TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Writer and Cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt

Lisa Hanawalt is a writer, cartoonist, and author of four brilliant books, including “Hot Dog Taste Test” and “My Dirty Dumb Eyes.” You may be familiar with her work on the popular animated Netflix series “BoJack Horseman” where she was a producer. Hanawalt is also the creator of the animated series “Tuca & Bertie” which stars Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong, and Steven Yuen. The show will be starting its second season in June on Adult Swim. In 2019, we talked with Lisa about how intuitive creating “Tuca & Bertie” was at times, on deciding what to ground in reality and where to take flight, and why she should be allowed to ride Martha Stewart’s pony.

Guests: Lisa Hanawalt

Transcript

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

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“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team. A fast, upbeat, peppy song. Music plays as Jesse speaks, then fades out.

jesse thorn

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. A quick warning about the interview you’re about to hear: there is some talk about sex in it—mostly just body parts talk. So, if you or someone with whom you’re listening might be sensitive to that kind of thing, just a heads up. Anyway, my guest is Lisa Hanawalt. She’s a writer and a cartoonist. She’s the creator of Tuca & Bertie, one of my favorite television shows. It’s a show about two women—anthropomorphic bird women. They live in Bird Town. Tuca is a toucan. She’s outgoing and fun but also kind of a mess. She doesn’t really have a solid job. Bertie, her best friend, is a songbird. Little bit of a homebody, shy, deferential. When the show starts, she’s just moved in with her boyfriend. A lot of the problems Tuca and Bertie encounter are human and grounded: relationship stuff, work problems, sexual harassment. But the world they live in is anything but. It is breathtakingly drawn and completely surreal; phones talk, hospital equipment talks, plants walk. If you’ve ever seen Lisa’s work before, she’s written four books and was a producer on BoJack Horseman. It will give you some sense of what all this is like. In fact, Lisa based Tuca and Bertie on characters from her books—characters she’s lived with for a long time and sees almost as extensions of herself. When we talked in 2019, Tuca & Bertie had just debuted on Netflix. It has since moved over to Adult Swim and it’s second season will premiere in June, which gives you just enough time to binge season one—and I do recommend that you do that. Anyway, let’s take a listen to a little bit of the shows nearly perfect first season. As I said, Bertie has just moved in with her boyfriend which means Tuca—her roommate—starts moving out. In this season, Bertie calls Tuca for an update on the moveout process.

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Bertie (Tuca & Bertie): So, when do you wanna come over to get your things? You’re not officially moved out until you’ve taken out your last box of stuff. Tuca: Sure, sure! I’ll come get it later. I’m just picking out décor for my new place. Bertie: Tuca, are you getting junk off the street again?! Tuca: Nooo. I’m purchasing consumer goods! With my job money! Bertie: You don’t have a jooob. Tuca: Just because I don’t have a boring office job like you doesn’t mean I’m not swimming in gigs. [Bright, percussive music fades in.] Tuca: Mobile notary, fortune teller, unlicensed tour guide, dog walker, cashing checks from my rich Auntie, mobile notary again, and uuuh… freelance junk collector? [Going briefly shrill.] Aaaanywho, I’m swinging by our place. I mean, your place. Later today.

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jesse

[They chuckle.] Lisa, welcome back to Bullseye. I’m happy to see you!

lisa hanawalt

Thank you for having me!

jesse

And congratulations on this show. I am just over the moon about how much I love it. [Lisa thanks him several times.] I just—I think it’s so great. Um. Were you scared to make a television show?

lisa

[Laughs.] Of course, I was! I’m scared of everything. [They laugh.]

jesse

But I mean, like I—

lisa

I was like, “This will be a catastrophe! The biggest failure yet.” [Laughs.]

jesse

Lisa, I am—I am such a fan of your comics and I’m such a fan of your work on BoJack Horseman, as well. It’s my favorite part of a great show. [Lisa thanks him.] And—but that said, your comics are more impressionistic than they are narrative. They’re not not narrative. [Lisa agrees.] But they—you know, timelines are loose, lists are incorporated frequently.

lisa

It’s loose. [They laugh.]

jesse

And I thought, you know, “Lisa’s been working on a TV show for a long time.” They’re also like wild. They’re like wildly—there’s just a lot of ideas going different places.

lisa

Yeah, it’s a little untethered to reality. [Laughs.]

jesse

And I thought—I thought, “Is—how does this become a sitcom?” [Lisa affirms.] Like, that was my thought. I was worried.

lisa

That was—that was why it took so long to develop the show, is ‘cause I was talking with the—about the show ideas with Raphael and we kind of wanted it to resemble my comic books, but it was sort of hard to make a show that did that. It was gonna be kind of like a one-woman anthology, but then I just kept coming back to these characters of Tuca and Bertie. And honestly, the shows I like to watch are sitcoms, so I was just like, “Maybe I should learn how to make one.”

jesse

What kind of sitcoms do you like to watch?

lisa

I mean, I love Friends. I’ve watched it so many times. [Laughing.] It’s just so comforting.

jesse

Is that just because it like relates to your adolescence, when it was on television?

lisa

Perhaps. Yeah, there’s a little bit of nostalgia there. I don’t know, I just think the characters are really well defined and—I don’t know. It’s just comforting.

jesse

I hate Friends.

lisa

That’s fair. That’s totally fair.

jesse

Thank you. I’m not saying it to attack you. I’m just confessing it, now.

lisa

I don’t feel attacked. [Laughs.]

jesse

I really like Lisa Kudrow. Actually, I think—

lisa

She’s the best one.

jesse

All of the cast members of Friends do a great job.

lisa

She—Lisa Kudrow’s absolutely the best one. Phoebe’s the best character. She deserves so much better on that show. [Laughs.]

jesse

Did you imagine, when you were a kid or a teen, that Friends was what adulthood might be like?

lisa

I don’t know.

jesse

‘Cause like, I wonder sometimes if I thought like Seinfeld or News Radio or the shows that I loved when I was an adolescent—or Cheers!

lisa

I also—also loved News Radio. So much.

jesse

Like, I used to watch Cheers with my dad and like Cheers… actually is a very sad show!

lisa

Cheers is too sad for me. [Jesse laughs.] News Radio does feel like what adulthood is like. [They laugh loudly.] News Radio feels very accurate.

jesse

Just once a year, you’re in space for no reason.

lisa

Yes. [They laugh.] We all have a Matthew in our lives. Uh, yeah. Very relatable. [Chuckles.]

jesse

So, when you were developing the show into—you know, when you were creating your own sitcom and you started with the idea that it would be as loose as your comics or at least reflect the spirit of your comics—how do you match that up with the—you know, the kind of tight, strictures of what a sitcom is? Which is, you know, a visit with a family who are your friends.

lisa

It’s really hard. It’s a process of me learning the structure of how to write a script in the sitcom style. You know, here’s act one, act two. Like… and then kind of doing that and then feeling like that’s too tight and then loosening it back up again. So, it was a whole—you know—learning experience. Learning the process of writing a show. Like, I would write the scripts and then we would tell the directors like, “Well, here’s a script, but unlike BoJack, this doesn’t need to be as strictly script based. Like, you take scenes out. You can add scenes. You can break up the format. You can do Claymation or puppetry if you wanna do that for a scene. Like, have fun with it.” You know, we gave them my comic books and were like, “Look how crazy these are. Feel free to incorporate some of this into the episodes.” And so, they kind of went nuts adding stuff.

jesse

I mean, one of the things that I was struck by—and it was also one of the things that I was worried about—is I think your comics are so funny.

lisa

I’m glad you were so concerned. [They laugh.]

jesse

Like, I hold you in very high regard, Lisa. [Lisa laughs.] I wanted it to be a success and it totally is.

lisa

Oh, I’m so glad.

jesse

And I thought—you know, your comics are so funny, but there are so few jokes in your comics. The things that I find myself laughing at are like audacious ideas that I connect with emotionally in some surprising way. [Lisa agrees.] More than a gag.

lisa

I mean, I can write a joke. I just—I feel like the weird situations and like things that kind of don’t seem like they should go together and then they make you laugh and you’re not quite sure where the laugh is coming from is, to me, my favorite form of humor. When writing the scripts, it’s like the jokes are kind of the last step. You can just kind of layer jokes on top of everything else and that’s the easiest part, in a way.

jesse

One of the things that is in your comics that’s also in the show—and also was part of your design of the characters and the aesthetics of BoJack Horseman—is things being kind of simultaneously uncomfortably sexual and also like anti-sexual? [They chuckle.]

lisa

Yeah. I really like that push-pull. [Jesse laughs.] Where you’re like, “Well, this is making me horny and that makes me upset.” [They laugh.] “And now I’m mad.” [Laughing.] I mean, I’m gonna make you like have a crush on a plant. I’m sorry. [They giggle.]

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Jesse: I mean, they’re— Lisa: I’m gonna slap boobs on a building.

jesse

That’s what I was about to bring up! Like in—

lisa

Is that sexy? I don’t know. [Laughs.]

jesse

In the montage at the beginning of the show, in the opening credit sequence, there’s a building that has boobs. [Lisa confirms.] The boobs are like doing a dance. And—I mean, speaking as a heterosexual man, I’m conditioned or biologically predisposed to, uh, think of boobs sexually.

lisa

Yeah. We all are.

jesse

But—not—I can’t say the same about buildings. [They chuckle.] Um.

lisa

Some people—some people are really into buildings. [Jesse agrees, laughing.] But uh, yeah, that was a real kind of scene setter. Like, “Hey! Warning! There’s gonna be stuff like this in this show. If you don’t like this, maybe don’t [laughs] watch it. And also, you know, like this is for adults and we’re gonna recontextualize female body parts in a weird way.”

jesse

It is very conscious of women’s bodies in particular in a way that your comics are but not a lot of television shows are. Was that something that you think came from a choice you made or just a natural predilection that you have?

lisa

Well, I grew up—you know—with the same media as everyone else. And so, I’m used to looking at women’s bodies in a certain context and in music videos and in advertisements and stuff. And so, I think part of me drawing them a lot is kind of reclaiming that a little bit. Like, just kind of taking all that in and spitting it back out in my own way, where it’s—you know—coming from the direct experience of a woman who’s grown up in a world where that stuff is the norm. So, it’s still sometimes male gazey, but then it’s also female gazey and it’s sort of like, “Well, here’s what I like about looking at the female form.” And yeah, they can be sexy. We do have like an upskirt shot. You know? While they’re dancing. [Jesse chuckles.] I’m not opposed to that.

jesse

[Laughing.] What could be sexier than that?

lisa

[Laughs.] I like sexy stuff, but I think—I think coming from my perspective, it’s maybe a little bit different from other shows that are created by men. Like, you know, not all of my characters are like big titty, tiny waist. [Laughs.] Can I say titty on this show?

jesse

You just did! [Lisa cackles.] We’re gonna have to ask a nice man named Mark at NPR. We’ll find out later.

lisa

So, I mean, I like—you know—showing different kinds of body types. I think a lot of different kinds of bodies can be sexy. So. I don’t know. I’m just making the show I wanna watch.

jesse

So, when you were on the show a few years ago, we talked a little bit about your character designs for BoJack Horseman and the really strong opinions that some internet communities have shared with you about certain choices in depicting anthropomorphized animals.

lisa

Oh, are you talking about the tails?

jesse

Yes. [They laugh.] Specifically, I’m talking about whether horsemen have tails. [Lisa affirms.] I believe BoJack does not have a tail—at least, a visible tail that they—

lisa

There’s no tails on BoJack.

jesse

But they felt very strongly—and frankly, rudely—expressed to you that they demanded you to—I believe it was remake the first season with tails?

lisa

Yeah, they thought we should go back and reanimate the whole thing. I think they didn’t quite have an understanding of the process or budget or—you know—interest in doing that. But I thought it was a very funny email to get.

jesse

I mean, Game of Thrones took out that Starbucks cup, so.

lisa

Did they? [Jesse confirms.] They fixed it?

jesse

[Laughing.] So, you just put in the tails!

lisa

I think leave it in! Show a little of the process. I think there are some tails on Tuca & Bertie. I think there’s—the deli guy. The monkey man. I think he has a tail.

jesse

So, I—what I wonder is, when you are creating anthropomorphized birds—which is the greater part of the characters on the show, ‘cause they live in a bird town. In fact, I believe they live in Bird Town.

lisa

It’s called Bird Town. It’s about seven hours away from Horseville. [They chuckle.]

jesse

Do you—do you make choices about what things you are going to make person-like and what things you are going to make bird-like? Because birds have breasts, for example, but they don’t have breasts.

lisa

Yeah. Uh, just kind of a gut feel. Most of the characters don’t have tails ‘cause they’re more humanoid, but then there are some non-anthropomorphic animals. There’s a bird that flies around, but it has a tail. But it also has boobs, just ‘cause that’s funny to me. [Jesse chuckles.] There’s like trains that are snakes and slugs. There’s just giant snakes. [Laughs.] There’s plant people. I mean, yeah. I don’t know. Like, it comes down to each individual object or character. Bertie’s phone comes alive and speaks to her because it makes sense to me for it to do so.

jesse

Have you gotten feedback about the choices that you’ve made on the new show?

lisa

Uh, I think some people are just like, “Woah, this is too weird.”

jesse

[Laughs.] It’s very weird.

lisa

But most people I think are into it. Like, it—I think there’s a logic to the world that makes sense once you get past how strange it is at first. It’s like, “Yeah, the fast train is a snake, and the slow train is a slug. Who doesn’t understand that?” It’s like—it’s like Richard Scarry kind of stuff, but for adults. We’ve all grown up like reading books with surreality and animal people and stuff. So, I don’t think it’s that odd.

jesse

Sometimes TV shows have what’s called the bible, which is like a list of rules of the universe. [Lisa affirms.] And, you know, that might be—

lisa

We have a bible.

jesse

Yeah. How do you make a bible so that your insane, surreality is consistent from episode to episode?

lisa

I mean, our bible is more about how we want it to look and like what the animation should do and like how we like it when Tuca’s turned to the side and looks like a hieroglyphic. That’s like the iconic Tuca pose, so we’re like, “Let’s keep her in this, you know, sideways pose as much as possible.” As far as the rules of the universe, we just work it out in the writer’s room for the most part. Each episode we break, we’re like, “Well, would this happen? Does it make sense for this? Like can an ultrasound machine come to life?” And yeah, it made me laugh so hard in the room that absolutely yes. So, yeah, we’re kind of just building it as we go along. I don’t like to define like the hard sci-fi of a world before I’ve written the story. I think it’s kinda limiting.

jesse

Can you give me an example other than the ultrasound machine of something that you had to work out the rules of while you all were sitting there?

lisa

Uh, very early on in the process, I remember I was talking about the universe with Raphael, who’s the exec producer and he’s the creator of BoJack and he helped me develop Tuca & Bertie and he said, “Okay, so in this universe like is Bird Town in USA? Like in the United States?” And I was like, “Yeah, I think so.” He’s like, “Is there a China in this world?” I said, “I don’t knooow.” And he said, “Is there Chinese food?” I said, “Yes!” [They chuckle.] So, I guess there has to be a China. [Laughs.]

jesse

Did the characters come out of an idea you had about things that I would think of as word things? Like, personal qualities or things like that? Or did they come from things that I would think of as picture things? [Lisa laughs.] Like, big beaks and colors.

lisa

I mean, Tuca was kind of born out of me watching a nature documentary about toucans and one of them was like stealing eggs out of other birds’ nests and gobbling them up. And the other birds were building their nests longer and longer to try to avoid these long toucan beaks stealing their young. And I thought, “Ooh! That’s me! ‘Cause I’m so greedy with food. That’s definitely me. That’s my id.” So, then I made up this character who could kind of like be and express like all the things that I don’t, because I live in polite society. So, that was just fun for me.

jesse

You sort of live in polite society. [Chuckles.] [Lisa affirms.] You skirt the edges of polite society, Lisa.

lisa

Getting less polite by the day.

jesse

I’ve read your books, Lisa. [They laugh.]

lisa

I do whatever I can get away with. [Jesse agrees.] And then Bertie came out of a comic I made that was a little bit more earnest and less funny about a couple buying a house and she was obsessed with plants and she filled the whole house with plants to kind of push him away emotionally. And it was a very personal story. So, when we were developing this show, I just kind of felt like those were two characters I’d invented that I wanted to see more of. And they kind of felt like they wrote themselves to me. They were kind of like two different aspects of my own personality. But also, reminded me of like friends that I have.

jesse

Even more with Lisa Hanawalt still to come. Stick around. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

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Thumpy electronic music.

jesse

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Music: Melancholy piano music. Speaker: What happens after a police officer shoots someone who’s unarmed? For decades in California internal affairs investigations, how the police police themselves were secret until now. Listen to On Our Watch—a podcast from NPR and KQED. [Music fades out.]

jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest, Lisa Hanawalt, is the acclaimed author of the books Hotdog Taste Test and My Dirty Dumb Eyes. She was a producer on the hit animated show BoJack Horseman. And she has her own show, Tuca & Bertie. Its second season debuts this June on Adult Swim. I wanna play a clip from Tuca & Bertie. And my guest is the creator of the show, Lisa Hanawalt. And so, Bertie works at Condé Nest—which is a magazine publishing firm—and she’s not a—she doesn’t have a glamorous job. She’s a data analyst. And she is trying to put herself in line for a promotion. She’s kind of being talked over in meetings by a loud, jerky dude and she’s pretty shy and she’s not even sure that her boss notices that she does good work. And so, she has this plan that she’s going to convince him to notice her, then promote her, by making high quality small talk.

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Bertie: Heeeeey, Hollaaand! Holland: Oh. Good morning, Bertie! Bertie: That was some nice weather we had over the weekend, eh? Just makes you wanna go to the beach! Holland: Did you go to the beach? [A sproing sound effect.] Bertie: Ooh, nnno. I mean, I thought about it, but it’s a long drive and I’m afraid of crabs. [A rooster crows.] Speaker: You guys talking about the beach? You gonna catch some waves out there, Holland dog? Holland: [Laughs.] You know it, dog! Speaker: Alriiiight! [A trumpet sounds.] Bertie: Booyah! Watersports! Ba-bow! Haha! Yeah, sometimes I have nightmare about that part of the ocean where the water gets super dark because it’s so deep. [Chuckles.] [Ominous music fades in.] Bertie: Like what if there’s a giant monster crab down there waiting to pinch my butt? [Squeaky toy noise.]

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jesse

Cartooning is a very solitary profession. [Lisa agrees.] And television is the opposite of that.

lisa

Very, very communal. Yes. [Laughs.]

jesse

And I wonder, you know, when you started working on BoJack and then, you know, started being in charge of the show, what it was like going from sitting at a drafting table or a computer by yourself in your house with a croissant… [Lisa cackles.] To—which is, I presume, what you’re up to. Uh.

lisa

Always with my trusty croissant.

jesse

Look, I’ve seen Caroline in the City. I know a little something about this. It’s what adults are like. To an office-office. Like, it’s one weird thing about show business is how sad the offices are. [They laugh.] Like, you’re like, “Acoustic tiling? Really? We’re making—we’re making American Gladiators.” Or whatever.

lisa

Yeah. Even ours, which is really nice but there’s no windows. So, it’s really—like I get kind of sad in there. It was really hard, especially running the writer’s room. ‘Cause I only sat in the BoJack writer’s room a couple of times and it was terrifying. So, to suddenly be in there and be in charge was just—it was so—I just wasn’t used to like sitting and looking at other people for seven hours. Like—and just—my neck and shoulders would hurt from just like nodding at people to show them that I was like listening to their ideas? [Chuckling.] Like, it was like I was learning how to like be a human, ‘cause I was used to like sitting alone in my office working at my desk all day. But after a couple weeks, I just got used to it. It’s amazing like what you can adapt to.

jesse

Did you get used to being the boss and decider?

lisa

Not really. But, you know, I go at it with a very collaborative point of view. I know it’s ultimately up to me and I get to decide and if I feel strongly about something, I can—you know—decide that and that feels great. But I can always ask people what they think. I can let the wonderful artists and directors and editors and writers who work on my show have a say, and that feels really good, ‘cause they improve things. So, yeah. I’m kind of uncomfortable being called a boss.

jesse

There are three leads of the show and none of them are white and certainly none of them are white dudes. You’ve got Steven Yeun.

lisa

Ali Wong.

jesse

Ali—the great Ali Wong.

lisa

Tiffany Haddish.

jesse

My bud from San Francisco, Tiffany Haddish—the legendary Tiffany Haddish. Was that a choice that you made or a matter of happenstance?

lisa

Kind of both. I wanted to make sure we didn’t end up with an all-white cast, because it’s happened so often before in both live action and animation. And then, just looking at—you know—auditions and stuff. This was just the best possible cast. There was no way around it. Like, we got Tiffany signed on very early and then it was a matter of finding a Bertie that would sound great with Tiffany. And Ali was the best, absolutely. And they already knew each other. They had great chemistry. And then, yeah, Steven Yeun just had the best audition.

jesse

Steven Yeun’s good.

lisa

He’s so good. He’s very—I can’t believe like how quickly he can go from comedy to drama. Like, I don’t quite know any other actor who can do it like him.

jesse

I’m not surprised to hear that Tiffany Haddish was cast first on the show, because she is such a dynamo of a performer. Like, she’s just such a force.

lisa

Yeah, when I saw Girls Trip, I just said, “That’s a Tuca.” Like. [Laughs.] It was just undeniable.

jesse

What were the qualities that you saw in her, as a performer, that made you think, “That’s a Tuca”?

lisa

Absolutely fearless. Incredibly funny. But also, like, had an earnestness or a vulnerability. Like, you know—like, she—the way she like stood up for her friends in the movie. Like, I don’t know. She just kind of hit like every quadrant of what I wanted. And then I was reading an article and I recognized the name of her manager at the time, and I knew him. So, I was like, “Oh my god. We can get a script to her.” And we did and she said yes right away, and I cried. [Laughs.] It was a great day.

jesse

Do you think of that character who is so bold and often fearless—and, I don’t know, lives out loud or whatever cliché you wanna use—as aspirational or cautionary?

lisa

Um. I think it’s aspirational to people like me, who tend to be more on the Bertie side of things. I’m just always trying to like behave myself in reality even though I’m kind of unleashed in my art. Yeah, I don’t know. I think—I think she just seems like she’s having a good time. But then you listen to like her book, her—I listened to it was a book on tape and you’re like, “Oh my god.” I can’t believe like how much she’s gone through in her life. And clearly, she’s just someone who can get by in any situation, like she’s gonna survive.

jesse

Do you write things for Tuca that are things that you would like to imagine yourself doing?

lisa

Uh, yeah. Wearing short shorts. You know. [They laugh.]

jesse

First and foremost!

lisa

She’s very comfortable in short shorts. A lot of the things Tuca does reminds me of how I was in my 20s, more. Like, how I lived. And then Bertie’s sort of more like I am now, which isn’t to call Tuca immature. I don’t believe that about her at all. But I think I just changed as a person.

jesse

What changed?

lisa

Uuum. I used to be like more kind of, “Bleh!” Like, I would just kind of put everything out there and I was really tactless, and I lived in a messy apartment and like I—you know, didn’t have my stuff together. But in some ways, I was like kind of having more fun. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m more careful now.

jesse

Does writing that kind of character make you think about the consequences of living in that way? Because she doesn’t live without consequences.

lisa

Yeah. And we see that she’s having trouble like forming intimate relationships with anyone other than Bertie. And I think that feels pretty true to life.

jesse

Do you?

lisa

Yeah! Yeah. I think if like you’re kind of struggling to get by and like you’re a mess and like you’re used to being kind of loud and out there, that could maybe be like a defense mechanism. She’s also—she’s sober, so we kind of see like she gets like socially anxious in situations where in the past she might have like had a drink or five to lubricate the situation. So, she’s having trouble like going on dates or, you know, meeting new people.

jesse

How did you decide to make her sober?

lisa

It was just a way to kind of flesh out her character a little more and kind of deepen her. I didn’t want her to just be like the wild, crazy, wacky friend who supports Bertie on her emotional arc. You know, she needed her own stuff. And I have a lot of friends—now that we’re in our 30s—who are sober and for a lot of them, it wasn’t this like dramatic thing where they hit rock bottom and now they relapsed and—you know. It’s kind of more just like a quiet decision about how they wanted their lives to be. And I think there’s something interesting about showing that and showing what those struggles are. They’re a little bit like more subtle.

jesse

We’ll wrap up with Lisa Hanawalt in just a bit. When we come back from the break, it’s time for horse talk with Lisa Hanawalt! She got a horse. She named the horse. It’s a very cute horse. What’s its name? Stay tuned! Folks, in the industry we call that a tease. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

music

Relaxed music.

jesse

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promo

Music: Low, unsettling music. Ross Blocher: [Using a spooky, deep voice.] Somewhere between science and superstition, there is a podcast. [Several crashes and a blood curdling scream.] Ross: [Ominously.] Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself! Carrie Poppy: [Dramatically, with a cartoonish southern drawl.] That thing is not my daughter! And I want you to tell me there’s a show where the hosts don’t just report on fringe science and spirituality but take part themselves! [Cheerful music fades in.] Ross: [Speaking normally.] Well, there is! And It’s Oh No, Ross and Carrie! on Maximum Fun. Carrie: [Speaking normally.] This year we actually became certified exorcists. Ross: So, yes, Carrie and I can help your daughter! [Chainsaw revving sounds.] Carrie: Or we can just talk about it on the show. [Ominous music returns.] Ross: [Spookily.] Oh No, Ross and Carrie! on MaximumFun.org.

jesse

Welcome back to Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Lisa Hanawalt. She’s a cartoonist, a writer, and a podcast host. She created the animated comedy show Tuca & Bertie. It’s a sitcom about two bird women who live in a city called Bird Town and it is sooo great! The show’s second season is set to kick off this June on Adult Swim. Lisa and I talked about the show in 2019. Let’s talk about some of the things that come up as themes in your work. And, generally, often they come up in Tuca & Bertie too. One of them is food. [Lisa agrees.] You’re—now, Bertie on the show is a chef, a pastry chef. At least, beginning as—she begins as an accomplished amateur pastry chef. And you are not a chef.

lisa

No. I’m a terrible cook.

jesse

Do you cook—can you—can you cook anything?

lisa

Yeah. I’ll make something in like the instapot and—instant pot, sorry. And, you know, I—yeah. There’s a couple things I make, but I tend to eat the same food over and over again. Like, 90% of the time. So.

jesse

What are the foods that you eat over and over again?

lisa

Oh, I make like chicken chili verde or I’ll make like a chicken curry in the instant pot—my favorite. I’ll make stuff in the rice cooker. I don’t know. Simple egg dishes. [Laughs.]

jesse

Do you eat like the same thing for breakfast every day?

lisa

Pretty much.

jesse

What is it?

lisa

Usually like a slice of gluten free toast with nut butter and a banana. Sometimes eggs, if I’m really feeling it.

jesse

How do you come up with all of the foods that are featured in Bird Town?

lisa

I, uh—I mean, I love—I really like thinking about the food industry and like I wrote for Lucky Peach for a long time, so I kind of—I’ve been on the periphery of that for a while. So, I kind of like making up stuff that makes fun of food industry things. Like, I mean the crundt—which is like a cruller/bundt cake combo is kind of making fun of the cronut guy quite a bit. Um. [Giggles.] So, we made up a lot of really silly pastries.

jesse

Can you tell me a few more of the pastries that you came—was this like a day in the writer’s room?

lisa

Uuuh, it was just a continual process in the writer’s room of coming up with new things. [Jesse laughs.] Well, uh—[laughs] the same—

jesse

There’s like one giant piece of paper on one of the walls. Somebody’s like, “Sorry, I know we’re working on story right now, but I got a new baked good.”

lisa

Here are some new pastries. Well, the same guy in the show who invents a crundt later comes up with the croondt—and that’s a croissant/bundt cake. And then, by then—you know, you think he’s a genius at the beginning. By then you’re like, “Maybe this guy’s kind of a hack. I don’t know.” [Laughs.] And then Bertie starts to come up with stuff, so she comes up with choquettis, which are kind of like a spaghetti version of choquettes. And then she comes up with the sweetbeak pastry, which is like a little bird head filled with lemon curd pastry.

jesse

There’s something kind of like immediately sensual— [Lisa agrees.] —about your—like, the way that you draw everything is either slightly sexual or slightly foodie. [They chuckle.] You know what I mean? And it—so, it fits so perfectly into this world that there would be these almost like fetishized, weird joke foods.

lisa

Yeah. I mean, I like—I like, like, Miyazaki movies where the food is always—looks so delicious. And I know we didn’t have like even a fraction of that animation budget or time, but I just wanted to get a little bit of that feeling in there.

jesse

But also, like Tuca’s really keen on keeping meat in drawers.

lisa

Yeah, that’s really disgusting. [They laugh.] She treats food pretty differently from Bertie. Not quite the same respect there.

jesse

So, let’s talk about horses, now.

lisa

Oh, gladly. [They laugh.] Couldn’t wait for you to bring it up. [Chuckles.]

jesse

So, were you a horse girl, as a kid?

lisa

Yeah. I started taking riding lessons when I was eight and immediately switched from being a cat girl to a horse girl. Like it was just immediate.

jesse

Is cat girl a type of girl?

lisa

Yeah. I was into cats. Like really into cats. Thought I was a cat. And then I was like, “No. I’m a horse.”

jesse

How old were you when you started taking riding lessons?

lisa

Uh, eight.

jesse

What was it about horses?

lisa

Don’t know. It’s like—I don’t know. Just picture like your favorite thing. Or like your favorite food or something. And then try to explain why you like it so much. I don’t know, it’s like just chemical.

jesse

You have a horse now, right?

lisa

I do. I got her like five months ago.

jesse

Did—have you been a horse rider throughout your life?

lisa

I quit for 17 years.

jesse

Why’s that?

lisa

Um, I got scared. Like, I had a couple accidents and then it just became too much to me to try to keep it up during high school and college. And it’s—you know, kind of expensive and I was just like, “Yeah, I don’t wanna do this. It’s too dangerous.” And then Adam bought me some riding lessons for my birthday, because I was thinking about it and I didn’t wanna commit and then he just did it. And then I just got back into it, and that was about five years ago. And then, with Juniper—my horse—I was [chuckling]—it was like kind of during a lull in production when we were done with the writing process. We were done with most of design, and it was just kind of sitting in edit bays all day and I was feeling like a little depressed and I was like, “I’m not really doing anything creative. What am I doing with my life?” And then I just kind of found this Facebook ad for Juniper and I bought her.

jesse

Wait—you bought your horse from a Facebook ad?!

lisa

Yeah. [They chuckle.]

jesse

Like, the same way you’d buy an outboard motor?

lisa

Pretty much. It was the same as buying a car. Like, I—we called up the trainer selling her, and my riding teacher went to test ride her and then I went for two test rides. I just was like, “Okay.” And then she was just delivered in a trailer.

jesse

Brought a coin to check the tires.

lisa

Yeah! [Laughs.] I kicked her tires. [They chuckle.]

jesse

What kind of horse is your horse?

lisa

She’s a fjord, which is a Norwegian horse.

jesse

That’s a type of geography. [Quietly.] Is it also a horse?

lisa

Yeah. It’s also a—it’s—they are the horses that can live in that part of the world. [Laughs.]

jesse

I’ve seen a picture of it. It was a picture of you on the horse in the New York Times, which I was thrilled, thrilled to see. [Lisa affirms.] How often do you get to see somebody you know on a horse in the New York Times?! [They laugh.]

lisa

That was a life highlight for sure.

jesse

But your horse appears to be quite stout.

lisa

Yeah, she’s very short with stumpy legs and she’s round like a yoga ball. But she’s really strong.

jesse

Why did you pick that kind of horse? A weird, stout horse, rather than— [Lisa laughs.] It’s an adorable horse.

lisa

She’s very cute.

jesse

And I’m not a horse person, but it’s an adorable horse. But why did you want a funny, stout, strong horse instead of— [Lisa laughs.] Like, most people—I feel like—

lisa

I mean, I’m funny, stout, and strong. [They chuckle.] No, I mean, part of it is that I had visited Norway a couple years ago when I went for a comics festival. They flew me out there. And I went for a horse ride ‘cause I was like, “Oh, it’s Norway. That means I get to meet this kind of horse that I’ve always thought was so cute.” I’ve liked them ever since I was a little kid. So, I went on a ride on one and she was just so great and strong and calm and tame and then when I saw this Facebook ad, it was for a horse that was like identical to the one I’d ridden. So, that was part of it.

jesse

What’s her personality like?

lisa

Um, she loves people. She loves attention. She has very strong opinions. Um.

jesse

What does a horse have strong opinions about?

lisa

How fast they get to go on the way home. [They laugh.] And which direction they wanna go. But she’s also very, very affectionate and she wants to be good and do a good job, which is good. So, mostly we’re on the same page. [Lisa affirms multiple times as Jesse continues.]

jesse

It’s a little strange to me—and tell me if this is strange to you—that here in Los Angeles, you can go to Burbank—which is in most ways, the most extraordinarily normal suburb of all normal suburbs. And then you’re out by the Pickwick Bowl, and then there’s just people riding horses around like that was a way that you get from suburban locale to suburban locale.

lisa

You can ride them in the street. You could ride them through the drive through. There was like light switch plates to cross the street and they’re up, like, six feet high so that you can press them from horseback. It’s amazing. It’s like a dream. There’s people that have horses in their backyards, there. It’s just all zoned for it.

jesse

It’s so confusing to me. [Lisa agrees.] Lisa!

lisa

It’s funny, like the whole drive to the barn I’m constantly looking out the window like, “Oh! Horses!” And then I ride my horse and then the whole drive back home, I’m like, “Oh! Look! Horses!” [They laugh.]

jesse

I go to the—there’s a vintage textile show at the—at the Pickwick there in Burbank, in the horse district of Burbank.

lisa

It’s like right across from the equestrian center. Yeah.

jesse

Yeah. And you’ll—I’ll be driving there and then there’s just a horse in the street.

lisa

Yeah. It’s really—

jesse

Like it belongs there and not on a hill.

lisa

I love how surreal it is. I really enjoy it. [Chuckles.]

jesse

It’s a little bit like your show. [Lisa agrees with a laugh.] I mean, like—your show is like these animals that are weirdly in between animal world and people world.

lisa

Yeah. To me, it’s—

jesse

Like, they’re not just straight substitutes for people.

lisa

No. They still have their animal qualities. Yeah. I like that kind of contradiction. Like, I like that I’m like walking my horse down the street literally in front of people’s houses and front lawns and then there’s someone like walking a Labrador like on the other side of the street. It’s just funny.

jesse

My wife’s childhood best friend—one of her childhood best friends—is an equine therapist. [Lisa hums in interest.] And years ago—so, she works with horses every day. And years ago, she was a horse guide of some kind and was thrown.

lisa

Oh no!

jesse

And like came close to being killed.

lisa

Oh no.

jesse

She’s fully recovered and, as I said, she still works with horses today. But I thought to myself, you know, “There’s people who are afraid of dogs and dogs can bite and I love dogs.” [Lisa agrees.] But the like one or two times that I’ve been on a horse—and it hasn’t been since I was like 13, but I was terrified!

lisa

Yeah, I get scared every time. Like, I’m gonna go riding right after this, actually, and I’m scared! I’m nervous. Like, I don’t know what’s gonna happen out there. But that’s part of why I like it. It makes me feel like very brave and I have to be calm while I’m doing it, or else things will fall apart. Like, I have to kind of keep it together for her. You know? Yeah. I don’t know. It’s like the most therapeutic thing, in a way.

jesse

It’s like you—it seems like, from an outsider’s perspective—someone who’s ridden a horse twice in his life—it seems like you have to invest so much in the emotional relationship with this relatively empathetic animal.

lisa

Yeah. It’s this 900-pound—sometimes 1,200-pound animal that you are taking care of. They’re like a giant, frightened baby. My horse is afraid of squirrels. She’s afraid of the sound of Velcro. I never can guess what she’s gonna be afraid of. I always think it’s gonna be like, “Oh, look, there’s a—you know—a crazy lady hula hooping.” Literally something I saw the other day and I thought my horse would be afraid of and she wasn’t. But then like a tree branch, you know, crackles and she jumps like, “Augh! I’m gonna be killed by a lion!” You know? It’s, um… but in some ways like that’s—you know, I relate to that as an anxious person. So, I’m able to like kind of take care of her in those moments.

jesse

How often do you ride?

lisa

Um, I go—I’d say on average—four times a week? I don’t always ride her though. Sometimes I just go and like walk her around and hang out with her.

jesse

Feed her carrots.

lisa

Yeah, I do. [Laughs.] I feed her Altoids. [They laugh.]

jesse

Wait! Is that a thing?!

lisa

Yeah. I think she likes peppermint.

jesse

Aaalright. Yeah, I’ve heard of that. Yeah. I guess an Altoid is a peppermint. [They chuckle.]

lisa

A curiously strong one.

jesse

Uh, Lisa, can you give me an update on Martha Stewart’s pony?

lisa

Oh, Ben Chunch?

jesse

Yeah, sometimes called Ban Chunch.

lisa

You know, she hasn’t been posting about Ban Chunch as much. And I just kind of wonder, because she got him for her grandchildren and I’m like, do they actually ride him? Like what’s going on with that? How’s his training doing? She got him as quite a young horse, and so now he’s getting to be a little older. He’s probably better behaved now. But yeah, she just doesn’t post about him nearly enough. So, I’ve kind of gotta flesh out my Martha information with more stuff from the rest of her life and her other animals.

jesse

I mean, we’re on NPR right now, Lisa. [Lisa affirms.] And I’m not gonna make presumptions about what radio station Martha Stewart listens to in her home in Connecticut or wherever. [Lisa chuckles.] But I’m gonna say maybe she listens to the classic rock station sometimes? Maybe she’s on Stern 101 or whatever it is, on SiriusXM, but I’m gonna guess that we have as close to a direct line to Martha Stewart as you’re gonna get.

lisa

[Laughs.] I just would love to meet her and talk about her pony. And I feel like now that I have my own pony, we’ve got something in common! Like, she’s got a fell pony. I’ve got a fjord pony. Like, I just feel like we could be in the same—you know, we’ve got a lot in common, now.

jesse

I think you could—I think you could do it. [Lisa agrees.] I think Martha’s—Martha—

lisa

I wanna ride Ben Chunch. That’s my—that would be like my dream.

jesse

Martha. [Lisa laughs.] Let—let Lisa ride Ben Chunch.

lisa

I’m not even asking to ride one of the big ones, ‘cause she has Friesian horses, which are huge. I just wanna ride the little guy.

jesse

Let Lisa Chunch.

lisa

[Cackles.] Hashtag, #letlisachunch. She does not have to acknowledge me in any way. She’s like—she’s got her own thing going on.

jesse

No. She does. [Lisa laughs.] Hi, I’m Jesse Thorn from NPR. Martha Stewart, #letlisachunch. Lisa Hanawalt, congratulations on Tuca & Bertie. [Lisa thanks him.] It’s so great and I’m so happy for you and thank you for all of your wonderful work. [Lisa thanks him again.] I just love it to death. Lisa Hanawalt: the long anticipated second season of Tuca & Bertie premieres June 13th on Adult Swim. Lisa also hosts the hilarious Baby Geniuses podcast, here at Maximum Fun. In it, she and her co-host, Emily Heller, research and learn about topics like McDonalds characters, squirrel bridges, and something called the Great Michigan Pizza Funeral. That’s a great show.

music

Relaxed, thumpy music.

jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is created out of the homes of me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California—where, thanks to a bit of late-night sale spotting, I bought a truly absurdly huge monitor. I mean, it is like… I basically feel like I am working in a scene in a Tom Clancy movie set in CIA headquarters. The show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our producer is Kevin Ferguson. Jesus Ambrosio and Jordan Kauwling are our associate producers. We get help from Casey O’Brien. Production fellows at Maximum Fun are Richard Robey and Valerie Moffat. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. Our theme song is by The Go! Team. Thanks very much to them and their label, Memphis Industries, for sharing it. You can also keep up with the show on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We post all our interviews there. I… am on Twitter @JesseThorn. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.

promo

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

About the show

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.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

If you would like to pitch a guest for Bullseye, please CLICK HERE. You can also follow Bullseye on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. For more about Bullseye and to see a list of stations that carry it, please click here.

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