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: Timothy Simons of HBO's Veep

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Timothy Simons

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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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Photo: Sound Evidence

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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Photo: Kim Newmoney

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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Photo: Jesse Thorn

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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Photo: Jesse Thorn

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.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Wanda Sykes

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Wanda Sykes

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Wanda Sykes on her career in comedy.

Wanda Sykes is a legend in the comedy world. Her ability to tackle pop culture and the political spectrum with equal parts agility and wit has earned her many accolades. She's also had several scene-stealing roles as an actor in shows like "Black-ish," "Broad City" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." She's been nominated for nine Primetime Emmy awards and she won an Emmy for her writing on "The Chris Rock Show."

Wanda is set to star in a live tribute to Norman Lear's "All in the Family" later this month on ABC where she'll be performing alongside Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Foxx, Will Ferrell and so many others in a one-night only special. You can watch it live on May 22.

She also continues to perform comedy across the country. Click here for information about tour dates and to purchase tickets.

This interview originally aired in May of 2016.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty

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Bullseye
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Mark Alan Stamaty

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Photo: New York Review Comics

Cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty on 'MacDoodle Street,' 'Who Needs Donuts?,' and more

We're thrilled to share our conversation with cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty. We're huge fans of his children's book – "Who Needs Donuts?" Mark's wonderfully illustrated book tells the story of a kid in a cowboy suit who's bored with his family. He hitches up his wagon and heads out for the big city in search of donuts. After a wild adventure he realizes there are things far greater than donuts. It's a charming and hilarious book for kids. And, trust us, adults will love it, too!

Mark Alan Stamaty got his start working at a handful of New York papers, with a few regular comic strips. There's Washingtoon, a political strip. A few regular comics in the New York Review of Books. And MacDoodle Street, which he published for the Village Voice in the late '70s.

MacDoodle Street was just released as an anthology collection. In MacDoodle Street, you see New York kind of the way a kid from outside the city might: a wild, bizarre and kind of fantastic place. Overwhelming, but endlessly interesting and stimulating. This new edition features a brand-new, twenty-page autobiographical comic by Stamaty on why the short-lived but treasured MacDoodle Street never returned to the Village Voice. It's a unique, funny, and poignant look at the struggles and joys of being an artist.

We're thrilled to share this conversation with Mark Alan Stamaty. He'll give us the scoop on his new anthology collection, and how his childhood influenced his work. Both of his parents had the same profession as him. Plus, where he gets the silly ideas for his stories and illustrations. Rhinos on the subway wearing fancy hats! Shark-shaped cars!

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Mike O'Brien

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Bullseye
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Mike O'Brien

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Photo: Ben Gabbe / Getty Images

Mike O'Brien on the latest season of NBC's 'A.P. Bio'

Mike O'Brien was a staff writer on Saturday Night Live for seven seasons. He worked on the show around the same time as some stellar alum: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig. In 2014, Mike was a featured player on SNL alongside Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Colin Jost, Kyle Mooney, Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong.

His latest work can be seen on NBC's A.P. Bio. Mike is creator, writer and showrunner of the series. The show stars Glenn Howerton, Patton Oswalt and legendary SNL writer Paula Pell.

If you haven't seen the show, here's the premise: Jack portrayed by Glenn Howerton used to teach philosophy at Harvard. Now he doesn't. To make ends meet he gets a job teaching A.P. Biology at a high school in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. He's a grumpy guy who thinks if the world were a fair place, he'd be getting a MacArthur Genius Grant or whatever. He's a jerk. He knows it. He doesn't care.

Maybe you're thinking you've seen this kind of show before. The teacher returns home. Then he grows as a person, becomes lovable and relatable. But A.P. Bio isn't that show. If our scrooge protagonist learns and grows, well, there isn't a show. And that's what makes it so funny – it takes a sitcom trope you're familiar with, but refuses to play by the rules.

Mike joins us to talk about the latest season of A.P. Bio. He grew up in Toledo, and explains some of the baffling questions the writers room had about his hometown. Plus, working with Paula Pell – and why sometimes it's better to leave the camera rolling on her improvising than spending hours perfecting jokes in the writers room.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Open Mike Eagle

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Open Mike Eagle

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Rapper Open Mike Eagle on taking career advice from his wife.

You could call Open Mike Eagle a rapper on the rise. But it's been a long, steady, unique rise. He was born in Chicago, moved to LA later on. For the first part of his adult life he was a teacher - he actually didn't release his first album until he was almost 30.

In his rhymes there's humor, which you see a lot in rap. But it's weirder, kind of self-deprecating at times, too. His first album, "Unapologetic Art Rap” was a great example of that.

Alongside Baron Vaughn, Mike co-stars in a new Comedy Central show called
”The New Negroes.” It's sort of a variety show - combining live stand up with original music videos Mike made with other artists.

When Bullseye talked to Mike in 2017, he'd just released a record called “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream.” His latest record - ”What Happens When I Try to Relax” - is out now.

Mike talked to Bullseye about why he used to call his music “art rap,” and why it was a lot harder to be weird in hip-hop back in the day.