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.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
The title for this episode of 99% Invisible has a highly dramatic flair, yet it also turns out to be quite literal. Here the design podcast homes in on a light bulb in Livermore, California, that has been burning bright for 113 years, longer than most people have been alive. Though Thomas Edison gets all the glory for inventing the light bulb, there was a huge rush to create the perfectly engineered bulb. Adolphe A. Chaillet may have achieved the pinnacle of this dream in 1901. The episode doesn’t just get into how and why it was invented, or even limit itself to Chaillet’s theatrical product demonstrations and the need for a perfectly designed icon of technology. It traces this unique bulb’s stationary history in a firehouse garage, where many generations of firefighters have gone from being annoyed by it, to being amused, to becoming appreciative of the engineering history that dangles over their heads. In fact, when the light bulb was first installed, cars and firetrucks were not even a reality yet, and the bulb shared a garage with horse-drawn hose carts. The bulb also got its own team of humans to maintain it on its 100th birthday, and now it continues as not just an oddity but as a piece of living history. Hearing its story takes one through not just a history of invention but through the lives of a small town’s population.
The Best Show
The Best Show Is BACK!
When host emeritus of The Best Show On WFMU Tom Scharpling recently tweeted that he was ready to talk to “anyone with a microphone” about the coming relaunch of The Best Show sans WFMU, he wasn’t kidding. To varying effect, Scharpling has been touring friendly programs like Jon Solomon on WPRB, The Todd Barry Show, These Things Matter, The SideStreets Podcast, Keith And The Girl, and The Breakfast Quest for promotional chats and navel gazing since the original announcement of his return and a 16-CD box set cataloging the show’s original incarnation on terrestrial radio. But without a timetable for the grand reopening of Newbridge, there still wasn’t much coming out of it—until Scharpling’s brand new podcast feed quietly hit iTunes this week. In a brief four-minute monologue, Scharpling vows to return with mirth, music, mayhem, callers, associate producer Mike, Jon Wurster, and Gary The Squirrel every Tuesday at 9 p.m. Eastern by the end of the year.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Holiday Spectacular airs next week, meaning listeners can expect hotshot musical guests, batshit celebrity impersonations, and yuletide nuttiness galore. So think of this week as the calm before the snowstorm, a refreshingly low-key episode where Scott Aukerman checked in with Skylar Astin and Rory Scovel of TBS’ Ground Floor and an old childhood friend. In true Comedy Bang! Bang! fashion, Astin and Rovel riffed more on their series’ network than the series itself (“Now it is a super station, right?” asked Scott), and easily slipped into the podcast’s laid-back brand of lying. But the true highlight came with the introduction of Aukerman’s old bandmate Jewel’s (apostrophe intentional). As played by Earwolf favorite Pamela Murphy, Jewel’s spoke like Janice from The Muppets after several doses of helium—stoned yet hyperactive as she reminisced about their band’s cover of “Pop Goes The Weasel,” which somehow incorporates pastry dough. And while the laughs slowed down with Will Hines as a mysterious librarian from their hometown, “Musical Organs”’ decided lack of chaos and in-jokes might make it the perfect gateway for potential fans, who can then pig out on the unhinged mania of next week’s Christmas episode.
Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period
The Book Of Eli
There is a new specter who looms large over this week’s episode, and that is the wordless commentary of recording engineer Justin, a.k.a. Justin X, a.k.a. Black Judgment. Prior to the recording, co-host W. Kamau Bell made a joke in poor taste only too look up and see a new face in the booth, the aforementioned Black Judgment, giving him the most nasty look for being so ignorant. Judgment is in fact an underlying theme, as Bell and co-host Kevin “Randy” Avery discuss religion and the moment that caused them to be fearful of the idea of a vengeful God. Avery tells a story of a time when he got sick and was afraid that God was mad at him, so he threw out all his porn. Black Judgment gives this a tacit thumbs up. These discussions arise out of this week’s Denzel film, The Book Of Eli, where the book in question is the Bible. Bell seems entirely too content to disgust listeners by routinely claiming The Book Of Eli hits his “cinematic G-spot” with a host of colorful sound effects to accompany such claims, despite the protestations of Avery, and, one might presume, those of Black Judgment.
No Such Thing As A Fish
No Such Thing As A Super Mario Love Hotel
For the first time, the popular British podcast No Such Thing As A Fish leaves the British Isles where its parent television program Q.I. gave birth to it. The round table of hosts Dan, James, Andy, and Anna record a live episode at the Atomium in Brussels with special guest, geeky Belgian comedian Lieven Scheire. Getting even more adept at riffing off of complex research throughout an episode, they uncover a series of ants named after doors and find a way to work them into nearly every segment of the show. But it’s also an episode where they discuss love-hut traditions wherein a female teenager is allowed to sleep with as many suitors as she pleases until she finds her soulmate, with an average of 10 attempts leading to an ideal match. And there is an interesting fact introduced about astronauts’ attempts to make 3-D printed pizzas in space that leads to a broader discussion of space food and the ethics of 3-D printing organic substances. The podcast has quickly gone from being an offshoot of the panel TV show to a traveling edition that brings comedians on board. It all ends up being hilarious, and hopefully it’s only a matter of time before Q.I.’s Stephen Fry himself makes an appearance.
Chris Sullivan, Dan Van Kirk
Dan Van Kirk’s unabashed love for Chili’s landed him a unique and enviable promotion deal last week as the result of a social media campaign by Sklarbro Country fans. Friday afternoon, as an answer to relentless requests to grant him official spokesperson status, the corporation handed over its official Twitter page to the comedian, splashed his headshot across the banner, and gave him free rein to make up themed entrees and comment on user photos under #DVK4Chilis. It’s more significant than it sounds for two reasons: First, not only did podcast fans refrain from being ironic jerks when chatting about their fantasy Chili’s orders, but the good-natured conversations and jokes gave purpose and interest to an otherwise dry company account. Twitter and comedians already have a happy marriage—why shouldn’t companies outsource content, and provide paying outlets, to the experts? And more importantly, on a small scale, it flipped the top-down promotion model. Niche customers pushed a demand, then rewarded the company with patronage when they were heard. Van Kirk chats about the takeover lead-up—though it remains unclear if he was paid for the gig—among other topics like their shared Windy City roots, Christopher Walken’s rehearsal style in Peter Pan Live!, and two bizarre stories of public misbehavior with Jason and Randy Sklar and The Knick’s Chris Sullivan in this week’s Country-worthy episode.
Tycho - “Awake”
Song Exploder is, if nothing else, a great way to get into new bands. Hrishikesh Hirway’s bi-weekly song dissection typically highlights under-the-radar indie artists with singular aesthetics. Tycho, for example, combines rigid electronics with lush acoustics, making frontman Scott Hansen an ideal guest for the podcast. By isolating various tracks on “Awake,” the opening song from Tycho’s album of the same name, Hansen is able to peel back its surface elegance and expose the messy guts underneath, including a misplayed note and a vocal track nobody was supposed to know about. What’s even more interesting, however, is the insight Hansen provides into his intricate, cut-and-paste process, as well as the unlikely inspiration he found in Interpol’s “PDA,” which Hirway plays a sample of for contrast. Ultimately, what really makes an episode of Song Exploder sing is the story behind the song, and this episode doesn’t disappoint. Hansen conflates the creation of “Awake” with the crystallization of his identity as a musician, making it quite possibly the most important song in the budding musician’s catalog.
The Annual Holiday Spectacular
With podcasting being a fairly young form of communication traditions are often forced, rather than arrived at organically. Seasonal content is less a thing for which listeners pine, and mostly a rote exercise in theme fulfillment. There aren’t likely many listeners who sit around all year, waiting for Radiolab’s annual take on the science behind Halloween or some such. So it is a joy when a podcast is able to subvert this trap, producing an episode that routinely marks a high-water moment for the series. The best example of that is the Sound Opinions Christmas episode, when hosts Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis are visited by the wonderfully odd Andy Cirzan, who spends his year collecting forgotten, one-off recordings of Christmas music and compiling it into a special mix just for the show. This year’s mix opens with narration from an old 45 about a Christmas clown named Fubar, and things only get weirder from there. The Cirzan Christmas compilation is great not only for breaking the monotony of the ubiquitous traditional 20-or-so songs heard everywhere, but also for providing a Lynchian glimpse into these regional recordings and their queasy approximations of popular music. This year’s mix, like the season itself, has the ability to both give you the shivers and warm your heart in equal measure.
Stuff You Should Know
How The Hum Works
Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant start this episode on an extended discussion of the vocal fry of Kim Kardashian and her effects on young people, but it has a surprising amount to do with a sound that is appearing everywhere around the world with almost no explanation. The mysterious diesel-engine type hum that is drastically effecting the lives of 2 percent of the population, but no one is exactly sure why it exists, or if it does at all. Is it geographic tinnitus or a problem with tectonic plates? Many believe it is something that only those who are sensitive to electro-magnetic sound can hear. Others think its paranoia or the result of a comet. The theories may sound ridiculous, but the mass reports of weird low-frequency clicking persist, and the hosts are determined to pick it apart as scientifically as possible. And though 2 percent might not sound like a lot at first, it’s notable for the entire planet. So at some point government scientists began looking into it. The phenomenon even made it into an episode of The X-Files (“Drive”). It even led people to intentionally deafen themselves and possibly kill others. Whether it’s an inner-ear issue or an external stimulant is left open to speculation, but the strangeness makes this one of the most unusual and fascinating episodes of Stuff You Should Know.
Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black enter this week’s topic openly—almost proudly—admitting that neither of them have seen the film they’re meant to be dissecting, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. In fact, they say, they probably won’t ever see it. And it’s fitting that, where Topics gets its laughs from the broad characterization of hoity-toity academics faking their way through the big questions, the success of their comparatively inconsequential film review hinges on this minor detail. Showalter has always depicted himself as being well over his head as the co-host of Topics—and Black pressing him for clarification is the highlight of most episodes—so it’s thrilling to hear him play his, “I’ve only seen the trailer” trump card as often as he does. The difference in tone between their uneasy Interstellar review and their philosophical waxing about kebabs and whether Ernest Hemingway would like the trailer for Interstellar is palpable, making this installment of Topics a master class in interpersonal communication for anyone who’s ever had to pretend that they knew about something they didn’t.
We Hate Movies
Jingle All the Way 2
We Hate Movies distinguishes itself from its like-minded contemporaries in How Did This Get Made? and The Flop House by focusing primarily on movies 10 years and older. You won’t get Sharknado here, nor will you find the latest of Hollywood’s many misfires; it’s all deep cuts. Occasionally, though, they’ll make an exception, as they did with last year’s episode on Tooth Fairy 2, starring Larry The Cable Guy. The result was one of the gang’s best episodes, with credit due to Andrew Jupin and Stephen Sajdak’s pitch-perfect Larry impression: “HEY, KEWL!” begins each extended riff, and it never gets old. That’s good, because Larry’s back on this episode celebrating We Hate Movie’s fourth anniversary, which finds all four co-hosts present to discuss Jingle All The Way 2 or, as Jupin calls it, Larry’s Fartin’ Sleigh Ride Adventure. In between inspired riffs on pro wrestling and the unspoken alcoholism of Larry’s character, the gang longs for a Sinbad cameo, or at least supporting turns from character actors like Stephen Tobolowsky and Kurt Fuller (or is it Zach Grenier?). It’s a predictably zany episode, wildly careening between riffs, impressions, rage, cackles, and a genuine inquiry into what makes a good family Christmas movie.
With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus
Rad Dad Padcast With Terry Dew
There is a golden improv rule which says that performers ought always follow the fun, and if they are not not then they’re being an asshole. Obviously, one does not want to be the asshole. And on this week’s episode of With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus we get a good example of two performers, Lapkus with “host” Brendan Jennings, tumbling through amusing bits, carried along on the sound of their own genuine enjoyment. The episode is helped along by a rather delightful performance from Jennings as self-proclaimed “rad dad” Terry Dew, blissfully out of touch with his children whom he communicates with via podcast or, since he listens on his iPad, “padcast.” Lapkus plays Harmony Moongloss, a shaman Terry found on Craigslist, whose talents include guided meditation, masturbation, and diagnosing previously undetected mental illnesses. They take turns leading each other through guided scenarios, including one where Terry is attempting autofellatio only to be walked in on by his young daughter. Jennings and Lapkus have an unhurried pace to their comedy, giving this episode a more rooted sensibility otherwise missing from previous installments of With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus. That is, until teenaged menace Traci Reardon joins in for another edition of “Help Me, Rhonda” and things go a little haywire, though thankfully no one ends up as an asshole.
We see what you said there
“And the sperm sloshed together…” —Anna Ptaszynski attempting to explain a multiple-fathers theory of fatherhood, No Such Thing As A Fish
“The chickpea, of course, is such a versatile pea. The most versatile pea there is.” —Michael Ian Black, Topics
“So, on your bingo cards at home: Did anybody have ‘Larry beaten up by old ladies?’” —Eric Szyszka on Jingle All the Way 2, We Hate Movies
“The more I research this the more I’m like, oh God I hope I never do.” —Josh Clark on a mysterious industrial-sounding hum that is being heard by more and more people around the world, Stuff You Should Know