I hope you won’t miss me too much…
This is just a note to say that I’m going away next week, so there won’t be a new issue of the newsletter. I’ll resume publishing on March 16th.
There’s a strong possibility that I won’t even listen to a single podcast in that time, which will be a little strange. Keep your ears open, and if there’s anything you think that I shouldn’t miss, feel free to drop me a line here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phoebe Robinson’s equally hilarious and insightful intersectional interview show Sooo Many White Guys kicks off its new season with Zoë Kravitz and tons of laughs.
Comedian Phoebe Robinson is the best. I mean, it has become really hard to quantify these sorts of things, particularly as we’re living in a time where hyperbole has become so ingrained in our everyday language that it threatens to become meaningless. But I do really mean it. Robinson’s electric, often times manic persona has helped to catapult the 2 Dope Queens podcast—which she co-hosts with the comparatively sedate Jessica Williams—into a phenomenon that has led to four specials on HBO. But it is her authenticity and desire to branch out into hosting her own intersectional interview podcast, Sooo Many White Guys, that has cemented her status at the top.
The youthful coinage that asserts someone or something is, “giving you life” feels entirely appropriate for Soo Many White Guysbecause the energy that Robinson radiates is infectious, transfusing listeners with a dose of her irrepressible vigor. All the while it gives a much-needed platform for more marginalized voices, particularly those of people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. With Robinson at the helm, her own personal brand of organic playfulness sets the tone for every episode, making the series into an extremely casual and fun affair. It’s in this that the show makes its boldest stance. Diversity has taken on something of a negative connotation in certain regressive circles. Sooo Many White Guys shows that in its active rejection of traditional tokenistic “inclusion,” the show rises head and shoulders above traditional alabaster media. There is more life and truth found in Robinson’s conversations than in most other shows.
This week’s episode—the show’s third season premiere—is a delightful return to form following a yearlong break. Robinson and her producer Joanna Solotaroff start things off by dishing about their respective romantic lives in hilarious fashion before jumping into an engaging interview with Zoë Kravitz. The whole time that I was listening to the pair converse however, I just kept cringing at the idea that Kravitz may have ever listened to 2 Dope Queens‘ first season, particularly their twelfth episode, “A Lenny Kravitz Smackdown.” In it, Robinson and Williams along with comedian Paul Scheer acting as arbiter, try to suss out whether the elder Kravitz is hot or not, and what it would be like to hook up with him. It’s a wonderfully ribald experience, so long as the listener is not a blood relative of anyone involved. In the end, the pair cover a very wide gamut of topics, from what it is like growing up the child of two incredibly iconic performers, to what is ahead on the next season of Big Little Lies. It is great to have this show back in podcast feeds once again.
Personal Best, the latest podcast from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, is something of an anti-advice show, where its hosts try to help people achieve their most minor of goals in spectacularly over the top fashion.
Personal Best is like an audio rube Goldberg device, implementing unnecessarily elaborate approaches in order to solve some of life’s least pressing issues. Across the series’ handful of episodes out now, these have ranged from things like habitual snoozing to being awkward at texting. Personal Best excels in the way its hosts Rob Norman and Andrew Norton overcommit to solving their guests’ perceived shortcomings, applying a maximalist approach and hoping to suffocate a particular problem through the sheer volume and complexity of their ridiculous ideas.
These have involved, but are not limited to: training an actor to be a guest’s doppelgänger so she may have a conversation with herself; constructing a custom haunted house based around the issues of a particular advice-seeker; pretending to be a robotic phone answering service to help an indecisive diner choose from a menu; and composing the ultimate celebration anthem as a way of helping a man enjoy his own accomplishments. The entire view that Norman and Norton have adopted seems to borrow from the playbook that often bad ideas have birthed breakthroughs. Thereby, if they are to try as many potentially bone-headed tactics to solving a problem as possible, there’s a chance that a resolution will arise indirectly.
This all rather obviously makes for great fun to listen to. Audio is a medium that begs for inventiveness, and Personal Best brings that spirit in spades. The episodes have a kind of Michel Gondry feeling to them, outsized ideas executed with a shambolic charm. As a product of the CBC, the show feels a certain kinship with Sleepover, Sook-Yin Lee’s magically quirky podcast. Both are extremely humanistic programs, interested in tackling personal issues through often experimental methods. It is wonderful to see a production house take such risks on podcasts that are so curious and new. But where Sleepover is a more intimate and emotional program, Personal Best operates mostly from a frame of goofy optimism and smaller stakes. The beauty of Norman and Norton’s approach is that their solutions are always inversely proportional to the problem; the smaller the issue, the more bombastic the potential fix is likely to be. Whether or not their grandiloquent methods help to fix their guests’ issues seems almost immaterial to how enjoyable a show they produce.
For the A.V. Club this past week I wrote effusively about an episode of Punch Up The Jam. The show is a continually inventive delight, mixing comedy and music perfectly.
Punch Up The Jam
Welcome To The Jungle (W/Grace Helbig)
Anyone finding themselves in a funk this week need only fire up the latest episode of Punch Up The Jam and marvel as the stress melts momentarily away. Like a bizarro world version of Radiotopia’s Song Exploder, each week the show takes apart a different, often abstruse song to find out where its creators went wrong. Hosts Demi Adejuyigbe (of Gilmore Guys) and Miel Bredouw spend most of the episode analyzing the song’s themes, instrumentation, and idiosyncrasies to hilarious results. The show’s real magic comes when the track is reworked and performed by either Adejuyigbe or Bredouw. The results have been uniformly excellent and inspired, but this week’s song is jaw-droppingly good. The pair are joined in the studio by Grace Helbig (of the Not Too Deep podcast) to dissect Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 single “Welcome To The Jungle,” and their findings will change the way listeners hear the song. An early comment from Bredouw—positing that the titular jungle actually refers to a thicket of pubes—inspires Adejuyigbe to make the eventual punched-up version into a circus-inflected Broadway musical number all about the hormonal changes experienced during puberty. Adejuyigbe’s deliriously comic songcraft makes for an excellent cure for what ails you.
This piece, along with many other great recommendations, originally appeared on The A.V. Club here.