Bullseye

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: Sam Elliott & Kay Cannon

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Show: 
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Sam Elliott
Guests: 
Kay Cannon

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.

And if you're looking for a particular segment to listen to or share, check us out on Soundcloud.

Many thanks to our guest host this week, Erin Gibson! Check out her podcast Throwing Shade for more Erin every week.


Photo credit: Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Sam Elliott on Westerns, Comedy & 'I'll See You In My Dreams'

Guest host Erin Gibson sits down with the veteran actor Sam Elliott. He's currently starring in FX's Justified and co-stars in the new movie I'll See You In My Dreams with Blythe Danner.

He talks to us about being resistant to change, the ways in which his on-screen roles as cowboys and bikers do (and don't) mirror his real life, how the Coen brothers snagged him for The Big Lebowski, and his stint on Parks and Recreation.

I'll See You In My Dreams is in theaters this week.

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Photo credit: Jesse Thorn

Pitch Perfect 2 Writer Kay Cannon on Returning to the World of A Capella and Her 30 Rock Days

Jesse sits down with comedy writer and producer Kay Cannon. She started off her TV career writing on 30 Rock, later moving on to write and executive produce New Girl. We're also pretty sure she's the first person to tackle the world of collegiate a cappella on the big screen in the screenplay for Pitch Perfect.

Cannon returned to that world to write the sequel, Pitch Perfect 2, which is in theaters this week.

She talks to us about why she sees Pitch Perfect as a sports movie (and not as a musical), coining new lingo for the world of a cappella singers, and honing her joke-writing at 30 Rock.

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The Outshot: Nuns, Nurses and Babies in Call the Midwife

Erin tells us about the warmest, funniest, most feminist show to be set in a mid-century convent.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: James Burrows & Future Islands

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Bullseye
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James Burrows
Guests: 
Samuel Herring

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Photo by Jesse Thorn

Sitcom Guru James Burrows on Andy Kaufman, Teaching Ted Danson to Tend Bar, and Why He's Still Directing

Forty-one years ago, James Burrows stepped on the set of The Mary Tyler Moore Show to direct an episode. It was his very first gig as a TV director. Since then, he co-created Cheers and became known as the go-to guy to direct your sitcom pilot. He's directed more than fifty pilot episodes, including those for Taxi, Frasier, Will & Grace, Friends, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, and he adds more to his resume every season.

Burrows is the son of the famous playwright Abe Burrows, who wrote the book for Broadway musicals like Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

James Burrows will talk about creating his own career path on television, working with Andy Kaufman (and Andy's alter-ego Tony Clifton), brainstorming the elements that would become Cheers, and why he continues to direct.

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Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Samuel Herring of Future Islands Explains Why Joy Division's "Digital" Changed His Life

Samuel Herring, the frontman for the synth-pop band Future Islands, grew up loving hip hop (as he still does).

But there's a rock song that helped him put him on the path to forming the band Future Islands with bandmate William Cashion. And that song is Joy Division's "Digital". It's the song that changed his life.

Future Islands just released two brand-new singles, and they're out on tour this summer and fall to promote their newest album, titled Singles.

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The Outshot: The Revolutionary Afrobeat of Fela Kuti

Jesse pays tribute to the feeling of Fela.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Kumail Nanjiani & Willie Colon

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CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS WEEK'S EPISODE


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: Paul Feig & Combat Jack

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Paul Feig
Guests: 
Combat Jack

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Photo by Jesse Thorn

Paul Feig on Outer Space Comedy and His Ghostbusters Reboot

The writer, director and producer Paul Feig has developed a kind of reputation. His movies and TV shows often feature characters who are awkward and nerdy and trying to figure out their relationships to other people (see: Freaks and Geeks). They also often showcase hilarious women (see: Bridesmaids, The Heat). And now he's keeping the comedy, the feelings and relationships, and upping the stakes. His new series, Other Space, is about a crew on a spaceship stranded in a parallel universe.

We'll talk to Paul Feig about why he grew up wishing aliens would take him away, why he was so determined to bring female-lead comedy movies into the mainstream, and his plans for remaking the stuff of America's childhood -- from Ghostbusters, to Peanuts, to Play-Doh.

Paul Feig's series Other Space is available now on Yahoo! Screen.

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Combat Jack Forges His Own Path Through Hip Hop

For years, Reggie Osse (also known as Combat Jack) worked as a music industry lawyer, helping hip hop producers and artists broker deals.

He loved the music. But he reached a point where he didn't want to be the guy taking care of other people's careers. He had lots of creative ideas, but none of his clients wanted their lawyer's take on that stuff. So Osse decided to try doing something new for him: blogging about hip hop.

We'll talk about how he parlayed the blogging into an interview podcast called The Combat Jack Show, where he's interviewed artists and producers like J Cole, Common and Big Daddy Kane among many, many others.

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The Outshot: The Thrill Ride of Rick James

What made Rick James irresistible? Jesse explains.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Jon Ronson & Peter Guralnick

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Jon Ronson
Guests: 
Peter Guralnick
Guests: 
Guy Branum

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Photo by Jesse Thorn

Jon Ronson on the Aftereffects of Public Shaming and Why He Values People Over Ideologies

If the name Justine Sacco rings a bell with you, we'd guess it's because you remember this poorly-conceived and ill-judged tweet she sent that was heard around the world.

"Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!"

People on Twitter piled on, Justine Sacco publicly shamed and fired, and everyone went about their business. Except for Justine, that is.

Jon Ronson's new book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, explores the effects that public shaming has on the shamed and the shamers.

He joins us to talk about Justine's tweet and whether or not public shaming is always a force for good.

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Photo by Seth Olenick

Comedy: Guy Branum in the Caribbean

Maybe you've heard our new sister podcast about culture, Pop Rocket. It’s hosted by a comic called Guy Branum. His new stand up album Effable was just released, so we thought this’d be a good opportunity to play you some of his set from last year’s Atlantic Ocean Comedy and Music Festival, AKA Boat Party dot Biz. So here’s the great Guy Branum, recorded live on a ship in the Caribbean.

Canonball: Peter Guralnick Gets "Knocked Out" by the Blues

It's time for Canonball. We take a leap into the deep end and talk to experts about classic albums -- or albums that should be considered classics -- and find out what makes them great.

This week, we’re joined by music historian and journalist Peter Guralnick. He's written about rock, soul and blues musicians for decades, profiling Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sam Cooke, and Elvis among dozens of others.

But for our segment, he chose a record that captures what he loves about live music. It was recorded by the ethnomusicologist Harry Oster in the late 50s and early 60s, and it was released on as Country Negro Jam Sessions. (Please excuse the anachronistic title).

Several of Peter's books, including his acclaimed biography of Elvis, are now reissued with video and audio in e-book format. You can find more at PeterGuralnick.com.

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The Outshot: Man Seeking Woman

What if a bad date was literally one of the worst things ever? Jesse explores Simon Rich's unique talents in Man Seeking Woman.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Tom Scharpling & Andy Summers

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Guests: 
Tom Scharpling
Guests: 
Andy Summers

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Photo by Jesse Thorn

Tom Scharpling on The Best Show's Past and Future

For most of the past fifteen years, Tom Scharpling has hosted a free-form comedy show called The Best Show. It began on the New Jersey community radio station WFMU, and it grew into its own universe. That universe includes regular calls in character from Scharpling's comedy partner Jon Wurster, and a thriving community of listeners and callers.

A few years ago, the show moved from its home on the radio to a new home on the internet, where it still streams each Tuesday evening night and podcasts every week.

Tom Scharpling joined us to talk about his on-air personality, his community of listeners, and the creation of The Best Show's aesthetic.

A new box set from the Numero Group of Scharpling and Wurster's work is called The Best of the Best Show.

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Photo by Eric Michael Pearson

Comedy: Sara Schaefer's Tale of Deodorant

Sara Schaefer is a comedian, writer and performer who's appeared on @Midnight, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Best Week Ever, and Inside Amy Schumer. You may have also seen her work with her comedy partner Nikki Glaser on MTV's Nikki and Sara Live.

On her new stand up album, she shared a memory of her treasured middle school years.

Sara Schaefer's debut stand up album is called Chrysalis. You can find Sara's upcoming stand up dates here.


Photo by Jesse Thorn

Andy Summers of The Police on Songwriting and Rock Stardom

By the time The Police released "Roxanne", their first single from their debut album in 1978, guitarist Andy Summers had gone through several phases of his career. By sixteen, he was playing in local clubs and in short order he was playing with the London-based R&B group, Zoot Money's Big Roll Band. That group evolved into a psychedelic rock band in the late 1960s. Summers played a brief American tour with The Soft Machine, then rejoined Zoot Money to play with a new incarnation of The Animals before finally taking a break.

He studied classical guitar for a few years in Los Angeles, and by the time he formed The Police with Sting and Stewart Copeland in 1977, he had playing music professionally for over fifteen years.

Summers' story with that band is documented in the new documentary Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police. The movie is in theaters now.

He joined us to talk about the origins of some of the band's songs and the strange experience of being a rock star.

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The Outshot: The Nicest Guy in Showbiz

Jesse tells us about one of the folks who made Conan O'Brien's show the weird and wonderful thing it is today. He's Brian Stack, nicest guy in showbiz.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: George Clinton & Christian Acker

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DOWNLOAD THIS WEEK'S EPISODE

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: Lynda Barry & Tom Arnold

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Bullseye
Guests: 
Lynda Barry
Guests: 
Tom Arnold
Guests: 
Brian Coleman

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Photo: Guillaume Paumier, CC-BY

Lynda Barry Inspires Us to Get Creative with Monsters

Lynda Barry is a self-identified "freak", a cartoonist, a writer, and for the last couple of years, she's also been a college professor teaching interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin.

What does that mean? Well, she encourages students to abandon their fears of creating and embrace their work and process.

Her most recent book, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor collects her lesson plans and writing and drawing exercises.

Lynda talks with us about using monsters as a tool, why we're sometimes afraid to draw, and how elementary school aged kids can teach us a thing or two.

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Canonball: Brian Coleman Talks about Mantronix: The Album

Every so often we interview music journalists and experts, and ask them which records they think should be part of the pop music canon. It's Canonball.

This week, we're talking with the acclaimed rap journalist Brian Coleman, author of the series Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip Hop Junkies. He chose to talk to us about Mantronix.

In the mid-1980s, producer Kurtis Mantronik and MC Tee joined forces and created the hip hop group Mantronix.

Kurtis Mantronik rocked the TR-808 drum machine, and MC Tee moved the party along with his lyrics.

Together, they recorded Mantronix: The Album, and influenced the producers who followed them.

Brian Coleman's newest edition of "liner notes" is Check the Technique Volume 2.

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Photo: Jesse Thorn

Tom Arnold Talks About Shaking Off the Bullies and Making His Own Way

Tom Arnold is a real show business survivor. In the mid 1990s he got famous -- both the kind you want to be, and the kind you don't want to be. His first big job in Hollywood was as a writer on Roseanne. He ended up married to her. He became a regular on the show and their relationship was tabloid fodder for five years. By the time they broke up in 1994, you couldn't make it through a late night monologue without a Tom Arnold joke.

But that was just the beginning of Tom Arnold's ride. A star making performance in a huge hit movie, True Lies, made him a star. Then a disastrous series of broad comedies made his career a punchline again.

But Arnold never stopped working, as a character actor, as a sports talk show host, as a stand up comic, and now in his 50s he's a dad for the first time and he's now been a star in Hollywood for thirty years. His new show is Yahoo's Sin City Saints. Arnold also continues to perform stand up across the country.

Tom talks with us about growing up in Iowa and fighting bullies, the difficulties of working in Las Vegas, his enduring respect for Roseanne, and the way he's found satisfaction with his work.

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The Outshot: MacGruber

Jesse heartily disagrees with A.O. Scott's review of the film version of MacGruber. In short: MacGruber exists, and the world is better for it.

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