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.
The AV Club's Music Editor Marah Eakin and Head Writer Nathan Rabin discuss a few of their all-time favorite albums. Marah is a fan of the layered, sampled feel of Fleetwood Mac's post-Rumors album, Tusk. Nathan Rabin suggests a listen to Warren Zevon's intimate but ferocious live album Stand in the Fire.
Like a lot of funny people, Aisha Tyler often found herself on the outside looking in as a kid. She was the only black girl in her school and thought of herself as kind of a geek... Standing six-feet tall by third grade didn't help things, either. Ultimately, feeling out of place gave her the feeling that she could survive anything -- and the confidence to pursue performance. She's since performed stand up, hosted E!'s Talk Soup, appeared on CSI, 24, Friends...and even competed on an episode of Jeopardy.
She also has a starring role on the FX animated series Archer, where she voices Lana Kane, a beautiful and brilliant secret agent who plays the straight man to her idiot co-workers.
Aisha joins us to talk about her choice to do comedy in her own voice, the challenges of voice acting, and about living a real-life version of Fame in high school.
Archer airs on Thursdays at 10/9c on FX. The show is in its fourth season; it was just renewed for a fifth. Aisha will host The CW’s reboot of Whose Line Is It Anyway? this summer. You can also catch Aisha at a performance of Archer Live!.
This interview originally aired in January 2012.
You'd think that God would be pretty focused on the choice of a new Pope right about now. But might some of that attention be diverted to.... spring training? Has the Almighty ever swayed athletic outcomes? Does He care for sports at all? Get the straight truth from The Man Himself (as relayed to David Javerbaum). The answer may surprise you.
This excerpt is from The Last Testament: A Memoir By God, with David Javerbaum.
David Javerbaum is an Emmy-winning comedy writer and former executive producer of The Daily Show. You can see more of his work with God on Twitter @TheTweetofGod.
Our voice of God is provided by comedian Seth Morris, who is also on Twitter at @SethISMorris.
This segment originally aired in April 2012.
Here's one way a musical artist can succeed: artist records album, sends it off to the label, label rejects album, album is leaked online, fans and critics love album, artist goes independent.
That's exactly what happened to jazz and soul singer Bilal, who wanted to follow up his debut album, 1st Born Second, with something a little more experimental. That album (titled Love For Sale) was never officially released, which left a nine-year gap between his debut record and his second album, Airtight's Revenge. That album earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
The wait between Bilal albums this time around is a little more manageable: his new album, A Love Surreal, was just released last week. It's a beautiful, headspinning collision between 1960s soul and modern hip-hop, sounding like neither the past or the present.
We spoke with Bilal back in 2010 right around when Airtight's Revenge was released. Bilal talked to us about his high school identity, growing up with jazz music, and his choice to go wild on Jay Leno.
Bilal's new album, A Love Surreal, is available now.
This interview originally aired in September 2010.
Looking for the perfect cold open? Jesse's found it. Newsradio. Season 2, Episode 9.
The pop culture luminaries at the AV Club return to recommend some of their favorite new releases. Josh Modell suggests a listen to the new album Amok from Atoms for Peace, a supergroup featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Scott Tobias recommends a new Romanian drama, Beyond the Hills. The movie enters limited US release on March 8th.
Josh Modell is the AV Club's Managing Editor and Scott Tobias is the site's Film Editor.
When he was a kid growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Andrew Rannells never pictured his face beaming out to millions of television screens. He loved acting, but his future was on the stage. The most realistic way to make it big? Broadway.
Now, he's garnered a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Elder Price in the Broadway run of The Book of Mormon and made his way to TV, co-starring in The New Normal on NBC and popping up as a regular on HBO's Girls.
Andrew talks to us about growing up gay in Nebraska, finding his characters' voices for The Book of Mormon and The New Normal -- and how to avoid uncomfortable moments when
filming nude scenes.
The New Normal airs Tuesdays at 9:30 / 8:30c on NBC. A new episode, "Rocky Bye Baby", airs this evening.
Thao Nguyen fronts the folk-pop band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. The band's new album, We The Common, has an intense and spirited sound. The songs feature rhythmic guitar, taut drums, and Nguyen's clear and passionate vocals.
Thao remembers when music became important to her and the song that changed her life -- Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me."
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down head out on a cross-country tour this week. Find their tourdates and more information here.
Jim Lehrer anchored the Newshour on PBS for more than three decades and remains its executive editor to this day. He's also moderated twelve presidential debates and in 2011 he wrote a memoir about those experiences called Tension City. Yet another hat that Lehrer wears is that of a novelist. He's written 20 of them, the most recent of which is a charming mystery called Super.
Lehrer talks to us about his early job at a bus depot, the benefits of producing media on a tight budget, and the role public broadcasting ought to play in the future.
[This interview originally aired in May, 2010]
Jesse suggests a look at his favorite Mike Judge creation. It's not Beavis and Butthead, and it's not Office Space. It's a low-key workplace comedy starring Jason Bateman, called Extract.
This week, a live recording of Bullseye, held at the Punchline Comedy Club as part of SF Sketchfest.
The San Francisco Chronicle's pop culture critic, Peter Hartlaub, joins us to share some of his favorite San Francisco films.
He recommends Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation for its realistic depiction of San Francisco, as well as the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which, in spite of its terrifying story, might give San Francisco's public transit planners some food for thought.
Peter Hartlaub writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and blogs about pop culture at The Big Event.
You'd think that it'd be almost impossible to tell stories about architecture and design in a completely invisible medium, but Roman Mars makes it work. The public radio host and producer's stories show that design is everywhere – he's produced stories about the unintentional music of escalators, failed prison designs, and reclusive monks who make the best beer in the world.
These stories are all a part of 99% Invisible, "a tiny radio show about design" that Roman hosts and produces. The show is truly tiny; it airs for only five minutes on a handful of public radio stations, including KALW. But the podcast is another story. Episodes of the podcast version of 99% Invisible are longer and more detailed – and they reach a much larger audience. Last year, Roman led a massive Kickstarter campaign to fund the show's third season. Fans gave more than $170,000, making it the most successful journalism Kickstarter to date.
Roman joins Jesse onstage to discuss his theory of creativity, his reasons for exchanging his dream of becoming a scientist for a career in public radio, and his Doogie Houser-esque college experience.
99% Invisible is available on iTunes and Soundcloud. You can follow Roman on Twitter at @RomanMars.
Why did God invent the internet? Steve Agee has an idea. It's probably not what you think.
Steve Agee is a writer, actor, and standup comedian. He's a former writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and appeared as Steve Myron on the beloved Sarah Silverman Program.
You can follow him on Twitter at @SteveAgee.
Boots Riley's life has always been about change, and never about complacency. He was already an leftist activist in high school, staging walkouts on school grounds, and he followed his parents' lead into community organizing. He was immersed in rap and hip hop in his hometown of Oakland, California, but didn't make the connection between the power of music and activism for several years.
Boots has fronted the hip hop group The Coup for over two decades as an MC and producer, and the group's positive, funky, and danceable music is still clearly message-driven in 2013. Their lyrics confront injustice, police brutality, and the rise of corporatism with aggressive wit. The group released a new album, Sorry to Bother You, late last year.
Boots talked to us about why he thinks an active engagement with world makes life worth living, finding humor in the disturbing reality of poverty and injustice, and what he learned from his time in, of all things, telemarketing.
What says "Bay Area" to you? For Jesse, it's all about I Got 5 On It by the Luniz – specifically, the Bay Ballers remix.
Brian Heater and Alex Zalben join us this week to share some comics picks. Alex suggests you check out Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon, a superhero comic about everyday stuff -- like attending a BBQ. Brian recommends Anders Nilsen's Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, a very moving pastiche of a couple's relationship.
George Saunders could have been a geophysicist. In fact, he was one. He graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and worked in the oil fields of Sumatra. He came to fiction writing a little later in life, attending Syracuse University's creative writing program (where he now teaches).
Saunders is now well-recognized as one of the greatest short story writers and satirists of our time. He's been awarded a MacArthur "Genius" grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship, along with piles of literary accolades for his collections, which include Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. His stories often explore a world much like our own, just slightly more grotesque -- societies that are terrifying and recognizable. His writing is incisive, sad, and also really funny. His new collection, Tenth of December, is out now.
Saunders talks to us about how people interpret luck and what they do with it, drawing inspiration from a disturbing dream, and unyielding financial pressure (the kind that doesn't even lift when you win a major award).
Maria Bamford's comedy is weird and wonderfully distinctive. She's just released a new special, recorded at her home, where she performs a stand up set with breaks "off-stage" to take cookies out of the oven and administer medicine to her pet pug. Her comedy takes on a number of difficult issues, ones that are personal to her -- mental illness, suicidal thoughts, or tough family dynamics (she describes her family's favorite pastime as "Joy Whack-a-Mole"). But she doesn't use humor as a shield. She uses it to confront an issue, point-blank.
Bamford talks to us about why she chose to perform a special in front of her parents, processing awful experiences or feelings into jokes, and why she describes herself as "the orchid of comedy".
The Special Special Special is available now. Her new Comedy Central CD / DVD special, Ask Me About My New God, is due out later this year.
Jesse ruminates on alone time and... William Carlos Williams' "Danse Russe".
It’s official: starting in April, Bullseye with Jesse Thorn will be distributed by National Public Radio! This is the culmination of months and months of meetings, negotiations and planning, and we’re so, so proud to make it public today. (And so, so proud of the sweet illustration that we just made (above).)
We’re excited to be joining forces with the big dogs in public radio, and excited that we’ll no longer have to spend like half of every conversation at every cocktail party explaining the complicated square-rectangle relationship between “public radio” and “NPR.” (From now on, we can just be all, “yup, I do a show on NPR.” It’s gonna be great.)
We’ll be on the same team as our all-time favorites like Terry Gross and Brooke Gladstone, and our new jack favorites like Glynn Washington and Jad Abumrad. It’s an ideal situation.
If you’re a longstanding Bullseye listener, you’ve got nothing to worry about. The show will continue to be produced independently by MaximumFun.org, but now we’ll also have the cachet and manpower of NPR helping us to bring it to public radio stations around the country. Our hope is that this partnership will mean a better show, better guests and a bigger station lineup.
This is the next chapter in a story that started at my college radio station when I was 19. Twelve years later, I think our show is the best it’s ever been, and now we’re in position to take advantage of that fact.
As a great American once said… haters don’t be mad, ‘cause it’s all about progression… loiterers should be arrested.
Andrew Noz joins us this week to talk about throwback 90s sounds and a rapper gone viral on Youtube. He talks to us about the DC-based Ras Nebyu's "Washington Slizzards" and Chief Keef's "Laughin' to the Bank".
W. Kamau Bell wants to talk to you about race. And about urban inequality, and politics, and Spider Man too. He came to his own brand of sociopolitical comedy after working as a comic for years, eventually shaping his work into a one-man show in which he promised to "end racism in about an hour."
A lucky break with an audience member at one of those shows – Chris Rock, to be precise – landed Bell his own TV talk show, called Totally Biased. He joins us to talk about transitioning into the talk show world, the sweet spot of gentrification, and remaining true to his own comedic voice.
Totally Biased airs Thursday nights at 11pm on FX.
(Embed or share this interview with W. Kamau Bell)
This segment originally aired on September 4th, 2012.
Singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell had one of those experiences as a kid that was a hallmark of experiencing music before the internet. She heard a song she liked, went out to the record store, and picked an album by the same artist. The problem? It sounded totally uncool, and not at all like the song she'd heard. It did, however, open her up to a whole new way of listening to music.
Eleni talks to us about the song that changed her life, Tom Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues." Eleni grew up in Los Angeles loving both punk rockers X and folk rocker Bob Dylan, and her own music mixes airy vocals with 60s pop, country, and folk sounds.
(Embed or share Eleni Mandell on the Song that Changed Her Life)
This segment originally aired on September 4th, 2012.
Mike Birbiglia knows his own story pretty well by now. After struggling as a stand up, he started working some personal details from his life into his comedy. Some of it was pretty standard, like wrapping his head around the idea of getting married to his longtime girlfriend. And some of it was less familiar stuff, like running out of a window while sleepwalking.
Birbiglia went on transform these thoughts into a one-man show, a book, and finally, a movie. And although talking about the subject matter was second nature, directing a movie about it was not. He joins us to discuss being a first-time director, the difficulty of delivering stand up in a casual, easy way, and why he considered long-lasting marriage to be a totally foreign concept.
(Embed or share this interview with Mike Birbiglia)
This segment originally aired on September 4th, 2012.
Jesse recommends the ESPN documentary Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks for a look at a volatile shooting guard, an intense basketball rivalry, and some courtside conversations with Spike Lee.
(Embed or share The Outshot: Winning Time)
This segment originally aired on September 4th, 2012.
Are you a sports fanatic with a favorite doc? Head on over to the MaxFun forum and pick your own Outshot.