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: Constance Wu & Ron Nyswaner

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Constance Wu
Guests: 
Ron Nyswaner

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.

This week, we have the delightful Guy Branum hosting our show. Jesse Thorn will return next week!

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Constance Wu on Comedy, Diversity and 'Fresh Off the Boat'

Constance Wu plays Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat, the first network show to star Asian-Americans in decades. Wu reveals the complexities of an immigrant mother who cares deeply about her family's future, and has to grapple with the difficulties of starting over in a new state and with a new business.

Guy talks to Constance Wu about diversity in TV shows, how getting dumped can bolster your career and learning to play comedy.

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesday nights at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.

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Ron Nyswaner on 'Freeheld' and Gay Stories On-Screen

The new film Freeheld is based on a true story - that of Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police detective, and her domestic partner Stacie Andree. They were domestic partners because before 2013, New Jersey didn’t recognize gay marriages. Laurel, diagnosed with cancer, wanted to leave her pension to Stacie, but was denied by county legislators. Her and Stacie's story became the subject of a 2007 documentary, and has now been adapted into a new film, called Freeheld, starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page.

This week's guest, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, adapted Laurel and Stacie's story for the film. Nyswaner also wrote the screenplay for Philadelphia, the 1993 film starring Tom Hanks, which helped along a national conversation about the AIDS crisis and homophobia, and Soldier’s Girl, the made-for-cable film which changed the way many Americans saw Trans people.

Nyswaner embraced everything he would face as an openly gay writer, the good with the bad.

He joins us to talk about how activism has always been a part of his life and his art, the lasting impact of his film Philadelphia, and adapting the story of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree for Freeheld.

Freeheld is is theaters now.

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The Outshot: Annie Lennox Pays Tribute to Freddie Mercury

Guy explains how, in a concert of well-intentioned but mediocre covers of Queen songs, Annie Lennox found her own way to pay tribute to Freddie Mercury -- with what he calls "the most complete performance I’ve ever seen."

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Russell Simmons & Carl Wilson

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CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS EPISODE DIRECTLY

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Slowing Down "Rush": Russell Simmons on Building Hip Hop, Authenticity, and Finding Stillness

Russell Simmons is one of the few people that can honestly say he helped build hip hop. He was an entrepreneur early on, promoting parties and hustling fake cocaine when he was still a college student in the late 1970s. He was there one night at the Charles Gallery, when the headliner DJ Easy G brought on a local rapper, and Simmons felt Eddie Cheeba work the crowd into a frenzy.

It was his first real introduction to hip hop, and he could see that it would be more than just a passing fad. He went on to co-found the music label Def Jam Recordings with Rick Rubin and build a roster of hugely successful hip hop artists, starting with a teenage LL Cool J and the punk rock-turned-hip hop group The Beastie Boys. Simmons worked hard to build sustainable brands for his artists, and took pride in their authenticity. And he wasn't content to focus on music -- his ambition led him to create an empire, expanding into fashion, television, film, journalism, finance, and philanthropy.

Simmons' abundance of energy helped earn him the nickname "Rush", but he says he owes much of his success to inner tranquility and stillness. He's practiced yoga and meditation for over fifteen years, and in his book, Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple, Simmons seeks to demystify meditation for the average person, and explain its link to personal and professional growth.

He joins us to talk about the pivotal moment that he heard Eddie Cheeba and found himself sold on hip hop, building Def Jam, leaving drugs behind for yoga and meditation and finding inner stillness.

This interview originally aired in 2014.

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How We Decide What's Good... and What's Bad: Carl Wilson on Celine Dion and the Nature of Taste

Carl Wilson is a music critic. His job is to tell people why certain music is good, and why other music isn't. You could call him a tastemaker. But he started to wonder. How does taste even work? To find out, he immersed himself in the music, life and fandom of Celine Dion.

Wilson is the author of Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, a reissued and expanded version of the book he published in 2007. It's about Celine and her bestselling album from 1997, but more importantly it's an exploration of why we like some music and hate other music. Wilson's journey made him question how we place value on art, and has affected the way he approaches his work in music criticism.

He talks about Dion's Quebecois background (and why it matters), how she and her music relate to "coolness," and why experiencing a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas helped open him up to her true appeal.

Looking for Rich Juzwiak's "Celine Dion is Amazing" compilation video mentioned in the interview? We'll save you a Google search.

This interview originally aired in 2014.

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The Outshot: East Side Story

You probably know what a low rider is. But what do you know about low rider oldies? Jesse talks about the perfect music for driving low and slow.

This segment originally aired in 2014.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Bill Withers & Joe Randazzo

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Bill Withers
Guests: 
Joe Randazzo

Our big announcement this week? Our "World Tour of Several American Cities"! We'll be putting on live tapings of Bullseye in LA, Boston, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Washington DC in November! Visit BullseyeTour.com for more details. Tickets go on sale this Friday, September 25th!

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: Brad Barket/Getty Images

Bill Withers Returns: Music, Career Advice and Living Life on Your Own Terms

Bill Withers is a man who prefers his life and his music on his own terms. The Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter’s last album was released over thirty years ago, and he has no regrets about walking away from a career in music. His back catalog, which include classics like Ain’t No Sunshine, Grandma’s Hands and Lean on Me, is still as vibrant and influential as it was decades ago.

Withers was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he is also being honored on October 1st with a tribute concert at Carnegie Hall. Lean on Him: A Tribute to Bill Withers features a lineup that includes D'Angelo, Aloe Blacc, Keb’ Mo’, Gregory Porter and Ledisi among many others.

Bill Withers sits down with Jesse to talk about growing up in coal-mining town in West Virginia, why he didn’t dress-up on stage or dance like his contemporaries, and what his relationship to music is like now.

Joe Randazzo Explains How to Be "Funny On Purpose"

Joe Randazzo knows funny. Starting with his career as section editor for The Onion and continuing with his role as head writer for @Midnight, he has enjoyed a diverse career that has allowed him access to some of the industry's best comedic talents.

He plumbed his own experiences, and that of many of his colleagues and extended network, for the advice he offers in his new book Funny On Purpose: The Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy.

Randazzo interviewed writers, performers, directors and producers about how they each have managed to create comedy careers in television, film, podcasting and on YouTube. Interviews include conversations with Judd Apatow, Joan Rivers, Jack Handey and -- disclaimer -- our own podcast impresario Jesse Thorn.

Joe Randazzo joins us to discuss what he learned during his career as an editor at The Onion, his forays into stand-up and improv and why it’s essential to build and sustain relationships with other people in comedy (even if it feels like you're competing with them).

Randazzo’s book Funny On Purpose: The Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy is available now.

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The Outshot: The Kid Spellers of 'Spellbound'

Jesse talks about his great American hero - a kid named Harry Altman from the Academy Award winning film, Spellbound.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Jesse Eisenberg & Brian Regan

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Jesse Eisenberg
Guests: 
Brian Regan
Guests: 
Sara Watkins

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Photo credit: Marzena Wasikowska

Jesse Eisenberg Opens Up about Writing, Acting and Insecurities

Actor, playwright and now author, Jesse Eisenberg wasn’t a fan of school. It wasn’t that he was bullied or picked on, but he describes himself as just "overlooked". It wasn’t until he began to perform in Off-Broadway theater productions that he began to understand his place in the world as an actor. It also provided a way to get out of school, which was an added bonus.

Eisenberg has been able to take his passion for acting into a number of film roles, including a neurotic college student in the horror-comedy Zombieland, a stoner who is unknowingly a government agent in American Ultra and his Oscar-nominated performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.

He's written and starred in three Off-Broadway plays. And for the past few years, he's also been writing short fiction, which has appeared in the New Yorker and McSweeney's. He's collected that work, along with new stories, for a new book called Bream Gives Me Hiccups.

Eisenberg joins us to talk about wending his way through the social dynamics of his teenage years (both in high school and in the theater), the therapeutic power of acting, and why his fiction is often fraught with insecurities and anxiety.

Jesse Eisenberg’s book Bream Gives Me Hiccups is available now.


Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Blackbird Productions/Getty Images

Sara Watkins Finds the Ferocity in "The Song That Changed My Life"

For our recurring segment "The Song That Changed My Life", fiddle player and vocalist Sara Watkins of the Watkins Family Hour talks about discovering the tough and ferocious sound of Fleetwood Mac's "What Makes You Think You're the One".

The Watkins Family Hour's debut record is available now.


Photo: Scott Wintrow/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Brian Regan on Stand Up Comedy and the Process of Finding Out What's Funny

Brian Regan is a comedian’s comedian, admired for his dedication to the craft of stand up. And he's unusual in that he's successful and well-known by audiences for his stand up comedy, and hasn't been bolstered by roles in TV or film. Regan's jokes are well-honed, and he finds the funny in the mundane, whether it's microwave instructions on Pop Tarts or a simple request for a glass of water in a restaurant.

In the leadup to his live-to-air stand up comedy special, Regan joins us to talk about the importance of not having a fall-back plan, the autonomy he enjoys as a stand-up comedian and why his happiest moment as a comic happened in a little comedy club in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Brian Regan: Live From Radio City Music Hall airs live on Comedy Central on September 26.


Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

The Outshot: The Funky Disco Fusion of Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela shoots for the stars, and succeeds, with his funky disco fusion.

Copenhagen MaxFun Meetup!

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Date: 
09/20/2015 - 17:00 - 18:00
Show: 
City: 
Copenhagen
Venue Name: 
Copenhagen Street Food Market

Jesse is going to be in Copenhagen on Sunday September 20th!

Come meet up with him and other MaxFun pals at the Copenhagen Street Food Market (Trangravsvej 10, 1436 København K, Denmark) at 5pm.

The plan is to meet up near the fireplace. (Unless that's super inconvenient when everyone gets there, in whcih case just look around for Jesse.)

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Andy Daly & Jean Grae

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CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS EPISODE DIRECTLY

Andy Daly and "Review": Rating Life Experiences, from Addiction to Pancakes to the Prom

Comedian, actor and writer Andy Daly recognized early in his career that his audience was responding to him as a "nice, little boy". Who could blame them? He's a nice-looking guy, with an all-American charm about him. So he used his Howdy Doody look to his advantage, and began creating characters. The kind of characters that start off as unthreatening nice guys, and slowly escalate into extreme sociopaths.

Andy continues to use this element of surprise in his new Comedy Central show, Review. Andy plays Forrest MacNeil, who is a reviewer. But he doesn't review books, or movies, or consumer products. He reviews life experiences, rating them on a scale of one to five stars. In the first few episodes, he answers viewers' questions from "What would it feel like to steal?" to "Will prom really be the best night of my life?" to "What is it like to get a divorce?"

No life experience is too insignificant or too life-altering for Forrest MacNeil, who takes his job very seriously.

Andy joins us to talk about his first acting job (working with a rollerblading mime), developing his own style of comedy, and how he identifies with Forrest, who's devoted so much of his life and energy to his work.

Review is currently in its second season on Comedy Central

This interview originally aired February 25, 2014.

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Jean Grae on an Accidental Hip Hop Career

Rapper Jean Grae, formerly known as What? What?, has been a stalwart member of New York City's underground hip hop community for decades. She was born into a musical family, though she didn't exactly follow in her parents' footsteps. Her father, Abdullah Ibrahim (also known as Dollar Brand), helped to found South African Jazz and her mother, Sathima Bea Benjamin, was a gifted singer and composer. Grae was born in South Africa and her parents made sure she knew her roots -- but she was also a New Yorker, through and through.

She joins us this week to tell us about growing up with talented musicians as parents, her accidental hip hop career, and why she doesn't shy away from outrageous, cartoonish violence in her lyrics.

Jean Grae has had a busy couple of years. At the time we last spoke with her, she had a new LP called Gotham Down, a new EP called Jeannie, an audiobook entitled The State of Eh, and a webseries in which she writes, directs and stars, Life with Jeannie.

She's since released more new music, including the new EPs Saix and iSweaterGawd, all available on her Bandcamp page.

This interview originally aired January 28, 2014.

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The Outshot: Paul Anka on Showmanship

Paul Anka, a consummate entertainer with few peers, has very high standards. This week, Jesse shares what he dubs as one of the greatest after-show recordings of all time and reminds us to live and move with conviction. And to slice like a... well, you know.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Chiwetel Ejiofor & Allison Jones

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Guests: 
Allison Jones

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"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.

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.

The Outshot: Jimmy Witherspoon

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

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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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

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

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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