Rank #1: Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld was just 27 when he first appeared on Johnny Carson in 1981. And he stood out. His material wasn't about his upbringing or personal relationships. It was about our universal experience of small things. His unique comedy style eventually led him to create his namesake show with Larry David. After Seinfeld ran for nine seasons, he decided to go back to stand-up, and to his audience. As he explains to Alec, Seinfeld feels uniquely connected to his fans: “You have this relationship with the audience that is private between you and them.”
Rank #2: Jimmy Fallon Will Never Make Fun of You
When Jimmy Fallon landed a spot on Saturday Night Live in 1998, he told executive producer and comedy kingmaker Lorne Michaels, "I'm going to make you proud." Six years later, Fallon departed as a audience favorite, the show's go-to impressions guy, and the co-host (with Tina Fey) of SNL's "news" unit, Weekend Update. But he became famous without "working blue," and has always wanted everybody to be in on the joke. It's a trait that makes him a perfect television personality. Now, he occupies the most coveted seat in the business, as the host of The Tonight Show. He tells Here's The Thing host Alec Baldwin that he got his start in Saugerties, New York, practicing the stuff that every comic needs in their toolkit: impressions, musical numbers, and...a troll routine. In this clip from SNL in 1998 (referenced in the above interview), Jimmy Fallon and Alec Baldwin unwittingly predict a future success:
Rank #3: Billy Joel
Billy Joel has sold more records than The Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna—though the “rock star thing” is something he can “take off.” Joel started playing piano when he was about four or five years old, but he admits that he doesn't remember how to read sheet music anymore. He says it’d be like reading Chinese. That doesn't stop the third best-selling solo artist of all time in the U.S. from plunking out a few tunes with Alec. READ | Interview Transcript
Rank #4: Judd Apatow
Judd Apatow’s films—The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People—feature emotionally immature men forced to grow up after confronting sex, responsibility, and death. Of all Apatow’s movies, This is 40 may be his most personal; it stars his wife, Leslie Mann, their two daughters, and one of his long-time heroes, Albert Brooks. Apatow thinks of each movie he makes as a letter, telling him something he needs to know about how better to live life. READ | Interview Transcript
Rank #5: Amy Schumer Grew Up in a Nude House
Amy Schumer says she's been called the "girl next door, fastest-rising comic" for ten years. But it's more true than it's ever been, given three high profile successes in 2015: her increasingly hilarious and transgressive Comedy Central television show "Inside Amy Schumer;" the feature film "Trainwreck" (written by Schumer); and a new HBO comedy special filmed at the Apollo Theater. She talks to host Alec Baldwin about growing up on Long Island, playing the worst person ever, and the Pilates class they shared a decade ago.
Rank #6: David Letterman and Michael Douglas
David Letterman began his Late Night gig as a self-described “gap-toothed, unknown smart ass.” But thirty highly successful years later, Letterman’s comedy formula has evolved: he no longer attends all the meetings or makes all the decisions and stupid pet tricks are a thing of the past. Letterman began his television career as a weatherman, but moved rapidly up to anchorman and talk show host. He left for L.A. and, after only three years on the comedy scene there, he found himself guest-hosting the Tonight Show. He talks to Alec about how a quintuple by-pass and the birth of a child have dramatically shifted Letterman’s priorities. Michael Douglas has lived in the same apartment overlooking Central Park for decades. Alec joins him there for a compelling conversation about what makes a great director and why playing the villain is so wonderful. Douglas reveals how competition with his father, legendary actor Kirk Douglas, shaped both his career and his life as a parent. He says he’s much more honest with his young daughter than he ever thought he’d be. Douglas explains how his father’s early brush with death, and his own cancer diagnosis affected them each in different ways.
Rank #7: Rosie O'Donnell
This week, Alec sits down with Rosie O’Donnell who says she “never wanted to be a talk show host … I wanted to be on Broadway…I wanted to be a Bette Midler backup singer, one of the Harlettes.”
Rank #8: Lena Dunham
Dunham, the creator of HBO’s GIRLS, says when she was younger, she thought she’d be a "Gender and Women’s Studies teacher who showed movies at the occasional film festival." Instead she's trying to figure out what to wear to shoot the cover of Rolling Stone. Dunham talks with Alec about getting a dog and her first date with her boyfriend Jack Antonoff. She’s not ready for children—yet—but they are on her mind: “I was raised to think that the two most important things you could do in your life were to have a passionate, generous relationship to your work and to raise children.” READ | Interview Transcript
Rank #9: Kristen Wiig and Dick Cavett
Kristen was in college when an Acting 101 class prompted a move to L.A. She had little experience, but a tremendous gift for improv, and she soon found herself in a room auditioning for SNL. Hundreds of personas later, Wiig is regarded by SNL creator Lorne Michaels as one of the three or four greatest SNL talents ever. Kristen’s expertise translated well to film, and she eventually won an Oscar nomination for her Bridesmaids screenplay. She joins Alec to talk about the arc of her career and the steps she hopes to take next. Dick Cavett shares some of his memories with Alec: meeting Orson Welles in the lobby of the Plaza; talking with Marlon Brando by phone—““I was told he would [call] at a certain time and we talked with the sun about 15 degrees above the horizon until well after the moon had risen;” and interviewing Laurence Olivier in the Wyndham Hotel when, Cavett says, he was feeling so depressed “I just want[ed] to go home and get under the rug.” Dick Cavett is the master of talk, a television legend; in this conversation, he shows Alec why his career has spanned nearly five decades.
Rank #10: Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman Take it Slow in Work and in Love
Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman are famous for creating iconic TV characters on two beloved sitcoms, "Will & Grace" and "Parks and Recreation." But they also have a life together off screen. They've been married since 2003, and Playboy magazine compared their comic chemistry to "that of a hyper-sexualized Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara." They talk to Here's the Thing host Alec Baldwin about struggling to launch their careers, why it took them so long to kiss, and how jigsaw puzzles, audio books, and carpentry keep their marriage strong.
Rank #11: Brian Williams
Note: In this episode, Brian Williams says he flew in a helicopter in Iraq that came under enemy fire. On Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 Williams retracted this claim on NBC Nightly News and acknowledged that he was in another helicopter. As a kid, Brian Williams grew up in a CBS household. Dinner didn't start until Cronkite was done. He didn't think journalism was attainable, but his work ethic and blue blazer opened doors. From White House intern to young television reporter, Williams eventually found his way back to New York. On the job, Williams keeps his opinions quiet. Off the clock, Williams still enjoys vestiges of his youth: NASCAR and Spam. READ | Interview Transcript
Rank #12: Starbucks' Howard Schultz Doesn't Sleep—But Don't Blame the Coffee
Howard Schultz wasn't born into business. A Brooklyn boy whose father worked menial jobs to support the family, Schultz thought his way out would be through sport. That is, however, until he broke his jaw on the football field at 18 (an injury from which Schultz is still recovering). For the next three years, he made cold calls, a job he hated but which ultimately taught him about how to sell himself. He soon connected those selling chops with a small Seattle coffee roastery called Starbucks. He hoped to expand the chain to 100 stores; Starbucks now has 25,000 locations across the globe. Howard Schultz—who has been at the helm as CEO for most of the company's history—tells host Alec Baldwin that at the core of that success is a desire to build the kind of socially enlightened, employee-focused business that his father was never able to work for.
Rank #13: A Visit to Barbra's Place
Barbra Streisand has had multiplatinum albums every decade going back to the 60s. She’s got Emmys, Oscars, Grammys, and a Tony. She’s as big as a star gets, and she’s gotten there not despite but because of the fact that she’s remained distinctly Barbra -- the working-class Jewish girl from Brooklyn unwilling to compromise herself or her work. That Barbra is on full display in this intimate conversation with Here’s the Thing host Alec Baldwin. Inside her Malibu home, the two friends range over wide conversational terrain, touching on Barbra’s childhood, how the communist government in Czechoslovakia offered up the Czech Jewish community to be extras in Yentl, and the relief of getting behind the camera after years in front of it: “you never have to raise your voice, because everybody’s finally listening.” And of course, old friends can’t meet over an empty table: food runs throughout the conversation.
Rank #14: Alec Baldwin in the Hot Seat
Here’s The Thing listeners are used to hearing Alec ask the questions, but for this bonus episode, he’s the guest! To mark the publication of his new memoir, Nevertheless, Alec talk about money, drugs, career choices and family with Death, Sex & Money host Anna Sale. Stay tuned for Alec’s conversation with comedian and satirist Tony Hendra – out on Tuesday!
Rank #15: Billy Joel, Revisited
Billy Joel has sold more records than The Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna—though the “rock star thing” is something he can “take off.” Joel started playing piano when he was about four or five years old, but he admits that he doesn't remember how to read sheet music anymore. He says it’d be like reading Chinese. That doesn't stop the third best-selling solo artist of all time in the U.S. from plunking out a few tunes with Alec. WNYC is the producer of other leading podcasts, including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, On the Media and Death, Sex & Money.
Rank #16: Bernie Sanders Thinks Democrats Are Still Way Off-Course
It was just 15 months ago that Bernie Sanders ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, but by his own telling, he’s already converted that political insurgency into a movement that’s changed what’s considered mainstream in America, from a $15 minimum wage to universal healthcare. In his new book, Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution, he distills what he’s learned into a how-to for grassroots activists. But with Hillary Clinton still on a book-tour putting part of the blame for Trump’s victory on Sanders, the self-described socialist is clearly feeling contentious, and puts plenty of blame back on Clinton and an “upper-middle-class” Democratic party, which he joined in 2015 to run for president.
Rank #17: Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke, Radiohead and Atoms for Peace frontman, admits that, even after over 25 years in the business, performing is “either wicked fun or really awful.” He talks with Alec about his pre-show ritual—"I stand on my head for a bit"—and how he and his bandmates have been able to stick together since they were teenagers. READ | Interview Transcript
Rank #18: Kevin Kline Takes a Bow, Several Times
Kevin Kline is one of the most acclaimed entertainers working today. So how did the kid from St. Louis end up with an Oscar, two Tony awards, and a career that has intersected with those of Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, John Cleese, and Kenneth Branagh, to name just a few? He says that, at Juilliard, the answer came in the form of a pair of tights and lots of dance practice, as well as a merciless culling of his midwestern elocution. Kline's career accelerated early: a cross-country tour with the soon-to-be renowned acting company founded by the great John Houseman led to Tony-decorated roles (three years apart) in "On the Twentieth Century" and "The Pirates of Penzance." His first film role soon followed, opposite Streep in "Sophie's Choice." Kline's stage and screen stock hasn't dipped since. He recently spoke with Alec Baldwin in front of a live audience at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, where he assessed some of his many marquee performances, and demonstrated the most important thing he learned at Juilliard: how to do a theatrical bow from every era since the Renaissance.
Rank #19: Brian Reed Thought "S-Town" Could Only Ever Be a Cult Show
Good stories teach us about humankind, great ones change the way we see it. For many, S-Town -- a seven episode series about an eccentric Alabama horologist named John B. McLemore -- has done just that. Released on March 28, the podcast reached critical acclaim near instantly, garnering 16 million downloads in the first seven days. For Brian Reed, the host and producer behind it, the reception has been thrilling. As the world continues to devour his masterpiece, Brian talks to Alec Baldwin about the email where it all began.
Rank #20: Michael Wolff, Chronicler of Chaos in Trumpland
Michael Wolff’s Trumpland tell-all, Fire and Fury, has set Washington ablaze with its terrifying (and controversial) depiction of a White House in chaos. But all the focus has been on the White House intrigue and the downfall of Steve Bannon. The man behind the book has gotten surprisingly little attention, even though it was partly Wolff's position at the top of New York media's social heap that won him Trump's trust, and access to the White House. Alec set out to do a different Michael Wolff interview. At a live event at Manhattan's Town Hall, audience-members learned about the Jewish kid from Jersey with a shoeleather reporter for a mom, who gave up on being a novelist to do big-money media deals – even as he wielded his poison pen against peers in the New York media elite. And Wolff lives up to his reputation as one of New York's best conversationalists, giving answers by turns open, cantankerous, and very, very funny.