Julia Smith's blog

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Chris Gethard & Lawrence Weschler

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Chris Gethard on Public Access, Comedy, and Confronting an Internet Hater In Person

Jesse talks with comedian Chris Gethard about taking his anarchic stage show to television, how being bipolar has affected his creative work, and confronting one of his Internet haters in real life. His book is called A Bad Idea I'm About To Do.

The Chris Gethard Show started out life at the UCB Theater in New York, moved to public access TV and the internet, and recently found a new home on the cable network Fusion. You can see The Chris Gethard Show on your television, or live streaming on Tuesday nights.

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Lawrence Weschler on Goat Sacrifice, Storytelling, and the Uncanny Valley

Jesse talks with a master of creative nonfiction, Lawrence Weschler, about a goat sacrifice at UC Santa Cruz, the dangers of humans' bias toward narrative, and why the CGI faces in movies never look quite right. Weschler's most recent book is The Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative.

This interview originally aired in January 2012.

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Photo credit Gerard Victor

Karriem Riggins on The Song That Changed My Life: "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose"

Drummer and producer Karriem Riggins explained how James Brown's "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose" changed his life. It all started because he liked the album cover.

Karriem's most recent album is called Alone Together.

This interview originally aired in November 2012.

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The Outshot: Quick Change

People often talk about two phases of Bill Murray's career. Think of Caddyshack and Ghostbusters in the 80s. Then, Lost In Translation and Broken Flowers in the 2000s. But there’s an oft-overlooked Bill Murray movie that was released in 1990; and you’ve got to watch it.
Jesse shares his love for the only movie Bill Murray has ever directed -- Quick Change.

This segment originally aired in May 2014.

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Want to work at MaxFun? Introducing our Production Fellowship

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We're excited to announce that we're hiring a Production Fellow to begin this July! This will be a paid position that provides training and skill-building in audio production. The fellow will work on lots of MaxFun shows out of our office in Los Angeles.

Check out our official announcement here with more details and instructions on how to apply.

If you're looking to break into radio or podcast production and want to work with us in LA, apply today! Our deadline is June 15, 2015.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: 'I Am Big Bird' & Vince Staples

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L to R: Caroll Spinney on location with Kermit Love who built the original Big Bird puppet from a design created by Jim Henson.
Photo credit: Copper Pot Pictures

'I am Big Bird': Caroll Spinney and Dave LaMattina on Big Bird's Big Heart

Spend a few minutes watching Sesame Street, and you'll recognize some part of yourself in Big Bird. His kindness, curiosity and vulnerability resonate with everyone, young and old. But who brought Big Bird to life?

Caroll Spinney is the man inside the Big Bird suit, and he has been since 1969. (He's also Oscar the Grouch). Dave LaMattina is the co-director, along with Chad Walker, of new a documentary about Spinney. It's called I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.

Spinney made his television debut in 1955, working on the local Las Vegas show Rascal Rabbit, then moved on to the East Coast and performed on Bozo the Clown. But he was looking for greater purpose in his work, and he found it. He met Jim Henson and began work on the pioneering children's TV show, Sesame Street.

Spinney and LaMattina sit down to talk with us about Big Bird's physical and spiritual evolution, how the 80-year-old Spinney manages to maneuver in a full-body puppet suit, and how Big Bird has helped so many children and adults deal with loss, love and their own feelings.

I Am Big Bird is in theaters nationwide.

This interview originally aired in June 2014.

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Photo courtesy Vince Staples

Vince Staples on Rap, Growing Up in Long Beach, Gang Culture, and Why Being Hard is "Just Corny"

The rapper Vince Staples is now 21 years old. As a teenager, he got jumped into a gang in Long Beach, where he’s from. He didn’t expect to become a rapper. And unlike some rappers, he doesn’t think street life is anything to brag about.

He's been fighting against his own upbringing and the gang culture that surrounded him since childhood, and his verses reflect that. He's released several well-received mixtapes, and he's continually outshone other rappers in guest verses on their own tracks.

Staples talks to us about growing up, why gang banging seemed like fate, and how he became a rapper.

His debut LP, Summertime '06 will be released by Def Jam on June 30th.

A different edit of this interview originally aired in June 2014.

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The Outshot: Game of Thrones

Like the 18 million people who watch it each week, Jesse loves Game of Thrones. But though he finds himself jumping up and down and shouting at the TV, he doesn't care how it all will end. Why? He'll explain.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Big Boi & Catherine O'Hara

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Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Hip Hop Icon Big Boi: Getting Familiar with Uncharted Territory

The rapper and producer Big Boi has sold over 50 million records as a solo artist and as half of the platinum-selling hip hop duo OutKast. The innovative Atlanta-based group broke out in the mid-1990s with "Rosa Parks" and "Elevators", then followed up with crossover pop hits like "The Way You Move" and "Bombs Over Baghdad".

OutKast found huge commercial success with an experimental brand of hip hop, eschewing old-school samples in favor of new sounds. Big Boi has been the more musically prolific member of the group. He's gone on to produce several solo albums and collaborate with artists across the music spectrum, from fellow ATL-based rapper Ludacris to funk-master George Clinton to the indie rock band Wavves. His most recent release is called Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors.

Big Boi joins us to talk about the early days recording in an clay-walled basement, coming to terms with fame, and where to go musically when you've hit monumental commercial success.

This interview originally aired in April 2013.

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All-Time Favorites with Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder

Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder joins us this week to share some all-time favorites: a great dungeon crawler for iOS called The Sword of Fargoal and Chandler Burr's The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession, a fascinating book exploring the science of scent.

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Canonball: A Tour of Led Zeppelin's III with Brad Tolinski

For our segment Canonball, we take a flying leap into the canon of popular music and find albums that deserve a closer look.

This week, we're joined by Brad Tolinski, editor-in-chief of Guitar World and author of the new book Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page.

He'll tell us about Led Zeppelin III. With that album, Led Zeppelin moved away from the 60s obsession with authenticity and deep ideas -- and into a whole new sound.

This segment originally aired in January 2013.

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Catherine O'Hara on Being Slightly, Perfectly Odd

Catherine O'Hara's work embodies a particularly special brand of comic absurdity. She helped launch SCTV alongside other burgeoning comedy greats like John Candy and Eugene Levy, quit the show, but still moved on to star in blockbuster comedies. She became spiritually possessed in Beetlejuice, played a memorable, anxiety-ridden mother to Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, and became a critical part of Christopher Guest's ensemble mockumentaries, like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.

Most recently, she's starred in the sitcom Schitt's Creek with Chris Elliott and O'Hara's longtime collaborator Eugene Levy.

O'Hara talks to us about the difficulties of being a woman in the SCTV writers' room, creating memorable characters with her longtime friend and collaborator Eugene Levy, and her own secret comedic formula.

Oh, and in this outtake, hear about the best boyfriend ever: Dan Akroyd.

This interview originally aired in April 2013.

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The Outshot: The Throne Of The Third Heaven of the Nations' Millenium General Assembly

In this week's Outshot, Jesse tells the story of a man who secretly spent the last fifteen years of his life building something amazing in a rented garage.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Kumail Nanjiani & Willie Colon

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Photo by Jesse Thorn

Kumail Nanjiani on Identity, Comedy, and Working with Mike Judge

When Kumail Nanjiani was a boy growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, he absorbed a lot of American culture. He loved Ghostbusters and Gremlins. He read MAD Magazine. And he knew that someday, he'd move to the U.S. What he never imagined is that he'd become a comedian.

His first exposure to stand up comedy was a Jerry Seinfeld HBO special, and a few short years later, Kumail was on stage himself. He's performed with The Second City, at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, and on numerous late night shows.

He also co-hosts a stand up showcase, The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, and stars in HBO's Silicon Valley.

Kumail talks to us about growing up Pakistani, choosing a distinctly American way of life, and creating comedy about things you love, rather than things you hate.

Kumail's Comedy Central stand up special, Beta Male, is available on CD+DVD and by direct download.

This cut of our interview includes the following segments:
Kumail Studies The Cheesecake Factory for "Portlandia"
Kumail on Mike Judge and the Butthead Voice

This interview originally aired in August 2013.

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Willie Colón: From Jam Sessions in the Bronx to International Salsa Superstar

When Willie Colón was a kid in the South Bronx, he and some his friends from the neighborhood would take their instruments and jam outside in the summers. His neighbors weren't too pleased, but they probably didn't know they had a budding talent in their midst. Willie went on to secure a record deal in his teens and then become a hugely influential musician and bandleader. His music is salsa: a blend of the Caribbean, Africa, South America and his native New York City.

His discography has now sold over thirty million records, and he's collaborated with legendary figures like Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz and Ruben Blades.

Willie joins us to talk about his early success, how he envisions salsa, and his work with Hector Lavoe and Celia Cruz.

Willie is out on tour frequently; catch up with him on Twitter to find out where he'll be next.

This interview originally aired in April 2014.

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The Outshot: Michael Palin

Jesse explains why Michael Palin is everything good about British colonialism.

This segment originally aired in October 2013.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: George Clinton & Christian Acker

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P-Funk's George Clinton: From Doo Wop to Funk, and Saving His Musical Career

The musician, producer and 73-year-old mastermind of Parliament-Funkadelic, George Clinton, has never been shy of the limelight. He started his career singing doo wop, later found himself writing songs for Motown, and finally wound up creating a wholly unique sound and visual experience with Parliament-Funkadelic. They made hits like One Nation Under A Groove and Flashlight and their performances were as funky as their tunes.

In recent years, Clinton has found himself entangled in a series of legal battles over the copyrights of his songs. While fighting in the courts, George found himself fighting for his health as well. The doctor of the Funk gave himself his own prognosis: if he was going to continue a musical career and regain agency in his business affairs, he had to clean up his act, and he has.

The pioneer of funk joins us this week to talk about the evolution of his musical career, getting wild onstage, and putting forward momentum back into his musical career -- and even gives us an update on Sly Stone.

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic are still touring and recording, and Clinton recently released his memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?.

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Andrew Noz on All-Time Favorite Tracks: Organized Konfusion and Ice-T

Hip hop critic Andrew Noz digs way back in the catalogs of past Bullseye guests Pharoahe Monch and Ice-T to recommend some of his favorite tracks.

He suggests taking a listen to the amazing technical performances in Organized Konfusion's "Bring It On", and revisiting a poetic early track from Ice-T, "High Rollers".

Andrew Noz is a hip hop journalist. You can find him blogging at Cocaine Blunts or on Tumblr.

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Comedy: Chris Fairbanks Wonders About Owls

The comedian Chris Fairbanks joined us a few years ago at our annual convocation in the woods, MaxFunCon. And he wondered -- what's up with all these owls?

You can find more from Chris on his official site and on his podcast Do You Need a Ride?, which he co-hosts with Karen Kilgariff.

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Why Tagging is Beautiful: Christian Acker and "Flip the Script"

You know those tags you see on walls, park benches and trash cans everywhere? You might not think it's something beautiful, but Christian Acker does. His book Flip the Script is a look at graffiti typography, and celebrates the art of tagging -- one of the last strongholds of highly refined penmanship.

Acker collected writing and spoke to graffiti artists all over the country, to chronicle and analyze hand styles from Oakland to Queens. In a world where people too rarely place ink to paper, we'll look at a typographical expression that reflects your individuality, roots, and even how long you've been practicing.

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The Outshot: Baba O'Riley

There's at least a couple of good parts of teenagerdom. This week, Jesse shares some of them with The Who's Baba O'Riley.

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This episode originally aired March 11, 2014.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: RuPaul & Terry Crews

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RuPaul on the Many Shades of Drag

Before he was the world's most famous drag queen, RuPaul was just a kid growing up in San Diego, California. But he knew something was different about him. He noticed things that other people didn't. He found joy in the irreverence of characters like Bugs Bunny, and TV shows like Monty Python's Flying Circus. When he was still in his teens, he packed his bags and followed his sister to Atlanta. He attended performing arts high school, and a brief stint as a car salesman, he started performing with a couple of underground bands. They were searching for a way to be subversive, and decided to perform in drag. RuPaul found that something clicked -- both for himself, and for the audience.

He spent years performing and appearing on public access TV, but he became an international star with his 1992 hit single, "Supermodel".

Recently, he's hosted RuPaul's Drag Race, a reality competition series featuring RuPaul as host and mentor to the contestants as they battle to become America's next drag superstar. Drag Race is now in its seventh season on LOGO TV.

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Carolyn Kellogg Recommends: Cryonics and Gangsters

We're joined by Carolyn Kellogg to talk about books!

Her first recommendation is a memoir about a TV repairman's obsession with immortality that leads to his professional pursuit of cryonics -- the art of freezing people. It's called Freezing People Is (Not) Easy: My Adventures in Cryonics by Bob Nelson, Kenneth Bly and Sally Magana.

Her second recommendation is a twining novel about the legendary gangster Meyer Lansky and a murder investigation in Israel, called Jacket Copy.

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My Brother My Brother and Me Solve Your Cultural Quandaries

The hosts of the podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me won't hesitate to give their advice, though they don't always suggest you follow it.

Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy and Griffin McElroy stop by Bullseye to answer some of our listeners' cultural quandaries. Here are their takes on dealing with your parents' (terrible) TV recommendations, what it means to hog a game at a barcade, and how comedians should respond to hecklers in the crowd.

If you’ve still got questions that need answers, the McElroy brothers host a weekly advice show for the modern era called My Brother, My Brother, and Me. You can subscribe wherever you download podcasts, and send your queries to mbmbam@maximumfun.org.

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Terry Crews on Art, Athletics, and Comedy

Terry Crews has taken a pretty unconventional path. He played football in college, but he didn't go on scholarship, and joined the team as a walk on. He played in the NFL for years as a linebacker with the Rams and the Chargers, but when he was done, he didn't become a sports commentator.

Instead, Crews went back to one of his first loves -- the arts. And while he continues his devotion to his workout regimen, he now uses his physicality in his work as an actor. He's worked steadily in a string of movies like The Longest Yard and The Expendables, and adds a tough-but-caring element to his characters in TV shows like Everybody Hates Chris and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

You can see him now as an essential part of Brooklyn Nine-Nine's ensemble as the police detective and family man, Sergeant Terry Jeffords.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Sunday nights on FOX.

Crews is also the author of a memoir, called Manhood: How to Be a Better Man - or Just Live with One.

This week, Crews tells us about growing up in Flint, Michigan, discovering his love of both art and physical fitness, the difficulty of ending an NFL career, and the joys of working on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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The Outshot: Nas' Illmatic

Jesse shares the greatest hip-hop album ever recorded, Nas' Illmatic. A bold claim? Yes. A true claim? Also yes.

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This episode originally aired March 25, 2014.

The Ivory Towel Evidence

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If you're looking for the associated evidence for the 2015 Judge John Hodgman bonus episode, The Ivory Towel, you've come to the right place!

Submitted by Jessica

Download a PDF with Jessica's evidence (right click)

Submitted by Chris

"Attached is my photo evidence for tomorrow's case. Unfortunately, it's really hard to get pictures of the bag on my bike that properly illustrate how full it is, so the pictures aren't the greatest. I have also attached a picture of the door (with the towel hanging on the back) from Jessica's desk, which clearly shows it is hidden. In addition, evidence is pictured to illustrate Jessica's nickname, 'The Crazy Pug-Lady'."

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: The Pointer Sisters

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The Pointer Sisters Get Excited (About Music, Clothes, and More)

The Pointer Sisters have always been musical chameleons. They had huge dance-pop hits in the 1980s, like "I'm So Excited" and "Jump (For My Love)", but at that point they had already found success in genres from jazz to R&B to disco, and even won a Grammy for their country hit, "Fairytale". The sisters grew up in Oakland, California and were taught by their reverend father that rock and roll was 'the devil's work'. However, when their parents weren't around, they snuck in listening sessions to Elvis, The Supremes, and James Brown.

Sisters Bonnie and June Pointer formed the earliest incarnation of the group in 1969, joined within several years by Ruth and Anita. They recorded their debut self-titled album in 1973, and the single "Yes We Can Can" became their first hit. They went on to record more hits over the next few decades, including "How Long (Betcha' Got a Chick on the Side)", a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire", and "He's So Shy".

Ruth and Anita Pointer join us for a wild and entertaining interview about their signature vintage style, forging their own musical path, and mixing family with business.

This interview originally aired February 18, 2014.

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Carolyn Kellogg Talks Westerns

Every week we like to check in with one of our favorite culture critics to get some recommendations of things that are worth your time. This week, Los Angeles Times book critic Carolyn Kellogg stops by to talk about some of her all-time favorite westerns, starting with one that broke the mold.

Her first recommendation is Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.

Kellogg also recommends Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers.

This segment originally aired July 22, 2014.

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Bobby Lopez on The Song That Changed My Life: "Pure Imagination"

Think of a song you know by heart. A song that's been in your life for such a long time, you don't even remember when you first heard it. Maybe it was in your favorite movie as a kid.

Bobby Lopez writes those kind of songs. He's a composer for musicals and movies, and co-created the hit Broadway shows The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q. He and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez are behind the enormously successful songs for Disney's Frozen, including Let It Go.

This week, Bobby shares the song that changed his life: the inspiring and magical Pure Imagination, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

This segment originally aired February 18, 2014.

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The Outshot: The Muppet Movie

Why do folks get into showbiz? If you think it's all to get attention, fame, or money, let The Muppet Movie show you why you're wrong.

This segment originally aired February 18, 2014.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: John Oliver & Larry Wilmore

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John Oliver on 'Last Week Tonight', American Positivity and a Love Story That Began at the RNC

Though John Oliver is English, he's probably best known now for being part of an American cultural institution -- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He served as the show's "Senior British Correspondent" for seven years before he was tapped to guest host in 2013. Stewart went off to shoot a documentary, and Oliver filled in as host for eight weeks, to great critical acclaim.

It was an audition of sorts, and Oliver got the part. He was offered his own weekly show on HBO, which began airing just a few weeks ago. Last Week Tonight provides Oliver his own platform to talk and joke about everything from the death penalty to climate change to the Indian general election.

He joins us to talk about his love for American positivity, his tone and approach for Last Week Tonight, the unique challenges of doing news satire and the signature field pieces of The Daily Show, and the romantic story of how he met his wife at the Republican National Convention.

Oliver's show Last Week Tonight airs on HBO Sunday nights at 11pm. He also co-hosts The Bugle podcast with Andy Zaltzman.

This interview originally aired May 20, 2014.

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My Brother, My Brother and Me Proffer Advice: Reading Classic Lit, Gaming with Your Boss, and Solo Concert-Going

Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy and Griffin McElroy stop by Bullseye to solve our cultural quandaries. Listen to their advice on reading classic literature like "Super Fudge", playing video games with your boss and grooving solo at a James Taylor concert.

If you still have questions that need answers, the McElroy brothers host a weekly advice show for the modern era called My Brother, My Brother, and Me. You can subscribe wherever you download podcasts and send your queries to mbmbam@maximumfun.org.

This segment originally aired January 28, 2014.

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Larry Wilmore on His Early Comedy Writing and Training at The Daily Show

Last year, as Stephen Colbert stepped away from The Colbert Report, Comedy Central cast their net for a new nightly host. They settled on someone close to home -- the Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilmore. Wilmore has just launched the new program. It's called The Nightly Show.

Before his time with Jon Stewart, Wilmore wrote for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color. He also created The Bernie Mac Show, and co-created The PJs with Eddie Murphy.

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore airs weeknights at 11:30 on Comedy Central.

This interview originally aired February 3, 2009.

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The Outshot: Why "I Want You Back" Is The Greatest Pop Song Ever

There's really only one way to prove "I Want You Back" is the greatest pop song ever: listen.

This segment originally aired September 23, 2013.

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