Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Comic and actor J.B. Smoove

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Bullseye
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J.B. Smoove

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J.B. Smoove on Curb Your Enthusiasm, writing on Saturday Night Live and more

J.B. Smoove is without a doubt one of the funniest people we've ever had on Bullseye.

He got his start in television as one of the stars of Def Comedy Jam in the mid-90's. In the early aughts he became a writer on Saturday Night Live. J.B. wrote sketches like a commercial for "Tylenol Extreme," and a hypothetical remake of Norman Lear's "Good Times." He's probably best known for his role as Leon on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Currently, you can check him out in Spider-Man: Far From Home. In the film, J.B. plays Peter Parker's teacher, Julius Dell. He has some really funny moments as Parker's chaperone.

J.B. joins us to talk about his time on SNL. He'll explain how an audition to be a featured cast member actually landed him a job as a writer instead. We'll hear about a few of his favorite sketches that never made it to air.

He'll also talk about his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and why he always goes to an audition in character. Plus, he'll tell us about the time he told Howard Stern, and we quote: "You can't eat spaghetti on an open patio." Join us to learn exactly what he means!

When he's not working on screen he keeps busy on the road. He tries to test out as much new material as possible. You can see him on tour all over the country this summer and fall. Check out his website for latest dates.

A heads up to listeners, this episode contains many censored expletives throughout the interview.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Sinkane's Ahmed Gallab with Guest Host Shereen Marisol Meraji

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Ahmed Gallab

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Sinkane's Ahmed Gallab

Singer-songwriter Ahmed Gallab is a citizen of the world. Born in London and raised in the United States to Sudanese parents, Gallab creates music that draws inspiration from every corner of the planet. His band, Sinkane, is based in Brooklyn and makes music that fuses Afrobeat, funk and Brooklyn indie-rock vibes. There's even a hint of prog rock and electronica mixed in!

Gallab got his start the way a lot of musicians do, as a session musician. He joined the backing bands for Eleanor Friedberger and Caribou and has worked with of Montreal and Born Ruffians. He also led a tribute band to the late Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor with the likes of David Byrne of Talking Heads and Damon Albarn from Blur.

Sinkane's debut album Sinisterals was released in 2007. Since then Ahmed's made several great albums. The latest, Dépaysé, mixes genres again with a much more personal feel. Seeking a way to find a good time through music while also addressing oppression head-on, Gallab sought out inspiration from music's past and his own. He looked to a few of his musical inspirations from America's post Civil Rights movement: Sly Stone, George Clinton, Bob Marley. The result was an album that sits firmly in the pocket while feeling more "honest" than the artist's previous creations. He draws from his Sudanese roots, conversations with his father about their Arabic background and the political unrest in their homeland to create a sound that is like nothing else.

Bullseye guest host Shereen Marisol Meraji talks with Ahmed about how a dream inspired this record, why his favorite musicians have a clear political message and how an appearance on Letterman twelve years ago finally changed his parent's mind about his career aspirations.

Dépaysé is available now.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Tales of the City's Garcia with Guest Host Shereen Marisol Meraji

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Garcia

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Photo courtesy of Garcia

Garcia on their breakout role in "Tales of the City"

Garcia makes their acting debut on the popular Netflix miniseries Tales of the City. It's an update to the LGBTQIA classic which premiered in the 90's on PBS and starred Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney. The two reprise their roles in the 2019 version. The show is based on the novel series of the same name written by Armistead Maupin which grew out of a newspaper column.

Tales of the City takes place in San Francisco and follows the lives of a group of people living at 28 Barbary Lane. The 90th birthday of Dukakis' Anna Madrigal brings characters together and threatens to uproot deeply seeded secrets and emotions. The cast and characters are from a wide variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds as well as gender expressions and sexual orientations.

In the show, Garcia plays Jake Rodriguez. Jake is a trans man in a relationship with his lesbian girlfriend Margot. Jake is a few years into his transition and is still adjusting to his new life. Margot is adjusting to being in a straight relationship and, although she loves Jake, she expresses her frustrations with the change. This puts a strain on their relationship.

Garcia talks with guest host Shereen Marisol Meraji about working in Hollywood as a trans non-binary person of color and how their chosen family lead them to acting.

Tales of the City is streaming now on Netflix.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Edie Falco

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Edie Falco

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Edie Falco on Outside In and her legacy in The Sopranos

Edie Falco was over a decade into her acting career before she got her breakout role as Carmela Soprano in the classic HBO mob drama The Sopranos.

She was brilliant on the show: loving, fierce, tragic and independent. She subverted the mob wife archetypes, too. Above anything else, Carmela wanted a normal life, she wanted her kids to go to a good school, she wanted her husband to show up for dinner.

She then went on to play the lead role in the Showtime dark comedy Nurse Jackie , for which she won an Emmy in 2010 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

In 2018, she joined us to talk about Outside In. In the film, Edie plays Carol, a married high school English teacher who became pen pals with a former student named Chris. He's been serving a 20-year prison sentence. After he gets out of prison, things get complicated between them.

Edie talks to Jesse about landing her first acting gig, which she started the day after she graduated from acting school at SUNY Purchase. Plus, Edie tells us why she thinks comedy isn't for her, and she'll reflect on working with James Gandolfini for nearly a decade on The Sopranos.

Click here to listen to Edie Falco's interview on YouTube.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Linda Holmes

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Linda Holmes

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Writer Linda Holmes on her debut novel "Evvie Drake Starts Over."

If you've arrived from a far-off galaxy and need to quickly ascertain what the most worthy bits of pop culture information are to take back to your home planet, you'd do no better than following the musings of Linda Holmes. Holmes, a pop culture critic and one of the hosts of the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour is smart, witty, and very funny. She has amazing taste in TV and movies and loves to talk about it. She even recently convinced us that the entire cast of that new Sonic movie is worth pulling for and well… you saw the trailer.

But Linda's first love has always been writing. She's just released her debut novel titled Evvie Drake Starts Over. It's about a young woman dealing with the grief of losing a husband whose life intersects with a major league baseball pitcher who is experiencing a slump in his season.

Linda could have mailed it in. She could have turned in 300 pages about a great TV show or band you've never heard of, but you've probably got a million of those types of books on your bookshelves and tablets already. Instead, she decided to write a book about love, loss, and the power of starting over. It's quite good.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is out now.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Filmmaker Joe Talbot

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Joe Talbot

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Photo: Adam Newport-Berra

Joe Talbot on his new film "The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

Filmmaker Joe Talbot grew up in San Francisco, just a few blocks away from Bullseye's Jesse Thorn. The two shared similar backgrounds: a love for film and the local movie theaters that played their favorites, Candlestick Park and the local culture that surrounded them. Both men witnessed their town change over the years. As money moved in, housing prices skyrocketed and many of the people who made the city such a unique place to live moved out, Joe began to feel a sense of nostalgia for the way things were.

He decided to make a film about it.

Talbot makes his feature-length film debut with the strikingly beautiful, The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It tells the story of a man named Jimmie and his best friend Walt attempting to get back a home Jimmie believes was built by his grandfather. The cast features Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Thora Birch and Jonathan Majors in a mesmerizing and heartbreaking performance.

The film acts in equal parts as a love letter to the city and an indictment of capitalism in its most corrupted form. The big stuff is covered, like gentrification, race, money, so much money. But you don't have to be from the Bay to appreciate the movie. At its heart, it's trying to figure out what home really means and how we long for a yesterday that might have never truly existed.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is in theaters now.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Filmmaker Sara Driver

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Director Sara Driver on independent filmmaking and her love for the "old" New York.

Sara Driver, is an artist and filmmaker. She's a part of the Manhattan independent filmmaking renaissance that the city underwent through the late 1970s through the 90s. When we spoke with the director and actor in 2018, she had just directed a new documentary called Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The movie shows a side of one of the great 20th century artists not often seen - a savvy young upstart painting on the walls all over Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Driver, an artist herself, lived and worked in the same art community that propelled Basquiat to stardom. And because of that, Boom For Real kind of tells two stories: there's Basquiat's - who shows up in archival footage but never speaks. And there's New York City's. Pre-9/11, pre-Reagan, pre-real estate boom. Boom for Real strikes a careful balance between nostalgia and danger, between nuance and hero worship.

The filmmaker discusses what it felt like to capture on film a New York of old, particularly for working artists, and why Whole Foods makes her nostalgic for the past.

Sara Driver currently appears in Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: H. Jon Benjamin

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H. Jon Benjamin on writing a book about failure and the beauty of fatherhood.

The magic of H. Jon Benjamin is kind of a 1-2 punch. First, there's his voice: a deep baritone that's unmistakable when you hear it. Then, his timing: stilted and deadpan, usually - it catches you off guard and it makes him one of the funniest voice actors alive today.

He can play lovable slackers like Ben from Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist or Bob from Bob's Burgers. Jon can also play macho windbags who are imbued with the kind of flawed humanity that also makes you root for them. His Coach McGuirk on Home Movies was a beloved Adult Swim character right up there with the likes of Space Ghost, Master Shake, and Dr. Rockso.

Perhaps Jon's most iconic voice role is that of Sterling Archer, from the TV show Archer. Sterling's a spy, but he's also a narcissist with a pretty terrible drinking problem. A guy who has gone from being extremely self-serving to slightly less selfish over ten seasons. It is to Jon's credit as a voice actor that the audience can see past this deeply flawed man's exterior and laugh along with him and at him.

With lead roles in some of the most popular comedies of all time, it's hard to call H. Jon Benjamin a failure. But he doesn't really mind the label. In 2018, Jon wrote a book called Failure is an Option: An Attempted Memoir.

In it, he recounts his shortcomings in excruciating detail and how, wouldn't you know it, a lot of those failures opened the door to success: failures in family, in work, in serving fajitas. It's a very self-deprecating, self-aware memoir. And since it's written by H. Jon Benjamin, it's also really, really funny.

Season ten of Archer is out now.

This interview originally aired in May of 2018

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: John Waters

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John Waters on his legacy in film, Little Richard, his mustache, and more

John Waters is a director who hasn't made a movie in over a decade, and he doesn't really plan to make any more. He's directed some classics like Pink Flamingos, Cry-Baby and probably most notably Hairspray.

Even though he's not making movies anymore, he keeps busy. He's an actor – he played director William Castle in FX's Feud, Pete Peters in Seed of Chucky and he even had a cameo in one of those Alvin and the Chipmunks movies.

He's done a ton of live performances, released a few compilation albums and he's written seven books. When he joined us in studio he talked about his book Make Trouble. The book was based off a commencement speech he gave at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2015.

Jesse talks with him about Little Richard, trigger warnings, and how the film industry tried (and failed) to make the King of Trash compromise his work. Plus, he'll tell us about the fabulous Commes de Garcon shirt he wore to the recording.

His latest is his memoir, Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. It's out now. You can also find the recent Criterion Collection re-release of Multiple Maniacs, one of John's first ever movies on DVD.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Comedian Kulap Vilaysack

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Kulap Vilaysack

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Director Kulap Vilayack on her new documentary "Origin Story."

You're probably familiar with the work of Kulap Vilaysack already. Odds are it's because she made you laugh. Maybe it was on her podcast,Who Charted, which ran for 8 years on the Earwolf network. Maybe you know her from Bajillion Dollar Properties, a show she created which ran on the Seeso network. Maybe you've seen her in a TV role. Kulap has appeared in dozens of shows. She's been on Bob's Burgers, Comedy Bang Bang, and Children's Hospital, just to name a few. One of our favorites was probably her part in Parks and Recreation.

For as long as Kulap has been a working actor, comedian, and showrunner she's been working on a different project in the background. A very special project. It's a documentary called Origin Story. Kulap makes her feature-length directorial debut and is the center of the film. It's about family secrets, learning to adapt to them, to empathize with difficult parents, and to connect with brand new ones.

Kulap was raised in Minnesota. Her parents were both refugees from Laos. One night, during a family argument, her mom told her something that would change her life completely: that the man who had raised her isn't her birth father.

In Origin Story, Kulap confronts her history head on. She reckons with her parents, her mom, in particular. She talks about identity and her experience as a second generation immigrant. She finds her birth father, and goes to Laos to meet him. The film is moving. It's healing. We just can't recommend it enough.

Origin Story, is a really compelling, affecting film. You can stream it now on Amazon. If you haven't checked out her show Bajillion Dollar Properties… well, it's completely different from Origin Story in pretty much every way, but it's also great. It's streaming on a handful of platforms, including Amazon.

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