Sunday, 31 July 2011


In an idea in no way ripped off from The Onion A.V Club’s Podmass section
I give you Podmess:  A recap of the podcasts I’ve listened to in the last week.

25th July - 31st July

The Apple Sisters

A more high-concept podcast, three sisters who have a cabaret act in 1943 are given their own radio show. It certainly limits the ability to do any topical material which makes it unique among podcasts, and at only 20 minutes it has a tighter more scripted focus though certainly it is also heavily ad-libbed. This week the sister’s guests are The Banana Brothers who turn out to be pretty well developed characters in their own right for only having this one time appearance. This show does seem like it can only go so far with getting repetitious, but this episode certainly manages to keep things fresh.

Comedy Bang Bang

I’ve waxed lyrical on here before about Comedy Bang Bang. This week’s episode puts together David Wain, Ken Marino of Children’s Hospital and Paul Rudd of many Judd Apatow Movies.  The episode is largely themed around the movie Wet Hot American Summer, which is a bit of a cult success, but it’s a bit of niche episode, unusual in that there are no characters, but the dynamic between the guests is enjoyable as they clearly know each other well and the highlight of the episode is the rap contest. It's a very old improv game but one that’s new to Comedy Bang Bang. I was very tentative that they were using such an old game but in these circumstances it turned out great.

The Best Show on WFMU

Tom Scharpling host a weekly live radio show in New Jersey, featuring regular callers, many comedian guests and often semi-scripted phone conversations with Jon Wurster. On this occasion Tom has two co-hosts - regular callers to the show Laurie and Geneva. It’s a nice concept that fans of the show could be allowed to be involved to this extent on occasions. It makes for a slightly shambolic but fun episode. A running joke lately has been Tom’s running paranoia about where the episode will be placed in The A.V club’s weekly podcast review section. Here he threatens to sue them 80 million dollars if they review the episode. Well they reviewed it anyway but placed it at the top so who knows what’ll happen there.

Best Show Gems

Best Show Gems is a highlights reel of some of the best snippets of The Best Show.  Usually featuring a Jon Wurster call. This week Wurster is a lawyer calling on behalf of Robbie Robertson of The Band claiming to be placing a lawsuit against Tom for remarks he made against The Band. Tom then threatens to counter-sue for which the lawyer offers to represent Tom. This goes on to a long spiel of all the various double lawsuits and the various shady practices the lawyer is involved with. As is typical for the show it's a great concept that’s allowed to explore all sorts of directions, a strong episode as ever.

Who Charted

Howard Kramer and Kulap Vilaysack (wife of Comedy Bang Bang host Scott Aukerman) host this podcast that’s has various top 5 chat rundowns that allows a single guest to delve into discussion about that and other topics. Even without a very interesting guest Howard and Kulap’s rapport makes for enjoyable listening, but it’s a lot better when there’s a good guest having fun with the concept and this week Bob Odenkirk is fantastic on it. It features some enjoyable stories on his career, he makes some superb commentary on the movie clips, and has utter contempt for some of the mawkish songs on display of the UK singles chart.

How Was Your Week

Julie Klausner is one of the few female podcaster’s around, she’s a great storyteller and very engaging to listen to, it’s always remarkable how long she’s able to carry much of the podcast on her own. This week has one of the best female comedians around in Maria Bamford; she’s got a truly unique comedic mind and is very charming in discussing some of thoughts and anxieties.

WTF with Marc Maron

The live episode departs from the norm, rather than the very personal discussions Marc usually gets into with his guests, here Marc interviews various guest in a more comedic setting. The highlight being the earlier mentioned Tom Scharpling. Tom has a great ability for making fun of Marc though they don't have much experience together they make a really strong podcast, the episode was recorded shortly after Maron had appeared on The Best Show which also shows evidence of their skill when working together. Other fun is had where Wyatt Cenac takes issue with Marc because unlike many other comedians, they don’t have any issue’s with each other and Wyatt suspects the only reason Marc doesn’t treat him badly is because he’s black.

Greg Proops – The Smartest Man in the World

The Proopcast has become one of my favourite podcasts and one of the most impressive as Greg essentially performs an entirely new hour every week in front of an audience. It’s not as honed as stand-up, but it comes from a much more personal place, and is also more topical in its nature and he also takes questions from the audience. If you only knew him from Whose Line is it Anyway you won’t quite have any idea what he’s capable of. He’s a fascinatingly intelligent and well-read man able to pick through the huge depths of his knowledge and articulate himself brilliantly. This episode features stories of being at comedy festivals, tales of working with people from whose line is it anyway. Then later gets onto some territory he’s travelled before, namely his anger over the tax cuts for the rich, while the poor are charged more but he’s always entertaining when ranting about this.

Doug Loves Movies

Doug Benson hosts this podcast usually taking place in front of a live audience which changes the dynamic slightly as there’s a higher energy to the podcast and the guests perform more. The podcast usually gets away from the topic of movies, before he and his guests play “The Leonard Maltin game” In which guests compete to guess the name of a movie from hearing members of the cast in reverse in order and based on a few clues from Leonard’s reviews. Though this week’s was a studio bound episode which creates a different dynamic and feels more like any other podcast.

Frank Skinner on Absolute Radio

Pretty much the only British podcast I listen to. Sorry we’re just not as good as the Americans at that or television the moment, I wish I could say otherwise. Frank usually has two co-anchors in Emily Dean and Alan Cochrane though this latest episode featured Steve Williams in his place. The co-hosts don’t usually add much themselves but they allow Frank to springboard into some fantastic one-liners and stories and this week even the subject of the difference between pelican, toucan and belisha beacon crossings is very entertaining.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

American TV Roundup Part 2

Jon Benjamin Has a Van

Jon Benjamin, first known to me as the voice of Ben Katz on Dr Katz and later Coach McGuirk on Home Movies has been getting busier lately. Popping up in more cameo’s including appearances on Family Guy and Parks and Recreation and is now starring in Bob’s Burgers and Archer. He hadn’t done a huge amount of live-action work until now but in this series he's proved himself to have a very funny screen presence to match his voice.

The show is a combination of quicker sketches/prank segments mixed with a longer short film narrative piece that makes up the bulk of the show. These have all been pretty good for the most part; the most interesting one featured a story in which the show’s sound man is kidnapped meaning the show plays out with no sound for several minutes. It was genuinely experimental and audience-alienating television so good on Comedy Central for allowing them to do it.

The general conceit of the show seems a little loose, the idea seems to be that Jon Benjamin is an investigative reporter, but it doesn’t quite stick to the idea, there are moments where it’s not quite clear if we’re supposed to believe in the reality that he’s always being filmed by his production crew, but of course there’s other times where he’s filmed talking to his production crew, so there isn’t quite a consistent logic, but it‘s not too much of a problem.

Ugly Americans

Ugly Americans follows the life of Mark Lilley, a social worker at the department of integration. The show takes places in a warped version of Manhattan inhabited by zombies, monsters, demons, mythological creatures and various anthropomorphic species.
Mark is a kind of stereotypical woolly-liberal, much of the humour derives from his naivety, hypocrisy or at his struggles to push a righteous agenda despite attempts by many to crush him. He has a relationship with Callie his superior at work, a half woman- half demon hybrid, their relationship seems to survive in spite of their conflicting moral viewpoints.

He also lives with Randall a zombie, who only became a zombie as part of a failed attempt to impress a woman. As a zombie he’s had to learn to curb his desire for human flesh, though if given the opportunity it seems he’d be very happy to eat Mark. He’s unemployed, and is generally a slacker that just does odd jobs to pay his rent to Mark.

The show has quite a few parallels with Futurama in how a lot of its humour emanates from the concept of different species living together in a city; it’s a metaphor in some ways for immigration. It’s generally got some darker and dirtier subject matter than futurama, with more callous main characters, but there’s still some warmth to them in spite of their at times incredible selfishness.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

American TV Roundup Part 1

So we’ve entered into the new season of some great American cable tv shows being back on the air here are some of my favourites.


The show took a little while for me to warm to, it seemed like it wasn’t quite sure if it was supposed to be narrative driven or if was a series of vignettes or sketches, and it just didn’t seem to be that funny. In fact I’d been a little disappointed because years before Louis C.K had made a noble attempt to show there was still potential in the format for the traditional, studio audience sitcom with Lucky Louie. It did this at a time when it was the height of un-fashion and people thought all comedy had to be like The Office, so it was cancelled after a season and was slightly misunderstood. It’s amazing that in some cases people still don’t quite grasp the difference between a show with a studio audience and a show canned laughter.

So what was needed was for me to get this show was for me to change my expectations and approach. It's best just to see each episode as its own self-contained short film or pair of short films, with Louie’s stand-up commenting on the themes of the episode. Once I got over that, my enjoyment of the show increased exponentially.

The tone varies from episode to episode with some taking on a more light-hearted approach and other being more dark and dramatic. On the whole it should be seen as a series about the isolation and alienation of a comedian and single father living in New York with some comedic, surrealist and dramatic elements. Louis C.K Writes, Stars, Acts, Edits and I’m sure does various other bits of production work on the show. It’s become a cliché  to say this, but it’s a true “auteur” project and probably the most idiosyncratic show on television at the moment.

Children’s Hospital

Starting out as an internet series the show then made the glamorous transfer to late night cable television. As creator Rob Corddry put it, the show was in a low stakes bidding war between comedy central and adult swim. As it turned out adult swim offered them slightly more creative freedom which was more important than money.

Even before the switch to television the show managed to look fantastic considering it was so cheaply made. Now in its 3rd series the cast has become increasingly impressive with some of the best American comics and television stars popping up throughout the course of the show.

The show itself started out as a parody of various Hospital drama’s, its approach is similar in some ways to that of Airplane and other Zucker & Abrahams films. Despite the lack of much character or story consistency (which the show has commented upon) the series has also managed to build up its own running jokes over the course of the series; for example that the hospital is located in Brazil and everything about the show seems to contradict this idea until in a recent episode where two of the characters walked through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. You’ve got to love pointlessly expensive and time consuming jokes like that.

The show also frequently plays with its own format almost every week; it might parody a different genre, do a mockumentary episode or do an episode of the show set in the 70’s.