Bullseye

Bullseye is a public radio show about what's good in popular culture. With a keen editorial eye, Bullseye sifts the wheat from the chaff, and brings you hot culture picks, in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary creative people and irreverent original comedy.

Bullseye is equal parts funny and fascinating. Whether you're already plugged in to the culture map, or looking for a signpost, Bullseye will keep you on target. More About Bullseye

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Chiwetel Ejiofor & Allison Jones

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Guests: 
Allison Jones

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

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Photo: Tim Whitby/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

"You’re Always Striving For Something": Chiwetel Ejiofor on 'Z for Zachariah', His Heritage and Getting 'Mamet-ed'

Chiwetel Ejiofor possesses a charisma on the screen that makes his characters both large and small to demand your attention. Whether he’s playing Othello, a drag queen in Kinky Boots or a free man forced into slavery in 12 Years a Slave, Ejiofor not only inhabits his characters but expresses their humanity in a sincere and honest fashion.

In his new movie, Z for Zachariah, Ejiofor plays one of only a handful of survivors of the apocalypse. He finds his way to an untouched valley, and struggles to find his place in this new world.

Ejiofor joins us to talk the cultural constructs of our everyday lives (and how they apply in a post-apocalyptic world), his Nigerian heritage, why being Oscar-nominated doesn't feel like the end-all, be-all of acting and what happened when he got into the jiu jitsu ring(!) with legendary playwright and director David Mamet.

Z for Zachariah is in theaters and available on VOD now.

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The Difference Between Who "Is" Funny and "Can Be" Funny: Allison Jones on Casting Comedy

If you're a comedy fan, chances are you love at least one of the following shows or films. Parks and Recreation? The Office? Freaks and Geeks? Arrested Development? Curb Your Enthusiasm? Almost any Judd Apatow movie? Bridesmaids?

There's a person behind the scenes who helped put some of your favorite comedy actors on camera, and her name is Allison Jones. She's the go-to casting director for Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, and helped shape the face of comedy TV and film as we know it. She even discovered the awkward high school kid who would become McLovin.

She specializes in finding the kind of actor who "is funny" rather than ones who "can be funny" -- she'll explain the difference and why it matters.
Jones joins us to talk about her most memorable auditions (going way back to Family Ties), the challenges in casting funny women, and her own formative comedy experiences.

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The Outshot: Jimmy Witherspoon

Jesse explains what jump blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon can add to the discussion around race in America.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Jemaine Clement & Jonathan Ames

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Jemaine Clement
Guests: 
Jonathan Ames

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.


Photo credit: Jesse Thorn

Jemaine Clement on Fighting, Flight of the Conchords, and Comic Drama in People Places Things

Jemaine Clement’s upbringing in a small community in New Zealand could have led him to career making cookies or cheese. Instead he found a way to transform his sense of humor into a career making other stuff -- things like music and comedy.

Along with his partner, Bret McKenzie, he is a member of musical comedy duo, Flight of the Conchords which aired as a television show for two seasons on HBO. Clement has also written and produced with McKenzie and other longtime collaborators on movies like What We Do in the Shadows.

He stars in the new movie People Places Things, about a graphic novelist and professor who's grappling with loneliness and fatherhood in the wake of a breakup. The film is in theaters and available on VOD.

Clement join us to talk about working in the comic drama People Places Things, his early comedic influences back in New Zealand, the challenges he faced producing a television show, and how the word “grommet” resulted in his last physical altercation.

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Photo credit: Jesse Thorn

Jonathan Ames on Valets, Questing and 'Blunt Talk'

Jonathan Ames is a writer who has earned a reputation for ruthless honesty when writing about his own life and those of his fictional characters. Whether the topic is alcoholism, sexuality or depression, Ames’ books and television projects delve deeply into what it means to be human, with wit and care.

Ames created the beloved HBO show Bored to Death. Now, he's the creator and showrunner of the new Starz show Blunt Talk, featuring Patrick Stewart as cable news host Walter Blunt.

Blunt Talk airs Saturday nights at 9 on the Starz network.

Ames sat down with Jesse to talk about how he came to create his new show, why he's obsessed with the "valet", and why his characters are constantly "questing" with greater purpose.

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The Outshot: The 'Who Moved My Cheese' Incident

Our takeaway? ALWAYS BE PREPARED.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: 'Playing House' & Hari Kondabolu

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CLICK HERE FOR A DIRECT DOWNLOAD OF THIS EPISODE.


Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham of Playing House: Improv in the Writers' Room, Showing Real Friendships on TV, and 'Girl Porn'

Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham play best friends on TV, and if their on-screen chemistry seems real, it is. They met doing improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and have been writing partners ever since. They co-created and star in Playing House, a sitcom about female friendship that's more reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel than it is Carrie Bradshaw's gang.

Playing House follows Emma and Maggie, two women who have been friends forever. Maggie stayed in their hometown, got married, and is expecting a baby. Emma has been professionally ambitious, closing business deals in Shanghai, and hasn't been back to visit for what must be years.

Parham and St. Clair join us to talk about the marathon improv sessions that produce the show's jokes, the designer home "girl porn" that provides contrast to their characters' weirdness, and their real-life friendship.

Playing House airs on the USA network Tuesday nights at 10/9c. It's now in its second season.

This interview originally aired April 29, 2014.

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Canonball with Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell: King Crimson’s 'In The Court of the Crimson King'

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.

No one says The Rolling Stones don’t belong in the pop music canon. But what about Genesis? Or Yes? What about the prog rockers? The music wasn’t down and dirty, and the songs weren’t pop-radio short. Sometimes they were downright long. But prog has always had its loyalists.

This week Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell, the editors of the prog rock anthology Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog Rock Tales), explain why the King Crimson album In The Court of the Crimson King is a classic, and how it laid the foundation for a whole genre. They’ll explain how these classically trained musicians mixed flutes, horns, blues riffs, and synthesizers to create this face melting album.

Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog Rock Tales) is now available in paperback.

This segment originally aired June 10, 2014.

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Hari Kondabolu: 'Waiting for 2042' and Stand Up Comedy with Required Reading

Hari Kondabolu is a stand up comedian. You might have seen him on the late, great Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. He's also performed stand up on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Show with David Letterman.

Hari didn't think he would be a comedian. He thought that he was going to law school. Then somewhere between taking an Americorps Job organizing immigrants in Seattle and taking the LSAT, things changed direction. He transitioned into stand-up comedy.

Hari talks to us about the unique profile of his fans, how he fits into the "alternative" comedy scene, and how he actually got into a discussion about the racism of Apu from The Simpsons with Hank Azaria -- the real voice of Apu.

His debut album, Waiting for 2042, is available through BandCamp and iTunes.

This interview originally aired July 22, 2014.

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The Outshot: The Everyday Wonder of 'American Splendor'

Jesse explains why Harvey Pekar makes putting one foot in front of the other feel like something special.

This segment originally aired July 22, 2014.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Keegan-Michael Key & Tituss Burgess

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Keegan-Michael Key
Guests: 
Tituss Burgess

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Photo credit: Jesse Thorn

Keegan-Michael Key on Race and Comedy and Why 'Key & Peele' Is Coming to an End

Keegan-Michael Key’s comedy is inexorably tied with his experiences straddling cultural and racial lines as a young man in the Midwest, and he became a keen observer of his surroundings as a child.

His work with his partner Jordan Peele on the Comedy Central show Key & Peele has earned Key Emmy nominations in five categories including Outstanding Variety sketch series, Writing for a Variety Series, Writing for a Variety Special, Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program, and Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

Key & Peele's final season is airing now.

Key sits down with Jesse to talk about the differences of approaching comedy from stand up or improv backgrounds, why it’s so easy to immerse himself in distinctive characters like the substitute teacher Mr. Garvey, and why Key & Peele's fifth season will be its last.

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Photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images


Tituss Burgess on Being 'Titus Andromedon' on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Following Your Instincts

Tituss Burgess is an actor who has pursued the truth within himself and his performances. Whether it's been in a church choir or on the Broadway stage, Burgess is ready to give it his all.

His successful audition for a small recurring role on 30 Rock put him on Tina Fey's radar, and he's since been cast as Titus Andromedon on the Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Burgess's performance on the show has earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is available for streaming on Netflix.

Burgess joins us to discuss his early days growing up in Georgia, inhabiting the character of Titus Andromedon on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and how he contended with a broken microphone while performing live at the Tony Awards.

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The Outshot: Fletch

Jesse explores the top-notch bluffing going on in this week's recommendation, the 1985 Chevy Chase movie Fletch.

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Wet Hot American Summer's David Wain & Michael Showalter

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
David Wain
Guests: 
Michael Showalter
Guests: 
Keith Powell

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Photos: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Wet Hot American Summer's David Wain and Michael Showalter Return to Camp Firewood

In Hollywood, there are no shortage of films that have proven to be economic failures. And then there's one that was so polarizing that Roger Ebert was inspired to express his hatred of the film in a parody of Allen Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh". Wet Hot American Summer survived both a lackluster theatrical release and Ebert's overwhelming negative review, and has lived on to earn a cult following. It's now been revived as an 8-part television series on Netflix.

The co-writers of the original film, David Wain and Michael Showalter, have again joined forces to make Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, as has most of the original cast, including Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Elizabeth Banks, plus a host of new faces.

Wain and Showalter join us to discuss their new series and how their inspiration for the original film was more 'Do The Right Thing' than 'Meatballs'; how they coped with negative reviews and their treasured memories of camp.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is available to stream on Netflix.

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"I Wish I'd Made That": Keith Powell on 'Network'

What can you take away from a satire of news networks as an eleven-year-old? If you're Keith Powell, the answer is kind of a lot.
For our ongoing series, "I Wish I'd Made That", actor and director Keith Powell joins us to talk about his first and subsequent viewings of the 1976 movie Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet.
Keith's new webseries is called Keith Broke His Leg.
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The Outshot: Andy Daly's "Review"

Andy Daly's Comedy Central show Review explores the essential qualities of the self (through experiences like getting divorced, becoming a racist, and eating fifteen pancakes in a row).

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: What Happened, Miss Simone? & Oliver Wang

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Liz Garbus
Guests: 
Oliver Wang

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.


Photo: Monty Fresco/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus Explores the Passionate Life of Nina Simone

Nina Simone pursued freedom in her politics, her music and her personal life. Yet, it was something that often eluded her when she wasn’t on stage. Struggles with bi-polar disorder, a complex and often violent marriage and a legacy of racism caused her great pain, but these same things also shaped her into one of the most quintessential performers of her generation.

Filmmaker Liz Garbus’ documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, reveals the life of the performer using an exhaustive collection of archival material, interviews and even excerpts from Simone’s personal diaries. The result is a film that reveals an artist in all her complexity, a woman whose ability to be simultaneously vulnerable and powerful helped define her as a voice of her generation.

Garbus joins us to discuss Simone’s beginnings as a child prodigy in the Jim Crow south; how the civil right moment changed Simone’s professional and personal life; and how the contradictions that make a human being made Nina Simone truly unforgettable.

Liz Garbus’ film What Happened, Miss Simone? is now available to stream on Netflix.

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Oliver Wang on the Rise of the Filipino Mobile DJ Crews

If you don't know about the dozens of Filipino mobile DJ crews that rocked garage parties, weddings, birthdays, school dances and showcases in the Bay Area during the 1970s to 1990s, you're not alone. The DJs who made up these crews were mostly teenagers, initially inspired by what they heard and saw at nightclubs. They even tended to fly under the radar at school or outside of their Filipino communities. Yet their work is an important, if understudied part of the history of turntablism.

Academic, journalist and DJ Oliver Wang spent nearly fifteen years researching and interviewing these crews to spotlight a scene that created a foundation for famed scratch DJs like DJ Qbert, Mix Master Mike and DJ Shortkut. Wang's new book on the subject is called Legions of Boom.

Wang joins us to talk about what these mobile DJs borrowed from the discos of the 1970s, how continuous mixing ensured the party would go on, and why the California-style two car garage became the perfect place for that party.

Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area is available now. You can hear Oliver Wang on our pop culture sister podcast, Pop Rocket, every week.

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The Outshot: The Promise of Summer

Jesse explains how The Hold Steady's "Constructive Summer" seems to capture the season's essence.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: What Happened, Miss Simone? & Oliver Wang

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Liz Garbus
Guests: 
Oliver Wang

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.


Photo: Monty Fresco/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus Explores the Passionate Life of Nina Simone

Nina Simone pursued freedom in her politics, her music and her personal life. Yet, it was something that often eluded her when she wasn’t on stage. Struggles with bi-polar disorder, a complex and often violent marriage and a legacy of racism caused her great pain, but these same things also shaped her into one of the most quintessential performers of her generation.

Filmmaker Liz Garbus’ documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, reveals the life of the performer using an exhaustive collection of archival material, interviews and even excerpts from Simone’s personal diaries. The result is a film that reveals an artist in all her complexity, a woman whose ability to be simultaneously vulnerable and powerful helped define her as a voice of her generation.

Garbus joins us to discuss Simone’s beginnings as a child prodigy in the Jim Crow south; how the civil right moment changed Simone’s professional and personal life; and how the contradictions that make a human being made Nina Simone truly unforgettable.

Liz Garbus’ film What Happened, Miss Simone? is now available to stream on Netflix.

If you liked this, let someone know! Click here to share this interview with a friend.

Oliver Wang on the Rise of the Filipino Mobile DJ Crews

If you don't know about the dozens of Filipino mobile DJ crews that rocked garage parties, weddings, birthdays, school dances and showcases in the Bay Area during the 1970s to 1990s, you're not alone. The DJs who made up these crews were mostly teenagers, initially inspired by what they heard and saw at nightclubs. They even tended to fly under the radar at school or outside of their Filipino communities. Yet their work is an important, if understudied part of the history of turntablism.

Academic, journalist and DJ Oliver Wang spent nearly fifteen years researching and interviewing these crews to spotlight a scene that created a foundation for famed scratch DJs like DJ Qbert, Mix Master Mike and DJ Shortkut. Wang's new book on the subject is called Legions of Boom.

Wang joins us to talk about what these mobile DJs borrowed from the discos of the 1970s, how continuous mixing ensured the party would go on, and why the California-style two car garage became the perfect place for that party.

Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area is available now. You can hear Oliver Wang on our pop culture sister podcast, Pop Rocket, every week.

If you liked this, let someone know! Click here to share this interview with a friend.

The Outshot: The Promise of Summer

Jesse explains how The Hold Steady's "Constructive Summer" seems to capture the season's essence.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Shamir & Pete Rock

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Pete Rock
Guests: 
Shamir

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.

Shamir: Adding Light to Darkness With His Music

Shamir is a musician who is really hard to pin down…literally. His countertenor voice adds a distinctive flair to his infectious, sometimes poignant dance music but it’s a quality that’s also led to confrontations with classmates who were unaware of his Taekwondo training.

With his debut LP, Ratchet, Shamir draws inspiration from his life in Las Vegas, a Vegas that has nothing to do with The Strip. Instead, it’s a different Vegas that includes tumbleweeds and the distinctive odor of a hog farm. It’s a life that touches on the passion of youth, but also explores the pain of age and loss.

As Shamir describes it, “I kind of decided to make my music more danceable and lighthearted to take away from the heaviness of the lyrics. Because why not, why does your music also have to be heavy if your lyrics are?”

Shamir joins us this week to share: how he has constructed a creative identity in a city known for producing more entertainers than artists; how his love for country music inspired him; and how his mother’s proclivity for earth magic isn't quite his thing.

Shamir's newest album is called Ratchet. He's embarking on a U.S. tour this fall. You can find more on his website.

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Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Hip Hop Producer Pete Rock on Finding & Shaping the Perfect Sample

The revolutionary hip hop producer Pete Rock grew up in a house full of records, mentally cataloging the songs that excited him. His parents listened to all kinds of music, from jazz to classical to funk. Years later, he would reach back into his brain and record collection to select and transform the perfect sample.

He started out as half of the hip-hop duo Pete Rock and CL Smooth, later going solo and collaborating with and producing for many of the biggest names in rap, from Nas to Kanye West.

Pete Rock joins us to talk about his earliest music memories, meeting James Brown as an elementary-schooler, and how he took a sample from an album called "The Honeysuckle Breeze" and used it to create a classic hip hop track.

Pete Rock's new album of instrumentals is Petestrumentals 2.

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The Outshot: Summertime Jams

Jesse counts down his top five Summertime jams.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Judy Greer & Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces

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CLICK HERE FOR A DIRECT DOWNLOAD OF THIS EPISODE.

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Judy Greer on Always Being the Co-Star and Midwestern Modesty

Judy Greer engages in fan-profiling. It sounds kind of sketchy, but before you get upset -- know that it's nothing bad. It's just a useful tool. Strangers stop her in the street, or at the airport, or in coffee shops all the time. It's always a variation on the same question... "What do I know you from?" And they won't let her go until she can help them solve the riddle.

She's an actress, so they probably know her from one of her many roles as "the best friend", in a movie like The Wedding Planner or Thirteen Going on Thirty. Or maybe they recognize her from her role as the slightly unhinged secretary Kitty Sanchez in Arrested Development. It could be any number of things, since Greer has almost a hundred credits on her IMDb page.

She rarely plays the lead, however, and so people often don't know her name.

Greer joins us this week to talk about love for the animated series Archer, the modest Midwestern roots that never allow her to turn down a role, and the freedom she finds in not being the leading lady -- and of course, she'll fan-profile our host, Jesse. Her book I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star is available now in paperback.

Greer co-stars in the FX series Married, which begins its second season this week.

This interview originally aired in May 2014.

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Ishmael Butler on the Short Life of Digable Planets and the Cosmic Hip Hop of Shabazz Palaces

In the early 1990s, the hip hop group Digable Planets broke through with their single "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)". The single was jazzy and laid-back, and became a crossover hit. The trio were pegged by some as a counterpoint to gangsta rap, but they didn't love the efforts to categorize their sound. They went further on their next boundary-pushing release, the classic record Blowout Comb. The album was critically acclaimed, but didn't sell well, and the group drifted apart shortly afterward.

Founding member Ishmael Butler was only in his mid 20s when Digable Planets broke up. And so he tried other things, like filmmaking. He still made music, but the releases were few and far between. A few years ago, he teamed up with Tendai Maraire to form a new group called Shabazz Palaces.

Shabazz Palaces' most recent release is called Lese Majesty, and it expands on their interstellar sound. Shabazz Palaces is playing shows and festivals across the U.S. this summer and fall.

Butler spoke to us about his days as a indie label gopher, the awkward audition Digable Planets had to endure for a record company executive, and the the transformative sounds of Shabazz Palaces.

This interview originally aired in August 2014.

The Outshot: Orson Welles and 'Touch of Evil'

Jesse explains why the last Hollywood picture Orson Welles directed, Touch of Evil, tells us so much about Welles as an artist.

This segment originally aired in August 2014.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Penelope Spheeris & Bhi Bhiman

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Penelope Spheeris
Guests: 
Bhi Bhiman

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

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Photo courtesy Shout! Factory

Penelope Spheeris Unveils the Worlds of Punk, Hair Metal in 'The Decline of Western Civilization'

Penelope Spheeris says that she loved punk rock when she first heard it in the 1970s because "the chaos was attractive and familiar to me." She directed, filmed and organized that chaos, spending time with LA punk bands Black Flag, the Germs, and X among others, for her movie The Decline of Western Civilization. She strived to show everything -- the good and bad -- and let the audience decide how they felt about the people on-screen.

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years focused on the over-the-top lifestyles and big dreams of hair metal bands in the late 1980s. And the third film in Spheeris' Decline series went deep into the world of gutter punks in the 1990s.

After many years of VHS-to-DVD bootlegging, the Decline films are now available together for the first time in a box set on Blu-Ray and DVD from Shout! Factory, with a collection of bonus materials and commentaries produced by Spheeris and her daughter, Anna Fox.

Spheeris talks to us about the chaos in her own upbringing, the worlds of punk and metal as depicted in her documentaries, and directing a little feature film called Wayne's World.

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Bhi Bhiman on Slyly Subverting the Folk Rocker Stereotype

The Sri Lankan-American singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman encounters some challenges when he goes on-stage. As he tells it, " I have a couple of things going against me. I’m South Asian looking, I’m playing acoustic guitar and singing and as a general rule people just don’t want to see that. But I have to work up hill against that."

Bhiman's newest album Rhythm & Reason is loosely themed around the immigrant experience, but it's not as earnest as that sounds. He's got a Randy Newman thing going on, too.

Bhiman talks to us about not fitting people's expectations of a folk singer with a guitar, his inspirations for the new album, and why he's got love for the Newm.

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The Outshot: Falling in Love with Catastrophe

"What does romance mean when you're a fully formed adult human being?" Jesse explains why he's sold on the new romantic comedy Catastrophe.

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