This Week in Comedy Podcasts: Diablo Cody Visits ‘Professor Blastoff’
The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We’re here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.
Professor Blastoff – Diablo Cody
ZOE: If you liked Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy, you’ll love this week’s episode of Professor Blastoff. By the way, Ribsy was street, right? Hosts Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsberger welcome screenwriter Diablo Cody to discuss this week’s topic, writing. You may recognize Cody from the 144 book reports she wrote in elementary school, but you probably know her from Juno, Young Adult, and United States of Tara. Cody also published a book on her year as a stripper, which she explains she pursued as a way to depart from the typical writer track. This open-minded and active approach to new experiences permeates the rest of the interview, leading to some very interesting reflections on her personal life and career. Since she’s already a pal of the hosts, the four have a great dynamic and there’s no lack of riffing here. She and Notaro reveal they’re working on a top secret project, which they have to keep under wraps, but a project we do know a little more about is Dunnigan’s mother-son memoir, Mommy’s Handsomest Baby Boy. To get a taste, listen to Dunnigan’s “Mother Meditation,” where he takes his listeners through a visualisation exercise complete with calming soundscapes and walks us through a worried mother calling you at 5:30am to make sure you have galoshes (even though she knows you wake up at 10am). It’s one of the funniest podcast bits I’ve heard all year. Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth, then listen to this awesome episode.
You Made It Weird – Gentry Lee
SCOTT: Gentry Lee (Chief Engineer for the Planetary Flight Systems Directory at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) easily has the most impressive title of any guest to have ever been on the show, and, true to his title, he straps a rocket to this episode and launches it into space. The second the show starts, he’s talking about religion, and before Pete Holmes can settle into that topic, Lee adjusts course and tells us why ants are the dominant species on the planet and uses that topic as fuel to explain why aliens haven’t bothered to contact us and probably don’t abduct us. Even though the episode is short, coming in at just over an hour, it’s so densely packed with science and religion, fact and opinion, that it threatens to collapse on itself and form a black hole that leads to another universe with a completely different set of physical laws. They talked about that too. Did you know that humans know that ants have a language of at least 200 words? You will. The pace is so frenetic that it’s hard for the individual interesting facts to stand out at times, but the overall effect is that you end up feeling awash in a sea of opinions of a very smart man who thinks that the idea of God being everything is equally as interesting as the knowledge that worms reproduce asexually. As the episode wraps, Lee launches into a beautiful explanation of what he deems the biggest miracle in history, which is that we are here, and that it took two generations of stars to even make the chemicals that allowed that to happen. For the listener, the biggest miracle of this episode is Lee’s exasperated groan when, after all that beautiful imagery that he hoped would close the show, Holmes asks him to say the catchphrase.
Nerdist – Carol Leifer
LEIGH: It seems crazy to say this about a guy who always seems so enthusiastic, but the undeniable enthusiasm in Chris Hardwick’s voice at the start of the podcast sets the tone for a truly great episode of Nerdist. And, even though any avid comedy podcast listener could rattle off dozens of instances where a host got to sit down with one of their comedy heroes, there is something uniquely exciting about this interview with Carol Leifer. Hearing what it was like pitching storyline ideas to Larry David (exactly what you’d imagine it would be like), opening for Frank Sinatra and writing jokes for the Oscars with Steve Martin, it’s hard not to be in awe of her career. What makes Hardwick so relatable as a host is hearing him express the same awe you’re feeling as a listener. And speaking of likable, Leifer not only shares all these great stories, but she makes sure to mention how grateful she is for the opportunities she’s had. In fact, it’s a whole chapter in her new book How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying. She describes the book as one she wishes she had when she started out in standup, full of advice for making it in show business and comedy. While she does point out that the advice applies to any career, it’s not that much of a stretch to take it further and say her advice applies to life in general. Like being nice, not having an ego, spelling someone’s name right, being on time — the kinds of things that seem simple enough but have proven to go a long way. Some more good advice? Listen to this episode.
WTF with Marc Maron – The Amazing Johnathan
MARC: It wasn’t my intention to cover Marc Maron’s podcast WTF so soon after the last time, but that’s before I knew he was going to have The Amazing Jonathan on this episode. Not only was Jonathan an outrageously original comedy act to catch live – he explains on the show why he’s recently retired from performing – but I can vouch for a number of the stories he shares with Maron (and a number that he didn’t) because I was there. A big break he talks about was a game show that Merv Griffin produced with him as the host. Or it should have been a big break – 65 episodes later, it never got national distribution and was dead in the water. And so was the staff, including the head writer…me. (You can catch bits and pieces of “Ruckus” on YouTube if you’re curious.) Rumors have floated around in the comedy community for the past few years of Jonathan’s “heart troubles” and in this revealing conversation that gets pretty deep at times, we learn it’s true. The wild comedy magician has a heart condition that is severe enough that he is required to wear special gear and his prognosis from doctors is not sunny, giving him limited time left to live. He speaks to Maron openly and unapologetically about his drug use: “I knew what I was getting into – I’m sort of surprised I made it this far!” He’s had a rollicking life, both onstage and off, and if you never had a chance to see him live, here you can at least listen to him give some of the highlights of a life brightly lived.
Leigh Cesiro is a writer living in Brooklyn who only needs 10 minutes to solve any Law & Order: SVU episode.
Scott Reynolds is a comedian and writer in Brooklyn, NY.
Zoe Schwab is a writer/fraud living in NYC who is somehow up-to-date with ABC Family’s Melissa & Joey.