We're delighted to have blogger, book critic, and LA Times writer Carolyn Kellogg with us to give this week's pop culture picks. Her first suggestion is Ken Ilgunas's Walden on Wheels, a memoir about a three-year cross-country journey that he took to pay off his student loans. If you're looking for something from the world of fiction, Kellogg says to check out Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, a darkly funny novel about an early 20th century girl that Atkinson repeatedly (and gleefully) kills off over the course of the novel.
It seems strange now, but when Huey Lewis and The News released their first record in 1979, music executives weren't expecting them to become a huge success. With bombastic hair bands on one end of the rock spectrum and sneering punk rockers on the other, there didn't seem to be much of a place for Lewis and company's fun, bluesy pub-rock. But thumbing their noses at industry naysayers turned out to be the right move for Huey Lewis and The News. Case in point: 1983's Sports, their first record to hit number one on the Billboard charts.
Thirty years later, the band's commemorating the thirty-year anniversary of that album with an expanded re-issue of Sports, featuring remastered tracks and live versions of songs like "The Heart of Rock & Roll" and "I Want a New Drug". Huey Lewis sat down with Jesse to talk about the album that brought them to stardom, as well as his experiences writing songs for Back to the Future and Pineapple Express, how to stow away on an airplane to Europe (well, it worked in the seventies), and how a trip to Morocco convinced him that a career in music was possible.
Huey Lewis and The News' 30th Anniversary Edition of Sports will be released on May 14. For more information about the band and their US tour, you can check out their website.
(And as a bonus for our podcast listeners: want to hear about how Huey Lewis met Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, and just about every other super-famous singer…all in one night? Then be sure to check out our extended interview with him on our SoundCloud page, where he talks about recording the eighties anthem "We Are The World".)
Remember the seventies, before phones got smart? It was a simpler time. There were no apps, no texts, and jailbreaking was something you could only do in a prison. But there was still plenty of trouble to get into using a phone.
As Phil Lapsley explains in his new book, Exploding The Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell, the early seventies marked the beginning of phone phreaking. Phreaking involved tricking the systems that controlled phone lines by re-creating frequencies that phones used to communicate with one another. Just by using a tone-generating device called a blue box, a phone phreaker could fool phone networks into connecting them to long-distance calls – calls that usually cost hundreds of dollars – for free. But it didn't take long for phone companies to take notice.
In this interview, Lapsley explains that phone phreaking changed the world as we know it. He talks about why phone companies were initially hesitant to prosecute phreakers, why enthusiasts involved with phreaking despite having no one in particular to call, and why Steve Jobs once said that there'd be no Apple without phone phreaking.
Exploding the Phone is available now. And if you pick up a copy of the book, keep an eye out for phone numbers in the text... They could lead you to some interesting places.
There's a pretty simple formula to Antiques Roadshow: someone comes in with a knickknack and has it assessed by an expert. Next comes everyone's favorite part: the big reveal, where they find out what their item is really worth. That's part's pretty great, Jesse says – but there's something about Antiques Roadshow that he loves even more.
We're joined by AV Club Assistant TV Editor Erik Adams and contributor Claire Zulkey for some all-time favorite TV picks. Claire recommends checking out Spaced, a lightning-fast, pop-culture-tastic British sitcom from the brains behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Erik's pick is the mysterious, funny, and very surreal Twin Peaks, David Lynch and Mark Frost's series about a small town with big secrets.
This interview originally aired December 2012.
Years before he became famous in Britain for skewering celebrities on Popworld and Nevermind the Buzzcocks, Simon Amstell's childhood ambition was to be on TV. And unlike most kids with dreams of TV stardom, he made it a reality -- but found it less fulfilling than he had hoped. Comedian, writer and TV host Amstell joins us this week to share his experiences in the entertainment industry, including navigating the delicate line between crafting clever comedy and bullying his celebrity guests as a TV host, writing and starring in Grandma's House, a sitcom with parallels to his own life, and seeking enlightenment on a Shamanic quest in South America.
This segment originally aired December 2012.
In this era of constant hustle and bustle, who can keep up with what's HOT and what's NOT in these United States? Fortunately, expert stuff-ranker Jordan Morris joins us this week to fill us in and set us straight.
This segment originally aired December 2012.
Brian K. Vaughan has the kind of strange and epic vision that's made for science fiction and fantasy. He's written award-winning comic book series like Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man, and helped craft otherworldly storylines for several seasons of Lost.
His works are notable for their intimacy and beautiful, meticulously crafted characters, despite grandly epic settings. His most recent comic book series, Saga, is a prime example: Vaughan presents a fundamentally domestic story of parents trying to give their child a good life, backed by a colossal, galactic war. He joins us this week to share why he enjoys storytelling on a grand scale. Vaughan also explains why writing stories about lesser-known comic characters -- like Marvel's weird wildman Ka-Zar -- can be preferable to writing about the big names like Spiderman, and he tracks how fatherhood has affected his writing.
This segment originally aired October 2012.
AV Club Head Writer Nathan Rabin and Managing Editor Kyle Ryan join us this week to give their pop culture picks. Kyle recommends checking out The Thermals' new album, Desperate Ground, a return to the band's loud, punk rock style. From the world of film, Nathan suggests checking out It's A Disaster, a black comedy on VOD and in select theaters about a group of friends dealing with a divorce and the approaching apocalypse.
What does the career trajectory of a lifelong political junkie look like? There are the obvious choices, like a major in Political Science, law school...maybe even a career in politics. But Armando Iannucci took a different path – one that led him to Oxford, an incomplete PhD, and work writing and producing comedy, like his acclaimed political satire The Thick of It and the feature film In the Loop.
Iannucci created a new take on American politics in the HBO comedy Veep. Now in its second season, the show follows a fictional Vice President (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) with lofty ambitions but little actual power. Veep showcases the comedy inherent in the struggle for the political upperhand, the constant panic and exhaustion. Seemingly small gaffes quickly escalate into ridiculous catastrophes. The show's dialogue is marked by careful attention to absurd politi-speak and some especially creative cursing.
Iannucci joins us to talk about the difference between UK and US politics, why he sympathizes with our elected officials, and conducting swearing research in Washington, D.C.
Billy Bragg performs politically-minded folk music with a punk rock edge, songs with a tone and attitude somewhere between Woody Guthrie and the Sex Pistols. But what led to him developing his voice as an artist?
As Bragg explains, one of the most pivotal moments in his life happened during his lunch break at a record store. He put on a record that changed his life: Bob Dylan's folk anthem The Times They Are A-Changin'.
Billy Bragg is currently touring the US. You can find dates and tickets through his website.
Most of us first knew Julia Louis-Dreyfus from her Emmy-winning role as Elaine on Seinfeld. Elaine flailed, fought, and danced her way into our hearts as the friend to "losers" Jerry, George and Kramer. But Louis-Dreyfus first arrived in entertainment fresh off her college comedy sketch group, as a repertory player in the Dick Ebersol-helmed cast of Saturday Night Live.
After Seinfeld, she went on to anchor several sitcoms, including The New Adventures of Old Christine, with delightful guest appearances on shows like Arrested Development and 30 Rock. Her career has now taken her to a different cast of skewed characters on HBO's Veep.
On Veep, Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, Vice President of the United States. Though the vice-presidency is a prestigious position, Meyer's day-to-day work is less than impressive. Her staff members claw at each other for power and prestige. She suffers awkward encounters with the media and consistent snubs from the President (a running gag on the show is Selina's off-hand question, "Did the President call?" The answer is usually no).
Julia Louis-Dreyfus joins us to talk about the similarities she's discovered between show business and politics, the boys' club that was SNL in the 80s, and a certain terrible dance that still haunts her to this day.
Veep airs on HBO on Sundays at 10/9 PM central.
Rap isn't poetry – it's its own thing. But, like poets, many of the best rappers imbue their lyrics with layers and layers of meaning. Need proof? Jesse suggests a close listen to Jay-Z's "Threat".
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, co-hosts of video game podcast The Indoor Kids, join us to share their favorite new releases. Their first pick is Ms. Splosion Man, an imaginative platformer newly available on iOS. (Think Super Mario meets spontaneous self-combustion.) For a lengthier experience, check out BioShock Infinite, which (literally) takes the first BioShock to even greater heights.
Nearly ten years have passed since the release of writer/director Shane Carruth's first low-budget film, a complex time travel movie called Primer. Film fans are still obsessed with teasing out the intricacies of the story, about a time-travel machine and the men who engineered the machine. But within that story, there are emotional and ethical struggles that keep the audience riveted -- a quality that's become a hallmark of Carruth's small but powerful filmography.
Carruth wrote, directed, starred and composed all of the music for Primer, and he had the same all-consuming roles in his new film, Upstream Color. The movie is just as difficult to explain as his first. Upstream Color's two lead characters seem to have a shared experience of bodily manipulation, and cling to that sameness because they have nothing else. The movie delves deeply into identity and loss, and comes through with a powerful emotional experience.
Shane Carruth joins us to talk about the upsides and downsides of independent filmmaking, why plot summary doesn't always get to a movie's heart, and the best James Bond movie that will never be made.
Upstream Color is in select theaters nationwide. The film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and on demand on May 7.
Kyle Kinane had a problem. He was craving fast food, but he'd had a little too much to drink. But he found a solution. It involved a little bit of ingenuity, a wallet's worth of cash, and a very patient cab driver.
Stanley Kubrick's movie The Shining made a huge cultural impression. It's a classic horror movie about the psychological tolls of isolation, the dissolution of a family, the Holocaust, and how Kubrick helped fake the moon landing.
Wait a second. The Holocaust? Moon landing? Yep. The new documentary Room 237 features increasingly eye-widening theories about the hidden subtexts of The Shining. Movies often inspire intense debate over authorial intent, but Kubrick's known perfectionism and deliberate filmmaking often take this discussion to another level.
Room 237's director Rodney Ascher sits down with us to discuss some of the film's more creative theories, as well as whether or not there's such a thing as too much interpretation.
Room 237 is out now in select theaters nationwide and available on video on-demand.
Pop music is usually for young people – what better audience is there for short, simple, high-energy music? But what does pop music sound like when it grows up? To answer that question, Jesse takes a look at a song by George Jones, called The Grand Tour.
It's the final week of MaxFunDrive! Visit maximumfun.org/donate to find out more and support this show.
This week's recommendations come from BoingBoing founder and Gweek host Mark Frauenfelder. His first suggestion is Bunk, a game for iOS that makes good use of your vocabulary, your friends, and your ability to convincingly make stuff up. Looking for something to read? He also suggests Marijuanamerica, a new book about a man who tours the US to understand America's love/hate relationship with pot.
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. He's headed out on the nearly 50-city "Shoes for Running" tour to support his newest release, 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.
MaximumFun's own McElroy Brothers provide advice to wayward individuals – some more wayward than others – on their weekly podcast, My Brother, My Brother and Me. This week, they're helping out Bullseye listeners with their pop-culture quandaries. For instance: are you allowed to like dubstep and be from the suburbs?
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.
More recently, she's been in HBO's critically-acclaimed biopic Temple Grandin and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, and she'll star in a Fox comedy pilot later this year.
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.
At first, Errol Morris's documentary Fast, Cheap & Out of Control looks like it's about four men and their professional occupations: a lion tamer, a topiarist, a roboticist, a scientist who studies naked mole rats. But the movie is about much more than just weird jobs.
Special thanks this week to FreeSound.org user juskiddink for the sound effects used during our BoatParty.biz promo.
It's the MaxFunDrive, April 1st - 12th! Visit maximumfun.org/donate to find out more and support this show.
Erik Adams and Claire Zulkey from The AV Club join us this week to talk about what you should be watching this spring. Erik's pick is Happy Endings, a great sitcom from ABC with undeservedly less-than-great ratings. And speaking of ABC sitcoms: Claire's recommendation is Suburgatory, a single-camera sitcom about a couple of Manhattanites who make the big move upstate.
Lily Tomlin has a remarkable range as an actress and comedian. Whether she's playing a precocious six-year-old on Laugh-In or a pill-popping sixty-six year old on HBO's Eastbound and Down; whatever character she plays, Lily inhabits her roles in a way that few performers can.
Now, she appears in the new film Admission, playing a tough second-wave feminist mom to an uptight college admissions officer played by Tina Fey. Though she may not have as much screen time as Fey, Tomlin made the most of the role (and insisted on the proper accoutrements, including a fake tattoo of founding feminist Bella Abzug).
Lily talks to us about shaping her role in Admission, the moment that she decided she wanted to be a professional actor...and yes, a certain YouTube-famous confrontation (link NSFW) with I Heart Huckabees director David O. Russell.
Admission is in theaters now.
But wait! There's more! Click here for an extended interview with Lily Tomlin for talk about how she develops her characters, coming out of the closet as a performer, and why her main priority as a comedian isn't getting laughs. And don't forget to share this one with your friends – it's too good to keep to yourself!
FOUND Magazine co-creator and editor Davy Rothbart is back again to share more pieces of lost and found ephemera: receipts, notes, and letters with stories behind them that we can only imagine...or laugh at.
Davy's new book of personal essays is called My Heart Is an Idiot. FOUND Magazine is on its eighth issue and posts new finds all the time on their website. If you've got a cool find, be sure to share it with them.
When Neil DeGrasse Tyson was a kid, he had a plan: he wanted to be an astrophysicist. But the adults around him had other plans. They thought he'd make a great athlete. But Neil stuck to his guns, and now he's one of the most famous astrophysicists in the world – heck, one of the only famous astrophysicists in the world.
But how did he persevere? Or, to use his words: why was it that he took the "path of most resistance" when there were plenty of other, easier paths around him? Ultimately, it was his passion for the universe itself that kept him going.
Neil joins us to talk about why he thinks the universe is more awesome than anything else...and to maybe try to help Jesse get over his fear of outer space.
Neil is the host of StarTalk, director of the Hayden Planetarium and the author of Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, out now in paperback.
This week, the big thing on Jesse's mind is baseball, specifically opening day – not just for the excitement of the game itself, but for the new beginnings it brings.
Hey Bullseye listeners... do us a favor, willya? Fill out our listener survey. We need to know who you are and what you think!
BoingBoing comics editor Brian Heater and MTV Geek's Alex Zalben are here to talk comics. Brian suggests checking out Peter Bagge's Other Stuff, a collection of the cartoonist's side projects since the 90s. Alex's pick is Relish: My Life In The Kitchen, a unique comic that's part memoir and part cookbook.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, NBC had a lot in common with...well, NBC today. The network was consistently behind in the ratings, with not a whole lot to lose. That might partially explain why a young executive named Warren Littlefield was able to approve a couple of shows that, on paper, didn’t look all that promising. One of them found itself with the lowest ratings in all of TV at the end of the first season. The other show was a family sitcom that ABC rejected, after executives there proclaimed that family sitcoms were dead. Not the best odds, right? But those two shows – Cheers and The Cosby Show, respectively – went on to become two of the most important sitcoms in television’s history, leading directly to the development of the Thursday night powerhouse that was Must-See TV.
Littlefield left NBC in 1998; since then, the network's fortunes have changed pretty dramatically and Must-See TV no longer exists for ANY channel. So Littlefield is taking a look back at NBC's glory years in an oral history called Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV, which was just released in paperback. Littlefield joins us to discuss how NBC's shows changed primetime, how the shows forged intimate connections with viewers, and the pleasures and sorrows of working with a pre-rehab Kelsey Grammer.
BUT WAIT -- there's more. If you want to know why Warren thinks Norm MacDonald was fired from SNL, or why he backed Leno as the successor to the Late Night throne... Listen here for an extended cut of our interview with him, and share it with your friends.
In Canonball, we take a flying leap into the canon of popular music. We're joined by professor and music writer Oliver Wang to talk about an Al Green album that deserves your attention. No, it's not Green's chart-topping record Let's Stay Together. Wang says that it was Al Green's followup to that album that really rattled him to his core.
Wang talks to us about 1973's I'm Still in Love with You, the record that created a new kind of soul music. Green's beautiful, if flawed voice, was merged with Willie Mitchell's innovative rhythm section and a new sound emerged.
You can find Oliver Wang's thoughts on soul rarities and more on his blog, Soul Sides.
Special thanks to Chris Berube, who edited Canonball for us this week.
What do you do when you’re mad? Not just a little miffed, but angry – so angry that you’re shaking? Jesse finds a way out through Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are.
Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing and the Gweek podcast joins us again this week to talk about some of his current favorite things. Mark suggests a turn at the multiplayer iPhone game Spaceteam, which is all about yelling techno-gibberish at friends. In the mood for something a little more quiet? Mark also recommends The Magazine, a minimalist, ad-free digital publication "for geeks and curious people."
Simon Rich got his first book deal in 2007. Since then, he’s published five books, received a nomination for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, contributed regular essays to the New Yorker, and worked on Saturday Night Live as a staff writer (which he recently left for a top-secret writing job at Pixar). How old is he? 29. Basically, Simon Rich has his act together.
The characters he writes about? Not so much. His latest book, The Last Girlfriend on Earth, is a collection of vignettes about lost characters coming to terms with love. And these aren’t your typical stories of romance and heartbreak; in true Simon Rich fashion, his stories make the mundane profound and vice-versa. (No one else can write a story about God’s girlfriend and follow it up with a touching monologue from a prophylactic’s POV.)
Simon sits down with Jesse to discuss the autobiographical elements of his stories, the appeal of writing from a child’s point of view, and how love is a lot like heroin.
Simon Rich’s new book of essays, The Last Girlfriend on Earth, is available in bookstores everywhere.
Digging through old stuff from your childhood can be a lot of different things – insightful, hilarious, wistful, nostalgic. But in comedian Eugene Mirman’s case, it was just embarrassing. In this clip from his latest special, Eugene describes a childhood relic, found in his parents’ basement.
Eugene Mirman’s new special, An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory, is now available as a combination CD/DVD.
Conventional wisdom amongst standup comics dictates that a crowd has to be on your side before you can make them laugh. It’s good general advice, but it’s not advice that Bill Burr follows – and he’s all the better for it.
Bill Burr’s comedy is, in a word, aggressive. It’s not just that he looks and sounds tough, qualities that have landed him voice acting work in Grand Theft Auto IV and guest appearances on Breaking Bad. Aggression and confrontation are at the core of Bill’s act; he’s not afraid to curse out unruly audience members or start a set with a joke that, in a lesser comic’s hands, might totally alienate a crowd. But his comedy isn’t all tough-guy machismo. He’s just as likely to direct a rant at himself as he is others, a quality that makes his work all the more hilarious and human.
Bill spoke with Jesse a few years ago to talk about Bill’s style of comedy, challenging himself and audiences in his act, and every performer’s most dreaded nightmare: having to follow a dog or child onstage.
This interview originally aired in October 2010.
On this week’s Outshot, Jesse tears the house down with a timeless live album. It’s Solomon Burke’s "Soul Alive."
Brian Heater of BoingBoing and Alex Zalben of MTV Geek join us to talk comics. Brian's pick is Wimbledon Green by Seth, an unusual and wonderful sketchbook story about "the greatest comic book collector in the world." Alex recommends Jason Brubaker's reMIND, a graphic novel about a woman and her cat, who mysteriously gains the ability to talk.
Almost everyone experiences trials and tribulations in childhood to come out as a reasonably functioning adult on the other side. But in the case of comedian Moshe Kasher, that change was virtually miraculous.
He was a child shuttled between two divorced deaf parents, a Hasidic father in New York and a hippie mother in Oakland. By the age of twelve, he'd been in psychoanalysis for eight years. He had a burgeoning interest in drugs. And he was just getting started. He's chronicled his early years in a memoir called Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16, and that title should give a good idea of the wild stories it contains. The book is engaging, redemptive, and wildly funny. We spoke to Moshe last year, and the book is out in paperback this month.
Moshe joins us to share stories from his upbringing, and shed some light on how he eventually got right and saved himself from addiction, anger, and violence.
This interview originally aired in March 2012.
Lateef the Truthspeaker is an Oakland MC and one of the founding members of the hip-hop collective / record label Quannum Projects, whose members include DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born and Blackalicious. He talks to us about the song that changed his life, Cloudburst, by the jazz group Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross.
Lateef and longtime collaborator Lyrics Born released a new EP, Disconnection, late last year under the name Latyrx. A full-length album is due out in 2013.
This segment originally aired in March 2012.
Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin are the directors behind the Academy Award-winning, emotionally-charged sports documentary Undefeated. The film follows a challenging season for the Manassas Tigers, an underdog football team in North Memphis, Tennessee. The Tigers had traditionally been a team with troubles both on and off the field. Its fortunes changed under volunteer coach Bill Courtney, dedicated not only to excellence on the field, but in fostering resilient players off of it. As Coach Courtney says, "There's a story under every helmet," and Undefeated tells a few of them.
Dan and T.J. talk to us about developing the story of the film, the challenges of shaping a narrative when the events unfolding are out of your control, and the experience of following a handful of teens throughout their senior year of high school.
After a long wait, Undefeated is now out on DVD and on VOD.
This interview originally aired in March 2012.
Jesse shines a light on one of the lesser-known members of Atlanta's Dungeon Family hip-hop collective. Witchdoctor (born Erin Johnson) might not be as famous as Family members OutKast, Cee-Lo Green or Goodie Mob, but his 1998 album A S.W.A.T. Healin' Ritual just might be the best record of its time and place.
This segment originally aired in March 2012.