This Week in Podcasts: Nerd Poker, Ta-Nehisi Coates, RadioLab, and more
A brief round of podcasts the Inverse staff enjoyed this week.
This Week In Podcasts is a new round-up feature in which the Inverse staff picks their favorite podcast of the week. Scope these choices below, y’all.
Nerd Poker Episode 1: Let the Game Begin!: This week I finally dipped a toe into Earwolf’s Nerd Poker, to listen to a bunch of professionally funny people — comedian Brian Posehn is at the helm as a punch-happy barbarian — play Dungeons & Dragons for an hour. It’s a surprisingly smooth first episode into the belly of the beast. Sure, the banter might drag a bit when Posehn et al. are creating characters or looking up rules (which is, with D&D, sort of the point), but there’s always a well-timed dick joke or Star Wars trash compactor reference just around the corner. And by the time the end of the episode rolls around, did I inch just a bit forward on my seat, wondering if the stoner elf shaman or rich-douche half-dragon would make it off a medieval cruise ship swarming with pirates? I might just have to stay tuned. - Ben Guarino
I’ve been slacking on my Radiolab lately, for no good reason other than that I no longer own a car, and Radiolab podcasts used to be my go-to long-drive listening. This weekend I dug into some older episodes, the most mind-bending of which was this one, about CRISPR, a method certain bacteria use to encode their DNA with chunks of virus DNA. (Hannah Margaret wrote about this a few weeks ago). It likely evolved as part of a defense system — I believe the metaphor the show used was a mugshot of a virus — that allows the bacteria to identify and destroy invaders. But the method of grafting DNA has extraordinary potential as we develop gene splicing and gene therapy as a powerful cut/paste function for editing genes. The episode has some of the best features of Radiolab: Great interviews and sound mixing, a schism in how the hosts view the topic (Robert Krulwich, ever the cautious Catholic, has a dimmer view than Jad Abumrad of man’s ability to proofread God’s designs), and a little glimpse of a holy-shit future poking up just past the horizon. - Sam Eifling
If you’re looking for a true crime fix in the post-Serial age, you should be listening to Criminal. Instead of following a single case, every episode is a self-contained case. I’ve been catching up this last week, so I’m going to recommend two episodes I can’t chose between. Mother’s Little Helper is the story of Sandie Alger, 71, in and out of prison her entire life. It’s not just the circumstances of her numerous busts that are fascinating, but the things she learns in prison that let her ‘climb the ladder, just like a corporation.’ Like how to smuggle in heroin. And for pop culture obsessives, check out the episode Ex Libris, about a rash of rare book thefts in late 90s San Francisco for the comedy of trying to explain to the cops why it matters that someone lifted your copy of Gertrude Stein, and how you stop a criminal who’s obsessed with something besides money. - Peter Rugg
Facebook’s infatuation with John Oliver (Did you hear what he said about the thing?) has not-quite-paradoxically meant less John Oliver for the loyal followers of The Bugle, the podcast he and British comedy person Andy Zaltzman have collaborated on since 2007. In a post-Last Week Tonight world, full episodes of The Bugle are hard to come by and Zaltzman is filling the dead air with audio from his “Satirist for Hire” shows and excerpts from his book “Does Anything Eat Bankers?” And that’s kind of fine because Andy Zaltzman is a funny human who’s outsider status frees him up to say whatever he wants in a way that Oliver, limited by his fame and, presumably, by the sense of responsibility that comes with it, cannot. The audiobook episodes are worth checking out because they are relentlessly harsh in an almost breathless way. Without Oliver holding him back, Zaltzman is going to war. - Andrew Burmon
Coates. Remnick. Mic drop. - Corban Goble
I find that it’s rare to have a frank conversation about the funeral business, especially when it’s a family-owned operation. Last week’s episode of Death, Sex & Money, however, revealed a candid and compelling window into the world of embalming, tissue boxes, and folding chairs. Caleb Wilde, the subject in the episode “A Funeral Director’s Life After Burnout,” is a sixth-generation funeral director at his family’s business in a small town in Pennsylvania. If I didn’t work at Inverse and live in New York City, I also would be (potentially) a sixth-generation funeral director in my hometown in Tennessee. Wilde hits the nail on the head. He’s respectful to his family, the long-standing traditions, and the families that have lost loved ones. But he’s also honest and critical about how the constant exposure to death weighs on a person. It’s the story I’ve understood for most of my life but never heard articulated outright. - Hannah Margaret Allen