Bullseye

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Maria Bamford & Wanda Sykes

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Maria Bamford
Guests: 
Wanda Sykes

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Photo: Jesse Thorn

Maria Bamford on Finding the Comedy in Mental Illness

Maria Bamford is a stand-up whose comedy is equal parts confessional and surreal. Using events from her own life, including her struggles with mental illness, she finds comedy in the painful and absurd, infusing both with an infectious joy that has endeared her to fans around the world.

You might know Maria from her roles on shows like Arrested Development, Comedy Bang Bang, Maron and Louie. She found wider national fame during the 2009-2010 holiday shopping season when she appeared as a super-enthusiastic shopper in a series of Target commercials.

Maria sat down with Jesse to talk about her own experiences as a patient of various Los Angeles mental health facilities, finding love and how wanting to work less proved to be a good career move.

Her new show, Lady Dynamite will be available for streaming on Netflix from May 20th. You can find out more about her upcoming tour dates at MariaBamford.com.


Photo: Jesse Thorn

Wanda Sykes on Life After the NSA and The Freedom to Be Herself on Stage

Wanda Sykes is a comedian and an actor with an incredible force of personality. Her distinctive voice both as a writer and a performer has earned her success on stage, television and film. She’s been nominated for seven Prime-Time Emmy Award including a win for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special for her work on The Chris Rock Show.

The Curb Your Enthusiasm star joined Jesse to talk about transitioning from a career with the NSA to stand-up comedy, coming out “accidentally” during a rally against California’s Proposition 8 and why she believes that Bob Hope may have been a super spy.

Jesse was especially excited to talk with Wanda about one of his favorite characters in film, Biggie Shorty from the Louis C.K. directed, Chris Rock produced blaxploitation parody, Pootie Tang (or as we had to refer to it on NPR, “shmooty shmang”).

Wanda Sykes is beginning her tour this month which includes recording dates for her next comedy special.

Sykes is performing two shows at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles this Saturday, May 21st. The shows will be filmed for her Epix special out later this year. It's called What Happened…Ms. Sykes? Find out more at WandaSykes.com.

The Outshot: Black Moth Super Rainbow

Jesse talks about his affinity for the music of Black Moth Super Rainbow - an experimental band that declined a request to appear on Bullseye to promote their 2009 album, Eating Us.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Margaret Cho & Whit Stillman

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Margaret Cho
Guests: 
Whit Stillman

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Photo: Jesse Thorn

Margaret Cho on Growing Up Korean American, Breaking Through in Comedy and Gay Men She Loved and Lost

Margaret Cho has always found a way to make her life inform her art. With her work as a stand-up comedian, an actor and a singer-songwriter, she has used the events of her life, both good and bad, to inspire her. Whether it’s growing up as a Korean-American girl in San Francisco or breaking through the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy in the early nineties, Cho has always found a way use all of life’s experiences to create entertainment.

Cho famously co-created and starred in the first sitcom that focused on an Asian American family. All-American Girl was cancelled in its first season, but it became a part of American television history and helped lay the groundwork for sitcoms like Fresh Off the Boat. Since then, Cho has continued her standup career, and appeared in numerous film and television shows including Dr. Ken, Family Guy, Sex in the City and on 30 Rock, where in separate episodes, she played North Korean dictators: Kim Jong Il and later his son Kim Jong-un.

Margaret Cho sat down with Jesse to talk about beginning her career during the 90s comedy boom in San Francisco, growing up in a Korean immigrant family, and how the community around her family’s gay bookstore continues to touch and inspire her life.

Margaret Cho’s new album American Myth is now available on iTunes and on her website, MargaretCho.com. She's also out on tour this May and June.


Photo: Jesse Thorn

Whit Stillman on Jane Austen, the Importance of Language and Being Inspired by 'Elf'

Whit Stillman is a writer-director who makes comedies of manners. With his films Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, the director often explores the world of young upper-class adults who are struggling to find their way in the world both at home and abroad. The films were each made on modest budgets and received praise from critics; his very first film, Metropolitan, garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.

His latest film Love and Friendship is adapted from Lady Susan, an unfinished novella by Jane Austen. The movie explores the familiar comedic tropes of Austen’s work including class, sexuality, deceit and manipulation.

Whit Stillman joined Jesse to talk about his love for Jane Austen, the importance of language in his films and how the comedy of Will Ferrell infiltrated his new period piece.

Whit Stillman’s new film Love and Friendship is in theaters this week.

A Criterion collection of his first three films (Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco) are now available in special box set edition.


Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Outshot: Draymond Green

Jesse sings the praises of a basketball scrapper who may not get all the fame, but is no less deserving of the glory.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Geena Davis & Louis C.K.

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Geena Davis
Guests: 
Louis C.K.

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Photo: Jesse Thorn

Geena Davis on Gender Diversity, Archery and Quieting the Inner Critic

Geena Davis has made a lasting impression as an actress both on film and television in her roles in Beetlejuice, Thelma and Louise, A League of Their Own, The Accidental Tourist and Commander in Chief. Her performances have resulted in acclaim and a lengthy career both in front and behind the camera. It’s also garnered her a Golden Globe and an Oscar.

Davis is just as committed to her work for gender awareness and diversity in film and television. To turn a light on gender disparity in Hollywood, she created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a research-based organization that was created to educate and influence change in the entertainment industry. Davis also founded the Bentonville Film Festival, which showcases films featuring minorities and women in both cast and crew and which guarantees distribution to the festival’s winners.

Geena Davis joined Jesse on Bullseye to talk about gaining confidence in voicing her opinions on set, how she feels about being recognized in public and how quieting her inner-critic helped her to almost qualify as an archer for the Summer Olympic games.

The Bentonville Film Festival takes place in Bentonville, Arkansas this week. Tickets are available to the public.


Photo: Jesse Thorn

Louis C.K. on Producing a Show in Secret and Paying for It Out of His Own Pocket

Louis C.K. may be known to most as a stand-up comedian, but he's also a writer, an actor, an editor and a producer who thrives when he is creating on his own terms. And that’s what he has been doing with his comedy specials and television shows, including his Emmy-award-winning FX series, Louie.

Louis C.K. has succeeded not only by becoming one the world’s funniest comedians, but by reinventing how an artist succeeds creatively and financially. His direct-to-fan sales of his concerts and videos via his website have proven incredibly successful and have inspired other comedians and artists to offer their content directly to consumers.

He used this model of distribution to release his latest television show, Horace and Pete which features an ensemble cast including Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange and Edie Falco. The show, set in a run-down Brooklyn bar, borrows elements from both film and stage plays, to create a unique experience for both the audience and the actors. CK produced the show in complete secrecy, and didn’t leverage pre-press marketing and press junkets to promote the show.

Louis C.K. sat down with Jesse to talk about why he chose to pay for Horace and Pete using his own money, challenging himself as an actor and what inspired him to come up with the family name for the title characters.

All ten episodes of Horace and Pete are available now from Louis C.K.’s website.

The Outshot: Zombo.com

Jesse on the lingering amusement provided by the absurd and simple website, Zombo.com.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Mike Judge & Sharon Horgan

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Bullseye
Guests: 
Mike Judge
Guests: 
Sharon Horgan

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Photo: Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Mike Judge on Silicon Valley, Beavis & Butt-Head and Office Space & the Challenges of Being a Showrunner

Mike Judge entered the world of animation with little more than a 16mm Bolex film camera, an audio recorder and a stopwatch. In the early nineties, his animated shorts were extremely popular as part of touring animation shows including Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Animation Festival. These shorts served as the birthplace for some of his most memorable characters, including the iconic Beavis and Butt-Head.

Beavis and Butt-Head were awkward and naive teenage boys, whose vocabulary seemed limited to a series of snickers and grunts. However, the show became a cultural touchstone as well as a lightning rod of criticism for conservative social critics.

The show led to more opportunities for Judge both in film and television. They included the hit animated series, King of the Hill and forays into films with the cult classics Office Space and Idiocracy. His latest show, Silicon Valley is in its third season on HBO.

Mike Judge joined Jesse to talk about the parallels between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, his early years in animation and how the character of Homer Simpson helped him maintain the integrity of his own animated patriarch, Hank Hill.

Silicon Valley airs Sunday nights at 10pm on HBO.


Photo: Jesse Thorn

Catastrophe's Sharon Horgan on Creating Flawed Characters and Writing Your Own Sex Scenes

Sharon Horgan has a knack for the creating shows that reveal her characters as determined, funny, sexy, complex and at times, very flustered. Her comedy is more than a series of jokes (though there are plenty of them), and includes insightful observations into what it means to be a professional woman trying to negotiate her other roles of lover, wife and mother. In other words, a real person. You can see that in full display on her latest show, Catastrophe which streams on Amazon Prime.

Though she may be relatively new to American audiences, she has proven herself a talented actress, writer and producer and enjoyed success with her previous show, Pulling which she co-wrote and starred in. Though it ran only for two seasons on British television, it was nominated for several television and comedy awards and established her as a modern comedic voice.

Sharon Horgan sat down with Jesse to talk about getting past the awkwardness of writing (and then having to film) sex scenes with her co-star, the challenge of showing the evolution of a relationship before and after having kids and why she likes playing a character who can sometimes come off as a jerk.

Catastrophe is in its second season and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.


Photo: Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images

The Outshot: Prince

Jesse remembers how the musician Prince inspired people to dare to be themselves.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Nick Hornby & Luis Guzmán

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Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Nick Hornby on 'Funny Girl', Creativity and Ambition

Nick Hornby became famous as a literary writer for men. His first three books were about guys, fans specifically, Fever Pitch was a memoir about Hornby’s love of soccer; High Fidelity was about a record store owner, struggling with love. About A Boy was about a sort of boyish man tending to a mannish boy.

Hornby has since written several other books and screenplays, including Oscar nominees An Education and Brooklyn.

His recent novel, Funny Girl, is about a working class young woman in the 1960s who leaves her small town in search of a career on television, and her success on a BBC sitcom.

Nick Hornby sat down with Jesse to talk about why he set his novel in the mid-60s (and why its protagonist is a woman), personal ambition and creativity, and what it's like to be a Hollywood dinner guest.

Funny Girl is available now in paperback.

The interview originally aired in March 2015.


Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Luis Guzmán on 'The Part'

Luis Guzmán is a veteran character actor. But back in the early 1990s, he was still working as a social worker on the Lower East Side, and acting was more of a side gig. Then he got a role that put him on the map -- the thuggish sidekick Pachanga in the 1993 movie Carlito's Way.

As Guzmán tells it, everything crystallized with that role.

You can currently see Luis Guzmán in the role of Jesse Sallander on the CBS hospital drama, Code Black. On the show, he plays the role of the trauma unit’s senior nurse, affectionately referred to as “Momma”.

The interview originally aired in March 2015.

The Outshot: Devil in a Blue Dress

Jesse explains why Easy Rawlins, of Devil in A Blue Dress, is a different breed of private detective.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Ellie Kemper & Glen Weldon

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Guests: 
Ellie Kemper
Guests: 
Glen Weldon

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Photo: Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Ellie Kemper was introduced to the popular consciousness through her role as Erin Hannon on the NBC sitcom, The Office. Her portrayal of the office receptionist was popular with both fans and critics and showcased her talent and skills as a comedic actress. These talents have also been showcased on the big screen in films including Bridesmaids and 21 Jump Street.

Now, she plays the title character in the Netflix Original series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Despite the show’s dark premise which involves her character being abducted by a cult leader and sequestered in a bunker, the show plays it all for laughs as her character tries to rebuild her life in New York City. Her years of isolation leave her ignorant of many social touchstones, but she pushes through with an enthusiasm and tenacity that is both endearing and hilarious.

Ellie Kemper joined Jesse to talk about her early experiences of living and working in New York, mining material from her time at Princeton and her self-consciousness about privilege.

The second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is available this Friday on Netflix.


Photo: Faustino Nunez

Glen Weldon on the Lasting Popularity of Batman in Pop and Geek Culture

For almost 80 years, Batman has changed and evolved to mean something to different generations of fans. Whether his characterization was that of the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader or the campy character of sixties television, Batman has become a lasting icon of popular culture.

In his new book, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, author Glen Weldon moves beyond the chronological history of the character. He explores how fans of the various iterations of the character on radio, film, television and the comics have made the character a reflection of their own self-identity, be they straight or gay, cool or geek.

Glen sits down with Jesse to talk about why Batman fans both hate and love the 60s television series, why the character of Robin is so important to Batman’s mythology and how the character also serves as a symbol of gay culture.

Glen Weldon’s book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture is available in bookstores everywhere.


Photo: Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images

The Outshot: Remembering A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg

Jesse fondly remembers Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Thao Nguyen & Lance Bangs

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Bullseye
Guests: 
Thao Nguyen
Guests: 
Lance Bangs

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Photo: Mike Windle / Getty Images

Thao Nguyen on 80s Pop Music, Collaboration and Familial Estrangement

Thao Nguyen began her career as a singer-songwriter in her teens, while making change for customers at her mother’s laundromat. Her musical influences include country, folk and hip-hop, but her music is uniquely her own.

Her latest album as the frontwoman of the band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down is called A Man Alive, and takes its inspiration from Thao's complicated relationship with her father. Their estrangement began when Thao was a teenager and has continued into her adulthood. Her feelings of affection and resentment results in a musical experience that is both raw and intimate.

Thao Nguyen sat down with Jesse to talk about the importance of her collaboration with producer Merrill Garbus in the making of the album, the diversity of her early musical influences and the struggle to fit in while growing up as a Vietnamese-American.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down's new album, A Man Alive is available now. The band is currently on a cross country tour; you can find those tourdates here.


Photo: Jesse Thorn

Lance Bangs on His Intimate Approach to Filmmaking, Working on 'Jackass' and Exploring the Messy Living Habits of Stand-Up Comics in 'Flophouse'

Lance Bangs is the kind of filmmaker who would prefer jumping into the backseat of a car with a camera than being responsible for a huge budget and massive crew. His intimate approach to filmmaking has been appreciated and sought after not only for films and television, but also numerous music videos for performers including Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Green Day, Arcade Fire, REM and Kanye West.

He was even brought on to help film the intimate relationships within the MTV reality show Jackass, which focused on its talent performing incredibly dangerous and crude pranks and stunts.

Lance Bangs’ latest television show is the new Viceland series Flophouse. The show profiles the lives of up-and-coming stand-up comics and the sometimes questionable living conditions they live under while trying to make career for themselves in comedy.

Lance Bangs joined Jesse to talk about his why he prefers his intimate approach to filmmaking, his memories of working on Jackass and why he is attracted to the world of comedy.

The first season of Flophouse is airing now on Viceland Thursdays at 10:30pm.

The Outshot: Black Sabbath’s Paranoid

Jesse talks about the emotional depth to be found in Black Sabbath’s 1970 album, Paranoid.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Bob Odenkirk & Rickey Vincent

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THANK YOU to everyone who donated to support Bullseye during this year's MaxFunDrive. We're proud to announce that over 9,400 of you joined or upgraded your memberships this year. That's HUGE, and we're so grateful for your support.


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Bob Odenkirk: Cult-Comedy Icon, Reluctant Celebrity

Millions of Breaking Bad fans know Bob Odenkirk as sleazy criminal lawyer, Saul Goodman. He has reprised the role the spin-off show Better Call Saul which is in its second season.

But comedy fans already knew about Odenkirk from another show -- Mr. Show with Bob and David. Odenkirk’s outrageous and profanity-ridden outbursts were a staple of his performances and helped make him a cult-comedy icon.

Before that he wrote for Saturday Night Live. Perhaps his most notable work was co-writing the sketch Down by the River The bit featured a 35-year-old divorcee motivational speaker played by Chris Farley and is considered one of the best sketches in the history of the SNL.

When Mr. Show ended, Odenkirk appeared in a number of one-off roles for TV before working behind the camera. He directed Let’s Go to Prison, Melvin Goes to Dinner and The Brothers Solomon. Even though he loves directing, it’ll be a while before he decides to gives it another shot. He’ll explain.

Odenkirk talks to us about why writing timeless humor is so difficult, transitioning from comedy to drama and why he still doesn’t consider himself a celebrity.

Odenkirk will also read a selection from his collection of short-fiction humor. It’s called A Load of Hooey and is available now.

Better Call Saul airs Monday nights at 10 pm on AMC.

Cannonball: Touring Parliament's Mothership Connection with Rickey Vincent

Every so often we like to take a closer look at albums that should be considered classics, to find out what makes them great. It's Cannonball.

This week we're joined by author, historian and self-described funkateer, Rickey Vincent. He's going to talk about Parliament's landmark R&B album, Mothership Connection. The album is at once a celebration of the past and a glimpse into the future. It touches on a lot of traditional soul ideas, but delivered with a new funky edge. Vincent will explain more.

Vincent's recent book is called PARTY MUSIC: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. You can also hear his radio show The History of Funk on KPFA.

The Outshot: Why Can't We Live Together by Timmy Thomas

Jesse tells us about a song that makes him imagine a better world: the simple but powerful Why Can't We Live Together by Timmy Thomas.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Dick Van Dyke

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Dick Van Dyke
Guests: 
Margaret Wappler

If you liked this episode of Bullseye, you can help support our production by becoming a monthly member! It's our annual MaxFunDrive, the time of year we ask for your help. Visit www.maximumfun.org/donate today and help us reach our network goal of 5000 new and upgrading members, and you'll not only get the satisfaction of sustaining the show -- we'll send you some nice swag, too, like a custom Bullseye bandana or an adventure pack with a Swiss Army knife and a paracord!

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Dick Van Dyke on His Early Years in Television, Worrying Less, and Owning Up to the Worst English Accent in Film History

For over 70 years, Dick Van Dyke has been an entertainer of stage, film and television. His work has garnered him generations of fans as well as numerous honors including a Grammy, a Tony and several Emmy awards.

Though he initially sought out a career in radio, he was soon performing on the stage and on the new medium of television, which included the classic comedy, The Dick Van Dyke Show created by Carl Reiner. Along with his many other television appearances, Dick Van Dyke has starred in films that are still family favorites decades after they were made, including Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Dick Van Dyke joined Jesse to talk about landing the lead role in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway despite not being a trained singer or dancer, his memories of working with a very young Mary Tyler Moore, his alcoholism and getting sober, and how he maintains a healthy physical and mental lifestyle in his nineties.

Dick Van Dyke’s new book, Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging is available now.

Canonball with Margaret Wappler on Bjork’s Post

Every so often we like to take a closer look at albums that should be considered classics, to find out what makes them great. It's Canonball.

This week we're joined by the pop culture critic and writer Margaret Wappler. She'll talk about Bjork’s 1995 album, Post. This album served as the follow-up to Bjork’s first album, Debut. The album went beyond being a repetition of what she had created before, and served as "a breakout work of feminine emotional electronica".

Margaret Wappler’s essay on Bjork can be found in the anthology Here She Comes Now. Margaret’s novel, Neon Green will be out in July. She can also be heard as our sister-podcast, Pop Rocket.

The Outshot: Ralph Lauren

Jesse will tell you about how Ralph Lauren captures the shared American-ness of Sonia Sotomayor, Jay-Z and Donald Trump. (You can find his video interview for Put This On here.)

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Zach Galifianakis & Michael K. Williams

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Bullseye
Guests: 
Zach Galifianakis
Guests: 
Michael K. Williams

If you liked this episode of Bullseye, you can help support our production by becoming a monthly member! It's our annual MaxFunDrive, the time of year we ask for your help. Visit www.maximumfun.org/donate today and help us reach our network goal of 5000 new and upgrading members, and you'll not only get the satisfaction of sustaining the show -- we'll send you some nice swag, too!

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.


Photo: Jesse Thorn

Zach Galifianakis on Unlikeable Characters, Sudden Fame and Facing “Heartbreaking” Criticism on Public Radio

Zach Galifianakis is an actor, writer and stand-up comedian whose humor isn’t for everyone. His comedic observations and characterizations in television and film have made him a unique voice that some people love and others love to hate.

Galifianakis is probably most widely known for his role as Alan in The Hangover films, but he's also been in everything from Up in the Air, Birdman and Bored to Death. He's now the star and co-creator of the new FX series, Baskets. He plays a clown who can't keep up with the tuition or his classmates at his French clowning school, and returns to his hometown of Bakersfield, California to work in a rodeo.

Galifianakis sat down with Jesse to talk about creating a show that revolves around a mean and unlikeable character, how he contended with the sudden fame that came with The Hangover and what it’s like be dissed on public radio.

Baskets airs on Thursday nights at 10 pm on FX.


Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Michael K. Williams on His Club Kid Days, Breaking Ground with The Wire and Why a Pop Song Touches Him So Deeply

Michael K. Williams is an actor and dancer who broke out in the role of Omar Little on HBO’s The Wire. His characterization of a criminal “with a code” made the show a favorite among critics and viewers, one of whom was President Obama.

He was a club kid turned professional dancer, and later turned to acting. His resume includes everything from Boardwalk Empire to Twelve Years a Slave to Inherent Vice. He currently co-stars in the new Sundance TV series, Hap and Leonard.

Williams sat down with us to talk about his memories of being a New York club kid, the difference that playing Omar made in his life and others and the opportunity that led him to realize that being a performer could be a career, rather than just a job.

Hap and Leonard can be seen Wednesday nights at 10 pm on Sundance TV.

The Outshot: Gravediggaz’s Poetic

Jesse remembers the poignancy of rapper Poetic’s examination of his own mortality in the music he produced with Gravediggaz.

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