Fresh Air

  • Hosted by Terry Gross

Opening the window on contemporary arts and issues with guests from worlds as diverse as literature and economics.

Humor is both a creative and a cognitive process, says Bob Mankoff, who has contributed cartoons to The New Yorker since 1977. His memoir is called How About Never — Is Never Good For You?

Originally broadcast March 24.

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Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

In 1986, a bomb planted by the Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path exploded in the luggage rack above Sam Baker. Somehow, during his long recovery, songs focused on empathy started coming to him.

Originally broadcast May 6.

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Merry Christmas. Today, we begin a week-long series of some of our favorite interviews of the year.

Although it wasn't a great year for the shows themselves, it was a good year for programming, says TV critic David Bianculli.

"In terms of what was happening on television, in terms of new and old formats and new, exciting players coming into the mix — [it was] another good year," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I'm actually kind of encouraged."

Bianculli reflects on how far TV has come.

"This is a very, very depressing year for film," critic David Edelstein tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "because none of the great material came from Hollywood studios."

Studios, he says, direct their financial resources into sequels and comic-book movies, which leaves little room for "creative expression, and for doing something weird and potentially boundary-moving."

Sarah Koenig didn't expect her new podcast, Serial, to get so much press, but she says the attention helped keep her on her toes: "It was just a constant reminder of how careful we needed to be," Koenig tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Timothy Spall Takes On Painter J.M.W. Turner, A 'Master Of The Sublime': The 19th century painter wasn't always "very pleasant" and he was a "man of massive contradictions," Spall says. So Spall says he had to "dig deep" to play the title role in Mr. Turner.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

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Meryl Streep: The Fresh Air Interview

Dec 19, 2014

Meryl Streep won a Golden Globe for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. She talks about preparing for that role and how her perceptions of herself have changed over the years.

Originally broadcast Feb. 6, 2012.

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After nine years, Stephen Colbert is retiring the character he created for The Colbert Report, the conservative, self-important blowhard who opines about the news and the media. The final episode airs Thursday. Colbert will take over as host for The Late Show, replacing the retiring David Letterman.

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILLKOMMEN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome.

D'Angelo has built a considerable reputation on the basis of three albums: 1995's Brown Sugar, 2000's Voodoo, and now Black Messiah, unexpectedly released early Monday morning. The singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist has been widely praised for connecting many decades of different rhythm & blues styles, and Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says Black Messiah is as adventurous as any fan could hope for.

Performing live comedy is like "a series of little scientific experiments," says John Cleese. "When you do comedy in front of an audience, they are the ones who tell you whether it's funny or not," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies, and each subsequent night on stage is an experiment in making jokes land better than the night before.

Before he could play British artist J.M.W. Turner, actor Timothy Spall first had to learn how to paint; over the course of two years, Spall took private fine art lessons from London artist Tim Wright.

For this year's Best Books of the Year list, I reject the tyranny of the decimal system. Some years it's simply more than 10. Here, then, are my top 12 books of 2014. All of the disparate books on my list contain characters, scenes or voices that linger long past the last page of their stories. In fact, The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin, which is my pick for Book of the Year, came out in January and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Chris Rock On Finding The Line Between Funny And 'Too Far': "No comedian wants to have to analyze and defend" jokes, says Rock, who wrote, directed and stars in the new film Top Five. He adds: "I'm not a politician; I'm not a thinker. I'm a comedian."

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When writer Jill Soloway's father came out as a trans woman, Soloway says, it was a huge relief. And it helped her create the series Transparent about "boundaries, legacy, gender, family."

Originally broadcast Oct. 30, 2014.

Writer-director Richard Linklater says picking the film's star was vital because he had to guess what he'd be like at 18. "I just went with a kid who seemed kind of the most interesting."

Originally broadcast July 10, 2014.

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Three Jazz Box Sets For Stocking Stuffers

Dec 11, 2014

Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews three box sets featuring memorable pianists: the Chick Corea Trio's Trilogy, Herbie Hancock's Warner Bros. Years (1969-1972), and The Rosemary Clooney CBS Radio Recordings 1955-1961.

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Comedian Richard Pryor's legacy still reverberates nearly 10 years after his death. Pryor took the most difficult troubling aspects of his life and turned it into comedy. He talked about being black in ways that had never been done before in mainstream entertainment. And he was fearless and hilarious talking about race relations.

"Infobesity," "lumbersexual," "phablet." As usual, the items that stand out as candidates for word of the year are like its biggest pop songs, catchy but ephemeral. But even a fleeting expression can sometimes encapsulate the zeitgeist. That's why I'm nominating "God view" for the honor.

When author Jacqueline Woodson was growing up in Greenville, S.C., in the '60s and '70s, she was keenly aware of segregation.

"We knew our place," Woodson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "We knew our place was with our family. We knew where it was safest to be. There wasn't a lot of talk about the white world and what was going on in it; it didn't really have a lot to do with us, except in situations where there was the talk of resistance."

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In the new film Top Five, Chris Rock plays Andre Allen, a standup comedian who has starred in a series of blockbuster comedies as a catchphrase-spewing character called Hammy the Bear.

When Top Five begins, Allen has given up the Hammy movies, given up drinking and is trying to reshape his career with his new dramatic film about a Haitian slave rebellion. Like Allen, Rock says he has had doubts about his own career.

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