By Steve Guntli
Around this time last year, “Serial” introduced me to the world of podcasts, and I have been hooked ever since. However, while “Serial” and its sister podcast “This American Life,” are great, neither need any more press than they’ve already gotten. This month, I’ve highlighted three unheralded podcasts that will help you laugh, learn and pass the time in style.
“The Flop House” (New episodes every other Saturday) flophousepodcast.com
One of the most popular subgenres of podcasting is the bad movie podcast. There are dozens of titles to choose from, like “How Did This Get Made” or “We Hate Movies,” but “The Flop House” is far and away the best of the bunch. Hosts Dan McCoy, Elliott Kalan and Stuart Wellington analyze and eviscerate recently released bad movies and rate them on their own special scale (was it good-bad, bad-bad or a movie they kind of liked?). The best moments come when they are distracted from describing the plot and launch into tangents, whether it be Kalan’s ridiculous Sylvester Stallone impression or a screamingly funny bit about an old southern lady obsessed with Belgian comic book character “TinTin.”
It’s that bizarre combination of high-brow references and low-brow goofiness that gives the show its charm. The three hosts bring their own distinct comic styles to the podcast: McCoy is the dour straight man, Wellington the laid-back cool guy and Kalan the hyperactive know-it-all. Listening to the show each week is like hanging out with your coolest, smartest, nerdiest friends and bonding over a terrible movie.
“Sawbones” (New episodes every Thursday) maximumfun.org/sawbones
“Sawbones” holds a special place for my wife and I because, well, it’s basically about us. Married co-hosts Justin and Sydnee McElroy are eerily similar to us: she’s a cool, calm medical professional with a deep well of knowledge, he’s a videogame-playing goofball journalist who will do just about anything for a laugh.
Each week, the couple tackles a new and fascinating element from the history of medicine. Topics range from specific cases, such as the tale of Phineas Gage, a man who had a railroad tamping rod shot through his brain and lived to tell about it, to once-common practices, such as the use of leeches or trepanning to cure diseases.
Justin keeps things lively throughout with his quick-witted observations, while Sydnee plays the perfect straight-woman to his goofball shtick. The podcast is a family affair in every sense: the hosts try to keep it clean for younger viewers (although some episodes, like the Guinea Worm episode, will make even hardened adults squirm), while also bringing in members of their family as guests. If there’s a more entertaining way to learn about malaria or leprosy, I haven’t found it.
“Hello from the Magic Tavern” (New episodes every Monday) hellofromthemagictavern.com
“Hello From The Magic Tavern” debuted earlier this year, and is the brainchild of Arnie Niekamp, a video game designer and improv comedian from Chicago. The premise is, Niekamp falls through a magical portal behind a Burger King and awakens in Foon, a Narnia-esque land of wizards and warriors. He has no way of getting back through the portal, but he was able to bring his laptop and podcasting equipment with him and by using the weak Wi-Fi signal he’s getting from the Burger King, he broadcasts a weekly show from a local tavern called The Vermillion Minotaur to document his adventures in this new world. He’s joined each week by the talking badger Chunt (Adal Rifai) and the bloviating wizard Usidore the Blue, played to pompous perfection by Matt Young.
Each week the trio entertains guests, such as an embittered talking flower, a band of traveling minstrels and a simple-minded barbarian. Though each episode is completely improvised, an amazing amount of consistency and world-building is on display, so much so that Foon starts to feel like a real and lived-in place. Things take an extra turn for the meta at the end of each episode, when a mysterious man in a floating space station reads the credits and assures us, none too convincingly, that everything we’ve just heard is not real.
Consistently hilarious and blessed with fantastic voice actors and production, “Hello From The Magic Tavern” is a silly, funny, foul-mouthed pleasure.
Each of these titles is available for free on iTunes or on their respective websites.