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: 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 #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: Jeff Daniels Was Supposed to Take Over the Family Lumber Business
By 1976, college student Jeff Daniels was pretty sure he didn't want to follow his father into the Michigan lumber trade. But he wasn't sure he could make it as a working actor -- until one of the founders of Manhattan's legendary Circle Repertory Company spotted him at Eastern Michigan University. It was a short hop from Circle Rep to his screen breakthrough in Terms of Endearment, but Daniels' commitment to the stage has never waned. That commitment bore a Tony nomination this year (Daniels' third) for his magnificent performance in Aaron Sorkin's To Kill a Mockingbird adaptation on Broadway. Daniels and Alec discuss the craft required to play Atticus Finch, the very different craft required to play alongside Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber, and Daniels' unusual decision to move back to his Michigan hometown with his wife and child while building a Hollywood career.
Rank #7: 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 #8: 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 #9: 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 #10: 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 #11: 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 #12: 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 #13: 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.
Rank #14: Ellie Kemper Gets Brain Freeze with Alec Baldwin
Ellie Kemper leapt into pop culture consciousness in 2009 when she joined the cast of "The Office" during the show's fifth season. Her portrayal of earnest, perky receptionist Erin Hannon introduced viewers to Kemper's strongest weapon as an actress: her own effervescent personality. And Kemper's bright disposition is now front and center in the Tina Fey-created Netflix series "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
"I am naturally cheerful and sunny — not manic," Kemper tells host Alec Baldwin. "I think for an actress, I'm the most normal I've ever met."
She's also hysterically funny, and talks about her formative experiences learning improv comedy from Jon Hamm; her newfound love of Dick Cavett; and why a set of bathroom fixtures recently brought her to tears.
Rank #15: 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 #16: Dan Rather Tells Alec Baldwin the 'Truth'
Dan Rather was the host and anchor of CBS Evening News for more than twenty years. He resigned the post in the wake of an investigation into then-President George W. Bush's Vietnam-era military service. A new film starring Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, 'Truth,' explores that period and the outstanding questions raised by Rather's journalistic inquiry. Host Alec Baldwin spoke with Rather at a recent screening of the film at the Hamptons International Film Festival, where they discussed Rather's days as a White House correspondent, recent attempts to re-assess Nixon, and the state of news today.
Rank #17: The Fast Times and Long Career of Cameron Crowe
Cameron Crowe's teenage years are familiar to anyone who's seen his autobiographical Almost Famous: 16-year-old writing prodigy convinces Jan Wenner and Rolling Stone to let him tour with and profile the greatest rock musicians of his generation. But what came after is just as interesting: going undercover as a high-school student to write Fast Times at Ridgemont High; falling into the Say Anything director's chair after the two first choices turned it down; hanging out with Led Zeppelin to get their blessing of the songs in Almost Famous. Crowe and Alec are friends, and it comes through in their affectionate back-and-forth about movies, writing, family, and the bands they love. And throughout this extended interview are interspersed some great tunes that demonstrate how Crowe is a master of the "needle-drop," using music to further the story, character development, and dramatic tension of his films.
Rank #18: David Crosby: Don't Call It a Comeback
Some combination of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young played together for 50 years until 2016. The group survived even Crosby's near-total dissolution under the influence of cocaine and heroin. That was a brush with death that left him in need of a liver transplant and a new approach to life. His newfound joy is clear in this exuberant conversation with Alec. It's also behind a recent and remarkable burst of creativity: three solo albums over the past four years. Crosby's childlike gratitude for his sixty years in music is palpable, but he is candid about the struggles, too: from wrestling with Roger McGuinn over control of The Byrds, to the terrifying culmination of the 2016 breakup of Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
Plus, BONUS! This is the first episode of Here's the Thing's question-crowdsourcing experiment. Your questions provided moving insight into the impact David's music and story have made on fans over the years. We couldn't include all the questions, but we used a lot, and David was really into it. Stay tuned for another call for submissions soon.
Rank #19: Paul Simon
Paul Simon is one of the great American entertainers—a mantle he's worn since he started singing harmony with grade-school friend Art Garfunkel in a duo called Tom & Jerry. In the following six decades, Simon has written dozens of classic songs. His partnership with Garfunkel produced numerous hits like "The Sound of Silence," "America," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." And Simon's solo career has been equally fruitful, as an engine of eclectic pop music (the gospel of "Loves Me Like a Rock," or the imported reggae of "Mother and Child Reunion"), and also as an ambassador of global sounds (the 1986 album Graceland, and 1990's The Rhythm of the Saints). He talks to host Alec Baldwin about how he has—and hasn't—changed after all these years.
Rank #20: Anthony Weiner on Term Limits and Text Messages
This interview was conducted in April 2016, prior to new reports that Anthony Weiner continued to be involved in explicit text and digital message exchanges.
Anthony Weiner is charismatic, full of ideas, quick on his feet — he's a natural politician. These personal strengths were well suited to governance during his stint in the New York City Council, and as a U.S. Representative in Washington. But his personal flaws became very public, and very visible, during a series of well-publicized sexting scandals. The professional fallout was swift in both instances: Weiner resigned his House seat, and later suspended his candidacy in the 2013 race for mayor of New York City. He talks to host Alec Baldwin about the ways in which an elected official has to publicly atone for private misconduct, and considers his next professional move.