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: John Waters

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John Waters

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Photo: Jesse Thorn

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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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.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Game of Thrones' John Bradley

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Game of Thrones' John Bradley on what it was like playing Samwell Tarly for eight seasons.

John Bradley was around 22 when he got the part that changed his life. He'd just graduated from theater school in Manchester, England. He'd done a little theater work, but never anything on camera before. He had just learned how to hit his mark and where to look when reading his lines.

So he got called in for an audition, literally his first ever. It was for a new show HBO was producing called Game of Thrones.

He got the part.

John played Samwell Tarly, John Snow's close friend, for eight years. The two characters meet when they both join the Night's Watch and the journey Samwell takes on the show is really unique.

In the beginning, it's clear that Sam isn't cut out for the Night's Watch. He isn't a natural warrior. He's heavyset. Kind of soft. He's smart, but he doesn't have a keen sense of realpolitik or manipulation. He's nice, maybe a little goofy.

And on any other show, you can pretty much guess his character's trajectory: maybe he stays a bumbling comic sidekick. Maybe he gets killed off tragically. Or maybe, somehow, he finds the warrior inside him and learns to fight just as well as the Hound or Ser Davos.

On Game of Thrones, none of that happens. The things he was bullied for: his kindness, his empathy, his bookishness… they turn out to be assets, not liabilities. He finds work as a maester and gains access to all of his word's knowledge at the Citadel. Sam plays a vital part in the battle against the dead… he's even the first to kill a White Walker!

And by the show's last episode, when all the great houses meet to figure out the future of Westeros... Sam finally has the respect of his peers.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Kathe Kollwitz, a founding member of feminist art collective The Guerilla Girls

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Guerrilla Girl Kathe Kollwitz in Bilbao, 2013. Photo by Guerrilla Girls, courtesy guerrillagirls.com

A conversation with a founding member of feminist art collective The Guerrilla Girls

If you go to an art museum: contemporary, encyclopedic, local – odds are most of the art displayed was made by white men. Even if you leave out the renaissance painters and the Dutch Masters. It's still not that common to see a solo show by a woman or a person of color these days. This was even more true in the mid-80's. Some of New York's most prominent galleries showed less than 10% of women artists. Others were showing no women created art at all.

In 1984, a group of women started an art collective called The Guerrilla Girls. The group was created in response to the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition: "An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture." The exhibits roster of 165 artists only included 13 women. The number of artists of color was even smaller, and none of them were women.

They decided the best way to fight discrimination in the art world was to make art about the discrimination. They took the art to the streets. They pasted it onto the walls all over lower Manhattan. The group demonstrated in front of the museum with placards and picket lines. And they wore gorilla masks while doing it.

The Guerrilla Girls drew attention to issues of discrimination and representation in galleries and museums all over the world. They have entered their third decade as a collective, morphing in membership as the time went on. They still make art for the streets but have also shown in galleries and museums, too.

Jesse talks to a founding member of The Guerrilla Girls, who goes by Kathe Kollwitz. She'll reflect on the origins of the group, her anonymity in the art world and what the group means now more than 30 years later.

You can learn more about The Guerrilla Girls by visiting their website.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Timothy Simons of HBO's Veep

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Photo: Jesse Thorn

Timothy Simons on playing Veep's Jonah Ryan for 7 seasons

One of the most iconic things about HBO's Veep was the way the characters insulted one another. Each insult was delivered with laser-like precision to get at each character's insecurities. Perhaps no character on the show received more of these zingers than Jonah Ryan. He was an unlikable White House aide who went on to become one of New Hampshire's least popular members of Congress.

Veep starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer. A narcissistic politician who, despite constantly sabotaging herself, manages to ascend to the Oval Office.

Only to lose it almost as quickly.

Jonah, Simons' character, starts the show as a lowly staffer in the West Wing. By the final season, he's a presidential candidate facing off against Selina. It's a wild and funny ride.

Simons talks with Bullseye about his unique, fascinating journey to Veep. He dreamed of being a film and TV actor since he started out in Chicago. He and his wife had only been married a short time before they dropped everything and left the Windy City for Los Angeles. At the time it was a big risk. He didn't have a gig lined up. He had never even been to California. The first time he saw LA was on his drive in from the long haul.

It was a tough transition, but soon after he landed the part as Jonah. When he went into audition he did not look the part at all. The casting directors were looking for someone short, bearded and kind of chubby. Simons, who's slender and tall, gave the writers something different to work with. But it worked.

Simons explains why thick skin doesn't always protect you from fictional insults. Plus, how being a dad has impacted his acting career and knowledge of elementary school handball.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: The Last Poets

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The Last Poets on their legacy and new album "Transcending Toxic Times."

The Last Poets are more than a band, although, you could call them that as well. A collective? An idea? A movement? Sure!

Let's back up, though. The year is 1968. In Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, a group of black musicians, writers and activists formed a group. They called it The Last Poets. They read poems, played drums, brought in other instruments later. And when they spoke, they spoke plainly. Their message was about unity. About social justice. About empowerment. About all that was wrong with their world and all that could be done to make it better.

Their groundbreaking self-titled debut album was pressed by the same small record label that produced the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. The Last Poets are widely considered to be the grandfathers of hip hop genre along with Gil Scott Heron.

Over 50 years have gone by since the group formed. Dozens of members joined and left the group within that time frame. Dozens of albums were recorded. You can feel the spirit of the Last Poets in rap legends like Common, Kendrick Lamar, and Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. They've been sampled in hundreds of hip-hop records including songs by NWA, Biggie Smalls, Digable Planets, Snoop, Dre, Madlib and many more.

Two of the groups original members Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan have a new album called Transcending Toxic Times. It fuses spoken word with jazz rhythms and hip hop. It's out now and it's wonderful.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Tuca and Bertie Creator Lisa Hanawalt

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Lisa Hanawalt, creator of the new Netflix animated series Tuca & Bertie

Lisa Hanawalt is a cartoonist, writer, and author of four brilliant books, including "Hot Dog Taste Test" and "My Dirty Dumb Eyes." Her latest book, "Coyote Dog Girl," is also great. She also co-hosts a podcast here at Maximum Fun called "Baby Geniuses" along with the comic Emily Heller. You may be familiar with her work on the popular animated Netflix series "BoJack Horseman" where she's a producer. Hanawalt is the creator of the new show "Tuca & Bertie." It's an animated series on Netflix and it's very funny.

Tuca & Bertie is a show about two women. Anthropomorphic bird women, to be exact. They live in Bird Town. Tuca is a toucan. She's outgoing and fun, but kind of a mess, too. She doesn't really have a solid job. Bertie, her best friend, is a songbird, kind of a homebody, a little shy and deferential. When the show starts, she's just moved in with her boyfriend.

A lot of the problems Tuca and Bertie encounter are fairly human and grounded: relationship stuff, work problems, sexual harassment. But the world they live in is anything but. The show is breathtakingly drawn and totally surreal: Phones talk. Hospital equipment talks. Plants walk. Lisa based Tuca & Bertie off of characters from her books, characters she's lived with for a long time and sees sort of as extensions of herself.

Lisa talks to us about how intuitive creating Tuca & Bertie was at times,on deciding what to ground in reality and where to take flight, and why she should be allowed to ride Martha Stewart's pony.

A quick warning about this interview you're about to hear: there's some talk about sex in it, mostly just talking about body parts. If you or someone you're listening with might be sensitive to that kind of thing, we're giving you a heads up now.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: The Tick creator Ben Edlund

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Ben Edlund reflects on the origins of 'The Tick' and the revival of the cult comic book character

The Tick is one of the strangest, most compelling superheroes ever. Creator Ben Edlund has lived with the character for over 30 years now. The Tick has been a comic book series, an animated TV show, a video game, and a live action TV show. Now, The Tick is back with another live-action TV show on Amazon.

The Tick is kind of this giant man in a blue suit with antennas on his head. He's got all the classic trappings of a superhero: strength, speed, invincibility. But he's also kind of a dope.He doesn't know where he came from… isn't particularly concerned with money, or jobs, or anything beyond justice and destiny. In this newest show, The Tick is played by previous Bullseye guest Peter Serafinowicz. When he was on last year he talked about playing the superhero.

It's a show that's both preposterous and plausible. The villains are bizarre and goofy - men with chairs for heads, giant trenchcoat wearing lobsters. But there's also people who act like real people. Actions have consequences. And even superheroes aren't immune to government oversight.

Edlund joins us to discuss how his relationship with the character has changed over three decades. Plus, why he feels the latest revival nails the strange, odd tone in ways the other projects haven't. Writing compelling and grounded superhero stories is hard to pull off in a post-Dark Knight world … if you haven't met The Tick by now you're in for a treat!

Note: This interview was recorded before it was announced "The Tick" would not be returning to Amazon.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Paula Pell

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Paula Pell on 'Wine Country' and working at 'SNL' for almost two decades

So many of the sketches Paula Pell has written for Saturday Night Live are stone-cold classics. There's the Culps, Ana Gasteyer and Will Ferrell's bizarre pop music duo. The Spartan Cheerleaders. The Tony Bennett Show. Remember when Justin Timberlake brought us on down to Omeletteville? We have Paula Pell to thank for a lot of wonderful and hilarious work on SNL.

Pell spent 18 years behind the scenes as a writer on the show. She's truly an SNL MVP. After her time on SNL she wrote for 30 Rock, the Oscars, and the Golden Globes. She's had roles on Parks and Recreation, Big Mouth, and, most recently, the NBC show AP Bio. She plays Helen, the goofy high school administrator who eats tomato sauce and hair.

Pell joins us to talk about her latest project: Wine Country. She co-stars alongside SNL alums Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Rachel Dratch. It’s a story about a group of women reconnecting over a birthday weekend in Napa. The group became life-long friends during their stint working at a Chicago pizzeria. People moved. Got married. Grew apart. This movie deals with preserving those friendships despite life getting in the way. It's based in part from a real wine trip the stars took for Dratch's 50th birthday.

Pell also pulls back the curtain and discusses some of her more controversial work on SNL. Plus: why, when she was a writer on SNL, she was so much more comfortable as a writer than a performer.

Sincerely, one of the funniest people we've ever had on the show. Don't sleep on this one!

A quick warning about this interview you're about to hear: there's some talk about sex in it. Nothing super graphic or descriptive, but we wanted to give you a heads up.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: David Crosby

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Photo: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

David Crosby on The Byrds, CSN and his recovery from drugs.

Bullseye takes a look back at our conversation with folk rock legend David Crosby. His work paved the way for the folk rock movement. He was a founding member of The Byrds and performed at Woodstock as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. With a career that has spawned over 50 years and two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, David is a living legend.

Like many other great rock legends, David had his troubles with drugs. He eventually got sober, but only after an extended stay in a Texas state prison. You might expect a musician to start slowing down in his late 70s, but Crosby’s writing more than ever and working nearly every minute he can. He's the subject of a new documentary about his life called David Crosby: Remember My Name. It premiered at Sundance and is playing at festivals right now all over the country. You can also catch David on tour this year. Click ”here” for tour dates.

This interview originally aired in November of 2016


Photo:ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images

The Outshot: Ray Barretto

Jesse recommends the groundbreaking 1968 salsa album Acid by percussionist Ray Berretto and how its melding of salsa, bugalú and jazz created something unique for the emerging Latin communities.