality named “Muay Tieri,” who never met a foodstuff that couldn’t be improved with bacon, deep frying, and motor oil.
This Feels Terrible
One of the most transformative aspects of podcasting is its capacity for emotional honesty. This quality fundamentally changes the way audiences relate to the personalities behind the microphones, an illusion of trust and friendship build with every new life detail divulged. There may be no two shows that better embody those qualities than Harmontown and This Feels Terrible, which actively documented the relationship between their hosts, comedians Dan Harmon and Erin McGathy. This week’s episode of Sampler—Gimlet Media’s reflexive exploration of the world of podcasts—follows the tale of Harmon and McGathy through the available audio from their respective shows’ back catalogs. Sampler host Brittany Luse deftly guides listeners through the couple’s every step, helping to ensure that people who might be unfamiliar with Harmon or McGathy will still be extremely intrigued. What follows is an intimate exploration of two people whose love burned so bright that it couldn’t be relegated to the private world, instead bleeding out into audio realms through podcasts, and subsequently into the lives of their many listeners. This episode stands apart from previous Sampler entries, particularly for employing an investigational storytelling approach to the material, making for a winning evolution of the show’s format.
We’re about seven weeks away from the finish line on a marathon presidential election that started 18 months ago, and the last thing anyone needs right now is another goddamned podcast about the supposed horse race. Says Who? is not such a podcast. In fact, it’s not even a podcast, according to its website—“it’s a coping strategy.” Co-hosts Maureen Johnson and Dan Sinker (who ran the @MayorEmanuel parody Twitter account a few years ago) do not claim to be experts on—or even above-average-understanders of—national politics. They’re just two people who are as fed up with this nauseous presidential election as everyone else within a five-mile radius. What separates them from the rest of us is that they have the means to get guests like Ana Marie Cox to call into their show and attempt to talk them down from the precipice of utter despair. The founding editor of Wonkette and current Daily Beast contributor is an effective inaugural guest for a show like this, bringing an informed opinion to the average listener.
That One Song
In That One Song, musician and professional jingle writer Missy Modell talks to artists about a singular song that has changed their life. “I think everyone has at least one song that makes them time travel to a moment that was especially meaningful or memorable,” she explains. The format allows the conversation to be broad in terms of the music selection, and personal in regards to the personal experiences the guests have with that song. In this premiere episode she is joined by fellow musician, Alex Bilowitz. “No Diggity” by Blackstreet had a profound impact on his life. Bilowitz describes how the song helped him learn what sampling is and how, once listening to it, he immediately knew it was going to be a hit. Like all great songs, he has a personal life story attached, which involves a young woman he had a crush on. “I planned it out. I was like: When ‘No Diggity’ comes on, I’m gonna roll up to her right when the Dr. Dre verse comes on, and she’s gonna be so impressed that I know all the words.” With a short and sweet runtime of 11 minutes, That One Song shows great promise.
Turned Out A Punk
On the latest episode of Turned Out A Punk, Damian Abraham sits down with comedian and drummer Craig Ferguson, to discuss his long and rich history as a Glasgow punk. For those unaware of Ferguson’s punk past, this episode is a perfect chronicling of his many bands and unbelievable experiences within the scene. From being in Dreamboys with Peter Capaldi, to drumming for Nico, who told him, “You remind me of Iggy. You will die soon,” Ferguson’s stories are just as compelling as he is endearing. Abraham’s encyclopedic punk knowledge makes him an ideal host, allowing his excitement to fuel the conversation just as much as Ferguson’s own enthusiasm. They discuss punk being the most wholesome and honest form of entertainment to emerge from England at the time, Ferguson’s seamless transition from playing punk music to doing alternative comedy, and the similarities between a drummer and a stand up comedian. Ferguson is at once eloquent and familiar as he explains how punk is in the “DNA” of everything he does, and its innate ability to return him to honesty. The episode is brimming with quotable moments, yet still feels like the tip of the iceberg. Abraham intends to have Ferguson back, and it’s easy to see why.
The Vulture TV Podcast
Chris Kelly On SNL And Other People
The 42nd season of Saturday Night Live is looming and millions are ready to judge the new cast members and writing staff. This Vulture TV Podcast episode reminds us that the people behind the scenes are only human, with Chris Kelly, SNL’s newly minted co-head writer, as the guest. Though his new film is a drama, Kelly’s life is steeped in a love for TV comedy and hosts Jen Chaney and Jesse David Fox begin their line of questioning with a navigation through Cheney’s life leading up to writing for SNL. “I would, like, transcribe episodes of Seinfeld,” Cheney says. “And I would rank all of the episodes of Seinfeld, and I would give them grades.” SNL is always relevant during political election season, and Kelly gives the scoop on how that balances for the writers as well as what it’s like when the politicians are actually in the room. “I’m actually gonna say I don’t like Donald Trump,” he laughs, saying later, “I just happened to be on the democratic side of the writing stuff.” If you are an SNL fan and need something to tide you over before the new season, this should do the trick.
We Got This!
Best Vintage Toy With Janet Varney
With their affinity for all things Disney and their PG, family-friendly format, Mark and Hal are the best version of the big kids in all of us. That makes this week’s case for the “Best Vintage Toy” a strong episode. That, and the participation of Janet Varney, who once again proves that she can improve any podcast. Mark’s homework was to come up with the list of eligible toys, which led him to sourcing Time Magazine’s list of 100 greatest toys from 1923 to the present. The lameness of that source is not lost on our trio, but the list holds up fairly well. Tearing through groups of toys organized by decades, the episode offers both a reminder of some surprisingly venerable toys that have stood the test of time (like the ViewMaster and Legos), as well as some magical memories of toys from the ’70s and ’80s. Mark, Hal, and Janet are brought back to their childhoods, whether it celebrating toys that they cherished, or in Janet’s case, toys she wasn’t allowed to have until well after the peak of their demand. Come to this episode to sniff the Play-Doh, stay for the warm fuzzies of nostalgia. And you’ll never look at Glo Worm the same way again.
You Made It Weird
Bo Burnham #3
Bo Burnham’s third time on You Made It Weird is one of the most riveting episodes of the show to date. Since host Pete Holmes is able to skip all the “get to know you” talk, they immediately dive head first into a three-hour-long conversation that never bores. From celebrity culture in pedestrian lives to astrophysics, the two cover a vast landscape of ideas, constantly challenging each other and opening up a wider dialogue of understanding. With Burnham’s latest special “Make Happy” as a jumping off point, the conversation explores the permeating concept of performing, the descent of YouTube, Burnham’s relationship with the audience, and doing things “fenceless-ly.” Burnham is consistently smart and exciting, while Holmes’ inherent curiosity and openness allows for constant discovery. The pace in which Burnham’s mind spins is endlessly intriguing, always taking advantage of the safe space to breakdown a concept, contradict himself, and be a real person who is trying to figure things out. It’s a conversation between friends who don’t care about being interesting for a listening audience. Instead, they care deeply about understanding each other and the world around them, and that in itself is magnetic.
“People who don’t understand hip-hop, or understand pop culture, will never understand why these pop culture figures are our senators, they are our congresspeople, they are our presidents. They have an impact on us in ways that people will never understand unless they, in their own time, felt that way about the Beatles, or Bob Dylan, or Joni Mitchell, or Nina Simone. It’s the same exact thing.”—Kevin Powell on the importance of black entertainers, Code Switch
“But I also at the same time began to understand the power of writing. Words can kill. They can drive people to do acts that are horrible. We use words in fights to instigate people to do things they might, in calmness, not think of doing. And words can evoke emotions. And used properly, they can inform. And they can lead people to think about things in radically different ways than they might not otherwise. But it took me a long time to love words that way and to understand their power.”—Sonia Sotomayor on the power of words, Death, Sex & Money
“Mind thine Ps and Qs. Which is your penis and your questions.”
“Mind my penis and my questions? In that order?”
“Any order. Order is not significant.”—Arnie Niekamp and Usidore The Blue prepping to speak with their guest, Hello, From The Magic Tavern
“You know what I almost just said? ‘People are always comparing music… to jazz.’”—Paul F. Tompkins, Spontaneanation
“The logical extrapolation of no fucking rebellion is fear and cargo shorts. Fuck those assholes.”—Craig Ferguson, Turned Out A Punk