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.
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."
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.
Join your favorite comedians and musicians September 13th through 16th, 2013 for three fun-filled days on the high seas. It’s The Atlantic Ocean Comedy & Music Festival, presented by MaximumFun.org, Splitsider and KCRW!
Our ship sets sail from Miami, Florida for a three-night celebration of good times. We’ll have exclusive parties, a trip to a private Caribbean island, a stop in the Bahamas, and a truly spectacular lineup of comics and musicians, including
Maria Bamford ~ Kurt Braunohler ~ Chuck Bryant
John Darnielle ~ John Hodgman ~ Hari Kondabolu ~ Josie Long
Al Madirgal ~ Marc Maron ~ Nellie McKay ~ Eugene Mirman
Jasper Redd ~ John Roderick ~ Kristen Schaal ~ Nick Thune
And don’t worry, cruise enthusiasts: there will also be shuffleboard and giant plates of shrimp.
Ready to join us? BOOK NOW!
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".
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.