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Bullseye With Jesse Thorn: Stephen Merchant, Co-Creator Of Hello Ladies and The Office

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Stephen Merchant
Guests: 
Carolyn Kellogg
Guests: 
Myq Kaplan

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Why Stephen Merchant Can't (And Won't) Please Everyone

With the debut of the original U.K. version of "The Office", the show's co-creators Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais helped usher in a new era of awkward realism in comedy television.

Merchant began his career with a plan: a day job in radio, with plenty of time in the evening to do stand up comedy and other projects. But once he met Ricky Gervais, a series of events led to creation of the pilot episode of The Office, and you might know what happened from there.

Merchant is a connoisseur of honest, uncomfortable, this-is-what-real-life-unfortunately-sometimes-feels-like moments. He's translated this talent into a stream of hilarious television series. Working with friend and regular collaborator Ricky Gervais, Merchant has created and written for Extras, Life's Too Short, and The Ricky Gervais Show. His new comedy, Hello Ladies, was inspired by Merchant's dating misadventures and his own stand up comedy.

Merchant tells us about creating the cultural colossus that is The Office, the comfort he finds in being a "historian of comedy", and the real life worst date he's ever had.

Hello Ladies premieres Sunday September 29 on HBO.

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Carolyn Kellogg Bets On Adonis for Nobel Prize and Recommends Jonathan Lethem's "Dissident Gardens"

Carloyn Kellogg, book critic and staff writer for the LA Times, joins us to recommend some best bets from the world of literature.

Next month, the tight-lipped Nobel Committee will be announcing their annual prize for literature. Kellogg has her money on the Syrian poet Adonis, a major figure in Arabic poetry for the past fifty years. A collection of his poetry, Adonis: Selected Poems, was translated by Khaled Mattawa.

Carolyn also recommends Jonathan Lethem's new novel about multiple generations of political revolutionaries in New York, Dissident Gardens.

Read more of Carolyn's writing on books, authors, and publishing at the LA Times' blog .

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Myq Kaplan: Meat Robot

Comedian Myq Kaplan wants your advice on a problem that his "friend" is having.

His recent stand-up album Meat Robot is available now.

The Outshot: Why "I Want You Back" Is The Greatest Pop Song Ever

There's really only one way to prove "I Want You Back" is the greatest pop song ever: listen.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Simon Amstell and Brian K. Vaughan

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Simon Amstell
Guests: 
Brian K. Vaughan
Guests: 
Jordan Morris
Guests: 
Erik Adams
Guests: 
Claire Zulkey

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All-Time TV Favorites: Spaced and Twin Peaks

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.

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Simon Amstell on provoking Jermaine Jackson, his shamanic quest to find peace, and television fame

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.

Simon Amstell returns to the US in early May to perform his stand-up special, Numb, along the west coast. You can find tour dates and more info about Simon at his website.

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Jordan Morris ranks America's stuff

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.

Jordan Morris co-hosts the podcast Jordan, Jesse, Go!. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jordan_Morris.
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Brian K. Vaughan on creation, from babies to universes

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.

Volume One of Saga is available in bookstores and digitally at Comixology. Volume Two is available for pre-order; it will be released on July 9.

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The Outshot: The Dirtbombs' "Ultraglide in Black"

This segment originally aired October 2012.

Rage, garage punk, and R&B. The Dirtbombs' music has it all, and Jesse suggests you check out their album Ultraglide in Black.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Benedict Cumberbatch, Morgan Webb, Craig Finn and Jason Kottke

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Benedict Cumberbatch
Guests: 
Morgan Webb
Guests: 
Craig Finn
Guests: 
Jason Kottke

Culture Recommendations with Jason Kottke

This week's pop culture picks come care of Jason Kottke, of Kottke.org. Jason tracks down the best the internet has to offer, but this week he's all about documentaries. First up, it's a pair of short documentaries about Allan Benton and his ham. Allan is the owner of Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams, and we travel inside both his office and curing house in the films.

Next, it's the feature-length documentary Senna, profiling the thrilling and ultimately tragic tale of Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. Senna is not just for Formula One fans -- it's a gripping profile, and the racing footage is thrilling no matter who you are. It's currently available on Netflix Instant.

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Sherlock Actor Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch is a British actor currently bringing Sherlock Holmes to life in PBS's Masterpiece series Sherlock, alongside Martin Freeman of The Office as John Watson. While Cumberbatch and Freeman are the latest in a long line of actors to play these characters, there is something fresh about their adaptation: Sherlock takes place in the present day, updating the classic detective to our modern era. In the past year, Cumberbatch has memorably stolen scenes in period dramas like War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Benedict tells us about bringing a new take to an iconic character, and what keeps Holmes relevant to both writers and audiences all these years later. He also opens up about how a life-threatening altercation while filming in South Africa in 2004 left him changed as a person. The Series Two finale of Sherlock airs this Sunday, May 20th, on PBS's Masterpiece. Series Two will be available on DVD just two days later, on Tuesday the 22nd.

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Craig Finn on The Song That Changed My Life

Craig Finn is the lead singer and guitarist for the Brooklyn rock outfit The Hold Steady. Earlier this year, Finn released his debut solo album Clear Heart Full Eyes. This week he tells us about the song that changed his life: The Replacements' "I Will Dare", off their 1984 album Let It Be.

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Video Game Journalist Morgan Webb

Morgan Webb is a video game journalist and the co-host of X-Play on the G4 TV network. Webb fell into work in front of the camera entirely by accident via a research position on Tech TV's The Screen Savers, and it wasn't long before she wound up in front of the camera. Tech TV would eventually merge with G4, and X-Play is now the longest-running program on the network.

Morgan talks about what it means to be a gamer, what she loves about the gaming experience, and her struggle for journalistic legitimacy.

Thanks to Dave Ciaccio for editing this segment.

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The Outshot: “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield

For The Outshot this week, Jesse basks in the warm, loving glow of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready", and explains exactly why the singer's smiling face hangs on the wall above his son's crib.

If you've got a song that lifts you up like this one does, share the warmth on the MaxFun forum by picking your own Outshot.

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The BBC's "Life: An Idiot's Guide"

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Here's a little promo for the BBC Radio 4 Comedy program "Life: An Idiot's Guide," which was taped at Edinburgh this year. Note the presence of MaxFunPals W. Kamau Bell and Josie Long, and right at the top, a brief snippet of the voice of YOURS TRULY.

Why is my voice in there? Because the producer of the show, one Colin Anderson, knows my STRONG POSITION on recording theater instructions. My policy: if you need someone to record the "turn off your cell phones" message at the beginning of a show, I AM YOUR MAN.

Now, hundreds of arts patrons around the world know about my commitment to the ANNOUNCING ARTS.

Holy Flying Circus

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Shortly after Monty Python released "Life of Brian" in 1979, John Cleese and Michael Palin went on BBC2's "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" (a chat show with an opening sequence which suggests that it is ideal post-coital viewing) to defend their work in a debate against author Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the then Bishop of Southwark.  The result was a now somewhat famous broadcast which has been excerpted frequently (as in the documentary footage above from "Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)"), but only rarely presented in its entirety. 

Now, according to the Guardian, BBC4 is making a drama about Python's creation of "Brian" and the troupe's subsequent struggles to defend the film.  The show, "Holy Flying Circus", which will air sometime this autumn, was written by Tony Roche (who also wrote for "The Thick of It") and will focus much of its attention on this odd yet fascinating bit of television history. 


Four Lions & the US of A

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One of the best films we saw at Sundance this year was Chris Morris' Four Lions. It's a satirical look at a London-based group of terrorists. UK-born terrorists, specifically. In the Q&A after the film, Morris talked about the sheer idiocy of terrorists he'd read about in his research, and he was unflinching in satirizing the would-be murderers. What's most remarkable about the film, though, is that these horrible, horrible doofuses are also quite human. That's a pretty remarkable achievement in my book.

The movie opens in a couple of cities November 5th, and it spreads across the country from there. Don't miss it.

Paul Gilmartin, Maria Bamford and Me on BBC Radio 4

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Hold on! We got bumped because Gordon Brown said something weird. This'll run next week.

This evening (UK time) or afternoon (US time) you can catch me on BBC Radio 4's "The Vote Now Show." I talk with Rep. Richard Martin (R-OH), aka Paul Gilmartin, and his lovely wife Jazz, aka Maria Bamford. Paul and Maria are so amazing as these characters, and the piece is really a lot of fun.

The show runs from 3:00-3:30 this afternoon (pacific time) or 11PM-11:30PM GMT. You can catch the stream here on the Radio 4 page or in iTunes.

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