Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

WTF remembers comedic great Robin Williams with candor

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.

The Daily Show Podcast Without Jon Stewart
Episode 1


Jon Stewart might balk whenever a fan says the Comedy Central satire show is his or her source for news, but whether or not he wants to admit it, the media and political analysis on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report has become of the most insightful, enlightening and accessible commentary on any network. That’s largely due to the shows’ brilliant writing team and producers, who work at a feverish pace to translate the day’s news into humor and emotional takeaways. It wasn’t always like that—as 18-year-veteran writer J.R. Havlan points out on the podcast’s premiere episode, the show used to be a more simple showcase for pop culture silliness and setup-punchline jokes. As the show continues to evolve, different writers and producers will stop by every two weeks to chime in on their creative process, highlighted segments, and broader thoughts about current events. This week, writer Jo Miller and producer Sara Taksler chat about the uncommon month-long process it took to decide on and put together the acclaimed campus sexual assault segment that aired a few weeks back. It’s a pity correspondent extraordinaire Jessica Williams won’t be a permanent host, but the added insight from a rotating panel of behind-the-scenes folk will be a great, informative supplement to the show. [DJ]

Fire Talk With Me
Getting Weird Again


Twenty-five years after Twin Peaks became a cultural phenomenon, it may be hard for some of us to imagine that there are actually people out there who have no idea who killed Laura Palmer. But there’s an entire generation of extremely savvy television viewers who are completely unfamiliar with blissfully strange characters like Dr. Jacoby, The Log Lady, Killer BOB and The Man From Another Place. The Fire Talk With Me podcast in taking advantage of the DVD re-release of the seminal murder mystery/soap opera/fever dream to reach out to that untapped audience. Ain’t It Cool News’ Jeremy Smith guides comedian-musician Allie Goertz through her first watch of what she’s already calling a new favorite show on a week-by-week basis. Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci joins them for this installment, in which they’ve only reached the show’s second episode, and yet things are already jumping from kind of creepy to out-and-out surreal. Longtime fans of David Lynch’s television masterwork may find themselves reintroduced to the show’s charms as they hear Goertz attempt to puzzle through the various mysteries and false leads. If nothing else, this podcast is a welcome reminder of what a magical viewing experience that was for uninitiated eyes. [DD]

The Flop House
Labor Day


When The Flop House covers lifeless, plodding, drab movies, the resulting podcast episode finds the hosts either understandably exhausted, vaguely annoyed, and a bit defeated—or weirdly energized and excited, desperately seeking a thread of anything obliquely related to the film at hand to latch onto in order to make comedy without having to actually focus on the movie. It’s clear from the get-go that their episode on Jason Reitman’s Labor Day falls into the latter category, as they’re employing silly voices and imagining Jimmy Stewart in an ’80s bikini movie all before the two-minute mark, and even clearer once they go completely off the rails with an Alan Ruck-centric tangent that has few rivals in The Flop House back catalog in terms of absurdity and even fewer in terms of length. It’s so funny and so long that it almost becomes tiring by the time they stop trying to come up with words that actually sort of sound like other words and start simply inserting “Ruck” into everything they say, and as such it’s very possibly their best tangent to date. [CG]

Old Dread Ben


The last time Improv4Humans had one of the big Earwolf gets on, Andy Daly ran wild and delivered what could easily be the year’s best episode. “Old Dread Ben” finds Paul F. Tompkins, every comedy nerd’s golden boy, making his first appearance on the show. While it doesn’t reach the same insane heights of “Toothbrush Tommy,” this week’s episode is genuinely uproarious thanks in part to Tompkins’ verbal acumen and his knack for both storytelling and smooth callbacks. Of course, Tompkins isn’t alone with Matt Besser. They’re joined by fan-favorites Stephanie Allynne and Dan Lippert, as well as Ben Siemon, who hasn’t been around lately, but was solid in past appearances. Siemon’s absence from the show leads to a enjoyable kickoff where he strolls in late, having gone to the original Earwolf studio and found it eerily abandoned. Unlike Daly’s episode, the scenes take a bit to get going. But good lord, by the time they start going on about street-smart Bronies, nothing can touch them. Just Tompkins cooing “Lavender, motherfucker!” is enough to put the scene over the top in the best way. With Tompkins on board, this is the perfect episode for Earwolf-friendly listeners to take a stab at I4H. [MK]

Internet History Podcast
She Gave The World A Billion AOL CDs


A marketing effort as massive and inescapable as AOL’s free trial CDs and floppy disks hardly seems like the work of a human being. The scope and nefariousness of the direct mail and in-store onslaught seems more like the creation of a corporate cyborg than mortal, but Jan Brandt can take credit for the carpet-bombing exercise that helped turn the online service into a mass media behemoth. The marketing guru gives a full account of the plot to have the discs in every mailbox, under every dinner plate and on the counter of every Blockbuster Video in this fascinating conversation with Internet History Podcast host Brian McCullough. It’s a discussion that starts slow, but eventually develops into an essential listen for those interested in the absurdly large and successful campaign. McCullough allows Brandt to tell her own story, which includes the expansion of the marketing blitz to the point where she contends half of the world’s CDs were emblazoned with the AOL logo. It’s equal parts AOL oral history and Working if Studs Terkel spoke with someone about working on a $300 million sales push that eventually included dropping floppy disks into boxes of frozen steaks. [TC]

No Such Thing As A Fish
No Such Thing As Testicle-Retracting Sumo Wrestlers


This week regular host Dan Schreiber is joined by four fellow researchers for the popular British show QI with a round of factoids that are even more amazing than usual, even though the title of this episode is a bit of a tough act to follow. Though it starts with a slightly dry story about German cutlery industry, researcher Anna Ptaszynski segues into amusing American patriotic foods, which manages to dovetail into a conversation about national pride in America and how it relates to Germany. But things only get sillier from there, with Schreiber revealing a strange declaration made by an Iowa State University professor who thought literally blowing up the moon would solve all our famine, disease, and weather problems (NASA had a handy rebuttal explaining how it would actually annihilate all life on Earth). But the main facts that breaks up the segments can’t compare to the random, smaller facts that are so fascinatingly revealed. Sumo wrestler testicles are a part of a larger testicle chat that starts with the amazing growth spurts in sparrows and how well hippos defy castration despite their tendency to bite their own genitals. It gets as silly as it sounds, and scrotum jokes tie deftly back to moon facts. But the barrage of delightful scientific facts never stop, and if one listens closely they might learn the time of day humans weigh the least. [DT]

The One Piece Podcast
Team RebRobin


One Piece is one of Japan’s biggest pop culture institutions. Eiichiro Oda’s story about a crew of pirates exploring a slightly fantastical and always bizarre world is a rare accomplishment that easily transcends its tedious peers, like Bleach and Naruto. Always hilarious and with a remarkably well-realized world, One Piece is the kind of text that deserves to be pored over obsessively, but few American outlets pay critical attention to it. While most English conversations occur on the message boards, The One Piece Podcast stands out as a shining beacon of good humor and critical appreciation. Peppered with Simpsons references and silly attempts at voicing characters, Zach Logan hosts a weekly tribute that covers every base a One Piece fan could hope for. Fans watching the anime have a section to themselves, while those interested in sales figures and ratings can tune in early. But the biggest draw is the consistently hilarious manga recap. Logan has assembled a great crew of commentators who go through each week’s chapter panel-by-panel. The manga’s official English translator, Stephen Paul, is a permanent guest and offers fascinating explanations of his choices as an interpreter. Any fan of One Piece will be a fan of The One Piece Podcast. [MK]

99% Invisible
The Sound Of Sports


In 2011, 99% Invisible aired a popular but small clip from a BBC radio documentary entitled “The Sound Of Sport.” Host Roman Mars steps aside this week and hands over hosting reins to documentarian Peregrine Andrews, whose special airs for the first time Stateside in its entirety. Even those who don’t like sports will be fascinated by this jumbo-sized episode that reveals the hidden world of sports sound effects, Foley work, and audio design. It’s a bit of a trade secret that there is any audio engineering in sports at all, so much of Andrews’ documentary focuses on people whose careers are rarely discussed in popular culture. And the audio-scapes are beautifully produced for radio. The 62 minutes fly by with gorgeous Olympic arrows piercing the air and terrifying, textured roars from the crowd at South American soccer games. Documentary subject Dennis Baxter starts off by discussing his early dreams to run his own music studio and the economic demands that eventually destroyed that dream. But one can hear how passionate he was about recording audio for the Olympics, even under relative anonymity, because of the amount of care and craftsmanship he dedicates to placing special hidden microphones that capture the intimacy of individual events. [DT]



Pitch—a biweekly documentary podcast from public radio producers Whitney Jones and Alex Kapelman—begins its second season with an investigative look into the eponymous subject of the Barbarians’ 1965 minor hit, “Moulty.” The organ-drenched pop-rock song is catchy enough, but it’s really the man it’s about that justifies spending five times the song’s running time talking about it. Victor “Moulty” Moulton was the one-handed drummer and leader of the garage band for its three-year run, who contended in the song’s final verse that he needed “a girl, a real girl, one that really loves” him to become a complete man. This declaration so sufficiently intrigued Kapelman, that he decided to track down the now-70-year-old musician and learn if he ever found that true love. If that seems like a somewhat slight premise on which to hang a full episode, bear in mind that the episode is only 12 minutes long. And it actually could have been quite engaging had Moulty not been so cagey about answering the most basic of profile questions. Even so, it’s an entertaining listen and it signals good things for episodes to come. [DD]

Happy Birthday Bobby K


Not many people are aware of Robert Krulwich’s long and bizarre career before becoming Radiolab’s senior, often playfully rankled producer. It was Krulwich’s birthday not too long ago, so Jad Abumrad had the brilliant idea to dedicate this week’s episode to his broadcasting partner. Any longtime listener can tell you that Krulwich is an endearingly strange character, but the tapes and archives that Abumrad presents in a surprise studio session reveal a true fringe genius. Simply too short at 30 minutes, the episode starts with Krulwich’s ambitious, overly nasal beginnings, where he reported on the advent of ATMs by way of opera. A rebroadcasted story about two identically named companies jockeying over white-pages positioning seems to be the episode’s highlight, but then Krulwich goes off the rails. Given free rein, he recounts his first ever broadcast news assignment, which starts with golf balls and ends, absurdly, with bellowing alligators and cheering Frenchmen in Florida. Abumrad mentioned that these unrelated anecdotes are a common occurrence, but are almost always cut out of full episodes. Fans of this episode will hopefully take this as a rallying cry and demand that Radiolab release an anthology of Krulwich’s ramblings and reminiscences. Simply put, we need more. [MK]

RuPaul: What’s The Tee?


Where Logo TV’s Drag Race is the dominion of all things “Glamazon and Supermodel of the World” RuPaul, the What’s The Tee? podcast has become the premiere outlet for RuPaul Charles, the social icon behind the reality show. Every two weeks, the untucked and uncensored host gets to sound off on life in the entertainment industry, competition controversies, and the LGBT community, all while shooting the shit with longtime friend and co-host Michelle Visage. This week, two members of the Scruff Pit Crew (usually introduced on Drag Race by contestants fist pumping and dog woofing) drop by to chat about their thoughts on sexual objectification. Back during an excellent conversation with Marc Maron on WTF, RuPaul mentioned a regret from youth was “not being a bigger slut,” so it’s no surprise how sex positive and body embracing the conversation ends up being. It’s especially cute to hear everyone’s horror when Visage mentions the degree to which her kids judge themselves by their social media status. Per usual, it’s an episode in which it’s hard not to feel a little bit better about yourself after listening. [DJ]



This episode hosts Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin McElroy deal with a disease that has plagued the human sole for centuries: gout. Gout swells joints to the point of a lack of mobility, and usually focuses on the big toe. But the early days of the disease were especially strange, or as co-host Dr. Sydnee McElroy describes “everything was about making you puke, or bloodletting.” Now relatively uncommon, the stories they discuss date back to the dark ages. Ancient Greeks even thought that dysentery was good at curing gout, because it made you expel fluids. There’s even some surprising chemistry details in how people have tried and failed to cure gout as the years of civilization marched by. But it should be noted that, although she is rather droll and carries the medical degree between her and her hilarious husband, Dr. McElroy is especially good at hitting the comedy notes, driving extended riffs in this episode about goat suet, Archie Comics, and her husband’s fake frappuccino. The relatively ancient nature of the disease also means the hosts can couch their facts and jokes in some relative distance, making this one of the easier episodes to listen to for people who are more squeamish and might otherwise avoid the show. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know
How The NSA Works


Though hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant have covered current NSA news and government organizations before, this is the first time they’ve delved deep into the world of Edward Snowden and the organization he allegedly betrayed. The amount of power the organization wields seems overwhelming when presented all at once by Clark and Bryant, who both joke that they are now definitely on some kind of “list.” And it seems likely, as the bare facts about the NSA are as terrifying as one might guess. Though they’ve been around since 1952, they’ve only been publicly acknowledge since the 1970s. The NSA is generally just intelligence research (unlike the field operatives in the CIA) and they have been symbiotically growing with the prominence of the Internet. As of 2013 there were 30,000 military personnel in the NSA and 60,000 to 70,000 independent contractors. That’s a lot of people digging through everyone’s business, and as Edward Snowden pointed out, a surprising number of those people are undercover spies, even if the government is calling them low-level contractors. Clark and Bryant have done research on the government agencies for years, and not only do they come across as quite unbiased but they have a huge frame of reference for humor. They joke that we only know a small amount of what is going on, but with tools that watch people’s Facebook and Gmail in real time being public knowledge, it seems like this is an important episode to listen to. [DT]

Remembering Robin Williams


Less than a year into its run, Marc Maron’s then-new WTF podcast was just beginning to find its footing. Its 67th episode wasn’t a complete tonal shift for the podcast, but Maron’s one-on-one with Robin Williams showed that Maron was developing a knack for pulling out some of the candid personal moments from his comedic guests. When news of Robin Williams death hit Monday evening Maron was quick to re-post this archived interview, with new bumpers added to each side of the interview that show just how distraught Maron was in that moment. Maron’s introduction is harrowing, his voice rattling with despair, and his cracked inflection always suggesting he’s on the verge of tears. The interview between Williams and Maron proves even more powerful than it was in 2010, specifically when—after speaking about Williams open heart surgery—the pair frankly discusses mortality, a topic that, given the context in which this episode is being presented, is downright chilling. With less than five minutes left in the conversation, Maron directly asks Williams about any morbid fascinations, and Williams quickly open up about a time he was suicidal prior to the interview. Williams transfers that depressed energy—as he so often did—into a bit that saw him discuss mortality with his conscience. Though it was certainly humorous in the moment—as Maron’s chuckles prove—hearing Williams utter phrases such as “Fuck life,” while going back and forth on various ways with which to end his own, proves a harrowing end to their conversation. After the interview wraps, Maron’s anguish colors each word he says, illuminating his struggle to say goodbye to his departed friend. [DA]

You Are Not So Smart


While this Boing Boing-family podcast generally concerns itself with knocking humanity from its pedestal and shining a light on all the design flaws of the human brain, this time around it’s attempting something slightly different. In his interview with You Are Not So Smart host David McRaney, sports and science journalist David Epstein details an expert’s amazing ability to subconsciously calculate the world around him or her in a fraction of a second, based only upon nearly imperceptible visual cues and an immense history of practice, before responding with a speed that can only be described as prognostic. One of the more interesting aspects of the half-hour conversation is Epstein’s challenging of the 10,000 rule that has become a piece of conventional wisdom since it was made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers. Listeners will almost certainly walk away from this episode with a more nuanced understanding of what sets star athletes and respected artists apart from the rest of us, though it probably won’t make them feel any better about their place in the world. [DD]

We see what you said there

“That’s what Lynch does… He plays with American tropes. He has this American surface—a calm surface and a weirdness underneath.” —Devin Faraci, Fire Talk With Me


“I did focus group research and we’re watching as someone takes a computer mouse and points it at the computer like a remote control, wondering why nothing is happening. One person took it and put it on the floor and tried to use it like a sewing machine pedal.” —Former AOL chief marketing officer Jan Brandt on the early challenges of introducing an online service to an unfamiliar public, Internet History Podcast

“Those critics who dismissed my ideas were very similar to those who dismissed Galileo.” —Co-host Anna Ptaszynski quoting the man who wanted to blow up the moon, No Such Thing As A Fish


“The parallel bars and the uneven bars for the women’s gymnastics, when you put the microphones that close to the athlete you hear the flexing of the bar. You hear the breathing. You can even hear the rustling of the clothing.” —Dennis Baxter on the dramatic intimacy microphones can capture at the Olympics, 99% Invisible

“Two guys, guitars. I don’t know if they’re in tune or not. I could care less, so long as I’m showing off in front of the girls.” —Victor “Moulty” Moulton, Pitch


“If you like foxes, and you don’t wanna boil one… instead you can boil a live wolf. My point is, if you’re stricken with gout, how are you going to hunt and capture a live wolf?” —Dr. Sydnee McElroy on the ancient cures for gout, Sawbones

Share This Story