Julia Smith's blog

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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New to Bullseye? Subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or with your favorite podcatcher to make sure you automatically get the newest episode every week.

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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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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: H. Jon Benjamin & Jessica Walter

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This week's episode includes content from previous broadcasts! Check out the links below to listen and share each segment.


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H. Jon Benjamin on Archer, Bob's Burgers and an Unlikely Career in Voice Acting

H. Jon Benjamin is a writer, comedian and a prolific voice actor, but he's not exactly the man of a million voices. In fact, he's really the man of one voice, which depending on the setting could be the shiftless son on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, the misanthropic dad of Fox's Bob's Burgers, or a self-involved secret agent on FX's Archer. Benjamin has appeared in his own physical form on shows like Parks and Recreation, and in 2011 created and starred in the Comedy Central series Jon Benjamin Has a Van.

Benjamin talks to us about and how his career in comedy and voice acting came together, the humble beginnings of the beloved animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, and the perks inherent in voicing the super-spy and super-jerk Sterling Archer.

Archer begins its sixth season this week on FX.

This segment originally aired January 22, 2013.

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Canonball: The Runaways' "Live in Japan"

Over the course of four short years, the teenage members of glam rock band The Runaways released four albums for a major label, toured the world, and unleashed their classic single, "Cherry Bomb". While the group was huge overseas, they never gained the same level of popularity in the US.

Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Joan Jett went on to acclaim with her band Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, but as Evelyn McDonnell tells it, The Runaways have never really gotten their due.

McDonnell wrote the book on the band. She's the author of Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, based on interviews conducted with the influential "queens of noise". McDonnell found that the band's manager Kim Fowley had a tight grip on the group's sound, and that their studio albums didn't fully capture their unique sound and chemistry.

Evelyn takes us on a journey to the other side of the Pacific Ocean to hear where the band hit their peak: on a Japanese tour where they recorded their album, Live In Japan.

This segment originally aired March 18, 2014.

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Jessica Walter Talks about Vulgar Lines on "Archer", Love for Lucille Bluth and Showbiz Secrets

If you only know the actress Jessica Walter from her recent work, you probably know her from her role as the singularly-focused, boozy, terrifically manipulative matriarch Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development or her voice acting on the animated spy spoof, Archer. But her career stretches back fifty years, with hundreds of TV appearances, from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Love Boat, and Trapper John, M.D. to a starring role in Clint Eastwood's directorial debut Play Misty for Me.

Jessica sits down with us this week to talk about getting line reads for (the often quite vulgar and racy) scenes on FX's Archer, her love of Lucille Bluth and working with Clint Eastwood. She even divulges a few trade secrets from her role on Flipper.

The sixth season of Archer returns this week.

This segment originally January 21, 2014.

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The Outshot: Prince's "Dirty Mind"

Prince is one of the rare artists whose name has become synonymous with an entire era of sound. Jesse explains how Prince's 1980 album Dirty Mind was the turning point in his career, marking a transformation from musician to music god.

This segment originally aired July 2, 2013.

New to Bullseye? Subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or with your favorite podcatcher to make sure you automatically get the newest episode every week.

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Maximum Fun's Best Episodes of 2014

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It's been a great year for Maximum Fun! A whole truckload of shows joined the network and we're celebrating. Whether you're an old-school MaxFun listener who wants to try a new show, you're brand new to the network, or you want to introduce a friend to the joy of podcasts -- we've got you covered.

Where's the best place to start? Why not try a sampler of the best episodes of 2014, as voted on by the members of the Maximum Fun subReddit and members of our Facebook groups, and spearheaded by Reddit user groverjefferson!

You can click through to each episode, or download the entire batch of episodes from this handy RSS feed.

Adventure ZoneEpisode 1: Here There Be Gerblins

Baby GeniusesPaul F. Tompkins

BullseyeCaroll Spinney, Dave Mattina, Ian Edwards

Bunker BuddiesEpisode 1: EMP

Dave Hill's Podcasting IncidentEpisode 84: Greetings from Australia

Destination DIYJuly 2014: Teen Inventors

The Flop HouseEpisode 158: Labor Day

The GoosedownEpisode 4: Villains

International WatersEpisode 31: Stiff as a Varnished Eel

Jordan Jesse GoEpisode 332: Cake-Spangled Banner with Maria Bamford

Judge John HodgmanEpisode 166: My Legal Pony

Lady to LadyEpisode 89: French Stewart

The Memory PalaceEpisode 61: The Glowing Orbs

My Brother My Brother and MeEpisode 215: Glass Shark

Oh No Ross and CarrieRoss and Carrie Bust a Gut: Laughter Yoga Edition

One Bad MotherEpisode 80: Mom Ruts, plus guest Jill Barber

RISK!All-Star Episode #5

SawbonesCorpse Theft and the Resurrection Men

Song ExploderEpisode 1: The Postal Service

Stop Podcasting YourselfEpisode 349: Jon Dore

Throwing ShadeEpisode 138: How to Train Your Dragon 2, Summer Weddings, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cosplay

Wham Bam PowEpisode 73: Galaxy Quest

Again, major thanks to groverjefferson for putting the survey and list together, and to YOU for listening! Happy New Year from all of us at Maximum Fun.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Lewis Black, Syl Johnson & Annie Hart

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Still Fuming: Lewis Black on Drama School, New York, And Why He's Still Fired Up

No comedian is angrier than Lewis Black. For the past 25 years, America has been infuriating him, and he's been on-stage telling us why.

After graduating from the Yale School of Drama in 1977, Black spent ten years as a playwright at the West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theater in New York. He transitioned to stand-up comedy in the late 1980s and has been regularly featured on The Daily Show's "Back In Black" segment for the past 16 years.

Lewis tells us about nearly getting expelled from Yale, why he loves performing in Bismarck, ND, and how theater is like heroin.

Lewis Black's most recent special, Live at the Borgata, is available now in digital formats. This interview originally aired in August 2013.

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Hip Hop with Andrew Noz: DJ Quik's Pacific Coast Remix and Rammellzee's Beat Bop

Hip hop blogger and Pitchfork columnist Andrew Noz joins us with a couple of his all-time favorite hip hop tracks. His first recommendation is Pacific Coast Remix by DJ Quik (featuring Ludacris), a track devoted to sunny Los Angeles's dark side. He also suggests checking out the 1983 track Beat Bop by Rammellzee and K-Rob. It's a song from an era where the uptown and downtown communities mingled in a way that the rap world would rarely see again. This segment originally aired in June 2013.

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"The Song That Changed My Life" with Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone

Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone grew up in the suburbs of Long Island. As the story goes for a lot of teenagers, she didn't quite fit in. The kids at her school wanted to spend time at the mall. They weren't interested in making stuff, shooting videos and writing zines.

Annie found a whole new world, and a whole new group of friends, through music. The song that changed her life is "Knew Song", by the Long Island hardcore band Silent Majority.

Au Revoir Simone's most recent album is Move In Spectrums. This interview originally aired in January 2014.

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The Enigmatic, Grammy-Nominated Syl Johnson

Inspired by the sounds of Jackie Wilson, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters, Syl Johnson set out to make his own mark in music in the 1950s. His own gritty, bluesy voice and funk rhythms earned him a place in the Chicago soul and blues scene. Over the course of a career on Chicago's Twinight and Memphis' Hi Records, Johnson released several singles that climbed their way up the pop and R&B charts ("Different Strokes", "Come On Sock It To Me", "Is It Because I'm Black?") and but never attained the smash success of contemporaries like Al Green or James Brown.

He found ubiquity later in life, when dozens of hip hop artists from Run-DMC to Kanye West dug into his catalog to sample his sounds (perhaps foremost his signature scream on "Different Strokes"). Johnson found himself in the spotlight again a few years ago when the archival label Numero Group assembled a Grammy-nominated boxset of his early cuts, titled Syl Johnson: The Mythology. This interview originally aired in October 2012.

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The Outshot: "Coney Island"

Jesse recommends a portrait of an American caught in between its past and its future in Ric Burns' documentary Coney Island.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Luis Guzman

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Looking for information on this week's episode of Bullseye?

Luis Guzman: From activist and social worker to prolific character actor

Luis Guzman is one of America's most successful and prolific character actors. He's appeared in dozens of films and television series, from Short Eyes in the 1970s to Miami Vice in the 1980s to Carlito's Way, Boogie Nights and The Limey in the 1990s. He made a name for himself playing thugs and cops. A few years ago, he was on the short-lived but beloved series How To Make It In America.

He talks with us about growing up in New York's Lower East Side, and about his work there as an activist and social worker. As a teen, he hung out at the legendary New Yorican Poets Cafe, watching poets and writers like Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsburg and Miguel Piñero. Piñero ended up casting Guzman in Short Eyes, and got him his first television audition for Miami Vice. Since then, Guzman has become a favorite of directors like P.T. Anderson and Steven Soderbergh.

Pitchfork's Ian Cohen on his Favorite Heavy Rock

Ian Cohen, contributing editor at Pitchfork, stops by to recommend some of his all-time favorite heavy rock releases.

He tells us about an album which (in a move unusual for its genre) has an entirely pink cover. Deafheaven’s newest album, Sunbather, has been well-received and is on its way to becoming “an absolute landmark.”

In addition, Ian recommends the most recent Swans album,The Seer. In a bold creative move, the band creates a title track well over thirty minutes long.

Artisanal Pencil Sharpening with David Rees

If you knew about David Rees in the 2000s, it was probably for his indie political cartoon Get Your War On. When we caught up with Rees a few years ago, he had decided to get back in touch with an old-school writing instrument -- the pencil. Rees started his own artisanal pencil sharpening service, sharpening bespoke pencils, and wrote a book called How To Sharpen Pencils. Rees joined us to discuss the lost art of pencil sharpening.

Be on the lookout for Rees' upcoming show on the National Geographic Channel, Going Deep with David Rees, this summer.

The Outshot: Threat by Jay-Z

Rap isn't poetry – it's its own thing. But, like poets, many of the best rappers imbue their lyrics with layers of meaning. Need proof? Jesse suggests a close listen to a single verse of Jay-Z's "Threat".

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