I’ve been listening to podcasts for a while. Like most people I started with the juggernaut, This American Life, but quickly opened up my catalogue to other shows and ideas. I’m sure if you were to plot my podcast listening statistics you’d see a sharp uptick in hours listened when I started my second round of graduate school almost six years ago in San Diego.
I moved to San Diego with the belief that my girlfriend (now wife) wouldn’t be far behind. I’d find a place to settle, get started with the hard business of academic scholarship, and then she’d come join me. Six months was our guess. Funny thing about guesses, they’re not very reliable.
Fast forward four months and I was spending Thanksgiving day with my girlfriend eating Boston Market takeout while we took a break form unpacking her belongings at her new apartment in Bristol, CT. She’d landed an entry into her dream job. A job that placed her over 2,800 miles away from where I was pursuing my dreams. Not fun, but we preserved.
All of this is to say that I was alone a lot of the time for the four years before we synced back up in the same time zone, found our first apartment together, and got married. Sure I had friends, and work, and classes, but there was also the solo meals I made in a old studio apartment or the long walks I took in the barrio (I moved around a lot). During those moments of solitude my companion was always my iPhone and my podcasts.
Like I said, I’ve listened to a bunch. Other’s have listened to more, some less. I’m probably right in the middle. I stick to comedy and culture mostly. Chris Hardwick and his knuckled head friends, Matt and Jonah, kept me company on a lot of walks, runs, and bus commutes. Jad and Robert were a go to for long plane rides. Marc came and went depending on my mood. Doug was (and is) an entertaining diversion. And of course I can’t forget the two pillars Roman and Ira.
When I was listening to these voices the same name was mentioned time and time again — Jesse Thorn. I also kept hearing something about The Sound of Young America off and on, but never really gave it much thought. Then I started listening to John Hodgman dispense Internet Justice on the Judge John Hodgman podcast. Why? I don’t really remember. Probably a recommendation online. Maybe Roman? Who knows. It doesn’t matter. John was great (still is) and his sidekick, was… you guessed it, Mr. Jesse Thorn.
It took a while, probably about six months of listening to Jesse make funny side comments and endearing commentary for me to finally take the time to check out what this whole MaximumFun thing was all about. I dipped my toes in the water with Jordan, Jesse, Go!. It was great. Funny, smart, irreverent, but sincere and full of truth. I loved it right away. I started listening to the back catalogue. For some reason I went about it the wrong way and just kept going back one episode at a time instead of starting from the beginning. It was a stupid way to do it, but it didn’t matter, each joke was still funny. Each story about getting married, having children, moving, getting jobs — basically becoming an adult — was real and moving and often hilarious. Somewhere along the way in my JJGO historical listening project I decided to branch out again and listen to what used to be the Sound of Young America and is now Bullseye.
Bullseye was scary and odd to me. It wasn’t what I was used to. It was serious. It was interview-based with different segments, but it didn’t have an overarching story like a This American Life episode. Plus, I’ll be honest, some of the guests just weren’t all that interesting to me. But I gave it a try. And I’m better for it.
Jesse likes to say, “Bullseye is at it’s core, a recommendation show.” It’s Jesse recommending bits of culture new and old, through his smart, funny, and engaging interviews with the people that make it. It’s people like Mark Fraunfelder from BoingBoing or the AV Club telling you about the music, books, and games that you simply must try because they love them. It’s also people talking about the music that’s changed their lives.
Stop right here and listen to recent Academy Award winner Bobby Lopez talk about “Pure Imagination” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Really, stop. Listen.
But the best part of Bullseye, and my current favorite piece of radio, is the Outshot. Each week Bullseye wraps up with a personal recommendation from Jesse Thorn. These aren’t just reviews of the latest albums or movies. It’s something deeper and more intense than almost anything you’ll hear out there today. Jesse opens himself up the audience to talk about something he really enjoys. It’s sincere and heartfelt, because that’s just who he is. In his wedding announcement in the New York Time nearly six years ago his wife mentions his inability to be insincere, “He is not capable of it,” she says. “He’s so honest and straightforward about what he likes and doesn’t like, and what he’s thinking. And that’s something I admire.” I admire it too. Not just because he’s genuine, but also because he’s unafraid to share the things he finds endearing and delightful even though others may scoff. He’ll to tell you why Babe: Pig in the City is really a heroes tale or why the Muppet Movie is about friends and artists dreaming about how to make the world a better place.
I love the Outshot because Jesse loves these pieces of culture enough to share them with us. And with each segment and his signature sign off, Jesse does what most of use spend our entire lives trying to do, he draws his bow, let his arrow fly and hit the bullseye, again and again. Thanks Jesse.
So I actually recored my own “Ode to the Outshot” and you can go listen to it here or from the embed below.
This week is also MaxFunDrive. The yearly pledge drive for the MaximumFun network and the shows they help bring to the world. This year I’ve pitched in and become a donor. Each week I listen to about 4-5 hours of MaxFun programming and I’m more than happy to chip in what amounts to $1 per episode. That’s cheap considering how much entertainment I’m getting. If you’re a new or old listener you should consider chipping in too. All the cool kids are doing it.