Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Slenderman and duplitecture fascinate on Monster Talks and 99% Invisible

PodmassPodmassIn Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

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.

Bulletproof Radio
Mastering Memory With Mattias Ribbing


Host Dave Asprey has dedicated his health podcast to both empowering its listeners with new research and information and keeping things fun and interesting despite the occasional heavy or controversial subject matter. This week’s guest, Swedish memory champion Mattias Ribbing, discusses a particularly entertaining topic that makes for a great entry point for new listeners. Though Ribbing refers to his competitive memory career as a sport, he laughs as he admits it’s on par with chess as far as the public’s willingness to associate it with physically imposing athletes. Ribbing also offers listeners some of his training exercises right away, and explains that energy drinks and carbs destroy a person’s attention span. The central idea is that mental images become a new alphabet that the brain can learn with enough of a time commitment. Ribbing is immediately humble about the hours he spends writing down words over and over again. He has no idea what his IQ is, and he went from having no experience to being ranked 75th best in the world in only a few years. The episode can be roughly paced at times due to it being a Skype interview (it’s available as a video podcast), but Asprey is exceedingly disarming as an interviewer and there is never more than a ripple of awkwardness. [DT]

Doug Loves Movies
Geoff Tate, Jesse Pasternak, Onur Tukel


Anyone who feels the need to proactively clarify that he or she is not on cocaine is either on crushed Adderall and simply splitting hairs, lying, or so awful at conversing that holding a microphone is uncalled for regardless of sobriety. It’s not clear which applies to Summer Of Blood writer-director-star Onur Tukel at this Traverse City Film Festival taping, and it doesn’t matter—he’s Jeff Garlin mixed with My Violent Torpedo Of Truth-era Charlie Sheen. Onstage with the loquacious Michael Moore, Doug Benson thought inviting a wildcard (the two had never met) into the conversation wouldn’t be much of a risk. But when Moore is absent and Tukel turns out to be awful, the onus falls on the host, Geoff Tate and a squeaky voiced 18-year-old fan named Jesse Pasternak to keep things moving. What they come up with is spectacular: Instead of grinding the show to a halt, the panel handedly rolls over or quips about Tukel’s behavior. When things eventually get unbearable—and they really do—he’s mercifully ejected, resulting in a breezy and celebratory Leonard Maltin Game. Tate’s knack for comebacks comes in handy, and Pasternak is a surprising and charming hit with the crowd. [DJ]

Effectively Wild
The Somewhat Special 500th Episode


A classic SNL sketch with Norm Macdonald as Lou Gehrig followed the Iron Horse’s famous “luckiest man on the face of the earth” line with the clarification “I was being sarcastic… I’m unlucky.” With podcasts like Baseball Today and The Baseball Show With Rany And Joe going quietly into the night, fans of smart baseball podcasts may feel similarly hexed. Those cursed souls can take heart that one of the best sports podcasts is alive and well into its 500th episode with Effectively Wild. The daily podcast is a consistently brilliant, joyful show hosted by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh and Baseball Prospectus’ Sam Miller, who use an easy chemistry and deadpan deliveries to relish bad baseball headline writing, silly milestones, absurd rule changes and Smash Mouth’s Astro Lounge. In this lengthier-than-usual installment, Miller and Lindbergh are joined by fellow writers Grant Brisbee and Jeff Sullivan for a draft of “baseball things.” Baseball radio commercials, property disputes, and rap name-checks are picked, but the highlight is Miller’s story likening Babe Ruth and an anonymous teammate to Homer Simpson and Frank Grimes. It’s a solid introduction to a show with the lunch-pail mentality of Cal Ripken Jr. and the self-deprecation of Billy Ripken. [TC]

Live: Top 5 Films Of The Filmspotting Era


Adam Kempenaar and his latest of three co-hosts, Josh Larsen, celebrate nine years and 500 episodes the Filmspotting podcast with a retrospective recorded live at Chicago’s historic Music Box Theater. While this installment doesn’t differ structurally from the regular ones in any appreciable way, the hosts performances are noticeably buoyed by the presence of a large audience of fans eager to laugh at their endearingly cornball jokes. Appropriately enough, the theme for this week’s top 5 lists is “Films Of The Filmspotting Era,” encompassing anything from March of 2005 until present day. And though they invited a podcast regular (the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips) and a friend of the show (Slate‘s Dana Stevens) to diversify the kudos, they still largely wind up calling upon the same few films and filmmakers. (Regular listeners won’t be too surprised by any of their top picks.) As a bonus, filmmaker Rian Johnson—who was scheduled to appear live prior to being named the newest steward of the Star Wars film legacy—showed up as an enormous projected head, via Skype, to express a true movie nerd’s excitement at his amazing luck. [DD]

The Flop House
The Legend Of Hercules


With The Rock currently playing the role of Hercules in theaters, the Floppers sit down to watch this year’s other Hercules movie. Directed by Flop House favorite Renny Harlan, The Legend Of Hercules follows more in the tradition of modern-day action movie than Greek mythology. In other words, because it’s an overblown, oftentimes nonsensical affair, the film provides no shortage of material for the Peaches. The best moments come when Elliott Kalan and Stuart Wellington mine their knowledge of Greek mythology to make many segments even richer—and hilarious—than usual. A bit about ancient Greek hamburgers is nearly perfect and is certain to go down as one of the year’s best. The discussion is punctuated by genuine amusement for the many embellishments that Harlan brings to the Hercules legend—like Hercules’ lightning whip—that are exactly the kind of dumb fun that leads the hosts to rate this the rare “good-bad movie.” An especially musical mailbag segment closes out this notably sharp episode that sees the Peaches back at the top of their game. [DF]

The Food Seen
Max Silvestri


While The Food Seen largely concerns itself with collecting stories and philosophies from chefs, restauranteurs, and food writers, its host Michael Harlan Turkell is always eager to find a new way of observing and discussing the top of food and the role it plays in our culture. So, while interviewing a stand-up comedian like the quickly rising Max Silvestri might seem a bit odd at first blush, it winds up making perfect sense given a moment’s consideration. Silvestri spent years recapping episodes of Top Chef for the Eater website, and will soon be seen every week, alongside culinary expert Gail Simmons, as the co-host of FYI Network’s The Feed. But even if neither of those were the case, these 40 minutes with Silvestri is still worthwhile, because he’s a person who cares about the food he puts into his mouth. As a comedian, he’s obviously capable of being funny, but the best parts of the episode come when he’s simply musing on “the rise of food as a cultural category” and his relationship with his favorite restaurants. [DD]

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast
Joe Franklin


While Gilbert Gottfried weekly delivers on the promised amazing with outstanding interviews of show business’ forefathers (and Jeff Ross), the title’s colossal portion turns out to be a misnomer, with each brilliant episode achingly lasting less than hour. This week, Gottfried and Frank Santopadre (writer for Vanity Fair as well as The Angry Beavers) visit inventor of the televised talk show, Joe Franklin, in his outrageously cluttered office space for an interview that is brimming with joy and good humor. Franklin presents an incredible perspective, having interviewed the celebrities from Charlie Chaplin to Julia Roberts. As with previous episodes, all Gottfried and Santopadre have to do is name a name and give Franklin an open floor to gush about the great talent of Al Jolson or Bela Lugosi or Bing Crosby. Listening to Franklin describe the joy he received from nightly melding an “eclectic mix” of guests (pairing Ronald Reagan with a dancing dentist, in one instance), the genesis of Comedy Bang! Bang! and its likeminded ilk can be seen. At 88, Franklin is in top form, doling out amazing, humanizing stories of celebrities who have become just that—stories. This episode is a gallery that simply must be visited. [JW]

LIVE From The Del Close Marathon 16 Pt. 2


This week finds Matt Besser taping live once again from the Del Close Marathon, where improvisers flock to New York to honor Close, a legendary and wildly influential improv director. Improv4Humans is based in L.A., so the marathon is a good spotlight for the kind of brilliant New York talent that the rest of us haven’t heard about yet. The first round of improvisers pulls from the ranks of The Chris Gethard Show, but surprisingly, Sebastian Conelli, the only non-cast member, gets big laughs as Gethard’s foil. The two had met once in passing, but launch immediately into an incredulous Jersey vs. Long Island feud. They mine this eternal rivalry for two hilarious scenes, the best being a lame storytelling contest. Not half an hour later, the cast resets and Besser brings on four familiar voices to the I4H set. Brian Huskey sets a juvenile tone with a boner spiel, but finds a witty scene in the marginal difference between how “peanuts” and “penis” sounds. They wisely move into more mature waters with a host of amazing scenes, the highlight being a commercial shoot with noted soccer player/biter Luis Suárez, and later, uh, something about “Shit Sticks.” The episode goes from there, and closes out a particularly entertaining live taping. [MK]

Monster Talk
Slenderman & Tulpas


With all the press that Slenderman has been getting recently, for its part in a particularly disturbing stabbing-incident involving several pre-teen Wisconsin girls, you might assume that the malevolent being, who is said to push children into heinous acts of violence, has been haunting our culture for decades, or even centuries. In actuality, the towering, faceless, malevolent entity was created just five years ago by a man named Eric Knudsen as part a “paranormal pictures” Photoshop contest for the Something Awful Forums. The fascinating part is that—even though we know exactly how and why the Slenderman mythos originated—many people refuse to accept his non-existence, going so far as to co-opt and pervert the Tibetan mystic concept of a Tulpa—often translated as “magical emanation”—to rationalize his existence as a being manifested by people’s shared belief in him. Religious studies professor Joe Laycock and Tibetan studies expert Natasha Mikles join Monster Talk hosts Blake Smith and Karen Stollznow to discuss this genuinely captivating cultural phenomenon from a skeptical and humanist perspective. [DD]

99% Invisible


Host Roman Mars is a master at drawing out the charm of the hidden nooks of culture, and in this episode he explores a Chinese movement to copy entire cities, towns, and businesses from the United States and Europe. Guest Bianca Bosker, author of a book on the subject and coiner of the term “duplitecture,” explains that affluent suburban Chinese families don’t just want some kind of novelty city like one would find in Las Vegas or Disney Land, or even something akin to a Chinatown neighborhood in an American city. Instead, iconic buildings are warped into slightly different incarnations, with mutated but pristine copies of the Eiffel Tower and the Chrysler Building within visual range of each other. Bosker also explains that each community has established elaborate community rules that help keep up the odd tone of the city. Some features even improve on the original. Fake Apple stores even have knock-off iPhones with features like removable batteries. But what Mars and Bosker achieve best is an appreciation for the architectural art form that emerges. These cities are not just copies; they are original mutations that have become ideas within themselves. The White House itself is based on a Dublin building, which was mimicry of Roman architecture. Bosker has also uploaded a collection of photographs
to the 99% website. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class
The Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion


Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey have struck upon one of their strangest stories yet, a mash-up of two American passions that one might never suspect intersected: the gold rush and the prizes that come with boxes of cereal. In 1955 a desperate Quaker Oats corporation hit upon a novel idea: trade box tops for land deeds to real property in the Canadian Yukon. In collaboration with a CBS TV show that Quaker Oats sponsored, the normally bland and un-sugared cereal that Quaker was known for suddenly started flying off the shelves. The deeds themselves were for plots of land that were only one square inch big, but families plowed through the boxes ravenously in the hopes of combining their deeds into larger pieces of land. But what became especially strange was the way Quaker backed off and eventually declared the whole promotion to be a “romantic journey” rather than a real promotion. Though Quaker had purchased a real plot of land and had intended to legally distribute it, Canadian officials quickly became suspicious and unsympathetic to it and reclaimed the land only weeks after it started due to a paltry $37 in unpaid property taxes. Additionally, no deed owners registered their deeds on time either, yet the deeds continue to pop-up and spawn real legal inquiries even half a century later, giving Wilson and Frey a fun contemporary twist for the end of the episode. [DT

Mike Myers


Considering he doesn’t give in-depth, long-form interviews all that often, Mike Myers’ conversation with Marc Maron could have been merely a glimpse into his life and thought process and it still would’ve satisfied. However, he offers up much more than that. In addition to a rough sketch of the course of his comedy career—which in itself is very interesting—Myers discusses in detail his vulnerabilities and insecurities, along with the difficulties and lasting effects of his father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. It also helps that the context he gives Maron for the documentary he’s appearing to plug takes the form of several immensely entertaining stories about Alice Cooper’s long time manager, Shep Gordon. Professional missteps like The Love Guru are conveniently avoided, and Myers really does say the word “fantastic” a lot, but overall it’s fascinating, humanizing, and at times profound portrait of a unique comedic talent, and thus is entirely essential. [CG]

We see what you said there

“It’s like burning a giant piece of coal, instead of tiny pieces of grass.” —Dave Asprey explaining how sugar effects cognitive endurance, Bulletproof Radio


“Oh my god, ‘turgid’ is the worst nickname for an erection.” Doug Benson in response to Onur Tukel, Doug Loves Movies

“I think [former first baseman John Olerud] just has the face of a property disputer.” —Jeff Sullivan on the predictable legal wranglings of ex-ballplayers, Effectively Wild


“I actually didn’t mind that style choice—to not actually see a half-man, half-bull having sex with her.” —Stuart Wellington on the handling of Hercules conception in The Legend Of Hercules, The Flop House

“My favorite food is Ambien.” —Max Silvestri, The Food Seen

“TV is here to stay!” —Joe Franklin, Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast


“So the commercial starts and you pull away from that guy and say, ‘Hey, I’m sick of eating humans. Maybe I should eat one of these hot dogs.’” —A director (Matt Besser) addressing Luis Suárez (Jon Gabrus), Improv4Humans

“There’s only so many ways to represent a human being, and if you get the arms and legs too long, it doesn’t mean it’s Slenderman.” —Joe Laycock on the idea of Slenderman appearing in cave paintings, Monster Talk


“Stealing plus lack of talent equals creativity.” —Roman Mars explaining how underrated artistic mimicry is, 99% Invisible

“The deeds were larger than the actual pieces of land they represented.” —Holly Frey describing the the Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion, Stuff You Missed In History Class


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