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Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso

Arts & Culture Podcasts

Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. Where people sound like people. Hosted by Sam Fragoso. New episodes every Sunday.


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Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. Where people sound like people. Hosted by Sam Fragoso. New episodes every Sunday.




Actor and Director Benny Safdie Does It All

Throughout his fifteen-year moviemaking career, director and actor Benny Safdie has been drawn to naturalism and first-time performers. Fittingly, his recent collaboration with comedian Nathan Fielder (“Nathan for You”) was a perfect match. Benny joins us today to discuss their satirical black comedy series The Curse (9:10), the timely premise that inspired the show (13:35), and Safdie’s history of capturing real-life personalities on film (15:58). Then, he describes his early connection to the 1979 movie Kramer v Kramer (19:00), a New York encounter with photographer Robert Frank (23:18), and how directors Robert Bresson and Frederick Wiseman opened his eyes to the possibilities of street casting (26:05). On the back-half, we dive into Benny’s co-directing work alongside his brother, Josh Safdie (29:55), a heartbreaking scene from their debut feature Daddy Longlegs (34:30), and the projects that followed: Good Time (40:00), Lenny Cooke (42:45), and Uncut Gems (55:00). To close, Safdie talks about why he worked as a boom operator while directing (48:15), his recent pivot to acting (52:35), and his full circle moment of playing an astrophysicist in Oppenheimer (1:00:40). For questions, comments, or to join our mailing list, drop me a line at See for privacy information.


The Futurist Vision of Actor and Filmmaker Brit Marling

For more than a decade, actor and writer Brit Marling has made futuristic work that reveals truths about our disquieting present. Her latest endeavor, A Murder At the End of the World, is no exception. We recently sat with Marling in front of a live audience as part of this year’s On Air Fest LA Annex, where we discussed her excellent new show on FX (8:34), the role artificial intelligence may play in the future of filmmaking (14:26), and where she first fell in love with science fiction (20:35). Then, Brit reflects on her winding path at Goldman Sachs and Georgetown (23:40), where she met longtime collaborators Zal Batmanglij and Mike Cahill (25:25) that would eventually result in films like Another Earth and Sound of My Voice (36:18). On the back-half, we speak on the power of collective action (41:30), the public outcry that followed the cancellation of The OA (45:15), the state of Hollywood (51:12), and why Brit was inspired to direct (57:00) upon finding a passage from the late Polish auteur, Krzysztof Kieślowski (57:35). You can listen to our 2019 conversation with Marling here. For questions, comments, or to join our mailing list, drop me a line at See for privacy information.


The Ziwe Interview

Writer and comedian Ziwe has made a career out of conducting charged and satirical interviews. She joins us this week to discuss her debut essay collection, Black Friend (5:45), the backstory behind her essay WikiFeet (10:19), her early affinity for broadcast news (13:06), the influence of satirists Jonathan Swift and Stephen Colbert (15:10), and her early, formative experiences working in comedy (35:05). On the back-half, Ziwe reflects on the making of her YouTube series Baited (38:06), a memorable episode with Aparna Nancherla (41:30), her pandemic pivot to IG live (43:30), and the Showtime variety show that followed (46:30). To close, a philosophy on art-making from Ira Glass (50:40) and what Ziwe hopes for in her next chapter (56:15). See for privacy information.


Marina Abramović Creates Art from Pain

Marina Abramović is a pioneer in the field of performance art, using her body as both the subject and the medium. Today, we return to our special conversation with the legendary performer from her New York City apartment. To follow along with the works discussed, visit our guided, virtual exhibit at We start with her healing installation in Ukraine (7:45), creating art out of hardship (12:24), a Rainer Rilke poem that shaped her childhood (15:23), and the curiosity that propels her forward (23:42) in the face of sexist attacks from the press (28:59). On the back-half, Marina reflects on her groundbreaking work in Rhythm 0 (33:39), her tolerance for pain (38:39), the deep-seated influence of her mother (39:47), finding happiness at age 75 (45:20), how her seminal piece, The Artist Is Present, lives on (47:56), and what it means to be still, together (52:30). For thoughts, reflections, and guest suggestions, drop me a line at See for privacy information.


The Rise and Fall of Crypto Billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried (with Writer Michael Lewis)

Upon taking a walk with crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, writer Michael Lewis had a sense that there might be a story here. In the intervening two years, that story has taken a series of twists and turns, resulting in Lewis’ new book Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon. At the top, we walk through the latest events in Bankman-Fried’s Manhattan trial (7:27), the subject at the center of this winding story (12:06), and why Lewis was first interested in observing him (17:50). Then, he unpacks Bankman-Fried’s belief in effective altruism (20:00), his probabilistic approach to trading (23:50), and how his Stanford law professor parents shaped his thinking (27:36). On the back-half, we discuss the ten-day period of FTX’s collapse (38:00), the scene in the Bahamas as Bankman-Fried filed for bankruptcy (47:10), and why Lewis felt a kinship with Sam’s parents in that moment (50:32). To close, Michael reflects on his own journalistic tendencies (55:10) and how he managed to write this book in the aftermath of great personal tragedy (1:06:50). For thoughts, reflections, and guest suggestions, drop me a line at See for privacy information.


Singer-Songwriter Weyes Blood Gives Us ‘Something to Believe’

Singer-songwriter Weyes Blood is one of the most inventive musicians working today. One year ago, she released her prescient album And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow. On the heels of her whirlwind tour (4:00), she joins us this week to talk about her post-pandemic anthem “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” (10:04), her religious upbringing (13:22), the formative punk shows she attended as a teenager (20:17), and the influence of artists like Nico and Sonic Youth (25:18). On the back-half, Natalie reflects on her nomadic young adulthood (31:00), how she forged her path in the music industry (33:42), the apocalyptic feelings embedded in her album Titanic Rising (42:29), the inspiration of director Stanley Kubrick (49:32), and why she still holds onto hope through these turbulent times (57:50). For thoughts, reflections, and guest suggestions, drop me a line at See for privacy information.


A Human Conversation with Writer George Saunders

Last fall, George Saunders published Liberation Day, his first short-story collection in nine years. This week, we return to our conversation with the beloved author. At the top, we discuss his process creating the book (3:40), the influence of Chekhov and Gogol (4:56), and a timely passage on democracy from “Love Letter” (8:35). Then, we unpack how he builds stories (13:30), a guiding philosophy from our first talk (14:58), and an excerpt from the titular story, “Liberation Day” (21:30). On the back-half, we talk about the power of revision through “Elliott Spencer” (27:40), the seeds of the book’s moving final story, “My House” (36:34), the ‘failures in compassion’ it reveals (40:50), Saunders’ enduring relationship with his wife (45:08), and how he hopes to continue surprising himself as a writer, at 63 (48:40). See for privacy information.


Author and Critic Hua Hsu (The New Yorker) ‘Stays True’

One year ago, The New Yorker staff writer and critic Hua Hsu published his singular memoir entitled Stay True. Earlier this May, the autobiography won a Pulitzer Prize. Upon its paperback release, Hsu joins us to discuss the epigraph that frames the book (5:30) and his nomadic upbringing (9:45) scored by mixtapes (12:23) created by his Taiwanese father (15:14). Hsu then reflects on his arrival at UC Berkeley in the mid-90s (23:09) and how he formed an unexpected bond with a schoolmate named Ken (24:20). On the back-half, Hsu describes the horrific night that Ken’s life was taken (36:58), the aftermath of this tragedy (40:15), his attempts to make sense of the past twenty-four years in Stay True (46:20), his complicated relationship to memory (49:00) and music (58:30), and how he’s held onto hope (1:03:02) through telling this enduring story of friendship. See for privacy information.


The Transformations of Novelist Zadie Smith

Novelist Zadie Smith is one of the most acclaimed and beloved writers of her generation. Editor David Remnick has called her “a blessing not merely to The New Yorker but to language itself.” Author George Saunders has praised Smith’s work for its “heart and moral ambition.” I, too, think she’s quite good. And so today we’re joined by Smith to discuss her prescient historical novel The Fraud (8:20), her instinctive writing process (14:06), and the role of projection in her work (20:30). Then, Zadie reflects on her upbringing in North West London (24:12), the art that influenced her growing up (27:15), and the media circus that followed the publication of her debut novel, White Teeth (33:45). On the back-half, we discuss her desire to frequently reinvent herself as an artist as a writer (41:55), why she prioritized pleasure after her book On Beauty (45:17), the nuanced politics of her work (49:04), her evolving relationship to humanism (48:15), a striking passage from Intimations (54:00), and what she sees in this next generation of novelists (1:04:45). This conversation was recorded at Spotify Studios. See for privacy information.


Writer Sandra Cisneros Finds the Poetry of the World

Writer Sandra Cisneros has been making sense of the world on the page since 1984’s The House on Mango Street. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we wanted to replay our 2022 conversation with the beloved poet. We discuss her first poetry collection in 28 years, Woman Without Shame (4:40), why she chooses to write ‘dangerous’ pieces (6:18), and the significance of her poem, “My Mother and Sex” (8:38). Then, we walk through Sandra’s coming of age between Mexico and Chicago (15:16), the sixth-grade teacher that guided her entry into art (19:39), her epiphanies on class in graduate school (23:49), the “Pilsen Barrio” that shaped her seminal novel, The House on Mango Street (29:05), and how Studs Terkel informed her lifelong approach to story (30:17). On the back-half, we discuss the loves and losses that inspired Sandra’s early sensual poems (36:36), how she documented her power through “Neither Señorita nor Señora” (40:04), a painful period captured in “Year of my Death” (50:30), the day her mother visited her writer’s office in San Antonio (57:56), and why she still has more to say (and write) at age 67 (59:59). See for privacy information.


Legend David Byrne (‘Stop Making Sense’) is Still Burning Down the House

For the better part of a decade, David Byrne was the front-man of Talking Heads. To celebrate the revival of Jonathan Demme’s concert film, Stop Making Sense, we’re revisiting our special talk with the legendary musician himself. At the top, we discuss how Byrne processed the pandemic in New York City (6:45), finding creativity in unlikely places (9:50), the evolution of his Broadway show ‘American Utopia’ (10:47), the influence of poet William Blake (13:00), his gift for collaboration (16:36), and the power of the song, Glass Concrete & Stone (20:54). On the back-half, he opens up about his pivot from New Wave to Latin music (23:40), getting comfortable with creating on his own terms (30:35), and why he turned to performance as a response to being neurodivergent (36:32). He also reflects on his relationship to the Talking Heads (41:30), the cross generational impact of his art (44:15), the unique interpretations of American Utopia (46:30), and how he “found the world” through making music (50:25). Purchase tickets to see Stop Making Sense in theaters here. See for privacy information.


The State of Hollywood with Matt Belloni (‘The Town’)

For nearly two decades, Matt Belloni (The Town) has been observing and writing about Hollywood. He joins us today to unpack the latest on the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. After a review of TIFF 2023 (6:50), Belloni dives into Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher’s decisions to return to their talk shows without WGA writers (10:45), the vital issues the guild is fighting for (19:20), and how their negotiations have progressed over the past twenty weeks (23:10). Then, we discuss the history of the Netflix business model (25:05), the state of streaming today (29:50), and Belloni’s fourteen years at The Hollywood Reporter (35:04). On the back-half, we talk about his path from entertainment law to journalism (41:29), his unique approach to reporting at Puck (44:10), and his predictions for the end of the strikes (50:05). Before we leave, we sit with recent messaging from SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher (57:15), the potential fragmentation within the AMPTP (1:03:00), and to close, Matt's hope for the future of Hollywood (1:08:12). See for privacy information.


Jazz Singer Laufey is Bringing the Past to the Present

Jazz singer Laufey wants to bridge the gap between the past and the present. Today, she joins us upon the debut of her latest album, Bewitched. We discuss her songwriting process (5:20), her bossa nova-inspired piece “From The Start” (8:12), and her guiding light as a musician (12:30). Then, we walk through Laufey’s Icelandic upbringing (14:07), how fate led her to the Berklee College of Music (20:10), and the coming of age she experienced in that period (26:15). On the back-half, Laufey reflects on the music she created in 2020 (35:10), her rapid, online ascent as an artist (37:15), and an early collaboration with schoolmate Claudia Nketia (39:50). To close, we talk about the idea of romanticizing daily life (50:40), the components of her new song “Promise” (52:25), and what she hopes for in the years to come (57:00). See for privacy information.


The Summer in Review (with Culture Critic Sam Sanders)

Sam Sanders is the host of Into It, a twice-weekly podcast surveying all things pop culture. Today: he joins us for a review of summer 2023! At the top, we discuss Barbenheimer (7:20), the dual Hollywood strikes (14:12), Trump’s mug shot (19:00), the RNC debate (21:50), and the Montgomery Riverfront brawl (26:05). On the back-half, Sanders reflects on growing up in Texas (36:30), his childhood of churchgoing (42:48), and how he found his voice on the microphone (46:45). To close, we talk about the power of safe spaces (49:40), representation in media (55:15), and his hope for the future of journalism (59:46). See for privacy information.


Tracing 'The Steps' of Musician Alana Haim

Today, we return to our conversation with musician and actor Alana Haim! We first sat with Alana around her on-screen debut in the film Licorice Pizza, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Making her acting debut, Alana shares the serendipitous backstory that led to the project (6:00), the “7th grade forever theory” that helped her get inside the character of Alana Kane (13:17), a high school house party where she baked cake and fell in love (17:30), and the fortuitous afternoon she met future co-star Cooper Hoffman (23:23). In the back half, we talk about the early days of HAIM (30:33) and how art helps transcend our own limitations (36:50), culminating in the night Alana drove a six-wheeler truck up (and down) the pitch black hills of the San Fernando Valley (35:55), as co-star Bradley Cooper rode shotgun. We also discuss the One More HAIM tour (39:08), the song she was most excited to perform from Women in Music Pt. III, and what she hopes for in the decade to come (41:30). See for privacy information.


The Era(s) of Musician Este Haim

Musician and composer Este Haim has had quite the year. Today, she reflects on HAIM’s eventful summer as part of Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour (5:45), her pivot into scoring feature films (8:40), including Netflix’s You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah (13:12), growing up in a family band called Rockenhaim (17:46) and the formative musicians that inspired her and her sisters as teenagers in Los Angeles (21:41). On the back-half, Este describes the early years of HAIM (29:30), the band’s collaboration with producer and composer Ludwig Göransson (33:08), their debut album Days Are Gone (37:55), and the misogyny embedded in the music industry (39:15) that fueled their third record, Women in Music Pt. III (43:55). To close, a love letter to LA (47:54) and a tribute to Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth (56:00), and how both have shaped Este’s journey, on and off stage (1:00:55). See for privacy information.


Abbi Jacobson is in a League of Her Own

Today, our conversation with actor and writer Abbi Jacobson! We sat with Abbi last summer around the release of her latest series, A League of Their Own (5:35), to discuss the legacy of the 1992 film (10:35), her earliest comedic influences (15:05), moving to New York City post-college (21:04), falling in love with improv at UCB (25:08), the night she met Ilana Glazer (32:40), and a handful of memories creating Broad City (37:20). On the back-half, Abbi tells the story behind her book I Might Regret This (43:33), how heartbreak brought her to Los Angeles (46:22), what she hopes her sixty-year-old self looks like (50:42), and why she wants to continue making ‘inviting work’ (54:12). To close, she tells us a love story (1:03:16). You can watch the first season of A League of Their Own on Amazon Prime. To learn more about Abbi and her work visit our site. See for privacy information.


Composer Ludwig Göransson (‘Oppenheimer’) Can Hear the Music

For over a decade, composer and record producer Ludwig Göransson has created some of the defining music of our time. This week, he sits with Sam to discuss his latest work in Oppenheimer. At the top, Göransson describes the collaborative process with director Christopher Nolan (6:48), the instrument at the heart of the film (9:30) and its hauntingly beautiful theme (11:06). Then, we walk through Ludwig’s instinctive approach to making music (13:07), his coming of age in Sweden (15:20), and the influence of Metallica and Danny Elfman (18:51). On the back-half, Ludwig reflects on his early years in Los Angeles (24:56), finding kinship with director Ryan Coogler (27:55) and polymath Donald Glover (34:53), and how he slowly began to understand his voice (38:21). To close, he shares how his process has evolved from Black Panther to Oppenheimer (42:30), the potential impact of AI on the music industry (44:58), and what he hopes for in the years ahead (49:15). See for privacy information.


Beto O'Rourke and the Border

As a fourth generation border resident in El Paso, politician Beto O’Rourke has long been making the case for immigration reform. He’s continued to do so this summer, as the humanitarian crisis at the Texas-Mexico border has accelerated under Gov. Greg Abbott. After a check-in with Dad Fragoso (4:08) we sit with O’Rourke to unpack the severe anti-migrant tactics carried out under Operation Lone Star (15:50), the dangerous rhetoric that delivered this crisis (28:00), and the checkered history of immigration reform in Texas (31:10). We also walk through the focus of Beto’s new book, We’ve Got to Try: How the Fight for Voting Rights Makes Everything Else Possible (35:47), the four-year aftermath of the El Paso shooting (38:38), and why he continues fighting for change in the state (42:45). On the back-half, O’Rourke reflects on his recent Gubernatorial campaign (46:36), how the Texas electorate has shifted since his 2018 Senate run (49:53), his unwavering belief in people (55:55), how he hopes President Biden mitigates the cruelty at the border (1:00:00), and to close, a story about fatherhood (1:05:10). Join the fight down in Texas alongside Powered by People. To watch Sam's film, Sebastian, visit our show-notes. See for privacy information.


Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter Threads History and the Afrofuture

For over three decades, legendary costume designer Ruth E. Carter has created the looks of our most era-defining films. Today, we're celebrating those pieces chronicled in her new book, The Art of Ruth E. Carter: Costuming Black History and the Afrofuture. At the top, we discuss the current labor movement in Hollywood (5:03), Carter’s upbringing in Massachusetts (8:50), and a formative Langston Hughes poem (12:56). Then, she reflects on her early years in Los Angeles (19:45), the night she met a lifelong collaborator in director Spike Lee (21:52), and the process of making School Daze (25:49), Do the Right Thing (29:06), and Malcolm X (37:42). On the back-half, Carter describes her innovative work on the Black Panther films (50:40), which earned her two Academy Awards (54:33), the enduring influence of her mother, Mabel Carter (1:03:10), and how she continues to tell the story of the Black experience through costume design (1:04:35). See for privacy information.