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.
There’s no object more closely associated with psychology than the couch. It’s the site of analysis, the piece of furniture on which Sigmund Freud’s first patients laid their heads as he developed the practices and theories that would become psychoanalysis. And while the image of the couch-bound patient revealing oneself to an analyst may start with Freud, it doesn’t end with him; as Ann Heppermann and Roman Mars share in another outstanding 99% Invisible, the history of psychology can be viewed through the lens of couch. In the first part of the episode, Heppermann and Mars focus on Freud’s original couch, a gift from a wealthy patient that is housed in London’s Freud Museum, before shifting to look at how the status of the couch has changed as ideas about psychoanalysis have changed and antidepressants and other drugs were developed. They also focus on the rich cultural history of the couch as it relates to psychology, and comments from Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor for The New Yorker, demonstrate why the couch will continue to hold its exalted status in popular culture. A succinct intellectual history of psychoanalysis and its place in our culture—don’t nap on this one.
There’s nothing pretentious about Brew Bloods, a new craft beer podcast from the guys behind the The Break Room. Located in Dallas, hosts Marc and Dustin aren’t brewers themselves, nor are they experts; rather, they’re amiable, game representatives of the world’s renewed interest in craft beer. For this reason, the duo is approachable in their tastes, which they’re constantly challenging by indulging in beers both in and out of their comfort zone. Previous episodes have sampled beers infused with mangos and jalapenos, and even a craft beer from Japan. In this episode, they’re drinking and critiquing the latest in Ommegang’s line of Game Of Thrones-themed beers, the Three-Eyed Raven Dark Saison. Despite not being experts, Marc and Dustin boast a developing vocabulary that goes well beyond “hoppy,” allowing for a discussion that nicely conveys the beer’s taste and aroma. And, as in every episode, the guys cap things off with industry news and a little “education” about beer and the brewing process. Here, they discuss how beer becomes “skunked,” a hilariously literal term as the process creates a chemical identical to one found in skunk spray. Gross.
Last week—as noted by Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman—marked hump week of hump month, meaning the year is already halfway over, and with it comes what is perhaps the strongest episode of an already impressive run for the show. The notoriously hilarious Jason Mantzoukas, of Earwolf’s How Did This Get Made? and—please, God—the forthcoming Talkin’ ’Tang podcast, guests on the episode. The first half of the show is given over to such rapid-fire jokery that by the 15-minute mark it has already created some of the year’s best bits. The nearly omnipresent Paul F. Tompkins comes by in the second half as blue-collar Earwolf janitor Mike, whose presence is like comedy gasoline poured on an already blazing fire. Perhaps the most enduring creation is that of the episode’s title, “Heynong Man,” a simple mondegreen that comes from Aukerman mishearing Mantzoukas. The joy of this discovery metastasizes quickly, as Aukerman and Mantzoukas play around with the phrase like a jazz scale; each repeated utterance helps to solidify its meaning, eventually becoming nearly every third thing said by the show’s end. It’s a truly absurd treasure.
The story of the crooked cop has been around since the dawn of policing, but it’s rarely as personal an account as listeners get in this interview. Anna Sale speaks with Ken Eurell, a former NYPD officer who began his career in Brooklyn in the early ’80s, placing him at the epicenter of New York City’s crack epidemic. (Eurell is featured in the new documentary The Seven Five, about dirty cops working in Brooklyn during this era.) The young recruit started compromising his integrity a little by drinking on the job with his first partner, before descending so far into corruption that he left the force and started dealing cocaine. He matter-of-factly describes a police culture familiar to anyone who’s experienced a workplace with a heavy emphasis on seniority: Best to copy your superiors than risk losing your standing and the respect of your colleagues. This attitude paired with his assignment to a partner known for corruption led Eurell to steal from homes and skim from drug busts, until the extra cash became its own incentive. Sale’s approach of drawing out her subjects with probing questions asked in a nonjudgmental tone gets Eurell to divulge all the details except for one: how big his pension check is.
Podcasting, being mostly detached from the strictures of terrestrial radio, can often have too niche an aim, as there is less a concern for netting a general audience and more focus paid to the cultivation of one’s specific listenership. So it is great to see a podcast like Distraction Pieces edge into completely different territory and with amazing results. In recognition of International Refugee Day, host of the show Scroobius Pip sits down to interview a Congolese refugee—mononymously referred to here as Ramelle—who fled her country in 2003, ending up in England that same year. What transpired for Ramelle is a story of great pain and even greater perseverance, but it serves as a reminder of the necessity for compassionate humanity. Perhaps the most striking aspects of Ramelle’s story come from how she was so easily able to fall through the bureaucratic cracks, finding that the system had basically been engineered to ensure her inability to establish her life anew. In all, it is an at-times sad, eye-opening, and life-affirming interview between Ramelle and Pip; his inquisitive and inclusive conversational abilities have always been a great asset when interviewing celebrities, but they’ve never been more beneficial than here.
The television show Hannibal is rife with imagery and allegory thanks to the sophisticated pallet of the show’s developer Bryan Fuller. Eat The Rudecast is co-hosted by three individuals united by their knowledge of Thomas Harris’ work, and although the podcast has thus far been released in an episodic format that tracks single episodes of the TV show, they perfunctorily mention it’s just as much about all things Thomas Harris, as if to affirm the podcast can continue regardless of Hannibal’s schedule. This episode is a great entry into the podcast’s hosts. Cooper can’t stop raving about how glad he is that character Abigail Hobbs is dead, while co-host Ophilia claims series protagonist Will Graham should be dead from sepsis and how Cooper clearly is operating from an anti-Abigail bias. The podcast’s chatter is peppered with medical references and assured references to the show’s rules about magic and what kind of knives people are being gutted with. At times, it seems the hosts might be verging into conspiracy territory given their good-natured bickering over Lost-like rules and their insistence in never revealing their true names. But that sort of stuff pairs well with Hannibal, a show that is cruel and cold to its viewers, weaving a visual and musical spell that is almost impossible not to read into too deeply.
Aside from Dan McCoy’s spot-on Michael Caine and Stuart Wellington’s equally spot-on Clive Owen, The Flop House hosts are not necessarily the greatest impressionists, and that’s exactly why their barrage of bad impressions about halfway through their discussion of CBGB is the highlight of the entire episode. The impressions themselves are so bad that the hosts have to declare who they are impersonating, yet so hilariously good as to induce delirium—by the time Ronald Reagan shows up, things have gone completely off the rails. The reprises of Sylvester Stallone and of an imagined liaison between Tom Brokaw and Michael Caine as they discuss Dune are treats for longtime listeners. The hosts have to do something—anything—to entertain themselves while they pick apart the monotonous and decidedly un-punk CBGB, of course, and the listener is all the better for it.
Anthony Rapp is an actor and musical theater demigod who both originated the role of Mark in Rent on Broadway and melted hearts in Dazed And Confused as the dorky Tony. On-screen and in real life, Rapp exudes a bookish sophistication that one wouldn’t immediately associate with gaming, but his passion for the topic is eclipsed only for the intensity with which he games. A collector of PlayStation Platinum Trophies—an achievement that signifies one has completed every task a game has to offer—Rapp is lively, charming, and opinionated as he banters with hosts Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon about the various titles he’s mastered (Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, Rayman Legends, and many more). An exceptionally filthy Twitter Game (“video game sex moves”) caps off the episode, but it’s Nanjiani’s repeated groans and protests—“They’re all too aggressive!”—that get the biggest laughs. As Rapp was suggested by an audience member, Nanjiani and Gordon are just getting acquainted with the actor, and there’s something lovely about listening to new friends from disparate ends of the entertainment spectrum bond over their shared taste in pop culture.
Never Not Funny episodes live or die by how well the guest vibes with Jimmy Pardo’s particular kind of humor. If the guest isn’t game for his style of conversation, the episode can be a slog; if he or she is, the episode can be transcendent. Of course Pardo’s natural hosting talents usually enable him to smooth over mismatched rapports when he needs to, but he doesn’t have to do much work for Anthony Jeselnik to fit in. In fact, Jeselnik proves to be a surprisingly great Never Not Funny guest, in part because he and Pardo are more similar than it might seem. His persona as a charmingly eloquent asshole rears its head here and there, and Pardo couldn’t be more delighted by it—and he drops one brutal joke that even makes Jeselnik blush. What’s even more surprising, however, is just how inspiring the episode ends up being as, towards the end, Jeselnik relates his straightforward (albeit admittedly atypical) story of success in stand-up. It’s an episode full of surprises, each one more delightful than the last. It would indeed be very surprising if Jeselnik doesn’t return to Never Not Funny soon.
As regular Probably Science listeners may know, the previous week’s episode revealed that co-host—and noted wild card—Jesse Case had gone in for a colonoscopy only to have physicians discover that he had colon cancer. This week the show opens with a solo dispatch from the dryly hilarious Case, back home in Nashville where he is receiving treatment. Like Edward R. Murrow reporting from the London Blitz, Case’s frankness and candor toward the situation unfolding are rawly affecting, intercut with an enormous dose of wonderfully perverse comedy. In what may be the most prototypical “Jesse Case” moment of the show, he manages to work an actual ad for Western Razor into his monologue, pitching it as the perfect razor for those going through chemotherapy. It is later explained that Case will be launching his own standalone show, Jesse Case Vs. Cancer, to document his treatment. After this excellent, bold piece of podcasting there is a genuinely funny full episode of Probably Science which, though totally delightful, takes a bit of an understandable back seat.
Located two-and-a-half hours southeast of Seattle, Tieton, Washington, is a small town of 1,200 with one main street. Like so many rural towns, Tieton has seen better times; once a relatively prosperous apple farming community, Tieton was left behind as big box stores and big agriculture drove local businesses and orchards to close. Over the last few years, however, young artists and creatives have started moving to Tieton, the result of the Mighty Tieton revitalization scheme developed by a Seattle transplant named Ed Marquand. With this history as the backdrop, Rendered host Julie Sabatier and producer Phoebe Flanigan profile Marquand’s efforts to redevelop downtown Tieton as a haven for artists and creative professionals. As with any story of revitalization, the politics are complicated, but Sabatier and Flanigan don’t shy away; interviews with Marquand and the mayor of Tieton that speak to the project’s economic benefits are juxtaposed with more skeptical, less enthusiastic words from lifelong Tieton residents struggling to make sense of their changing community. Sabatier and Flanigan provide a fascinating case study of the trend where priced-out creatives settle in small towns, and the ways that these close-knit, change-resistant communities deal with the fallout of major demographic shifts.
There’s something about Stone Cold’s contemptuous relationship with flies that consistently vaults The Steve Austin Show—Unleashed! onto another level. This week at the Broken Skull Ranch, Austin barely subdues his annoyance as his perpetual nemeses circle his microphone during his most fantastic story yet: Having recently slipped on a bar of soap while moonwalking in the shower, Stone Cold impales his backside on a loofah stick and can’t get up. Austin recounts his argument with the responding 911 operator (who, reasonably, mistakes Austin’s casual use of insider lingo like “shoot” and “kayfabe” to discern that he may have been shot at by a woman named Kay) like he’s selling a marquee match at Wrestlemania, before lightening up to take photos and drink some beer with the firefighters who remove the scrubber from “straight up his ass.” Austin puts his comic timing and storytelling skills on display through this 45-minute long narrative, then settles into an equally lengthy, but less gripping, question and answer round to close out the podcast. New fans can get to know the man behind the knee braces much more intimately than they ever thought possible, while Stone Cold’s longtime fans can add this installment near the top of the growing list of his strange concept episodes.
Storytelling podcasts have enjoyed an incredibly healthy tradition, given that NPR shows like This American Life and The Moth were popular early adopters. Strangers, a member of the Radiotopia network of podcasts, manages to set itself apart with an ethereal but highly effective theme: These are stories of people thrust together, forced to foster their relationship through circumstance. This episode is a great entry point in that it’s a sequel of sorts with a healthy recap in the beginning. Exactly one year ago, Patrick and Steve decided to become dads through the foster-to-adopt program. After being told it could take years to get a baby, the young men received Violet only six hours later. The experience changed their lives dramatically and their connection to the baby was legally tenuous given that this was a foster child who they might not be able to adopt. It turns out the parents did want the baby back. The news since is both good and bad; the birth parents seem to have lost their footing completely, yet Patrick and Steve could not be more responsible and loving as parents. Yet it’s host Lea Thau, a veteran producer of The Moth, who makes the narrative so heartbreaking and inspirational. She is far more quiet and unassuming than most hosts of similar podcasts, allowing her incredible grasp of larger themes and human connections to steer the story in a subtle but assured way. If other storytelling podcasts seem a bit saccharine, this one does away with the schmaltz, keeping all the positive stuff that makes the genre so popular.
Regardless of how one feels about him as a politician, one of the most appealing things about President Barack Obama has always been his candidness and down-to-earth nature, which makes him the perfect guest for WTF. So while he would have gladly been game for an intense political interrogation, he instead gets questions from Marc Maron about how the presidency has affected his life, rather than a grilling on specific policies. That’s not to say politics don’t figure into the conversation at all—racism, gun control, and climate change are all touched on with his signature articulation—but Maron, in typical Maron fashion, is far more interested in who Obama is as a person: his fears, his faults, his non-presidential past. In other words, their talk is similar to what it would be like having Obama in any garage shooting the shit, his openness making one forget that he’s one of the most powerful human beings in the world. After all, it’s that blend of confidence, humility, and humor that’s the key to his power in the first place—when he compares being president to being a stand-up comedian, he’s not even joking, not in the slightest.
Andy Daly has a long history with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham; in addition to St. Clair playing Daly’s bewildered wife on Review, he played Parham’s divorce lawyer (and St. Clair’s one-night stand) on Playing House last season. Let the three of them improvise together, and it’s as close to a sure thing as podcasting offers. Here, Daly plays Joe Bongo, yet another questionable Marina Del Rey High faculty member, a highly unqualified health teacher known for his love of bongo drums, sketchy drug tutorials, and tormenting one of his students/bandmates. Daly plays him as a good-time burnout, a guy who’s lost massive chunks of his memory due to his voracious drug use as a younger man. In order to keep his students off hard drugs, he suggests alternatives like holding your breath, hanging upside down, and injecting flour. His staggering ignorance worries Marissa Wompler (St. Clair) enough that she’s less manic than usual—but it’s immensely enjoyable all the same.
“And of course, big ups to people of all different… stars and stripes.”—Scott Aukerman, trying his best, and failing miserably, to be inclusive, Comedy Bang! Bang!
“There are a lot of pictures of yourself. It’s a little narcissistic.”—President Barack Obama on Marc Maron’s garage, WTF
“I always tell young people in particular, ‘Do not say that nothing’s changed when it comes to race in America, unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950s or ’60s or ’70s.’ It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours.” —President Barack Obama on the state of race relations in America, WTF