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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Fred Willard & Vocoders with Dave Tompkins

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Fred Willard on his comedic beginnings, playing the clueless buffoon, and working with Christopher Guest

For over fifty years, Fred Willard played ignorant, self-absorbed buffoons that are impossible not to laugh at. He's a master improviser and comedian who started with his comedy duo, Greco and Willard, and moved on to work with the Second City and improv groups The Committee and the Ace Trucking Company. Today, he's probably best known and loved as one of Christopher Guest's troupe in films like Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show.

Willard tells us about drag-performances in his military school, the real life inspiration for his improvised comedy, and being the exact opposite of the happy-go-lucky optimists he plays on screen. (This segment originally aired in August 2013)

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Eleni Mandell on "Tom Traubert's Blues": The Song That Changed My Life

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. Her newest album is "Let's Fly a Kite" is available now.
(This segment originally aired in September 2012)

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Todd Martens recommends two perennial favorite albums by Material Issue and Wilco.

Beyond interesting conversations with people in culture, we like to tell you about interesting cultural stuff. There's so much stuff out there, you don't have time to listen to everything. That's why we've brought in Todd Martens, who writes about music for the LA Times, to tell you about two albums you can dive into without hesitation.

Martens recommends Material Issue's 1991 album, International Pop Overthrow, a combination of cynicism and ideals.

He also recommends the album Summerteeth by Wilco, an album which explores a different side of Wilco.

You can find Martens' writing in the L.A. Times or on their music blog, Pop and Hiss.

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The power of a robot voice: Dave Tompkins talks vocoders, talk boxes, and how they changed music

You may not know it, but when you talk on your cell phone, you're using technology that was first developed for the vocoder. Bell Labs invented the vocoder to make long distance calls cheaper. But it had another application in World War II, when we used it to encode Allied messages.

The vocoder was in large part an analog machine, but it was also one of the first digitizations of speech. It broke down speech into its constituent parts, its separate frequencies, to create the codes. The technology that was in that huge code-making vocoder in 1944, twenty or twenty five years later, became a musical instrument.

Dave Tompkins is the author of How to Wreck a Nice Beach -- which is the way you might hear the phrase “How To Recognize Speech” if it were rendered through a vocoder. The book describes how the vocoder was created to guard phones from codebreakers during World War II, and soon became a voice-altering tool for musicians. Tompkins talks about how the vocoder changed music, the technology behind it, and some examples of music using a vocoder.
(This segment originally aired on The Sound of Young America in October 2010)

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THE OUTSHOT: The Long Goodbye

Elliott Gould may not seem like the hard-boiled noir type, but in 1973, under the direction of Robert Altman, he had that perfect combination of intellect and self-satisfied cool. With Gould playing Raymond Chandler's most famous character, Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye explores the powerful narcissism that governed the streets of 1970s Los Angeles.
(This segment originally aired in July 2013)

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Wham Bam Pow Ep. 59 - World War Z

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Wham Bam Pow

This week, we're back with a look at Brad Pitt's highest grossing film, the zombie drama/thriller World War Z! Plus, in honor of Mr. Pitt's myriad accomplishments, we pitch him new projects in diverse genres. We bet he's thrilled!

We're taking next week off, but we'll be back on July 18th with a review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which opens July 11th.

Follow us on Twitter! Cameron is @cameronesposito, Rhea is @rheabutcher and Ricky is @rickycarmona. Discuss the show using the hashtag #WhamBamPow!

Don't forget about our Facebook and Tumblr pages. You can also email us at whambampow@maximumfun.org.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone & The Sklar Brothers

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Melissa McCarthy
Guests: 
Ben Falcone
Guests: 
Linda Holmes
Guests: 
Glen Weldon
Guests: 
Davy Rothbart
Guests: 
Randy Sklar
Guests: 
Jason Sklar

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.

Michael Buckner / Getty Images / Getty Images Entertainment

Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone on Wigs, Their High School Selves, and Making 'Tammy'

Melissa McCarthy knows how to throw herself into her comedy. Physically, emotionally, she goes all out. People who saw her onstage at the Groundlings knew it. But you didn't really see it on-screen yet. She was mostly known for playing the lovable cook and best friend, Sookie St. James, on Gilmore Girls. Then she had landed a titular role on the CBS show Mike & Molly, which won her an Emmy. In 2011 she got a part in Bridesmaids. And her horizons have only expanded from there.

McCarthy's become a film star, mostly in roles similar to her character in Bridesmaids. Maybe a little crass, maybe a bit of a hot mess. She starred in, her husband Ben Falcone directed, and they both wrote the new comedy Tammy.

Tammy follows a midwestern woman whose life is a mess. So she goes on a road trip with her alcoholic grandmother, to get out of her home town for good.

McCarthy and Falcone met in comedy improv classes, bonded, and eventually became partners both in business and in life.

They'll talk about their high school days, including Melissa's goth phase, their fateful meeting in the Groundlings, and what it was like getting Kathy Bates to play a role that was literally written for her.

Tammy hits theaters this week.

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NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour Recommends: 'The Devil's Candy' and 'Oishinbo'

Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour stop by to recommend some of their all-time favorite reads.

Glen recommends the manga series called Oishinbo, translated as 'The Gourmet'. It's about two rival newspapers competing to create the perfect Japanese meal. He suggests starting with the volume about sushi.

Linda recommends The Devil's Candy by Julie Salamon, a book about the film production of Bonfire of the Vanities. Salamon was granted unlimited access to the film set. The takeaway? Sometimes folks don't set out to make a bad movie, it just kind of happens.

You can hear Glen and Linda each week on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and find Linda's writing on NPR.org's Monkey See blog.

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Found "To Do's" with Davy Rothbart

Davy Rothbart, Point Guard of FOUND Magazine, shares some of his favorite "finds." He'll share some of his favorite ephemera: to do lists that include items like "hook up with Jen" and "create a circuit of pirate radio stations in the Traverse City area."

FOUND Magazine issue 9 is available now. And stay tuned this fall for FOUND: The Musical, presented by the Atlantic Theater Company.

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"The Sum is Greater Than the Parts": Jason and Randy Sklar on Comedy and Evading the Twin Shtick

Randy Sklar and Jason Sklar are stand up comedians. They're also twins. Their work isn't about their twinness, though. In fact, outside of the two of them looking the same, they barely mention it. But it's integral to what they do. Most double acts are about contrast, the Sklars are the opposite.

They diverge, they come back, and all in the service of releasing a firehose of jokes. The pair have been doing comedy together their entire adult lives. They have their own podcast, Skarlbro Country, they hosted their own TV show on the History Channel, and have racked up lots of movie and TV appearances.

They'll talk about why they didn't want to do bits about being twins, why they wanted to combine comedy and sports on Cheap Seats, and how if they were part of the same person, well, Randy's the head and Jason's the heart.

Their stand up special What Are We Talking About? is available now on Netflix Instant.

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The Outshot: Bug-Eyed, Cartoon-y Wildness (Or Why We Love Hunter Pence)

Jesse will tell you about why he loves the craziest-looking baseball player in the majors, and why you should, too.

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Wham Bam Pow Ep. 58 - Pulp Fiction

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Wham Bam Pow

This week, Rhea and Ricky tackle Quentin Tarantino's breakout hit Pulp Fiction. Plus, we take the opportunity to address some of your emails in the segment WhamBamPower To The People!

Next week we'll be watching World War Z, which is available now on Netflix Watch Instant.

Follow us on Twitter! Cameron is @cameronesposito, Rhea is @rheabutcher and Ricky is @rickycarmona. Discuss the show using the hashtag #WhamBamPow!

Don't forget about our Facebook and Tumblr pages. You can also email us at whambampow@maximumfun.org.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Caroll Spinney and Dave LaMattina & Ian Edwards

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Dave LaMattina
Guests: 
Caroll Spinney
Guests: 
Ian Edwards
Guests: 
Karina Longworth

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.


L to R: Caroll Spinney on location with Kermit Love who built the original Big Bird puppet from a design created by Jim Henson.
Photo credit: Copper Pot Pictures

'I am Big Bird': Caroll Spinney and Dave LaMattina on Big Bird's Big Heart

Spend a few minutes watching Sesame Street, and you'll recognize some part of yourself in Big Bird. His kindness, curiosity and vulnerability resonate with everyone, young and old. But who brought Big Bird to life?

Caroll Spinney is the man inside the Big Bird suit, and he has been since 1969. (He's also Oscar the Grouch). Dave LaMattina is the co-director, along with Chad Walker, of a documentary about Spinney. It's called I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.

Spinney made his television debut in 1955, working on the local Las Vegas show Rascal Rabbit, then moved on to the East Coast and performed on Bozo the Clown. But he was looking for greater purpose in his work, and he found it. He met Jim Henson and began work on the pioneering children's TV show, Sesame Street.

Spinney and LaMattina sit down to talk with us about Big Bird's physical and spiritual evolution, how the 80-year-old Spinney manages to maneuver in a full-body puppet suit, and how Big Bird has helped so many children and adults deal with loss, love and their own feelings.

I Am Big Bird has been touring the festival circuit this spring, and we caught it as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival. You can find more information about the film on their website.

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Karina Longworth on Old Hollywood Favorites: 'The Bad and the Beautiful' and 'Picnic'

Karina Longworth hosts the podcast You Must Remember This, which looks at some of the secrets of Old Hollywood. She joins us to talk about some of her favorite cinematic moments of the 1950s.

She suggests checking out 1955's Picnic. It's a movie about a handsome drifter who blows into a small town and wreaks havoc on the citizens' love lives.

Longworth also recommends The Bad and the Beautiful from 1952, a self-reflexive movie about a manipulative Hollywood producer and the studio system.

You can find Longworth's podcast on her website or in iTunes.

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Ian Edwards on his Jamaican heritage, Finding His Comedic Voice, and '100% Half-Assed'

Would you take career advice from a complete stranger? Ian Edwards did, and he's never looked back. He was working a fast food drive-through when a customer liked his banter and suggested he become a comic.

Edwards has written for Saturday Night Live and the reboot of In Living Color. He's also performed on Conan and on Def Comedy Jam on HBO.

He talks to us about moving (from England to Jamaica to New York City), finding his comedic voice, and the lessons he learned from the late Patrice O'Neal.

His new album 100% Half-Assed is the first record on the new Team Coco label.

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The Outshot: I Love LA

We return to the Newm: Jesse delves into why the Randy Newman song "I Love LA" is ironic, but also sort of... not ironic? You'll see.

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Wham Bam Pow Ep. 57 - Machete Kills

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Wham Bam Pow

This week, Rhea and Ricky chat about Machete Kills while Cameron kicks herself for not watching it. Plus, we brainstorm vehicles for stars' big jumps from the TV screen to the silver screen -- who will be the next Chris Pratt?

Next week we'll be watching Pulp Fiction, which is available now on Netflix Watch Instant.

Follow us on Twitter! Cameron is @cameronesposito, Rhea is @rheabutcher and Ricky is @rickycarmona. Discuss the show using the hashtag #WhamBamPow!

Don't forget about our Facebook and Tumblr pages. You can also email us at whambampow@maximumfun.org.

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Wham Bam Pow Ep. 56 - Edge of Tomorrow

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Wham Bam Pow

This week, we chat about the Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise action flick Edge of Tomorrow, which (spoiler alert) WE LOVED! Plus, isn't it about time for Tom Cruise to be a movie star again? Rhea and Ricky pitch some movies with that goal in mind.

Make sure you check out some of Dan Ronan's work.

Next week we'll be watching Machete Kills, which is available now on Netflix Watch Instant.

Follow us on Twitter! Cameron is @cameronesposito, Rhea is @rheabutcher and Ricky is @rickycarmona. Discuss the show using the hashtag #WhamBamPow!

Don't forget about our Facebook and Tumblr pages. You can also email us at whambampow@maximumfun.org.

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Wham Bam Pow Ep. 55 - X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Wham Bam Pow

This week, we engage in some complicated time travel with X-Men: Days of Future Past, and we all lament Kitty Pryde's lack of activity. Plus, inspired by Evan Peters's performance, Cameron solicits Quicksilver vehicles from Rhea and Ricky.

Next week we'll be watching Edge of Tomorrow, which opens tomorrow!

Follow us on Twitter! Cameron is @cameronesposito, Rhea is @rheabutcher and Ricky is @rickycarmona. Discuss the show using the hashtag #WhamBamPow!

Don't forget about our Facebook and Tumblr pages. You can also email us at whambampow@maximumfun.org.

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Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Luis Guzman

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Looking for information on this week's episode of Bullseye?

Luis Guzman: From activist and social worker to prolific character actor

Luis Guzman is one of America's most successful and prolific character actors. He's appeared in dozens of films and television series, from Short Eyes in the 1970s to Miami Vice in the 1980s to Carlito's Way, Boogie Nights and The Limey in the 1990s. He made a name for himself playing thugs and cops. A few years ago, he was on the short-lived but beloved series How To Make It In America.

He talks with us about growing up in New York's Lower East Side, and about his work there as an activist and social worker. As a teen, he hung out at the legendary New Yorican Poets Cafe, watching poets and writers like Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsburg and Miguel Piñero. Piñero ended up casting Guzman in Short Eyes, and got him his first television audition for Miami Vice. Since then, Guzman has become a favorite of directors like P.T. Anderson and Steven Soderbergh.

Pitchfork's Ian Cohen on his Favorite Heavy Rock

Ian Cohen, contributing editor at Pitchfork, stops by to recommend some of his all-time favorite heavy rock releases.

He tells us about an album which (in a move unusual for its genre) has an entirely pink cover. Deafheaven’s newest album, Sunbather, has been well-received and is on its way to becoming “an absolute landmark.”

In addition, Ian recommends the most recent Swans album,The Seer. In a bold creative move, the band creates a title track well over thirty minutes long.

Artisanal Pencil Sharpening with David Rees

If you knew about David Rees in the 2000s, it was probably for his indie political cartoon Get Your War On. When we caught up with Rees a few years ago, he had decided to get back in touch with an old-school writing instrument -- the pencil. Rees started his own artisanal pencil sharpening service, sharpening bespoke pencils, and wrote a book called How To Sharpen Pencils. Rees joined us to discuss the lost art of pencil sharpening.

Be on the lookout for Rees' upcoming show on the National Geographic Channel, Going Deep with David Rees, this summer.

The Outshot: Threat by Jay-Z

Rap isn't poetry – it's its own thing. But, like poets, many of the best rappers imbue their lyrics with layers of meaning. Need proof? Jesse suggests a close listen to a single verse of Jay-Z's "Threat".

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Jenny Slate

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Jenny Slate
Guests: 
Linda Holmes
Guests: 
Glen Weldon

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.

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Jenny Slate on Marcel the Shell, Besties, SNL and 'Obvious Child'

Jenny Slate has probably already turned up in one of your favorite shows -- she spent a season on Saturday Night Live, and she's had recurring roles on Parks and Recreation, Kroll Show, and Bored to Death. But if you don't recognize her face, maybe you know this voice. The voice of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.

Slate co-wrote two animated shorts about Marcel, the anthropormophic shell with one googly eye, and gave him his signature voice. The shorts have racked up over thirty million views on the web.

Now, Slate is moving into leading lady territory. She's the star of the upcoming independent film, Obvious Child, about a stand up comic who gets dumped, fired, and then finds out she's pregnant from a one-night stand.

Slate joins us to talk about the comic one-upmanship she practices with her best friend, her infamous f-bomb on SNL, handling abortion as part of a storyline, and what it was like to expand her acting horizons.

If you somehow missed the Marcel the Shell with Shoes On craze, you can find the shorts on YouTube. Slate's movie, Obvious Child, will be theatres June 6, 2014.

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Why 'Fargo' Is Worth Watching, a Memoir about Diner Life

Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour stop by to recommend a few of their favorite new things to read and watch.

Linda recommends catching up with the movie-to-television adaptation Fargo. It stars Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Alison Tolman and is finishing up its first season on FX.

Glen highly suggests checking out Mimi Pond's Over Easy, a graphic novel memoir about her experiences working in an Oakland diner in the 1970s.

You can hear Glen and Linda weekly on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and find Linda's writing on NPR's Monkey See blog.

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Song Exploder no. 8: Loren Bouchard on 'Bob's Burgers

Bob’s Burgers is an animated show that just finished up its fourth season on FOX. It follows the travails of Bob, his family, and their hamburger shop. The voices on the show include the very funny H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal. The creator of the show, Loren Bouchard, Also created its opening music.

Loren Bouchard talked to Hrishi Hirway for an episode of his podcast Song Exploder. It's a show where Hrishi asks musicians to deconstruct their songs, track by track. Since Bouchard pulls double duty as composer and creator, he wrote music that’s deeply connected to the themes of the show.

You can listen to other episodes of Song Exploder here at MaximumFun, in iTunes or wherever you download podcasts.

The Outshot: Bring In Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk

This week Jesse will tell you about the one time he actually believed that live theater was better than just going to the movies.

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