Episode 207: Giddyup

Air Date:
Heard On BETA
BoJack Horseman sitting on diving board poolside
Courtesy Netflix

“BoJack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg on his debut collection of short stories about love. Also, poet and critic Hanif Abdurraqib makes the case for one of the most influential rap groups ever, A Tribe Called Quest. And filmmaker Jeanie Finley talks about her year embedded with “Game of Thrones” to make the HBO documentary, “The Last Watch.”

Featured in this Show

  • 'BoJack Horseman' Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg On His Debut Short-Story Collection

    The Netflix animated series “BoJack Horseman” centers on the trials and tribulations of a depressed sitcom star in his 50s, who also happens to be a horse.

    Raphael Bob-Waksberg is the creator of “Bojack Horseman.” He’s also the author of a short-story collection called “Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory.” Like “BoJack,” Bob-Waksberg’s stories strike a perfect balance of melancholy, humanity and love.

    One of the stories is called “the poem.” It starts out as a poem written by Fernando for his girlfriend Wendy but then it pivots into a short story while still maintaining the meter and rhyme of a poem.

    “One thing I try to do in all my stories is justify the form with the content,” Bob-Waksberg told WPR’s “BETA.” “So a lot of times, I’ll think of the form first … I really wanted to do a story in verse. You know, I’m a big fan of David Rakoff’s book, ‘Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish,’ which is an entire book written in verse. And I always enjoy writing little poems here and there. So I thought, ‘Could I write a whole story that was a poem?’ Then I thought, ‘Well, what would justify a story being a poem?’ Well, if it’s about a poem, that feels like a good place to start.”

    When Bob-Waksberg first came up with the idea for “BoJack Horseman” in 2010, he wrote that he envisioned the show as “darkly funny with a melancholy, ‘Great Gatsby’-ish center.”

    He said the same description could apply to his new collection of short stories.

    “I think that depending on your own emotional constitution, you might find the stories in this book to be very funny or you might find them to be very sad,” he said. “And I’ve seen both that reaction, which I think is very interesting. They are, I think, funny mostly. But there’s a dark comedy to them and there certainly is a melancholy center to a lot of them.”

    I think that tragedy and comedy, that’s life, right? It’s all kind of funny and sad. And the way we muddle through it can be inspiring and devastating and hilarious and stupid. And I kind of want to track that gamut in my work. I think that real life has all of those modes. It’s a sweet and salty mix of all of it. And that’s something that I definitely try to convey in my work,” Bob-Waksberg added.

    His short story, “A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion,” is one he said may be the most autobiographical — it’s very loosely based on his wedding.

    “I want to be very clear. There were no goats sacrificed at our wedding,” he said chuckling.

    He said that when he and his girlfriend decided to get married, they wanted to keep the wedding very small and very simple.

    “And I was really continually shocked in the planning of the wedding how even trying to keep it small and simple, how it became quite an ordeal,” he said. “And, you know, all the people we had to please and all the things we had to do, also to please ourselves, based on our own expectations of what a wedding was and needed to be. And how even this very small version of it ended up being quite overwhelming but in the end quite beautiful as well.”

    This story reads like an attack on the wedding industrial complex — also known as Big Wedding — and its relentless attempts to monetize nuptials as much as possible.

    “There’s the wedding industry but there’s also the wedding culture,” Bob-Waksberg said. “It’s so ingrained in what we imagined for ourselves ever since we were little kids, of what our wedding would be like and what the perfect wedding is and what it means and what it represents. And I think that means something a little different to everybody but it’s all kind of wrapped around this cultural ideal based on the culture that we swim in.”

    The story “Rufus” is written entirely from the point of view of a dog named Rufus. Bob-Waksberg said his wife’s dog inspired this story. He didn’t have any pets growing up and he never really understood dogs. It became a running joke with his friends that he was very uncomfortable around dogs.

    “And then I started taking care of first my girlfriend’s dog and then it became my wife’s dog. And now he’s my dog, as well,” he explained. “And I really fell in love with him and became delighted by him. And I was really fascinated in his understanding of me and my role in his life. And I felt like a lot of the fictional representations of dogs I’d seen had either been very stupid or all-knowing — kind of like ‘Oh, my master doesn’t understand that he’s in love with this person but I’m going to wrap my leash around them and get them together. Or whatever.’ And I felt like neither was quite true of my dog. And I felt like my dog was very smart but just his context was completely different than mine. And I tried to imagine what the world would look like through my dog’s understanding of it.”

    When Bob-Waksberg was first developing “BoJack Horseman,” he described BoJack as “insufferably self-deprecating, neurotic, abrasive and stubborn. Larry David meets Bender from ‘Futurama.’”

    But just because BoJack has been such a large part of Bob-Waksberg’s work, doesn’t mean his character finds his way into his short-story collection.

    “I think I really kind of got my BoJack kicks out on the show and I was interested in exploring other worlds in the book,” Bob-Waksberg said. “Although I will say there is a strain of melancholy that kind of lives in the veins of BoJack, the current of his life. And I think that strain of melancholy certainly exists in a lot of the characters in the book. There’s a story called ‘Move across the country’ which is about a character trying to outpace their own depression by picking up their roots and moving around. And I think that is very Bojacky — that idea of ‘I’m miserable here but maybe if I go somewhere else, I can be less miserable.’ And that misery kind of following you.”

  • Author Reflects On The Legacy Of A Tribe Called Quest

    Author Hanif Abdurraqib explores the legacy of venerated rap group A Tribe Called Quest and his own fandom in his new book, “Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest.”

    He told WPR’s “BETA” he recalls the first time he became aware of A Tribe Called Quest.

    “I distinctly remember watching the music video for ‘I Left My Wallet In El Segundo’ shortly after it dropped, and I had to be around 8 or 9 years old.”, he said.

    Discovering A Tribe Called Quest

    ‘I Left My Wallet In El Segundo’ was off the group’s first record, 1990’s “People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm.” But it wasn’t until the release of the group’s second record, 1991’s “The Low End Theory,” that Abdurraqib latched on to their sound and became a fan.

    He explained that his parents didn’t tolerate a lot of rap music in the house. But because of the classic jazz sounds found on “The Low End Theory,” they made an exception.

    “Because those sounds were perhaps bringing up some nostalgic feelings for my parents, my older brother was able to play ‘Low End Theory’ really loud in the house without headphones,” he said. “So I gained an affection for ‘Low End Theory’ through that.”


    The first track on “The Low End Theory” is “Excursions,” which Abdurraqib described as, “one of the great track one, side ones” in music history.

    “Excursions” utilized samples from Art Blakey, Shades Of Brown and Last Poets.

    “As an entry point, ‘Excursions’ is such a great song because it so distinctly shows that you are getting a different group than the group you left,” he said.

    With its deep sampled bassline and thumping kick drum, Abdurraqib said he thinks “Excursions” sounded good in almost any situation. It could rattle car trunks or sound good in headphones on the way to school.

    The Common Thread Of Jazz

    “Music history does not begin where I think many people think it begins, and very few artists are the first to do something,” Abdurraqib suggested.

    He said he thinks A Tribe Called Quest had a keen understanding of jazz music, as well as the history of blues as a precursor for rock ‘n’ roll.

    “They were borrowing from ancestors, but also honoring that borrowing by understanding that they were not the first to attempt the type of sounds they were going for,” he said.

    Abdurraqib was partly drawn to A Tribe Called Quest because he believed they came from homes like his, where music was always playing.

    When you come from a place where music is always playing, you’re kind of building a catalog of sounds you love whether or not you even realize it’s happening, you know? Until you set out to make your own sounds,” he said.

    The members of the group were childhood friends, and that bond is something Abdurraqib said he thinks was important to the group’s early success.

    “When I was young, I had a crew I rolled with, and you know, you find the right crew, and that crew is gonna be down for whatever,” he said.

    The Emergence Of Phife Dawg

    After appearing sparingly on “People’s Instinctive Travels … ,” Phife Dawg began to come into his own on “The Low End Theory.” Abdurraqib believes Phife brought a levity and sharp wit to the group that helped, “balance out the group’s overall mood,” he said.

    He said he thinks Phife’s contributions to tracks like “Buggin Out” and “Check The Rhime” helped make “The Low End Theory” a truly great record.

    “‘The Low End Theory’ is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time, not just in the genre of hip-hop,” he said. “Retrospectively, it’s seen as more boundary-pushing and groundbreaking as time goes on.”

    Midnight Marauders

    Following the success of “The Low End Theory,” Abdurraqib writes in his book that 1993’s “Midnight Marauders” was the album, “on which Q-Tip and Phife were most tuned into each other’s needs and desires.”

    “They were more of a group than they’d ever been,” he said. “Phife was comfortable and Q-Tip had figured out how to play off of him. It seemed like their styles were bouncing off each other instead of being somewhat lyrically at odds.”

    “Midnight Marauders” is Abdurraqib’s favorite A Tribe Called Quest record, and points to tracks like “We Can Get Down” and “Lyrics To Go” as examples of the group’s great creative sync.

    Phife Dawg’s Death

    Relationships within the group began to fray as time went on, as seen in 2011’s documentary film, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest.”

    Abdurraqib said the film was about a friendship that was no longer working.

    “It’s just very hard, I think, to be a public figure and love someone for a long time,” he said.

    Phife sometimes referred to being diabetic in his lyrics, and died from complications related to the disease in early 2016 at age 45. Abdurraqib was heartbroken when Phife passed, saying “Phife was kinda my guy.”

    “When I was coming up, rappers largely were extremely cool. And Phife was cool in a different way. Phife was cool in the kind of way that I thought I could be cool,” he said.

    When “We Got It From Here …Thanks You 4 Your Service was released in November of that same year, Abdurraqib believes it was a fitting swan song for the group.

    Recorded before Phife’s death, Abdurraqib said, “It balances grief and anger really well, and I think it’s an album that has adult concerns made by an adult group, and I think that’s really important.”

    Tribe’s Enduring Impact

    Abdurraqib’s book includes letters to the members of A Tribe Called Quest that get to the essence of fandom by showing the one-sided personal relationships we develop with our musical heroes.[[{“fid”:”996961″,”view_mode”:”teaser”,”fields”:{“alt”:”Hanif Abdurraqib”,”title”:”Hanif Abdurraqib”,”class”:”media-element file-teaser media-wysiwyg-align-right”,”data-delta”:”1″,”format”:”teaser”,”alignment”:”right”,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EHanif%20Abdurraqib%20%3Cem%3EPhoto%20courtesy%20of%20Kate%20Sweeney%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Hanif Abdurraqib (photo Kate Sweeney)”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Hanif Abdurraqib (photo Kate Sweeney)”},”type”:”media”,”field_deltas”:{“1”:{“alt”:”Hanif Abdurraqib”,”title”:”Hanif Abdurraqib”,”class”:”media-element file-teaser media-wysiwyg-align-right”,”data-delta”:”1″,”format”:”teaser”,”alignment”:”right”,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EHanif%20Abdurraqib%20%3Cem%3EPhoto%20courtesy%20of%20Kate%20Sweeney%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Hanif Abdurraqib (photo Kate Sweeney)”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Hanif Abdurraqib (photo Kate Sweeney)”}},”link_text”:false,”attributes”:{“alt”:”Hanif Abdurraqib (photo Kate Sweeney)”,”title”:”Hanif Abdurraqib (photo Kate Sweeney)”,”class”:”media-element file-teaser media-wysiwyg-align-right”,”data-delta”:”1″}}]]

    “I wanted to have some level of personal closeness that did not require a response,” he said. “The chapters that those letters are in are chapters that express my grief or my curiosities knowing that they don’t have to respond.”

    Abdurraqib said he thinks A Tribe Called Quest were always reaching for a better horizon while trying to remain honest.

    “I think about that often,” he said. “But also, I appreciate that in some ways, both of them, Q-Tip and Phife, were just cynical and honest.”

    And he believes that’s had a big impact on his own writing.

    “You know, sometimes I’m not looking to get through difficulty,” he said. “I’m looking for new ways to be honest about it.

  • 'The Last Watch' Shares The Small Stories Of TV’s Biggest Show

    Warning: This article contains spoilers for the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

    In May, HBO wrapped up production on its biggest, and arguably most popular series, “Game of Thrones,” after eight seasons. Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay landed the opportunity — or challenge — of a lifetime to document the production of the final season.

    To make her film, “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch,” which HBO premiered the week following the finale, Finlay embedded herself and her small team with the notoriously private “Thrones” production crew in Northern Ireland and Spain, capturing more than 950 hours of footage.

    Finlay tells WPR’s “BETA” that focusing on the crew was integral to her film’s narrative.

    “There’s a crew of 2,000 people making ‘Game of Thrones’ so it seemed important to me that we had some of the cast in it, but that it wouldn’t always be focused on cast,” she said.

    The show was already a pop culture behemoth with an established behind-the-scenes unit, so Finlay wanted to alter her angle to distinguish “The Last Watch” from the usual creator and cast interviews that audiences were already familiar with.

    “My approach was, can we find some people that you’ve not met before and get to know them over a season?” Finlay said.

    Finlay spent the first four to six months of filming identifying who she was going to focus her documentary on. From the boisterous stuntman turned Night King actor, Vladimir Furdik, to the soft-spoken series director, David Nutter, Finlay locked onto a series of faceless artists and crew that serve as the pillar of the show.

    The real scene-stealer, however, is Belfast native and extra, Andrew McClay.

    McClay was a giant fan of the show and seemingly dropped into Finlay’s lap out of central casting. “The Last Watch” finds so much charm following McClay’s hilarious and touching exploits as he works his way toward screen time as a Stark guard.

    “When I met him, it’s like falling in love,” Finlay said. “He’s funny and charismatic. He’s got an amazing face and he’s just generally brilliant to be around.”

    Finlay tracks McClay’s story and the stories of several crewmembers as they all work toward the inevitable final day of working on the show.

    “I was very intrigued that ‘Game of Thrones’ was coming to an end. So, it had an emotional destination and I could really feel that all season long,” she said.

    As actress Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen on the show, says in the film, “My heart is in my throat when I think about this not happening much longer.”

    Finlay catches a lot of intimate moments with the lead actors throughout the film including the arresting scene when Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow in the series, finds out his character murders Clarke’s during their last table read.

    “It was really fascinating watching Kit experiencing that in real time. I had gotten a heads up that he hadn’t read it and so I was like, ‘Oh hello, this is gonna be great,’” Finlay exclaimed.

    For a while, it looked like Finlay was going to miss out on this magic moment as she wasn’t allowed to film the table reads due to the secrecy of the production and protection against script leaks. Finlay sat down with show creators David Benioff and Dan “D.B.” Weiss and convinced them to let her in the room.

    “I just said, ‘You’ve got to let me film the table read, you have to. Just trust me, it’ll be great,’” she said.

    As fascinating as the table read footage was, Finlay argues that it was somewhat expected. She instead relishes the unpredictability of the smaller stories and moments featured in the film.

    “I think the best things in a documentary are when things take you by surprise and you feel like you’re watching the finished film,” she said.

    Vladimir Furdik, a stuntman, as The Night King on the set of “Game of Thrones” during the filming of season 8. Photo courtesy of HBO 

    Her decision to focus a bulk of her documentary on the crew proved wise. While there were mixed reviews for the final season of “Game of Thrones” from a storytelling perspective, there was little debate about the grand spectacle and craftsmanship each episode displayed.

    For her part, Finlay says she would be “lying” if she wasn’t worried that the lost momentum or negative fan reaction to the closing season of “Game of Thrones” would impact the reception of her film.

    “I was petrified, I’ve got to say,” Finlay said. “Then people started making memes of my film and it just felt like the ultimate validation.”

Episode Credits

  • Doug Gordon Host
  • Adam Friedrich Producer
  • Brad Kolberg Producer
  • Steve Gotcher Technical Director
  • Raphael Bob-Waksberg Guest
  • Hanif Abdurraqib Guest
  • Jeanie Finlay Guest
  • Shad Kabango Guest

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