TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Remembering Coyle and Sharpe, groundbreaking comedy duo

This week, we’re doing something a little different: looking back on the work of Jim Coyle and Mal Sharpe. Two brilliant comedians, decades ahead of their time. The comedy duo recorded a series of hilarious and bizarre man-on-the-street records in the 1960s. They’d approach people with usually an absurd proposition: let’s rob a bank together. Let’s give a stranger a child. Let’s become one person – all all three of us. Deeply weird and deeply funny questions. Jim Coyle died in 1993. Mal Sharpe died this past March. He was 83. We’re taking time to remember the comedy duo by revisiting a couple conversations with Mal Sharpe. The conversations are some of the first celebrity interviews on the show, back when it was called The Sound of Young America. We’ll also listen to some classic Coyle and Sharpe vox populi interviews.

Guests: Jim Coyle Mal Sharpe

Transcript

jesse thorn

Coming to you from my house in Los Angeles, it’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn.

music

“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team.

jesse

So, they call it a “man on the street” interview, vox pop. Vox populi. You’ve seen it a hundred times. A reporter goes out onto a busy sidewalk, asks passersby what they think of the president or the economy or a dress somebody wore on an awards show. And then, voila, they have a news package. [Music ends in a chorus of cheers.] And maybe a hundred more times, you’ve seen that idea used for comedy. Maybe on The Daily Show or Jay Leno doing “Jaywalking”, or Eric Andre. I could obviously go on. Coyle and Sharpe basically invented that genre of comedy, back in the early 1960s. And they pretty much perfected it, too. These two guys—Jim Coyle and Mal Sharpe—would walk the streets of San Francisco in conservative suits with a tape recorder. Sometimes it was hidden in a briefcase, sometimes it was out in the open. And they’d approach people with, usually, an absurd proposition. Like, “Let’s rob a bank together.” Or, “You should rent your child to a stranger.” Or, “Let’s become one person, the three of us.” I first read about Coyle and Sharpe many years ago, in the beloved countercultural zine, Research. They made a book about pranks, and Coyle and Sharpe were the highlight of it. They were cult heroes. One of their records was re-issued by Henry Rollins. They were beloved on the legendary freeform radio station, WFMU. But they weren’t very well known outside of the folks who’d listen to them on the radio, in the early 1960s. It was an incredible story. Mal Sharpe was basically a San Francisco bohemian. Jim Coyle was maybe an actual con man? Even Mal didn’t seem to be entirely sure what his story was. Their work predated the ‘60s, as we think of the ‘60s, now. I mean, they weren’t hippies. They were—I mean, you could see Mal around town in a beret from time to time, if you’re wondering what kind of guy he was. But it was a world before people were on the lookout for someone acting [chuckling] crazy and tricking them. And so, these really straight people would get roped into these insane schemes. I mean, truly mad schemes. I think because their radio show was daily, they just [laughing] had to generate a huge amount of insanity and the more insanity you make, the more insane your insanity gets. What they ended up with was something that was almost avant-garde in its total madness. Again, long before the ‘60s were the ‘60s. I remember the first time I listened to their recordings, and what blew me away was that something that was then 40 years old could feel so vividly hilarious, but also like it was from another world. I mean, I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I was not born and raised in this San Francisco.

jesse

Mal went on to become a Bay Area broadcasting and advertising legend. He had a public television show, in San Francisco. He had a band that played regular gigs in North Beach. He had a public radio show playing hot jazz on KCSM, in San Mateo. He was a bon vivant of North Beach. But, at the time, I didn’t know any of that stuff. I was just listening through a hole in time to the craziest thing I had ever heard in my life. Anyway, I was doing college radio, at the time. And, somehow, I found Mal Sharpe’s email address. It was an AOL address. I think [chuckling] he kept that AOL address through his life. And I sent him an email and invited him onto my college radio show. He was already an older guy, but he was glad to do it. He was always glad to talk about his work with Coyle and Sharpe. He was very proud of it. And it was an incredible conversation. In fact, I think it may have literally been the first interview I ever did, in my life. Anyway. The reason we’re talking, this week, about Coyle and Sharpe, is that Mal passed away a couple of months ago, at the age 83. It was a great loss for comedy and for the Bay Area alternative culture community—especially in North Beach. But enough time has passed, now, that I feel like I can remember him as the bright, genial light in my life and in the lives of so many others that he was. Anyway. Here is a little bit of one of the greatest Coyle and Sharpe bits of all time. This was not a hidden microphone. This was the two of them with a portable recording kit that was, like, the size of a backpack. And they walk up to somebody, on the street. This is someone they have never met before, in their lives. They always said that they liked to go to Union Square, in San Francisco and look for people wearing long wing shoes. Because they were the most likely to be serious and credulous.

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Mal Sharpe: This is Mal Sharpe with another in the series, “Job Opportunities”. Every day, I bring an employer out onto the street and have him offer a San Franciscan an interesting and novel job. Now, I have James P. Coyle with me, our employer of the day, and I’ve just stopped a young man who we’re gonna offer a job to. Jim Coyle: I am James P. Coyle and I’m very glad to meet you. Speaker: Same here. Jim: The nature of the job is—it’s a little unusual. Just like anything else, there are certain risks entailed in it. You would be working down in a pit, in which I have created—through scientific endeavor, I have created intense flame. People throw objects in the flaming pit. You go through. You pick them up. They name the object; you pick them up. And I charge them admission. Speaker: Yeah, I think I’d be interested. It’s something new and exciting. You know, and I like exciting. Jim: The reason I ask, I had an employee before—and I will tell you this directly and honestly—uh… he was a little careless and he—and cautious. I gave him specific instructions and he perished. Now, I want you to understand this before we get any further. Speaker: Oh, yeah. Jim: He did perish. Speaker: I understand. Well, that’s—mistakes can happen, sometime. Mal: Now, as I understand it, the death index on this job—they give us a death index—is about 98%. In other words, if you took this job, the chance of your actual perishing would be 98% in favor of your perishing.

Speaker: It’s a chance! I like to take chances. Jim: What we’re trying to do, really, is to create a living Hell. Have people pay admission, they look down in the pit, they see you down there. The flames are all around you. There will be four maniacs with you and you’ve gotta control them. Speaker: Now, wait a minute, how—I understand that you say four maniacs? Jim: Yes. Speaker: Yeah. And, uh… you mean I got to tell them what to do or try to keep them together or something like that? Jim: Yeah! That’s exactly. Speaker: Oooh, yeah. Jim: Control them and see that they don’t interfere with you, because they will. That’s what they’re gonna try and do. They’re fully costumed, they’re fully protected, and they’re gonna be attacking you. And this is part of the attraction. Speaker: Oh, I see. It sounds very interesting. Mal: Have you worked with maniacs before? Speaker: No, never! Jim: Have you worked with flame before? Speaker: No, not necessarily. Mal: One other aspect—large bats fly through the air. You’ve seen bats, haven’t you? Speaker: Yeah.

Mal: Okay, so there’s very large bats with—uh, I might say extremely large teeth from the photo I saw. They’ll be swooping down over your head. Would the bats at all deter you from doing your job? Speaker: No, I don’t think so! If I had a job to do, I’d try to do it regardless of the bats or anybody else. Jim: Now, I am—I’ll explain the situation—to start with, I wanna be sure you can handle the job. I am paying $46 a week, initially. Is this agreeable? Speaker: [Amused.] Sounds okay. Jim: And I am offering not only the $46, but during the 12 hours that you’ll be down in the pit every day, I will provide nourishment to you. In other words, I will provide one meal during the 12-hour period. Will that be satisfactory? Speaker: [Chuckling.] Sounds okay. Mal: Have you ever consumed bats? Speaker: No, I haven’t. Jim: Would you look forward to the idea of actually consuming bats? Speaker: Eating one? Jim: Yes. Speaker: [Amused.] I guess so! Mal: In other words, your lunch—you go down and open up your little brown paper bag that Mr. Coyle had prepared, and inside there would be a bat and then you would just prepare it down in the flames. Speaker: Oh, I have to cook it myself? Mal: Yeah.

Speaker: [Laughing.] Oh-ho-ho, no! Jim: Why? Speaker: Oh, no, I—well… I could—if you could cook it for me, I wouldn’t mind eating it. But you know. Mal: Why? Speaker: A bat. Well, as long as I didn’t see it cooking, you know, I think I could devour it. Mal: Have you ever had any experience with snakes? Large snakes? Speaker: Nooo. Mal: See, the bats—the bats actually their foe’s down in this pit. The reason why the bats are there, it is because there are snakes in the pit. The bats attack the snakes and the snakes will be curling around your feet as you’re trying to handle the maniacs. Now— Speaker: There—I’m not scared of snakes, though. Mal: What? Speaker: I’m not scared of snakes. Jim: Are you at all—and be honest—are you at all afraid of the maniacs?

Speaker: No, not really. Jim: What are you gonna do with them, if they start attacking you? Speaker: Fight ‘em off! Jim: And this is what the people pay for—the people who are looking down in the pit pay to see you, surrounded by flames, picking up objects that they throw down to you. You’ll be attacked by the maniacs and the bats. The snakes will be crawling at your feet. This—you understand, this is what the people pay for. Speaker: Yeah—well that’s—they pay to see it! I’ll give them their money’s worth. Jim: Now, do you—what I’d like to know is that you fully understand the job. Can you, in your own way, recapitulate what I’ve told you about the job, so that we know that you do have an understanding of it? Speaker: Yeah, so it’s me. You want me to work in some kind of a pit, that you say you’re trying to develop a living Hell. And in this pit I’ll wear some sort of a uniform and there’ll be a lot of flames and I have to work with maniacs and… watch out for bats flying around. And I’ll get one meal a day. I’ll be in there for 12 hours. And I’ll have to eat a bat. Mal: And you will take the position? Speaker: [Chuckling.] Yeah, I’d like to try it. Music: Discordant, rising music ending in a ringing note.

jesse

That was Coyle and Sharpe interviewing a passerby for a job working with maniacs, in a living Hell.

music

Relaxed, percussive music.

jesse

I’m gonna play a little bit of my first ever interview with Mal Sharpe, now. This was one of the first—one of the first interviews of any kind, certainly for broadcast, that I had ever done in my life. This is 2002, we think. According to the labels on the CDR where we found it. I was in college. My show was called The Sound of Young America, back then, and was co-hosted by my friend Jordan Morris—with whom I still podcast, today—and our friend Gene O’Neil. So, you’ll hear their voices, as well. [Music fades in.] Mal was calling into Santa Cruz—KZSC, the Heavyweight ’88—from his home in Berkley.

music

Relaxed, percussive music.

jesse

So, I think the question that leaps immediately to mind is: if you’re—if you’re living in Lindon B. Johnson’s America, how does it come to your mind that what you’re going to do for a profession is walk around with a hidden microphone or—in this case, I suppose a non-hidden microphone?

mal

Well, you know, probably much like you three folks, there. You know, you kind of get out of school, you’re desperate for something to do, but you don’t wanna have a real job, you know? I sort of sense that you guys aren’t gonna pursue [chuckle] normal—maybe you are!

jordan

Boy, he—he surely has us pegged.

jesse

I was—I was planning—

mal

[Chuckling.] Especially you, Eugene! [Gene makes an amused, disappointed sound.]

jordan

I just kinda want a job where I don’t have to wear pants. [Mal agrees with a laugh.]

mal

[Laughing.] Exactly.

gene

Oh man, it’s so true. I’m a total bum.

mal

You know, so—I mean, Coyle and I—I mean, I met this guy, Coyle, you know. He loved to put people on. You know. And I’d hang out with him here, in San Francisco, and we kind of went back to New York. And—you know—and he just couldn’t stop putting people on. And so, I had a little broadcasting background. I mean, that’s what I’d done in school, so I could run a tape recorder. He couldn’t. So, we decided to see if we could just do this and make a living at it, you know? Which—instead of taking jobs. And so, we put about three years of time walking around San Francisco, accumulating sequences like this, before we finally got a record contract. And then a show on KGO.

jesse

What were you doing, in the meantime, while you were—while spending all your time walking around San Francisco with a tape recorder?

mal

Uh, eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. I played trombone in a Dixieland band, on Broadway and North Beach, and I made seven dollars on Saturday night. I can’t—I don’t know how I—I really don’t know how I survived, you know. Things were a lot cheaper then. You know, we’re talking about 1961 or something, you know. So, your rent was about 60 bucks and, you know, sometimes—lo and behold—Mom’s check showed up, you know, or something. I don’t know. You know. It was a—it was one of those things where you just give it all up to try and do some crazy thing, you know, that—you know, you’re on a mission. I can’t explain it, you know.

jesse

When you were—when you were setting out to do this, what—how did you formulate the ideas that you used, in your interviews?

mal

Well, you know, like that one there—we—I mean, we would get up in the morning. We’d meet in some coffeeshop, like in North Beach, in San Francisco, and we would—we would premise-ize. We would come up with ideas. But a lot of it was just conceptualizing, you know? You’d look around the room and you’d see a clock on the wall or you’d—and we’d write down in our envelope, “Be a human clock.” You know. And we would just need a note like that. “Be a human clock.” Or, “Tree-head.” Or, you know, I don’t know. [The others laugh.] “Coffee instead of blood,” you know? And then we would stop people on the street, and we would have this list of things, and—you know. You know, we would say, “Well, have you ever thought of being a tree?” You know. And then the person would start talking to us and then we would just kind of extemporize and—some of the things, like that thing we just heard, was a kind of common theme. We were constantly trying to get people down in pits with animals and fighting and, you know, killing birds and ravens attacking them. And, you know, just—so, you know, once we get off on that direction, you know, each of us would just—it was good there were two of us, ‘cause we could kind of pile things on, one after another, and think of stuff—you know—as we were there.

jesse

So, this whole—this whole thing didn’t—this whole business of Coyle and Sharpe didn’t last for an exceptionally long time, correct? [Mal confirms several times.] Now, you’ve still managed to not have regular jobs for the rest of your life. So, can you tell us about those not-regular jobs?

mal

[Chuckles.] Well, you know, Coyle and I—yeah, we kind of crashed and burned. You know. We went down to Hollywood and that’s a whole story. But we did a television part in the show and then—I don’t know. We kind of split up. I got a job writing—kind of producing and creating very creative radio commercials on Hollywood. It was a real interesting job. But I kept getting calls for these man on the street things, especially from commercials. And so, finally I could make enough money doing that, so I was kind of off on this man on the street thing, again. But without Coyle. And without him, I wasn’t so much into the put-on stuff. It was more just, kind of, using real people on the street and kind of having fun with them, in a way. I mean, it was—it was a slightly different approach. So, I did a lot of that and I did a lot of short films, when I lived in LA. And just, kind of, freelance things. And then I moved back to San Francisco, in ’79. And I just kept getting commercials. And then I went to work for Tamil the Camel. I was on call. A rock and roll station. As a—as, like, a man on the street reporter. And they sent me to things like Superbowls and political conventions. It was a great job.

jesse

Well, how do you feel about this, sort of, cult status that your work has only just very recently achieved, through some sort of—I mean, I know you had some sort of connections with WFMU, which is a famous freeform radio station, in New York. [Mal agrees.] And—or actually, specifically in New Jersey. I mean, how does that feel to you, to have had records that have—you know, they sold 15,000 copies a piece and you were a popular radio personality in San Francisco. But now, all of the sudden, you’ve gained some sort of underground national prominence.

mal

Well, you know, I don’t really feel that way. You know. For me personally, I don’t walk around feeling like [laughing] I’ve finally arrived or anything. It’s just kind of weird, you know. Guys like you call up. You know what I mean? You know, it’s not like—it’s not like, you know, Inside Edition, you know, and Oprah ringing my bell every day. You know, it’s kind of—

jordan

Actually, people call us “The Oprah of Santa Cruz”. The collective Oprah.

jesse

Each of us—each of us combined with the other two makes Oprah.

mal

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

gene

It says “Oprah” on my driver’s license.

crosstalk

Mal: Yeah. Right. Yeah. You get in a magazine and, you know. Jesse: That’s just— Jordan: He wrote that with crayon.

mal

So, I don’t know. I mean, it’s nice to have this stuff kind of recognized and—among certain kinds of people, it’s—you know, it’s nice to know, like, the writers for the Saturday Night Live or something like that, that they know about this stuff. You know. The—you know, the actual people on the street, most Americans, I don’t think we have a lot of top hat awareness, but—I mean, after so many years, I mean, the stuff sat in my basement for, like, 30 years until I got this call from Henry Rollins. You know, about six years ago. And Henry was really the guy who reissued the first Coyle and Sharpe CD that kind of brought it all back, you know, in a way.

jesse

Well, let’s hear one more piece. We’re almost out of time, but we’ll hear one more piece. [Mal agrees.]

clip

[A bell ringing.] Speaker: Hi, there! [The bell rings several more times. A door thumps closed.] Jim: Say, you’re a painter. Do you—can you give us an estimate of what a particular job would be, what it would cost? Mal: It’s about a two-story house. Speaker: I’m not a painter. I’m a printer. Mal: It’s, uh, it’s down— Speaker: Printing! Mal: Not too far from here. About five blocks away. Speaker: I don’t do any painting. Jim: Oh, it’s just—you misunderstand. It’s not a huge building. It’s a small—it’s a duplex type structure, right here in the neighborhood. And we have the color scheme laid out. Speaker: I don’t do printing! Mal: You don’t do printing.

clip

Speaker: [Becoming agitated.] I mean, I don’t do painting! Painting! You want a painter?! [Inaudible] Jim: You don’t do printing? We don’t want any printing at all! We have no desire. You said you don’t do printing. Speaker: Well, I—you’re getting me all confused, too. Mal: Half of the building is concrete, and they said to us, a few years ago when we got it, “Don’t worry. You know, these things last. You’re not that near to the ocean.” And all the paint is starting to chip off the front of the building, now. And it really, you know it’s beginning to go to the devil. Speaker: I don’t see where it concerns me. Jim: Well, let me explain. It hasn’t been at all resistant to the elements. Speaker: I don’t do painting! I’m a printer! Mal: Could you come down, let’s say in an afternoon? Just give us an appraisal? You don’t have to— [Thumping noises.] Speaker: I don’t even do that kind of thing! I have nothing to do with painter—painting houses or anything. I print on paper! Mal: Well, what do you paint? Speaker: I don’t paint anything! I don’t know where you got the idea. It says, “Print Shop” up here. It doesn’t say “Paint Shop”.

clip

Jim: What is the chance of your printing the place? If you don’t do paint. Speaker: That’s all ridiculous! I don’t do anything with houses or anything like that! I print on paper! Envelopes, letterheads, business cards! Mal: Well, could you send—uh, what, do you have assistants? Speaker: I have nothing to do with painters! Mal: Oh, I see. You have assistants. Speaker: I’m not even interested in painting. Jim: Oh, alright. Would you be able to come down, uh… oh, sometime tomorrow afternoon? Just to get an idea of what it would be like? Speaker: There’s nothing to do with printing on it, is there? Jim: There would be printing. [A thump.] Speaker: What are you gonna have— Jim: Print the house, you see. Speaker: No! N-O. Capital letters. I’m a printer, I’m not a painter! Jim: Please don’t get mad at us. [Thumping sounds.]

mal

[They laugh.] That’s one of my favorite pieces. We really bugged that guy.

jesse

Thanks for coming on the show.

mal

This is the best interview I’ve ever been involved with. I really appreciate you guys.

gene

Wow! And you’ve interviewed a lot of crazy people. [They laugh.]

jordan

I think it went so—I think went so well ‘cause we’re all drunks. [Everyone laughs.]

mal

Your show sounds perfect. I mean it. Really. It’s really—I think it just sounds great. I think this kind of radio is disappearing and I hope you guys stay at it.

jesse

Mal Sharpe, from 2002. We have another interview with Mal and even more comedy from Coyle and Sharpe coming up after the break. Stay with us. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

promo

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promo

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jesse

Welcome back to Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. This week, we’re doing something a little different. We’re looking back at the work of Coyle and Sharpe. They were a comedy duo who recorded a series of hilarious and bizarre man on the street put-ons, in the 1960s. Jim Coyle died in 1993. Mal Sharpe, who was a friend of mine, died this past March. He was 83. I got to interview Mal twice for my show. We’re about to hear another one with him. But before we do that, I wanna play another bit of Coyle and Sharpe. This bit is another classic. They find a random guy on the street and they approach him with a pretty straightforward proposition. “Are you willing to give up being an individual and to join Coyle and Sharpe to become one collective person?” They say that they call this belief Threeism.

clip

Mal: Excuse me. Can we take a moment of your time? What we’d like to do is acquaint you with the concept of Threeism. Are you familiar with this? Speaker: Pardon me? Mal: Threeism. Speaker: Threeism? No, I’m not. Jim: Three people get together and merge their identity as one. Would you ever consider giving up your identity, as an individual, to be 1/3rd of one person? Speaker: Is this a religious concept? Mal: No. No, it’s just a spiritual idea that we have conceived with some other people. Speaker: Uh, I’d have to know more about it. Mal: Can we give you a demonstration of Threeism? Speaker: Right now? Mal: Yes. Speaker: [Chuckling.] Well, I’m kinda in a hurry. I have an appointment at 7 o’clock, and I haven’t eaten yet. Mal: Could we accompany you to your meal and show you how Threeism will work? We will help you make the selection of your food. Jim: There is nothing we will do that will not be a unit decision. Speaker: Wait a minute. Now, that’s two against one for me eating and my place! The dinner’s ready. Run all over for dinner at my place?

clip

Jim: We [inaudible]. Mal: Yes. We could eat dinner at your home. Jim: And, can I ask you, what are we having for dinner? Speaker: I don’t know, yet? Jim: And how will you introduce us to whoever else is in the house? Speaker: Well, how am I supposed to introduce us? Jim: How would you introduce us? Speaker: These are 2/3rds of my personality. Jim: Would you do it? On a permanent basis. Speaker: Following you for the rest of my life? Jim: Right! Exactly. We’re asking you to make that decision now. Speaker: You know—you’re asking me to make the decision right now? Jim: Yes! Speaker: Well—I can—I decline. Mal: No, no, no. There are three of us right now. If we could stay together, it would be so much better.

clip

Jim: Let us go away as one, now! No more personal decisions on your… on your own part. Speaker: You’re out of your mind! Mal: Hey! Which one—why are you walking away? Threeism! Speaker: I told you, I—I changed my mind! Mal: You’re walking away. Jim: Can you just explain why you walked away? What did you say we were? Speaker: I’m sorry, but I don’t wanna be a Threeism. Mal: He said we’re out of our minds. Jim: And you know, that’s just because you don’t understand a concept you’ve never been exposed to! Mal: What are you doing? Getting an officer? Speaker: No, I’m looking for the bus. Mal: Let’s go on the bus together. Jim: What are we trying to railroad you into? Tell us. Speaker: I don’t know! That’s your concept. A better life. Jim: You’re turning down an opportunity for Threeism?

clip

Mal: You are in our destiny. You are. You are. Speaker: I don’t know who told you that. Jim: You are the tertiary person, the triad. Mal: It’s an awareness—it’s an awareness of the meaning and the destiny of Threeism. Speaker: Who thought up this Threeism? Mal & Jim: We did. Speaker: When did this begin? Jim: Last week. Mal: We’ll tell you honestly. Jim: It came to us, and we accepted. We’ve been— Speaker: Here’s my bus. Mal: Alright, we’re going with you. Jim: May we go with you? Mal: We haven’t eaten! We haven’t eaten in a long time. Speaker: Neither have I! Mal: Now, we’re getting on the bus with the gentleman. Are you gonna pay the fare, sir?

clip

Speaker: I got 15 cents. Mal: Now, we’re walking down the isle of the bus with the triad person. Could we stand together, as a triad, here in the bus? Speaker: I’m tired. [Laughs.] Jim: Now, isn’t this—isn’t this the first example of Threeism. Suddenly, instead of yourself alone, getting on the bus, there are three of us on the bus. Right? Isn’t that true? Speaker: [Laughing.] That’s true. Mal: And we’re riding to your home? Speaker: Yeah. Jim: What bus is this? Speaker: 6 Masonic. Jim: And is it so bad? Is it so bad? Speaker: Well, there’s a lot of people on the bus.

clip

Jim: But there’s three of us, together, on the bus. Speaker: This guy’s as close to me as you are. Jim: He didn’t speak with us. We haven’t chosen him as a Threeist. Speaker: Oh. You’ve chosen me. Jim: You have come into our destiny and you shall remain, thus forth. Hence forth, from the 6 Masonic bus, to your home, and forevermore, you shall be with us. Is that not true? Answer us, thou, to thy triad companions waiting for thy answer. Speaker: No. Jim: [Whispering.] Can we tell you something? Speaker: Yeah. Jim: This is a joke. Speaker: [Lets out a wheezing laugh.]

jesse

That was Coyle and Sharpe pitching Threeism to a hapless passerby. It appeared on their album, Audio Visionaries: Street Pranks & Put-Ons.

music

Thumpy transition music.

jesse

The second time I talked with Mal Sharpe, on the show, was 2006. Mal had recently put out a boxset featuring Threeism, which you just heard, and a bunch of other stuff. After Mal was on the show, that first time, we would check in with each other over email, every once in a while. He was just that kind of guy: not just—not just, like, an all-American dad type, but also someone who was curious about what people were up to. I think his curiosity was what made him such a great man on the street interviewer. He and his daughter, Jennifer, had done the work of digitizing their huge archive of Coyle and Sharpe recordings. And, at the dawn of podcasting, they had been kind enough to share them with me so that I could make a podcast out of them. It was not a [chuckles] particular money-making proposition. They were glad to get a little promo for the boxset that Mal had put together. And it is a great boxset, by the way. And I was glad to have a little content to make into a podcast, because podcasts were new, and we just did whatever we thought was a thing. You know? And I thought it was somethin’. Anyway, let’s get into my 2006 interview with Mal Sharpe. [Switching to the 2006 audio.] Mal, welcome to—welcome back to The Sound of Young America. How are you?

mal

Great!

jesse

So, what I want—let’s do this a little bit chronologically. Before you were in Coyle and Sharpe, before you met James P. Coyle, what were you doing with your life? You were—you were graduated from school and you’d moved out to the Bay Area.

mal

Yeah. I’d had, like, six months to kill. Because of—it’s unfashionable to say this, now, but I had to go in the Army. I’d been in ROTC in college, because I didn’t wanna be an enlisted man and run through, you know, fields in Korea, unfortunately. But anyway, so, uh… and so I was—I went out to San Francisco. There was kind of this beat generation scene going on, out there. And I really didn’t know anything about the Bay Area or anything. I just kind of borrowed some money from loan company, in Lansing, Michigan, and flew across American and arrived in San Francisco. Kind of a blank slate.

jesse

Did you say borrowed some money from some loan company?

mal

Yeah, the Eagle Loan Company, in Lansing, Michigan. You know, I got money to get an airline—a ticket on a Boeing 707.

jesse

This is like—was this, like, a company advertising loans for potential beatniks or something?

mal

[Laughing.] Yeah, right. Yeah, fly—beatniks going to San Francisco? Yeah, right. Yeah, right. Beatniks. “Yeah, come in. You know. 4%, you know, per year.”

jesse

“We’ll invest in your career in performance poetry.”

mal

[Laughing.] Right. Yeah. Anyhow. I don’t know. I needed the money and I borrowed it from this loan company and flew out to San Francisco and that was it, you know.

jesse

What were you doing when you first—well, first of all, how old were you, at this point?

mal

I don’t know. I was about 22 or 23. I got a job in Macy’s. You know. So, I’m Mr. Sharpe in the sporting goods department. And kind of just, you know, looking around. You know. On the road, in my own way, I guess. Lotta of people were on the move, then. And heading west, out to the West Coast.

jesse

This was still—this was still the ‘50s, right? Is this, like, ’58 or something?

mal

Well, it was about ’59, yeah, that I—yeah, that I came out to San Francisco.

jesse

What was the city like in that time?

mal

Well, you know, it was before the hippies. And kind of the beatnik thing was going on, but that was kind of in certain parts of town. North Beach. San Francisco was kind of a simple—we were just talking about this, the other day. There was still this kind of naivete to San Francisco. It wasn’t, in anyway, like a hip or big-league city. You know, if you wanted to really do anything, you had to leave here and go to LA or New York. All the advertising agencies had, you know, little accounts. But all this stuff was bubbling under, in San Francisco. You know. The whole Lenny Bruth, Swartz, Saul thing and Kingston Trio and Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. All that stuff was kind of going on in this very, kind of, sunny, foggy, innocent atmosphere, in a way. It was kind of a breeding ground, I guess. But, you know, somehow you didn’t even know it that much. You know? It—things didn’t have that kind of media buzz like, “Woah, this is a happening place.” Or anything. It was just kind of a sleepy place, in a way.

jesse

So, how did you end up meeting Jim Coyle?

mal

Well, you know, you could—I didn’t have much money and you could move into these, you know, they were called residence clubs. They were like boarding houses. But even that term’s probably gone now, from the American psyche. But they were, like, these mansions that had been turned into these rooming houses for young people. And you could move in for about 80 bucks a month. You got a little room. You know, one of these old San Francisco mansions that were fantastic, but they almost were in disuse. So, you could have a room and two meals a day for about 80 bucks a month. Which was a great deal. And you could lead your life instead of renting an apartment, which would have been $140 a month. You know.

jesse

And Jim Coyle was living there, as well?

mal

Yeah. I went down to supper, one night, and sat at—you’d sit at, you know—you’d sit down at some table and—I don’t know. He was going on and on. He was telling these two young women about—eeh, he was—belonged to some religion or something like that. And they went out to Marin on the weekend and they would lay on these rocks in the sun like turtles, or something, and commune with… nature and the sun. I don’t know. Some weird thing. And I said, “What is this guy up to? This is such—” But he was so convincing, and these girls’ jaws were dropping, you know. And I mean, I was kind of convinced by him too, you know. But I was also intrigued and went up to his room where he was reading Bruckner and Mahler. I mean, listening to Bruckner and Mahler on his record player. Reading Nietzsche.

jesse

It would probably be even more impressive if he was just sitting around reading Mahler.

mal

[Laughing.] Yeah, right. The score! Or he had Mahler frozen and he was just…

jesse

[Laughs.] I mean, like, one of the things that I was thinking of—as I watching the DVD that’s included in this set—is that the credulousness of Jim Coyle… he’s so sincere that it’s almost like… there’s almost, like, something terrifying about it. At least, there was for me. Like, I was like, “Woooah. Like… this is weird!”

mal

Yeah, Jim, he’s kind of a conventional looking guy, but he kind of had a thing that Andy Kaufman had, you know? Where Andy Kaufman, like, gets so believable that it’s kind of scary, too. You’re like, “Is he really yelling at the audience? Or is he really antagonizing these people? Or is this a joke?” You know. Don’t you think?

jesse

Yeah, I mean, I—watching it, I was thinking, you know—I was looking at you and I was thinking, “Well, this—this makes sense to me. You know.” Because you’re a—you’re really—you’re very—you’re a very genial guy. You know. Similarly, regular-looking to Jim Coyle. And I was thinking, you know, “I can see why people would relate to this guy.” And then I’m looking at Coyle and I’m thinking, “Man,” you know, like, “I think that I would accept whatever he told me was true.” Because—almost because I would be worried that, like, if… that—I would be sort of a combination of convinced that it must be true and, sort of like, concerned that even if it wasn’t true, if I somehow pierced the bubble of truth that he was creating, that he would explode or something.

mal

[Laughs.] Can I—can I get a copy of that paragraph? [Jesse agrees with a laugh.] That’s very true, you know? That’s very true. You know, he—I’m glad you picked up on that. I mean, he was so intense. He was so—I mean, he would walk in the door and sort of look like what, in those days, the typical IBM executive, who was like the model American citizen. You know. Irish and kind of ruddy complexion and kind of a ordinary looking guy, to a certain degree. But then, yeah, this intensity would build up, you know. And he would sweep you into his aura. And yeah, that’s what he would do with people. And of course, Jim Coyle was a guy—he was kind of a harmless conman, but he lived to put people on. You know, this was not just something he did as an act. Which was kind of more my thing. I kind of enjoyed being with him and doing all this. But Jim, almost compulsively, wherever he went—if he went with you to a party, you knew he was gonna go over and start in on the hostess and it was gonna even get uncomfortable, maybe. You know. And, um… you know, he was one of those people.

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Mal: Can we have your name, please? Walter Schwartz: Yes. Walter Schwartz. Jim: Walter, Ozar Menderes, who is a person of medical background, here in the Bay Area, has come up with a rather interesting theory. He claims that the head—the actual size of the head, including the current limitations that exist because of the ramifications of the bone structure—the actual size of the head can be expanded to accommodate—actually special dimension, not only for increased brainpower, but for many of the activities in the body which would, if they took place in the head, be more efficiently performed. Would you go along with this idea? Walter: Certainly, I would go along with this idea, if it would serve any fruitful purpose—individually, collectively, or for the good of society. Mal: Do you think that people are participating in this experiment are gonna feel self-conscious? Their reads won’t be round, or their heads are actually elongated—in some cases two or three times the size of the head as it is today. In other words, it becomes very high and narrow. This is—yeah. Jim: This is—is projected, concept. Walter: Yes! They may—some may feel self-conscious and some may even desire it, because of sort of a—status seekers. Jim: What do you mean, exactly, by that? Walter: Well, they might feel slightly superior that they’ve gone through an operation and now they have greater potential than the average other citizen. Mal: In other words, you think perhaps some snob appeal would develop with the elongated head.

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Walter: Yes! It could appeal to some people in this way, that they would have an elite society, that— Jim: Through expanding the head size. Would you, yourself, be willing to submit your head for such purposes? Walter: If I thought and was convinced that it would serve any useful purpose—either to myself, individuals, collectively or society as a whole—I most certainly would. Mal: And you wouldn’t feel at all embarrassed that your head would be elongated, perhaps, as long as your body? Walter: Nooo. No, I wouldn’t. Um. I don’t believe I would, at this time. Mal: If you were staying in France and you had this elongated head, you got a hotel room and the bed—most of the French people are a little shorter than the average Americans—the bed was rather short. Would you and your—and your head was the same size as your body—which would you place on the bed? Your body or your head? One section would be drooping onto the floor of the hotel. Which section would you place on the bed? Walter: I think I’d place my head on the bed. And the rest of the body hang over and straddle on the floor or whatever, or chairs, or whatever’d be necessary. Mal: And when the maid came in, in the morning, if you were still sleeping—she opened the door, what would she see asleep on the bed? Walter: That—my head.

jesse

What was the—what was the appeal of being with somebody like that, to you, who was—at the time—you know, like, maybe a little counter-cultural but otherwise a pretty regular guy?

mal

Yeah. Uh, I don’t know. It was kind of dangerous. I mean, he had such a sick sense of humor. He was so bright. He was just very funny and… he was also very intellectual. And, you know, he did read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and all this stuff kind of drew you in. He almost had, like, acolytes. Well, he didn’t have a lot. But there was always one or two other people around that were kind of held in his sway, in a weird way. You know? So—but to go out with him, you know—to go out with him and, you know—he’d turn his collar around and look like a priest and we’d go to movie theaters and they’d say, “Oh, Father Coyle, come right in.” And… [They laugh.] So. You’re just conning, you know, somebody at the counter out of a box of popcorn, but there was still something—he just loved playing the part of a priest or something like that. I can’t explain it. Just hanging out with a guy like that was really fun. You know.

jesse

What led the two of you into thinking that this could be something besides just something that you did as a goof?

mal

Yeah, I think we both wanted to, you know, have jobs. Do something to make a living. You know? I mean, even though he conned his way into jobs. He always had some jobs. And one time he even flew as a co-pilot in a training program for TWA. [Jesse bursts into laughter.] I mean. He got that part, you know? But, you know, we kind of thought these things are kind of funny. You know, we—after I went in the Army, I was stationed in Long Island city and I lived in Greenwich Village, ‘cause they didn’t have like an Army post. I was at—where they made Army training films. And I went and lived in Greenwich Village, in this room. And one day I bumped into Coyle on the street. He had come back from San Francisco. We weren’t even in touch. But—so we hooked up again, in Greenwich Village. And, you know, we’d stand on the street corner and try and sell people toasters. Or we would go to, you know, weird social events. And we were just having a good time, you know. And we finally decided, “Well, what if we could go back to San Francisco? Be out in the sunshine again and record this stuff and do something.” We just thought it was so funny. And, you know, at least we enjoyed it. You know. So, that’s—that was kind of it. It was vague, but, you know, the kind of thing young people do. [Chuckles.]

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Mal: Can we have your name, please? Pat Paulson: Yes, it’s Mrs. Pat Paulson. Jim: Can we ask you a question? Would you, yourself, approve the idea of a commercial agency—the purpose of which is to purchase children from homes and then redistribute these children to other homes on a lease basis, for a profit? Pat: Well, that might not be a bad idea. Of course, I don’t know. I would miss mine awful much. Mal: There’s a—there’s a group here in the city which actually is getting children. We’re not sure of the source, yet. They’re getting children. They have been 50 and 75 children and they’re renting them out to people in the area. Pat: Really? Mal: Yes. Pat: How—how can they do that? What about the parents? Jim: They have actually purchased these children from the parents. They’ve purchased these children. The parents have gone along with an idea whereby the children are turned over to these people permanently. For instance, if somebody wants a little 9-year-old boy in his or her home for a weekend, there’s a set fee. Do you approve this? Pat: No! I wouldn’t approve of that! I think any child, away from it’s own home, would be unhappy. Mal: Even if it was getting a percentage of the profits from the organization? In other words, if the child knew he was gonna get 25% while he stayed with a group of people. Pat: Weeell, to a child, I think the happiness of their own home is more important than any money, whether—

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Jim: You don’t think that it might be helpful to a child to have a very commercial attitude in regard to himself, at an early age? Knowing that he’s being leased? Pat: Well—everything is too commercial. This is, um—this is—the whole world, today, is too commercial. Jim: We are, ourselves, involved in this agency. And we have two of the children with us, today. We’d like you just to meet them and tell us whether you think they’re happy or not. Would you do this? They’re right here. Mal: They’re right here. Jim: Tell us? Mal: Will you meet them? Pat: Well, yes, I’ll meet them, but I don’t think that they could give me a reaction, right now. Mal: What are your names, boys? Ronald: I—I’m Ronald. Jim: How old are you, Ronald? Ronald: I’m, uh, 13. Jim: And what is your name young—?

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Andy: Andy. Jim: And, uh, we’ve been sending you around to different homes in the community, now, for about four and a half months. Would you describe yourself as unhappy or happy? Ronald: I feel fine about it. I think it’s real good. Mal: And your little friend, here—once again, how old are you? Andy: Nine. Mal: You have little freckles on your face, there. How many homes have you been to in the last three years? Andy: About 14. Mal: He’s been to 14 homes. And you can see, can’t you? Wouldn’t you say from looking at them? They’re happy? Pat: Well, they look happy enough. They have a bag of candy. That’s enough to make any child happy. Jim: Right, exactly, and we’ve given the candy to them. We’re taking care of them. And said that you’re opposed to this. Pat: Weeell, and my answer is no. In my opinion, you aren’t taking very proper care of them. They should be home eating a carrot stick instead of a bag of candy. Mal: Maybe that’s right. Now, this afternoon—normally, these two fellows are actually brothers and normally we rent them on a weekend basis for $17 a day. Now, you’ve shown some interest in them. You think they should be in a home this weekend. Could we let you have them, for $10.50? The two brothers, Ronnie and Andy, in your home this weekend. Pat: Heavens no! I have two of my own. That’s enough!

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Jim: It’s a trial! Don’t you think, if you had Ronnie and Andy in your home over the weekend, you’d be able to determine whether they’re happy. Pat: Well, I don’t see any normal boys standing on a street corner, talking to strangers, saying that they’re being paid money to go live with somebody would be happy! Mal: Ronnie? Could we ask Ronnie—Ronnie and Andy, would you like to go to this lady’s home this weekend? Ronnie: Sure! Yeah! Jim: And you know it’s at the discount rate. You won’t be getting your full 25%. Ronnie: Doesn’t matter. Mal: How about you? Jim: Andy, would you like to go into this lady’s home? Andy: Okay! Uh-huh. Jim: Ronnie, tell us, what was the last home you were in? What was it like? Ronnie: It was very—it was a very nice home, you know. It—some—some nice people who already had, um, three children. Mal: See, they already had children. Jim: Could we place them in your home, this weekend? And we give them some sedation, so they aren’t too wild. This is one of the reasons why they’re willing to go. Pat: I think you ought to be out teaching these boys how to play baseball, instead of standing on the street, trying to sell them!

jesse

I mean, one of the really remarkable things about this story is that—the fact that it happened all in the early 1960s was very fortuitous, because this was really, sort of, the first period in time that technologically you could do this, as anything more than—you know—running illegal con games. That you could do a prank and document it well enough that it could be something that could entertain others. Because this was the first time that, you know, there was actual, portable tape recorders. Among other things.

mal

Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s a really good point. And, you know, we didn’t think of that, at the time. But, you know, I’ve been interviewed by the BBC. They consider us, like, you know, historical figures. And [chuckles] that sort of thing. But yeah, it—for the first time, there were smaller tape recorders. Not what we have today, but still smaller. And they were used by—mostly private eyes. It was a famous private, in San Francisco. Hal… Hal Lipskit or something like that. Coppola’s movie, The Conversation, kind of, I think, was based on his career. But we went down and we would hang and I would hang out with these private eyes, at this—at this—at this store that had—Brookes Camera, but they also had—in this camera shop, they also had miniature tape recorders and microphones. And we’d be up there with the private eyes and they’d be stuffing them in briefcases and stuff. And that’s what we did! We were kind of the first entertainers, probably, that walked around with this gear—you know—in a little briefcase. You know.

jesse

Was this—did you—did you actually have a job doing this, before you went out and bought a tape recorder that fits in a briefcase? Or did you buy a tape recorder that fits in a briefcase in order to think that you could get a job doing it?

mal

No, we bought the—we bought the tape recorder. I mean, we had the tape recorder… and this little gear for probably two years before we ever, you know, made a cent. I mean, we just—we just bought this thing and started walking around San Francisco. And we walked around San Francisco for two years. Every single neighborhood you can imagine. We’d be in neighborhoods we didn’t even know existed. Things like the Excelsior district. We didn’t know where we were! You know, we would get up everyday and just go some—a street that was different and had a bunch of stores we hadn’t been in the day before. ‘Cause we’d walk in the stores with this hidden stuff. You know, mortuaries and antique stores and printing—you know, printing shops or—you know, just whatever the next store was, we’d stand outside for a second and try and come up with a premise and, if nobody else was in there and the guy was—you know—available. You know, we’d strut in. You know, in our suits and propose something to the fellow. You know.

jesse

What were you—what were you doing with this, um, [chuckling] tape that you were recording when—as a—like, did you have, like, a—were you creating your own “Best Of”s and inviting girls over to listen to them, or what?

mal

Aha. No, we weren’t. Um. Interesting concept. No, we were just collecting this stuff and, ultimately, we got a contract with—and we would edit them. We’d sit in Jim’s house with some early editing. You know, splicing tape—which is gone—and razor blades and we’d put these things together and make little demo tapes and go around to radio stations and… Ultimately, here in San Francisco, we got a record contract with Fantasy Records, which—they through us out, though, after about six months. But yeah. You know, we were just collecting the stuff. You know. It was just some dream, you know, that the venture would go someplace someday. You know. Can’t explain it. Haven’t you done something like this, Jesse? [Jesse laughs.] Isn’t this show like that?

jesse

[Dramatically.] Me?! Meeeee?!

mal

But, uh, yeah, I don’t know. We just did it! I don’t know why. We just thought it would work out.

jesse

We’ll have more with my interview with Mal Sharpe after the break. Plus, more bits! Stick around. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

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Janet Varney: Hey. I’m Janet Varney, host of The JV Club podcast. [School bell rings. The muffled sounds of talking in the hallway.] Janet: Ah, high school. Was it a time of adventure, romance, and discovery? Speaker 1: [Cheering.] Class of ’95! We did iiiit! Janet: Or— [Rain sound effect.] Janet: A time of angst, disappointment, and confusion? Speaker 2: We’re all tied together by four years of trauma, at this place, but enjoy adulthood, I guess! [A chorus of boos.] Janet: The truth is? It was both! Music: Bouncy music fades in. Janet: So, join me on The JV Club podcast, where I invite some great friends, like Kristen Bell, Angela Kinsey, Oscar Nunez, Neil Patrick Harris, Keegan-Michael Key, to talk about high school: the good, the bad, and everything in between. Speaker 3: My teenage mood swings are [voice dropping into something gruff and aggressive] gettin’ harder to manage! Janet: The JV Club. Find it on MaximumFun. [Music fades out.]

promo

Music: Soft, synth heavy music. Manoush Zomorodi: How do we reinvent ourselves? And what’s the secret to living longer? I’m Manoush Zomorodi. Each week, on NPR’s TED Radio Hour, we go on a journey with TED speakers to seek a deeper understanding of the world and to figure out new ways to think and create. Listen now. [Music ends.]

jesse

Welcome back to Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. Right now, we’re replaying my 2006 interview with the late Mal Sharpe. In the early ‘60s, Mal and his friend Jim Coyle basically invented hidden microphone pranks. They’d roam the street of San Francisco and talk with random strangers about absurd, hilarious propositions. They were called Coyle and Sharpe. Jim Coyle died in 1993. Mal claimed it was in a skydiving accident. Mal died earlier this year. Let’s get back into our conversation. What were the things like that you created at the—at the very beginning?

mal

Well, on this new—this new boxset, _These Two Men are Imposters—I have a bunch of unedited early stuff that we did. I found some stuff in some drawers and things like that, that had never been used before. You know, it was on these big reels of 10- or 11-inch tape. And it would be things like—we’d go down to the marina district, in San Francisco. There’d be an apartment for rent. You can hear us kind of walk in and one of these tacky, kind of, landlords. You know, lived in the building. You know. Like a supervisor, yeah. One of those guys. [Jesse affirms.] And we would, you know, the hidden tape recorder’d be clunking away. We’d be walking up the stairs with him and he’d show us the apartment and, like, in this particular thing that’s on the—in the CD, we—Jim then explains that he doesn’t really care about the rooms, that’s it’s the closets. He lives in the closets. [Jesse chuckles.] And he doesn’t want any light, in the closets. And so, then the guy is all involved with, “Well, why don’t you come in this room. This is kind of a dark room and maybe you could get a closet in here you’d like to live in.” You know, things like that. You know. Wandering into, you know, apartments for rent. We did a lot of things in mortuaries where we walked in and told the mortician that Jim had had an unsuccessful life and he—Jim wanted to be buried and dug up again. To, like, renew his life. To start again. And [chuckles] you know, the tape recorder’d be on the—in the briefcase on the guy’s desk and it would all be kind of tense and… you know, he’d say, “Well, who would be coming to this funeral?” And it was always several of our friends and one animal. [Jesse bursts into surprised laughter.] And the highlight, for us, would be when the guy would say, “What kind of animal?” And then [laughing]_ it was—it was always wolverines or cattle or some—something that would have to be tied up, that might attack somebody, but probably wouldn’t. You know. So, it would be this whole scene of—taking place in some graveyard where he’d be burying Coyle and digging him up and there’d be—you know, wolves trying to get at him and, you know, stuff like that. And it would be—it would be places like that. Antique stores, you know, where we—did a lot of things involving death, for some reason. But antique stores where we—our uncle had died and—without signing a document that would have given us a lot of money. And if we could dig him up and bring his body into the antique store, that particular store had the kind of furniture that was in his home. He’d be comfortable and we could—we had a way of getting his arm to move to sign the document. You know. Could we bring the body in, that night? You know. Stuff like that. We—they would call the cops a lot. You know. We’d end up jumping on busses to get away from the sirens and things.

jesse

There’s tape of you and—you guys getting arrested, on that third CD that you mentioned.

mal

Right. Yeah, that’s another thing. That particular tape was lost for years. And we had signed an agreement with a judge, when we were going up for trial, that we would never play it anywhere. But I figured, since it was 40 years later—yeah. I mean, we had been out in the avenues in San Francisco and we’d stopped some guy. Some guy in a suit. He was walking toward his car. We asked him if we could—if we could borrow his car for the weekend. Um. [Jesse laughs.] We wanted to go over to Marianne and go out to eat in some outdoor restaurants and things like that. And we’d bring it back on Monday. And… and he didn’t wanna lend it to us. And, you know—‘cause he didn’t trust us. And, of course, we always would explain that, wouldn’t an experience like this—if we—he got the car back on Monday, wouldn’t he realize that he could trust human beings? And it would be a very learning and growing experience for him. And you know. Very beneficial. All the time, of course, that we were talking, we were growing more suspicious. Deliberately so. So, it turns out—so, he wouldn’t do it and he got in his car and he drove away. And we walked down the street and we were interviewing some kid on the street corner. And the cop car pulled up. The guy was in the back. And it turned out he was a cigar salesman or something. He had been collecting all his money. He had a lot of money on him. And he thought we were setting him up to rob him. You know, so he got the cops. And they grabbed the briefcase out of my hand with the hidden tape recorder in it, so it recorded the whole arrest. And this was in the days before the Miranda thing, where they had to tell you your rights. And, ultimately, we were in a cell and they called me out, because they suddenly discovered the tape recorder and they didn’t know how to turn it off. [Jesse giggles.] Anyway, we had a trial. They had a—they had a jury. It was jury selection day at the Hall of Justice, in San Francisco. And they called us in the back room and the judge said, “This is ridiculous. And if you sign this waiver and never play this tape of the arrest again, you know, you guys can go home.” And we were happy to do that.

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[Ambient, shuffling sounds, likely of the briefcase being moved around. The noises are loud enough, at first, to largely obscure the voices of anyone talking.] Jim: It was this [inaudible]. This particular car. Speaker: Just a plain, ordinary Cintra. Mal: Just a smaller car, this would be. Jim: What would be the chance of, when you finish with it this evening, of taking in a spin it? Speaker: Rather, uh, hard. I live way down in nowhere. Mal: Oh, we could go with you, now, and then when you get done, tonight, we could just go out for a ride and that’d be easy. Speaker: I’m pretty busy right now. Jim: Why don’t we get you home, on a bus or something like that. Can we take a spin in it? Speaker: That’s just not very ethical, that’s all. I don’t trust that. Mal: What do you mean, that—? Jim: What, do we look [chuckles] evil or something? Speaker: No, just that it’s a company owned car and I’m not allowed to lend it out.

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Jim: Oh, you’re intimating we’re gonna steal the car? Speaker: No. Mal: Let’s forget the company policy. You sit in the backseat and we’ll take it out for a spin, tonight. Speaker: No thanks. Mal: You can bring somebody with you. Speaker: No, that’s alright. Jim: Can we drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, now? Speaker: No. Jim: Can I just ask why, so we’ll understand? Speaker: Well, I just—I told you, it’s against company policies. I’m sure if you go right down here, they’ll let you drive any one of their sample cars, if you’re interested in going there. Mal: Yeah, well, we wanted to drive one that somebody’s already had. We really wanted to drive your car. We saw you and then we saw the nice little car.

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Jim: Could we have it over the weekend? Speaker: No, I’m sorry, I told you it’s against store—company policy. Jim: Just Saturday and Sunday. Speaker: No. I’m sorry. [The car door slams shut.] Jim: No? [The sound of the car starting.] Jim: [Inaudible.] Mal: I don’t know. I really don’t. [The sound of the car driving off. Audio ends and picks back up at a later time.] [Shuffling sounds.] Mal: Say, excuse me, are you in a rush? Speaker: Yeah, I have to go down to the corner, sorry. Jim: You’re walking down the street here? Frequently enough? Speaker: Yeah. Jim: Okay, we’ll see ya. Thanks a lot. Take it easy. Mal: H-here are the police. Here we go. Cop: Get your hands out of your pockets. [Thumping sounds. A voice over the radio, muffled and inaudible.]

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Mal: We didn’t do anything. Jim: Can you take it easy with that thing? With the tape recorder in it? By the way, when you started the car, we wanted to tell you. Speaker: Well, I mean, it’s rather unusual for you guys to just— [Thumping noises and engine sounds.] Mal: You want us to explain what we did? Cop: You’re right, but we’ll do the explaining at the police station. Jim: We wanted to tell you. Cop: You gentleman ever been arrested before? Mal: No. Cop: No arrest records? Here or in any other state? Where’s your home at? Mal: Here, in San Francisco. Jim: We could save a lot of time if you let us explain. Cop: Well, we’ll—that’s right. We’re gonna talk at the station. Mal: One thing we’d like to make easy. This is a precision instrument. [Audio becomes distorted and intercut with loud squealing.] Jim: I think we should have a right to tell you what it’s— Mal: First of all—

jesse

Were you—were you learning anything doing these over these—I mean, before you were even—before you were even on the airwaves, you were doing this for two years? Were you, like, refining techniques?

mal

Yeah. I think we developed a lot of premises. A lot of rapport. Yeah. It was a lot of chops that, even to this day, are very useful to me. You know. Creating things, premise-izing, having concepts in your head before you walk into a situation. We learned a lot. You know. Human nature. Who would be the good subjects—that we had to get people with good voices, people that spoke up. We loved to get truck drivers. “Prollies” as we called them. Good prolly types. You know? But, you know, get these truck drivers to yell and scream at us, you know. Construction workers. So, it was a good, kind of, human interest learning experience. You know. For us.

jesse

How did you—how did the two of you dissolve your partnership?

mal

Um, that’s a good question, Jesse. [Chuckles.] We had done a television pilot that you were mentioning, earlier. The Imposters, for a company in LA. We finished that. We couldn’t get another radio job. And… the partnership was getting a little frayed, much as a lot of partnerships and marriages and things begin to get, you know, a little bit of pressure on them. Jim was a kind of very, very eccentric guy. Extremely paranoid. It was hard for me, sometimes, to deal with this. And—but anyway, he was married. I was married, then. And we were living in West Los Angeles. And one day I went over to his house to kind of do something and no one was there. And the landlord told me that they had left—Jim and his wife, Naomi. They’d gotten in his car and taken off. They’d gone to New York. And that was the last time—well, I didn’t see him then, but I didn’t really talk to him again for 18 years. You know, he just split. And it was over. And it was kind of a relief, in some ways, that it was over, because it was getting to be a bad marriage, you know.

jesse

I—I mean I can only imagine that, you know… this relationship must have been kind of seriously intense. I mean, I—honestly, I can’t imagine anything dealing with the man that I see on the television screen as not being intense. [Mal chuckles.] I imagine, like, eating a grapefruit with him would be intense.

mal

[Chuckling.] Well. Uh, it was! You know, and I think when we were both single and we were just, you know, drifting around San Francisco and sitting on curbs and eating sandwiches and… and having these adventures, it was a great adventure! You know. It really was a great adventure. I think, in a way, why I’ve been attached to this stuff my whole life and maybe even put out this boxset—I could have let this stuff go a long time ago, but it kind of almost represents some kind of youthful exuberance and stupidity and intensity that you can only have when you’re 24 or 23. You know. And… I don’t know. I don’t know where we started this question. [Laughs.] ‘Cause I’m lost in a lot of different thoughts here. But—yeah, ultimately it was—it was probably too intense, you know? It was too intense.

jesse

You went on to basically make your career out of doing this kind of thing and you eventually sort of became known as the man on the street guy. [Mal affirms.] Both locally, in the—both locally, here in the—in the Bay—or, excuse me, not here in the Bay Area. I live in Los Angeles, now. Both locally, in the Bay Area, and nationally. Was it—how was it different to work—to be working by yourself for so long after having this kind of catalyzing, you know, five- or ten-year relationship with a—with a partner?

mal

Well, you know, I… I sorta left doing the thing with him. I went to work on a—with a company in LA that created radio commercials. And I really enjoyed that work. We were creating. You know, it was in the middle of the ‘60s. The Beatles were happening, and sound got really interesting. The Mode synthesizer arrived, and this whole thing sprung up. And I loved creating this stuff and making it, but I kept getting calls for man on the street interviews. And so, slowly I started taking these things and developed a style that wasn’t as antagonistic. You know, as intense as my thing with Jim. And, ultimately, I kinda fell into my own style, which was a little more friendly. A little more drawing people out, bringing out their humor, having a good time with them, on the street. And, so it was rather different, but still very enjoyable to me. And compared with other jobs I could have had, even the one I had at this production company, it was great being outside all day. You know. Walking around with a tape recorder. It was—I liked meeting people and engaging them and having a good time with them. So, it turned out pretty—for some weird reason, nothing I had ever intended to do in life—it turned out to be a really nice career.

jesse

Mal Sharpe, of Coyle and Sharpe from 2006. I wanna send you off with one more classic Coyle and Sharpe recording. This is “Wolverine Football”.

clip

[Throughout the clip, sounds of a football game in the background punctuate the dialogue—shouts, cheers, the occasional blow of a whistle.] Jim: [Using a German accent.] Say, what’s this, uh… what is this called? Speaker: What? Jim: The games they play here. Speaker: It’s football. Mal: [Also using a German accent.] You’ve participated in the game? You are a coach? Speaker: No, I used to play. That’s about it. My playing days are over. Jim: We are from Hansiotic Zoologicalive. I ask you this question: we have, this ourselves, a group of animals that we have brought from our country. And we would like to have them do things that people can do. But you know the game. You know the football. Would you be able to take the animals and train them to play? Make a team of them to play these boys? Speaker: Animals? Mal: Yeah. Jim: Yes. Speaker: What kind of animal? Jim: We have some animals that you would, uh… oh right, oh they say, are fierce. We have wolverines, which are very fast.

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Mal: You see, we are keeping them very hungry so that they remain vicious in a game. Speaker: How big are the wolverines? Jim: They are as big as—oh, how do you say—a Great Dane. Mal: But the wolverines we have all weigh over 300 pounds. Jim: We have taught the wolverines foot soccer. We have one wolverine soccer team. Mal: We have taught the wolverines to run on their two hindfeet. Jim: But now we wish for America to see the athletic wolverine playing other human beings in an American sport. Baseball, this is out of the question. Speaker: There’s a lot of good coaches around [inaudible]. And I know they’d be—they’d be all eager to—the work with wolverines. It’s something that nobody ever done before. Be kind of a challenge. Mal: Could we tell you that one of the wolverines has beaten us in a footrace? Speaker: How do they throw passes? How do they center the ball like that kid’s doing, right now? How do they—how do they get through the four legs and throw it back to the dog behind them? Jim: This—we have the king wolverine who teaches other by example. He is huge. He is most fierce. And he would be the best, probably. Mal: He has been elected the captain by the other wolverines.

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Jim: Wolverines against humans in football. This is what we wish. Now, what would be bad? You said, before, trouble with centering the football. Speaker: Well, they gotta center between the legs, right? Jim: Who does? Speaker: The—uh, the center. Jim: Yes? Speaker: That’d be the wolverine. Right? He’d have to center that ball back, between his four legs. Mal: Let us bring, to you, to your home, one of these animals. You keep it with you. Speaker: I live in the city. Mal: Yeah, you keep it in the city. Speaker: Yeah, but I haven’t got no backyard. Mal: No backyard! In the apartment. Speaker: A wolverine in an apartment? Jim: You could keep those that turn out best. Speaker: I live in a five-room flat and no backyard. And no back porch. Where do I keep all the team?

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Mal: We have the wolverines on a chain. We have them on a chain, they are linked together. You just bring them in. You put a small spike in your living room, and you will not care that there may be some bodily harm to you, because they are ferocious. Jim: No, this is not— Speaker: What are they gonna do to me? Mal: Bite! Jim: We know this. Something like this takes time. You don’t overnight take animals. You don’t take beasts and make them athletes. If you could train them so well, we have, then, a game where they play these boys, here. Speaker: Well, wolverine’ll tear them apart! You say they were vicious. You keep them hungry, alright? Then they gotta—they gotta—they have to either tackle the player or touch the player. There’s a— Jim: Who tackles? Who would tackle? Speaker: The wolverine would have to grab them. Or either—you know—either with their paws or with their jaws. Mal: Would you suggest that we— Speaker: Basically, if the guy had the ball and the wolverine tried to get him, he’d probably take a hunk out of his fanny, but he’d catch him. Mal: What were these first fundamentals you would teach the wolverine? Speaker: First you have to teach him how to stand still and line up! That’s the first thing. Mal: Yeah. Yeah. Then what? Speaker: Then that’s it. If they can get that far, then I’ll teach them the rest.

jesse

Coyle and Sharpe. Mal Sharpe passed away in March. He was 83 years old. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to Mal, for the kindness that he showed me, through my career—from when I was a clueless 19- or 20-year-old, until the day he died. But, to be honest, he was just that kind of guy. I think that one of the reasons that, when they revealed it was a prank at the end of every Coyle and Sharpe recording—which they did, every time—the person almost without exception laughed, was because Mal was the kind of person who would make you feel comfortable in any situation. Even when he was pitching you wolverine football. Anyway. Thanks, Mal. You’ll be remembered. Why don’t we read the credits over one of Mal’s recordings? His music recordings! His band was called The Big Money in Jazz Band. And they were a mainstay in North Beach, for decades. Take it away, Mal and company.

music

A brassy instrumental from Mal Sharpe’s The Big Money in Jazz Band.

jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is recorded out of the homes of me and the staff of MaximumFun, in and around Los Angeles, California. Here’s an update from Jordan Kauwling, my colleague’s home: she and her roommates threw a Clue/Clueless party, at their house, where they dressed like the cast from the move Clueless to play the boardgame Clue. Our show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our producer is Kevin Ferguson. Jesus Ambrosio is our associate producer. We get help from Casey O’Brien and the aforementioned Jordan Kauwling. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. Our theme song is by The Go! Team. Thanks to them and their label, Memphis Industries, for letting us use it. Our special thanks, this week, not only to the late, great Mal Sharpe, but to his brilliant daughter, Jennifer Sharpe, who is a public radio colleague of many, many years and put huge amounts of effort into preserving her father’s legacy—without which, none of what we just played would have been possible. So, thank you to Jennifer. She’s a wonderful lady and I know she’s hurting ‘cause she lost her dad, but we loved him too, Jennifer. And thank you. You can keep up with Bullseye on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Just search for Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature sign off.

promo

Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

music

“Switchblade Comb” by Mobius VanChocStraw. A jaunty, jazzy tune reminiscent of the opening theme of a movie. Music continues at a lower volume as April introduces herself and her guest, and then it fades out.

april wolfe

Welcome to Switchblade Sisters, where women get together to slice and dice our favorite action and genre films. I’m April Wolfe. Every week, I invite a new female filmmaker on. A writer, director, actor, or producer, and we talk—in depth—about one of their fave genre films. Perhaps one that’s influenced their own work in some small way. And you may already know, but here is a reminder that we are doing remote recording now, uh, since we’re all social distancing. I’m recording from my bedroom. You may hear my husband doing dishes in the background, which I hope won’t happen. [Mitra laughs.] Um, and the audio is likely going to sound a little different from our studio’s, but everything else is exactly the same, except for our guest. Because today I’m very excited to have comedian, writer, actor Mitra Jouhari here. Hi!

mitra

Hello!

april

Recording from your bedroom, living room? What’s your room of choice?

mitra

I’m recording from my bedroom, yeah. It’s actually—I was scared that it was gonna be a Zoom call, because it is in such an embarrassing state. [April agrees.] And I was very relieved to see that there was no camera element to this one.

april

We are merciful here if anything at Maximum Fun. Um, for those of you who are less familiar with Mitra’s work, please let me give you an introduction. Mitra is an LA based comedian, writer, and performer. She’s appeared in Judd Apatow and Kumail Nanjiani’s feature, The Big Sick, on Comedy Central’s Broad City, and can be seen in the upcoming season of TBS’s Search Party, which I’m eagerly awaiting. Um, she regularly hosts and produces the live show It’s A Guy Thing with Catherine Cohen and Patti Harrison. Mitra was previously the digital producer of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS, and her staff writer credits include The President Show at Comedy Central, Miracle Workers on TBS, High Maintenance on HBO and Pod Save America on HBO.  Mitra was recently an executive story editor on season 5 of Netflix’s Big Mouth as well. Now, Mitra has co-created and stars in the Quarter Hour series Three Busy Debras, a surreal story about three deranged housewives named Debra in the affluent suburban town of Lemoncurd, Connecticut. And the show is produced by Amy Poehler for Adult Swim. So Mitra, the movie that you chose to talk about today is, you know, one that has flown under the radar for so many people, and it is Earth Girls Are Easy. [Both laugh.] Can you give us a little explanation on uh, why this one is one of your fave genre films?

mitra

So I—I—Earth Girls Are Easy is a movie that I um, I had been told that I would love for a really, really long time an then for whatever reason just didn’t end up watching it, and uh, I really love—across the board, I think I just, I love a movie that like, doesn’t take it too seriously that it’s a movie, kind of, is the best way I feel like I can describe it. I like a movie or a TV show where things can just can just happen if it feels like the most fun thing to do, and this definitely feels like a great example of that. It seems like a movie where they just um, they wanted—if they wanted to do something, it kind of just went in the movie. I really—I so enjoy the experience of watching this movie for the first time, because like, when that uh, [Singing] “‘Cause I’m a blonde, ya ya ya” song happens, I was like, my jaw dropped. I was like, “Wait, what’s—” and it was so deep into the movie, and I was like, “What’s happening?” [Both laugh uproariously.] How do they do this? But it was so inspiring, because it was like, oh yeah, I guess you kind of can just what you want. You can make your thing. And it really felt like that, it felt so specific and fun.

april

We’re definitely gonna get into how they did that and why they did that. For those of you who haven’t seen Earth Girls Are Easy , today’s episode will obviously give you some spoilers, but that shouldn’t stop you from listening before you watch. As always, my motto is that it’s not what happens, but how it happens that makes a movie worth watching. Still, if you would like to pause and watch first, this is your shot. It’s on Hulu right now.

music

“Earth Girls Are Easy” off the album Earth Girls Are Easy by The N

april

Now let’s introduce Earth Girls Are Easy. Written by Julie Brown, Charlie Coffey, and Terrence E. McNally, not the other Terrence McNally, uh, and directed by Julien Temple for release in 1988. Earth Girls Are Easy stars Geena Davis as Valerie Gale, a manicurist whose boyfriend, Ted, is just not that into her. So her stylist friend, Candy Pink, played by Julie Brown, gives her a makeover, hoping to tempt her guy into giving her some action.

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Candy Pink: Valerie, Ted is obviously a victim of PMS. Valerie: What? Candy Pink: Premarital stress! Valerie: Oh. Well, what’ll snap him out of it? Candy Pink: A new woman. Valerie: Thanks. Candy Pink: Wait, that’s it! We’ll make you a new woman!

april

Valerie goes blonde and wears a sexy getup, but when Ted gets home expecting Valerie to be gone and at a conference, he’s got a lady with him, and he’s exposed as a cheater.

clip

Valerie: You brought a girl home to have sex? Ted: Well, you weren’t supposed to be here, Val. Valerie: You were gonna have sex without me? Ted: Well, no! Of course not.

april

Valerie kicks him out and destroys all his stuff while reminiscing of the times they had together. Meanwhile, three aliens, Mac, Wiploc, and Zeebo, played by Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, and Damon Wayans, respectively, are wandering around space just hornt all the way up. They get a broadcast of a bunch of sexy human women, realize it’s coming from Earth, and make a beeline detour to check out that planet. And the first Earth girl they meet is Valerie, whom they catch tanning by the pool before they crash land into it. At first, Valerie is freaked out and pissed she’s also getting abducted by aliens after her break-up.

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Valerie: Oh, if things weren’t bad enough, now I’ve been abducted by a UFO.

april

But then she starts to grow fond of the fuzzy guys as they start to soak up American pop culture. They can’t take off for their home planet until the pool is drained, so Valerie gets Woody, played by Michael McKean—who is one of my favorite characters in the movie—to drain it for her.

clip

Valerie: So how long is this going to take? Woody: Uh, about a day.

april

To hide them in plain sight, Valerie gets Candy to give them a makeover—lots of makeovers in this—revealing that they are, in fact, hot dudes. Mac, the hottest of all.

clip

[Gameshow music plays.] Candy Pink: Okay, behind door number three, this is the ultimate.

april

They take them out on the town and they pick up some chicks, but Mac’s got his eyes on Val, and they make some crazy hot alien love. Whiplop—okay, let me say that again. [Mitra laughs.] Wiploc and Zeebo accidentally rob a gas station, steal a car, and crash the car into the Randy’s Donuts sign. Mac and Valerie scheme their way into getting arrested to find Wiploc and Zeebo, which brings them to the emergency room, where Ted, the doctor, is examining them and finding out they have two hearts.

clip

Ted: It’s amazing, you each have two heartbeats.

april

Ted and Valerie get back together for some reason after Ted gets tricked into thinking that these guys are just in a band or whatever, echoes, he’s hearing things. Um, and so Valerie and Ted are like, “We’re gonna get married,” which makes Mac really sad. But Valerie calls after him that it is Mac she really loves.

clip

Valerie: I have to tell you something! I love you! Take me with you! Mac: [Inaudible.] Valerie: Anyplace! Mac: I am Mister Right? Valerie: Yes! Yes!

april

And she jumps into his space ship, but not before Candy wants to serve them all margaritas.

clip

Candy Pink: Wait you guys, you can’t leave without margaritas!

april

That’s the movie. [Both laugh.] It was incredibly difficult to write the synopsis of this. It’s just like, “Oh my god, there’s more that keeps happening.”

mitra

I was like, so relieved that you explain the—it’s a movie that— [April laughs uproariously.] —it’s so hard to explain what happens. Like, there’s no succinct way to be like, “Yeah, so Earth Girls Are Easy is about blah blah blah.” It’s like, no matter what, it’s like, “Oh yeah, and then it’s like, there’s a song on the beach, and then like they have to drain the pool, but also they’re aliens, but also they’re horny, but also they’re learning English.” [She breaks off, laughing.] No one said no at any point in the process of this movie being made, creatively, it feels like.

april

It’s so good, and I feel like—okay, here’s something. Julie Brown, this was kind of like, her—her little baby that she had been making. Because she came out with her album that had the song “Earth Girls Are Easy” on it, and, you know, it was very weird how this happened. Apparently she said, “The album was out, and I got a call from Warner Bros. And they said, ‘These songs are so theatrical, you know, they have these stories. Do you have any movie ideas?’ So I pitched them Earth Girls and they bought it in the room, which never happens. And they were like, ‘You can be the star of it.’ “You can’t tell anyone that that’s how to get into show business, though. But it was my sense of humor, me that I put out there. You have to make stuff. You have to put your point of view out there. Nobody’s going to be writing ‘Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun’ for you.” I think that that is insane that it’s how this movie got started.

mitra

It’s—I mean—but like, it simultaneously makes no sense, but then it makes perfect sense, because it’s like I feel like you either buy it in the room or never at all. Like, because, if she didn’t—if it wasn’t just like, the broadest explanation of this movie like, as soon as you try to explain what’s happening in this movie, you feel insane. So, might as—I feel like you’d have to just take it on the most vague amount of information possible.

april

Oh yeah. But she also wouldn't have been able to sell it without the song is the thing, too. You know, like having this album that kind of exemplifies, and I think, you know, can you imagine pitching something that is this strange without any kind of accompanying visual references, you know, from her music videos or from anything else. She was already kind of selling her style in these like, small bits, which I think is a really interesting thing for the 1980s. Because to me it kind of mirrors what we’re seeing now with shorter pieces being developed, so you can get an idea of like, what an artist’s vision is before they maybe make a feature.

mitra

I definitely relate to that. I mean, it’s so much apart of like—I mean, Three Busy Debras is kind of a version of that, where we had these shorts that we had on YouTube and a play and all that, and we definitely had a very specific thing that we were doing that adult people, first Amy Poehler and then people at Adult Swim became aware of. And that—I mean, if we didn't have these highly specific things—we needed to be able to point to like, “Yeah, this is exactly the tone of the show. It already exists, we’ve been working on it for years.”

april

Yeah, ‘cause otherwise you’re just in a room saying like, “Okay, so there’s three women and they’re all named Debra.” [Both begin laughing continuously.]

mitra

Yeah, I think they definitely would not have taken us at our word, I would say.

april

So I—I think that, you know, Julie Brown is—I think she, you know, she was a genius of her time, and still is quite smart. And she was talking a lot about the fact that even though Earth Girls is out there, she still had what she thought would be kind of a grounding story of it. And she said, “With Earth Girls, the idea in my head was always The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is in this place of longing and she doesn’t know what it is. That’s what Geena’s character is going through. She’s at a level of dissatisfaction, and then this alien comes along and suddenly she’s willing to leave the planet with him.” So, even though she’s out there, she’s still making these, you know, when she was in the room pitching, she’s just like, “I know that this sounds nuts, but truly, this is just The Wizard of Oz in a different way.” And, you know, that’s one of the reasons—a way that she was trying to get people into it, and try to sell it in the room. And I’m curious if you remember how to do that yourself.

mitra

Well, definitely. I mean, again, with Debras, just because I’m so in the thick of it and it’s so much of my life, and I think with so many of the—with Big Mouth too, with these really heightened shows where really, really crazy, not relatable stuff happens, it’s important to have a conversation about what we’re really talking about or what the important, emotional thing is. We definitely have those conversations in Debras, where it’s like, it’s such a wacky thing, but at the end of the day it’s three women who are unhappy with their lives and don’t really like themselves. And uh, I hope this isn’t too controversial, but I think people can probably relate to that. [Both laugh.] Um, but I—I certainly can. And these women just doing crazy things out of a place of pain, so you have that really dark sort of kernel informing a very, very silly, often dumb, big, heightened thing. Which, I think, happens with a lot of different comedy shows, where you see something that would never happen—and, you know, movies and other things in general. But I think seeing something very heightened, you can access that and allow yourself to go to those places when you know why. Like, there’s a part of your gut that understands why a person is doing what they’re doing.

april

Yeah, ‘cause I mean, it can be the most absurd concept in the world, but as long as there’s some kind of like, grounding piece to it, I think everyone can kind of relate, you know?

mitra

Yeah, when things start to feel unwieldy with us when we write the show, it’s often just because we’ve lost sight of whatever the emotional thing is. So we have to sort of backtrack and force ourselves to have some self control and go back to the important, emotional thing. ‘Cause if we lose track of that, then people, I think, watching the show would feel very lost.

april

Well, I mean, talking about tropes, this movie— [Mitra bursts into uproarious laughter.] —is very much, much about tropes, you know? It’s very much about kind of embracing um, these older things in film and television, but also poking fun at them lightly. And specifically, you know, we’re talking about these kind of loving references to the 1950s. You know, they’re using the scope format, these really saturated colors that are emulating all the really beautiful range that you had in technicolor, back in like, all the beach movies. And you’ve got the use of like, Julie Brown using—the name of the beauty parlor is Curl Up and Die. Um, and they’ve got like a cuticle convention called the Nail Expo, and there’s just all of this like, really wonderful love for, you know, the glamor of that era, the kind of pop culture of it. And, you know, similar in a way that you get from someone like John Waters, who’s throwing back to these different eras of film. But I truly love the way that they tap into the—just the kitsch of all of it, and recreate it, and—

mitra

And it’s so fun! I mean, but that’s like, I mean, and you really feel the movie being made out of a place of love. Like, it’s tapping into all this stuff, but you can tell that the people who are making it really love this stuff. You can’t—you—I love—I mean, I think that’s something that I really value in comedy is like, when there’s parody or satire or references or anything like that. I—this is something I try to do in my own work, too, where it’s like, if I’m making fun of something—if I’m doing a parody or a reference or something like that—I often find that I’m having more fun when it’s coming form a place of love. When I’m trying to like, take something down. It’s a matter of personal preference, but my style, I think, often leans more into reverence and adoration in order to inform. Like, with Debras, I—I love—I love the Real Housewives, I love the Desperate Housewives, I love all those like, portrayals and stories of opulence because they feel so foreign and like, a different planet to me. But I watch them and I’m obsessed with them, because these women do seem to live in a completely different universe, so I think just taking it a step further with Debras has been such a blast.

music

“Switchblade Comb” by Mobius VanChocStraw.

april

We’re gonna take a quick break. When we come back, we’re gonna talk a little bit more about the process. I’m very interested in casting and what it’s like to star in the work that you actually wrote as well. Um, so we’ll be right back. [Music fades.]

promo

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music

“Switchblade Comb” by Mobius VanChocStraw.

april

Welcome back to Switchblade Sisters. I’m April Wolfe, and I’m joined today by Mitra Jouhari, and we’re talking about Earth Girls Are Easy. Um, so, I want to go back a little bit to Julie Brown and the deal that she was getting when she, you know, sold this pitch in the room. She said, “I had approvals. I have to go along with stuff, but technically I had approvals. I was supposed to do Geena’s part. When it got closer to the end, we attached Julien Temple as director, and then the budget got higher, and they gave this screen test that was completely bogus. And they did it to show me that I couldn’t star in the movie. “I knew it was happening. The make-up man had worked on The Wizard of Oz. He was ancient, and he fluffed my eyebrows and made me bleed. I went through this whole thing and they said, ‘Look, you can’t star in it. See this video.’ And the contract said they couldn’t make it without me. So they said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I’ll rewrite the secondary part,’ which was supposed to be a gay man. I like my part now. When they wanted to bring Geena on, I had approval. They brought Geena and Jeff together.” I feel like that would be so stressful, thinking about it. Of just being like, okay, well, I have to completely rewrite my script that I’ve been working on to try to give myself a part. And also are they thinking that I’m being selfish, because I won’t let them make it without me, I won’t, you know, get out of that contract? Or—but she, you know, she did it and I love her part. I love Candy. She’s wonderful. Um, I feel like this has to be something that happens to a lot of writer-actors, writer-performers, because um, if you don’t  have the right look, if you aren’t, you know, the kind of “leading lady”, no one’s gonna let you play that. I mean like, probably most famously in comedy there’s Tina Fey, who wasn’t allowed to be a performer, until she was. But I just imagine that it’s pretty constant.

mitra

Definitely. I mean, I think we’re so lucky that we wrote something so specific that it kind of—you know, we were never gonna be like, an NBC show. So there wasn't really a concern with how—there wasn’t as much of a concern with how big a draw it would be, just because Adult Swim, beautifully, is like a smaller network than NBC, so more specific things can be made there by people who might not get to make things other places. So, I mean, but I’ve definitely experienced that in other places. You know, people are looking for a specific look, they’re looking for a specific type of person. So that feeling that it’s like, kind of rigged, or that you’re not like, “Why did I waste my time?” I think is so prevalent for everyone. I feel very lucky that my main thing that I have written for myself was—I never really worried that I wasn’t going to get to play the role of Debra, just because no one—no one could do it better than us, because we’ve just been doing it for so long. I mean, I’m, you know, it just wasn’t even a conversation, thankfully. Um, and I think largely that’s just because of the work of other creates who have fought to cast themselves as the part that they wrote for themselves, you know? So it just wasn't as big of a deal when we were like, “We’ll be playing the Debras.” It was kind of like, “Yeah, of course. Who else would want to do this?” [Both laugh.]

april

Well, you know, I think that something that like, Julie Brown is talking about in the earlier quote that I read, too, is just the fact that, like. If you make something that’s so you, you can’t actually be erased from it. [Mitra affirms.] Like, you may not be the lead, but you can’t be erased from it, you’re there. So it’s like a long term insurance.

mitra

It is! I mean, I think that’s part of the reason, however consciously or subconsciously, why I really gravitated towards writing first, rather than—I think there was a point where I felt like I was—kind of had the option to either really throw myself into writing, or really throw myself into acting, and that side of it. And acting felt so much more… just. Sorry, writing felt so much more just, to me, because it’s much harder to be like, “Oh, you know, we were looking for a blonde writer.” There’s just less reasons why you might not get a job. Obviously there’s still—like, nothing’s just a true meritocracy, but if you have a really funny, really specific voice and point of view, then you have a much greater chance of being elevated and hired, and all that kind of stuff. So, I think that’s a huge factor for me, is just that I really wanna be able to know that If i work hard, and if I do a good job, that I will be rewarded for it in some way, so. And it feels more possible with writing, than with onscreen stuff.

april

Um, like, speaking of onscreen stuff, though, I wanted to talk about actor processes, because these are some of my favorite stories that I get when I do the research on these movies. And um, one of my favorite things is Julie Brown’s descriptions of how Jeff Goldblum was acting, and how he was like, kind of taking control of the set. She said, “It was Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans’ first movie, Jeff Goldblum was teaching acting at that point. Those two who hadn’t work that much were listening to everything Jeff said. So we had this theory that you should distract yourself before the take. And sometimes he would just read from a book as loud as he could, so they would make as much noise as they could before the take, and Julian would yell action. And I just could not concentrate. They probably do not do that now at all, it was just not easy to work with them, even though I think they’re all really talented.” End quote. But I’m just—

mitra

That sounds fucking awful. [She laughs.]

april

Oh, God. Like, I’m sure it was all, like, good natured, everything is fine, but I just—you know, it’s probably nicer like, Julie Brown said that, she like, had to go along with people, and you know, she technically had approvals—she wasn’t quite sure when Jim Carrey came in, for instance, to audition, she had seem his stand up, and was just, like, “He’s all over the place, I don’t really understand it, he’s just wild and kind of spazzy.” And then it turned out though, like when he did come in for the audition, she was like, “Oh, I get it, he’s an alien. This works. This makes sense to me.” [They laugh.]

mitra

I mean, that’s beautiful. It goes both ways, where it’s like, there are people that, with Debras, that we really had in mind, and we knew we wanted to cast. We love Peter Smith, for example, who is in the second episode of Three Busy Debras as someone who is just such an exciting, talented performer, so we knew going in that we really wanted to write something for them. And um, but then the other side of it is, you know, we were casting almost entirely Seattle locals, and none of us had ever been to Seattle before and we really didn’t know anybody up there. So it was just going through these tapes, and if there was somebody who we thought was really amazing, it’s like, is there a way that we can do more for them? Is there more for them to do? Is there a way where we can, in the same vein of like, seeing Jim Carrey and knowing, oh, that’s an alien, like, is there somebody that we see. Well, in our episode uh, episode 4, the character of Sandy’s older sister, Barbara, is played by an actress named Carol Swarbrick, who is uh, much older than Sandy in real life. And we were originally looking for people who were around our age, because it just, naturally our minds went there. But she—when we got the tape for Carol, it was like the funniest audition that we had gotten, and she just completely embodied what we wanted. And it was like, oh, well, you know, if Sandy’s older sister is 70, then she’s 70, ‘cause that’s the best tape we got. So, it was a very—see, going through that process for the first time on that scale was very eye opening.

april

I wanted to talk about a person in the cast of Earth Girls Are Easy that is uh, really just a cameo, but is very important to Angelinos this year, Angelyne. She uh, she ends up in the movie, driving her pink car into the gas station where um, Wiploc and Zeebo crash into her before taking off and stealing the car, driving backwards. Um, but, as Julie Brown said, “The reason she’s in the movie is Julien Temple came from England and saw her on billboards everywhere. The fact he was so interested, I was like, ‘Ugh, this is so stupid.’ But, now I get it. She was an LA icon, and that’s what she’s all about. I didn’t write her in, but I’m glad she’s in it now.” And I think that that’s something where she was from the valley, right? So Julie Brown is from the valley, she’s like, this has been a part of her blood is like, “Yeah, Angelyne, the fucking billboards, I’ve seen them.” Um, but she needed an outsider, this Julien Temple guy, to come in and be like, “You don’t see how weird this is?” [Both laugh. Mitra affirms, saying “totally”.] “Maybe we should put her in and like, see what happens?” And she’s like, “What, why would you do that?” But I think that like, at first you're like, okay, why would some British guy come over and direct this movie about valley girls? But there is, I think, something valuable about having like, an outsider kind of give notes to you, of um—examining your culture and being like, “Do you not see that this is weird?”

mitra

And just like, no—like, pointing out what you take for granted that makes your—the world that you’ve built special. Like, it’s always interesting to see what, yeah, what people latch onto, and what people identify with. Because it’s not always the thing you expect. I mean, I think that’s one of the most exciting thing about doing comedies. It’s kind of—you’re just—obviously, by the time you’re making a movie, it’s been through a bunch of drafts and all that kind of stuff, but at its core you really don’t know if anything is going to work. So it’s really, really exciting to see what does, and it’s—the coolest—a very cool part of the process is just seeing what you didn’t think was gonna be big for people but is big for people. Something like that, I mean, it’s—yeah, having somebody be like, “Yeah, this woman who is on billboards, that’s crazy.” It’s like, oh yeah. I think that happens so often in comedy where its like, the way you turn your head and look at the camera might be so funny, and you just have no idea, because you—it’s your face. You see it all the time. But somebody sees something that makes you realize that it is funny, so.

april

Oh yeah, and I mean, I think that’s also Julien Temple, I think, maybe suggested the Randy’s Donuts sign, too. Just like, you know, it’s an LA icon, but there are so many people like in middle America or anywhere around the world who are just like, “Woah, that’s a giant donut. What the fuck is that doing there?” [Both laugh.]

mitra

Yes! We have this big um, there’s this thing near where I’m—I’m from around Cincinnati, and there is this huge statue of Jesus that actually got a lot of publicity because it got struck by lightning and destroyed. [Laughs] But um, it’s called Touchdown Jesus. That’s what we all call it, and it’s something that is just such a part of my life, but then when it made national news for getting struck by lightning and people were like, “Wait, why did they have this in the first place?” I was like, “Oh yeah, I guess not every town has Touchdown Jesus.” [Both laugh uproariously.]

april

Back home we have one of those Big Boy statues and it has chains all over it because he’s been stolen so much that it like, looks like he’s imprisoned. It’s like, oh god.

music

“Switchblade Comb” by Mobius VanChocStraw.

april

Anyway, we’re gonna take a quick break again. When we come back, we’ll talk a little bit more about Earth Girls Are Easy and also, you know, just the glory of writing really dumb characters. Uh, so we’ll be right back. [Music fades.]

promo

Music: “War” by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong with lead vocals by Edwin Starr plays in the background. John Roderick: Friendly Fire is a podcast about war movies, but it’s so much more than that. Adam Pranica: It’s history! Speaker 1 (Film clip): Was just supposed to be another assignment. Ben Harrison: It’s comedy. Speaker 2 (Film clip): Under no circumstances are you to engage the enemy. Adam: It’s... cinema studies. Murdock (Rambo: First Blood Part II): That's a hell of a combination. John: So, subscribe and download Friendly Fire on your podcatcher of choice. Ben: Or at MaximumFun.org. Adam: And also, come see us at San Francisco Sketchfest on January 16th. Ben: You can get tickets at SFsketchfest.com. Speaker 3 (Film clip): [A strained whisper] Mission… accomplished. [Music fades out.]

music

“Switchblade Comb” by Mobius VanChocStraw.

april

Welcome back to Switchblade Sisters. I’m April Wolfe, and I’m joined today by Mitra Jouhari, and we’re talking about Earth Girls Are Easy. Um, one of the things that I love about this movie is that all the characters are dumb. Without exception, they are complete dumbbells, the three aliens included. Uh, Ted is like, maybe not a dumbbell, but he’s also a dumbbell in a different way.

mitra

He’s emotionally dumb. [April affirms.] Definitely, definitely, definitely dumb, just in a different way, which is so beautiful The diversity of dumb represented on screen in Earth Girls Are Easy is iconic. [Laughs.]

april

I love it. I love it so much. And, you know, as many people, I think, were pointing out at the time, there’s no villains in this movie, either. It’s like, everyone is kind of given like, this kind of amount of like, delight and affection of like, who they are in the archetype that they’re playing. So even though Ted is like, you know, he comes home with like, this girl and is cheating on Val, he’s not really a villain. He’s just so stupid.

mitra

Everybody sort of expects the best of everybody in the movie and the only real shock and betrayal is when people like—yeah, people not acting perfectly, which is—like, there’s no cynicism, which I really love. Everyone—everyone sees the best in each other and the only real heartbreak is when it’s like, slightly different from what beautiful thing the characters expect from each other.

april

You know, I mean, I think that something like this is—it’s a movie that will probably go in and out of fashion, because, as you say, its kind of lack of cynicism. Because there are certain periods of time where comedy is just all cynicism, you know, it’s just like maybe mean or cynicism pervasively, and then—I feel like, however, we’re almost in this period of time where it’s okay to be both. To be like, the anti-cynic and to be otherwise. Like, I keep thinking about Detroiters and just— [Mitra responds emphatically multiple times.] —the idea of these two friends who just want to encourage each other so deeply, you know? And how refreshing it felt when I saw that, I was just like, “Oh shit, there’s so much kind of positivity in this.”

mitra

The whole reason I moved to New York to do comedy in the first place was ‘cause I wanted to work in political late-night comedy. That was my life’s dream and—

april

And you did it, so.

mitra

I did it! So it’s all over. [Both laugh.] Um, but it—I understand people feeling exhausted by it, because—or just the discourse in general, just because there’s such, you know, there’s the 24 hour news cycle, there’s Twitter, there’s a bunch of late night shows. And I still love that world, but I definitely relate more to escapism right now. And wanting, I think, that’s why I really gravitate towards things like Detroiters that feel silly and loving but also just like, deranged. And I Think You Should Leave and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Earth Girls Are Easy. All of those types of things where you can really just be in this very specific world that is as close or as far away from the real world as the creator wants to make it, but you just don't have to think about anything for a little bit. You can just feel these char—these often very dumb characters who love each other so much fuck up over and over and over again, and everything is kind of okay at the end. I really value that, and I think that’s why I was so excited to talk about this movie. Because it is really the kind of—especially just being quarantined in my house, it’s like, I certainly don’t have the bandwidth personally right now to sit and watch an hour long drama or something, but I can always watch something like Earth Girls Are Easy.

april

Oh my god. I—and one of the reason I’m gonna say that you could probably watch this movie is because, for me, every time I have seem it, I have seen something different. I have noticed something that I did not notice before, and I would love to talk about some of the details of this, just even in the production design and how that kind of makes the comedy just like, sing. Um, because there’s so much in the detail, including, for instance, we were talking about Ted. Ted has like, a little bumper sticker on the back of his car, and he’s a George Bush supporter, right? And you’re like, “Oh, I get it. I get him. Okay.” And then there’s also like, this motif of like, hands, and the fact that Valerie is really into her job. She’s not just like, kind of a manicurist. She’s like, “No, I live for hands.” She opens up her drawer once, like a night stand, and there’s actually a little hand in it. Like, a little like—like a little plastic hand or something. And I was just like, “Wait, what?” [Both laugh.] Do you have any, like, fun moments where you were working with someone in the art department, or they just kind of got what you guys were doing and kind of brought out the best in the scene, or gave you a great visual gag?

mitra

Yes, we had an amazing, amazing art department, and our show is so silly-cartoony, and is incredibly prop heavy, and really, really dependent on having a great art department. And ours’ just, like, blew it out of the park. And there was this one moment in the third episode, our sleepover episode, where I—in the script, I turned to the other two women in the show, Sandy Honig and Alyssa Stonoha are the other two Debras. And I—in the script, it just says that I’m like, trying to get them to open up to me throughout the episode, in sort of a sleepover format, and I turned to them and I’m like, “Now let’s play security questions!” And it was supposed to be just like, a line, no prop added to it or anything? And I just asked them security questions like you would get on a computer to get to know them better? And Erin O. Kay, one of the people who worked on the show, made it a board game actually called Security Questions, And just showed up with this prop. And it’s so funny, and it looks like a very, sort of like, 1950’s kind of old-timey—it’s just so—it really elevated it, and seeing the actual board game was such a smart idea, and made the joke work so much better, and it really, really made me laugh. And there was so much stuff like that with them. I mean, any time we were like, “Um, we’re looking for sort of, like, sort of a silly slogan,” they went off, and they were just unbelievable. Turned a hospital lobby into a police station. They could really do anything. But it was constant surprises with them, and them wowing us with their ideas.

april

Oh, I love that. Um, I would love to get into one of my favorite scenes, one that you had mentioned earlier, and it’s the music video that pops up for “I’m Blonde”. [They laugh.] Like, in the middle of nothing. Julie Brown is just like on the beach all of a sudden.

music

“‘Cause I’m A Blonde” off the album Earth Girls Are Easy by Julie Brown Because I'm blonde I don't have to think I talk like a baby and I never pay for drinks Don't have to worry about getting a man If I keep this blonde, and I keep these tan 'Cause I'm a blonde Yeah, yeah, yeah 'Cause I'm a blonde Yeah, yeah, yeah I see people working It just makes me giggle 'Cause I don't have to work I just have to jiggle 'Cause I'm blonde B-L-O-N-D 'Cause I'm a blonde Don't you wish you were me

april

And, um, it’s just kind of crammed in, and it’s a huge produced musical that’s happening with dance numbers, and everything. And um, as a person who—a critic who really loved that, I can’t remember what the critic’s name was. But he was talking about the fact that some people were saying that—were like, “Why would you do that? Why would you just, like—it doesn’t have any reason to be there.” And for him, he was talking about how that is actually Julie Brown’s best scene, because it is crammed in in the exact same way that any of those beach party movies would cram in a song just because they knew they had to get a musical number in. And so it was just like, it’s got a reason to be there, because it’s also mimicking these older movies. But it’s also one of the funniest things they have. Just the fact that she shows up and she’s blonde all of a sudden, and she’s like, “Because I’m blonde, I don’t have to think, I talk like a baby, and I never pay for drinks!” And it is enduring.

mitra

Yes! And I mean, with anything like that, where it’s like, “Why?” It’s like, why not. It’s so fun! I mean, this idea that a movie has to be a certain way, or things are supposed to happen at a certain time, it’s like, first of all, it is referential in its placement, but also, even if it wasn’t, it’s so fucking fun. And it’s so funny. And why not? Especially in a movie like this, where anything can happen, why not just do anything? [April affirms.] It’s so joyful. It’s like, I mean imagining this movie without that song, it would still be a really fun movie. But for me, it took it from a crazy ride to just something really special for me. I don’t know, that song really did something for me. It’s inspiring to see someone just go for it.

april

Oh, god. I love this movie, and thank you for having me re-watch it. Thank you so much for joining us on the show, and  how can people watch Three Busy Debras?

mitra

Yes! So, Three Busy Debras is airing on Adult Swim. It’s on Sundays at midnight, so late Sunday night going into Monday morning. Uh, and it’s also available on Hulu. And for the next few weeks after this comes out, the first episode is also available to watch for free on AdultSwim.com, and then you can find me online @tweetrajouhari on Twitter, so it’s tweet, r-a-j-o-u-r-i, so that’s the best place to find me.

april

Wonderful. Thank you again so much for coming on the show.

mitra

Thank you, what a blast!

april

And thank you all for listening to Switchblade Sisters. As you know, we started doing something a little different at the end of each episode. Uh, from now on I’m getting a staff pick recommendation for a film directed by a woman. And I know people have some time on their hands, and I wanted to direct you to some really wonderful things to watch. And this is all about highlighting the great work of female filmmakers. So, here we go. Today’s, in keeping with our theme a little bit, of like a kind of sci-fi comedy around that time in the 1980’s, I got Susan Seidelman’s Making Mr. Right, starring Ann Magnuson and John Malkovich as both a scientist and an android. It is fun and mad-cap, and totally Susan Seidelman. I really love her work so please check it out. If you want to let us know what you think of the show, you can tweet at us @SwitchbladePod or email us at SwitchbladeSisters@maximumfun.org. Please check out our Facebook group. That’s Facebook.com/groups/switchbladesisters. Our producer is Casey O’Brien. Our senior producer is Laura Swisher, and this is a production of MaximumFun.org. [Music fades.]

clip

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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

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