Episode 506: Julie Nolke, Van Lathan, Author on Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis

Air Date:
Heard On BETA
Julie Nolke
(C) Sam Larson

Comedian Julie Nolke on her YouTube success and her audition for ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Also, Ringer podcast host, Van Lathan, shares raw truths from his memoir, “Fat, Crazy and Tired.” And Ben Wardle on his biography about the founder of the British new wave band, Talk Talk – Mark Hollis.

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  • YouTube, sketch comedian Julie Nolke on her past, present and future selves

    The Canadian actor, writer and comedian Julie Nolke is a rising star. She’s already established herself as a bona fide YouTube auteur. Her video series “Explaining the Pandemic to My Past Self” has received millions and millions of views.

    Nolke joined WPR’s “BETA” from her Toronto home to explain why she was initially reluctant to post the first video in the series.

    “I didn’t think it was very good,” Nolke said. “I’m obviously not a great judge of my own work.”

    In the series, Nolke is visited by her “future self” and warned of the mostly bad and sometimes worse news that’s taken place every few months between 2020 and 2022. Nolke said she and her husband wore the jokes out around their home, but viewers of her videos found them “new and relatable.”

    “It was just such a weird thing that collectively, globally, we were all sharing,” Nolke said. “I can’t think of a time in my life where it’s like the entire world was on the same page. I never expected that it would feel like the apocalypse. And so that’s kind of the birth of the video.”

    In the summer of 2021, Nolke auditioned for “Saturday Night Live.” She said she never considered herself an impressionist, but she’s posted a hilarious video of the characters that she performed, including impressions of Winona Ryder and of Phoebe Waller-Bridge from “Fleabag.”

    She only had two weeks to prepare for the audition. She decided to post it on YouTube a few months later because she put so much work into it.

    “There’s kind of a mandate for what you prepare,” she said. “You need original characters, topical characters, lots of accents — show as much as you can in five minutes. And lots of impressions, and impressions aren’t really my forte.”

    Nolke said she chose characters who she felt she knew well and ones whose “-isms” she could capture well.

    “Like Winona Ryder,” she said. “I look a little bit like her. She’s got these big doe eyes and kind of a tight mouth. And I was able to kind of replicate that.”

    With all due respect, Nolke is definitely an impressionist, in “BETA”‘s humble opinion. She is a chameleonic comedian in this audition video, and yet she was not hired for “SNL,” which raises the question: What was “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels thinking?

    Nolke said she got a really wonderful, complimentary email after she asked if there was anything that she can do differently for next year. They told her there wasn’t, and that she should just send in another audition video.

    “I think they just had a lot of submissions from very talented people,” she said. “And, of course, they want a lot of diversity on the roster, and they want people from totally different backgrounds and whatnot. And I think I just kind of was similar to what they already had, which is totally fair. It’s important to get diverse voices in there.”

    Nolke said her favorite non-pandemic video that she’s posted on YouTube is probably the “World’s Worst Foley Artist.”

    She told herself that whatever she was going to do it would be with a French accent because she wanted to improve it. She said she made it halfway through the video, had a meltdown thinking “this is absolute crap and nobody’s going to watch it,” got over that, finished the video and posted it.

    “And people really responded to it and liked it,” she said.

    Nolke’s fellow Canadian Bruce McCulloch of “The Kids in the Hall” comedy troupe hired her to act in the CBC television sketch comedy series, “TallBoyz” in 2019.

    About a year later, he messaged Nolke to pitch the idea of making a show together.

    “And I said, ‘Is this a joke? Is this for real, Bruce?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”

    Nolke said they’ve been working on developing a show for the past year. She described it as a plot-driven dark comedy.

    “He and I wanted to make something that had authentic civilian characters who were flawed, who felt things, but also in a very, very comedic way,” she said. “Both he and I have made a lot of sketch (comedy), and we wanted something that was a little more true to life. And that’s kind of the path we went down. But it is very funny.”

    McCulloch has described Nolke’s approach to comedy as “ferocious.” Nolke said she thinks that he’s referring to the fact that she’s a “self-described” workhorse.

    “I have a very diligent schedule, and I’m a firm believer that while you can wait for artistic inspiration to hit you, you’re also responsible for putting yourself in situations where you are more susceptible for artistic inspiration.”

  • Van Lathan's motivational memoir shares raw truths on race, body image, mental health and grief

    Editor’s note: This story contains links that could be inappropriate for some audiences.

    In 2018, during an appearance on the tabloid program TMZ Live, Kanye West was delivering his now infamous “slavery was a choice” argument. This wasn’t the first controversy for the acclaimed rapper. The setting of the show was the TMZ newsroom and when Kanye opened the conversation to the mostly white workers at TMZ, he received sheepish agreement. That is, until he heard the voice of Van Lathan.

    Lathan, then one of the few Black presences in the Hollywood gossip scene, directly challenged Kanye on the ludicrousness of his comments.

    “Now, when he said that, I didn’t respond at all because it wasn’t my conversation. But then moments later, he turned around. He goes, ‘Does it feel like I’m thinking freely?’ And I said, ‘No, it doesn’t feel like you’re thinking anything’” Lathan recalls to Wisconsin Public Radio’s “BETA.”

    Lathan and West would go on to have a semi-heated exchange where Lathan ultimately expressed his disappointment with Kanye and his undermining of the Black experience in the world, both present and past.

    In that moment, Lathan was the truth to power, and he earned a universal respect, even from the West himself.

    “He actually listened. He came over and gave me a hug. I mean, look, Kanye West is not a bad soul. He’s just one that’s incredibly impressionable,” says Lathan. “But that doesn’t mean that he gets a pass for that. There’s a debt that we owe to the people that survived that situation for us to be here. And we just can’t let that type of talk become mainstream.”

    Lathan has more truths to speak. In his motivational memoir, “Fat Crazy & Tired: Tales From the Trenches of Transformation” he does just that. In a series of provocative and propulsive essays, Lathan shares his frank and raw experiences and guidance on race, body image, mental health, celebrity and grief.

    On body image


    When Lathan himself looks back at that video with Kanye, he doesn’t see the inspiring counter-argument he’s making. He sees himself as overweight. It’s something Van has dealt with — including a severe health scare within the halls of TMZ — his entire life. He says that being fat in America is sometimes even harder than being Black in America.

    “As a Black man, there are places where I go in the world and people make space for me. If you’re fat, then there’s no place where people actually want to make space for you. They want you to be smaller so that you take up less space, and you’re constantly told wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, that the space that you’re taking up, you don’t have any right to it,” he said.

    Growing up in the south — specifically Baton Rouge, Louisiana — Lathan talks about how the culture of food could be at once lifesaving and hazardous to your health. He writes how “seeing my mother in the kitchen could cure any ailment in my childhood” but that wrapping yourself in a “taste blanket” of emotion could lead to disastrous results.

    “A lot of places in the south, particularly Louisiana … food is amongst the things that we are most proud of,” Lathan said. “We soothe ourselves with that. So, for me, after a time, I start to connect food with emotion. I started to use food as a mechanism to help me cope, to reward myself and to calm myself down. And that’s kind of what the ‘taste blanket’ is.”

    Lathan admits he doesn’t have all the answers for finding the best body image, but stresses the importance of finding your own inner peace with it. The issue of mental health is big for Lathan.

    On mental health

    In a powerful essay titled, “There’s A Shotgun Under My Bed” Lathan lays out his suicidal ideation during the early stages of the pandemic and his reactions to it. He balances his personal journey to a healthier mindset with the larger conversation about mental health in communities like the one he grew up in.

    The funny thing about it, if there is a funny thing, was that the moment I had the ideation, I realized it. A lot of times in our community, what we don’t have is the opportunity to prioritize our mental health,” he said.

    Lathan, who moved to Los Angeles in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, immediately called his therapist. She calmly, but urgently told him to remove all the ammunition for his shotgun from his home and to trust it to a friend and to stay in communication with her.

    Lathan speaks about the stark differences he would’ve faced had he suffered the ideation back home in Louisiana.

    “If I’m still back in Baton Rouge the first thing is, I don’t have a therapist,” he said. “Nobody had a therapist, that I knew, when I was growing up. So, there’s no one for me to call and get the advice of how to protect myself and how to protect my brain.”

    “No. 2, I don’t think growing up that I had a friend that I could call and say, ‘Hey, I’m coming over to give you ammunition to my gun because I don’t feel comfortable having it,’ that doesn’t judge me because of some of the stigmas around that,” he continued.

    Van Lathan
    Photo courtesy of Van Lathan

    On grief

    Lathan, who has found positive outlets throughout life in sports like boxing and basketball, talked about certain stigmas on dealing with grief. In 2003, the Green Bay Packers traveled to Oakland to play the Raiders on Monday Night Football. That night, an otherwise nondescript game would become historic.

    Brett Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns. While career highs, it wasn’t as if the three-time MVP of the league hadn’t done similar feats with the football before. The difference was it was the day after his father and coach, Irv Favre, passed away.

    “I understand the bond between southern boy and southern man. That was father and son,” Lathan said. “That night was him beating grief. And so, when my father passed away, I thought that that’s what I had to do.”

    “This was, up to this point, the defining moment of my adulthood. ‘How is Van going to respond in front of his family, in front of his uncles, in front of everyone to the death of his father? Is he going to step up and take care of everything?’” he recalled.

    Lathan said that when dealing with the loss of his father, he “fumbled.” When his father’s brother, who looked, dressed, stood, smelled and acted the same as dad walked into the funeral home, Lathan had to step away.

    “I respect Brett Favre. I respect what he did. I respect his ability to conquer grief,” Lathan said, “but for me, I just couldn’t defeat grief. I had to deal with it. And I still have it.”

    Lathan closes out his memoir with the powerful notion that “peace is the answer to every question I’ve ever asked in my life.” How does he achieve it?

    “I don’t do anything to try to achieve peace. I try to be accepting of things that bring me peace,” he said. “Peace is just an understanding that you’re mentally, physically and emotionally where you’re supposed to be, and then you have to surrender a little bit to get there.”

  • Mark Hollis, founder of new-wave band Talk Talk, listened to the silence

    When one thinks of music, silence is not the first thing that comes to mind. But to Mark Hollis of the ’80s band Talk Talk, silence in music was paramount.

    “The most important thing for me about any record is the silence above everything,” Hollis is quoted saying. “I would rather hear one note than I would two, and I would rather hear nothing rather than I would one note.”

    Wisconsin Public Radio’s “BETA” talked with Ben Wardle, author of “Mark Hollis: A Perfect Silence,” to find out what Hollis meant by that statement and how it affected his musical career.

    “It was important,” Wardle said, “because I think he recognized the importance of space on a record. And that was, I think, informed by the wide range of music he listened to.”

    Early songs by Talk Talk don’t seem to be informed by this notion of space, as can be heard in a song like, “It’s My Life.” But as time went by, one could hear the band evolve from a dense pop sound to one that’s more spacious and lush.

    Hollis was mainly influenced by his brother Ed, also known as 1000 Eddie because of his vast album collection. Hollis took advantage of all those records by listening to them and, more importantly, appreciating the many different styles contained in the collection.

    “You can imagine what it was like for Mark,” Wardle said, “who at that point was not yet 16, and hearing all this stuff at an early age. It was almost like having a personal kind of Spotify in the early 1970s. If he were a reasonable songwriter to begin with, the fact that he had all that influence at such an early stage really would have helped him along.”

    From 1981 to 1991, Talk Talk produced five studio albums. But with their third album, “The Color of Spring” from 1986, the music changed from a pop sound to more art/pop. The arrangements became more refined. The one single from the record, “Life’s What You Make It,” wasn’t part of the first draft of the album but was written to be the single when band member Dave Ambrose pointed out that he didn’t think there was a hit on the record.

    “They produced ‘Life’s What You Make It,’ which is — arguably in Britain anyway —their most well-known track. They went away and consciously wrote something to be a hit,” Wardle said. “Various people who I interviewed told me that they had consciously said, ‘Right well, Kate Bush has just had a big hit with a song that is just like a looped drum riff and one chord. We could do that.’”

    “They were still producing pop, but it was much less synth-led and much more three-dimensional, with lots of beautiful kinds of vistas of sound opening up,” Wardle continued. “And certainly, the B-side, ‘It’s Getting Late in the Evening,’ kind of points the way where Hollis would go after that album.”

    In 1988 Talk Talk released their fourth album, “Spirit of Eden,” and the spaciousness of the music evolved even further. The songs are lusher and longer. However, the record company, EMI, was unsure what to make of the album and waited months before releasing the record. There were no singles, but it got the best reviews of any of their previous albums but sold far fewer units than their other records.

    The final Talk Talk album, “Laughing Stock,” was released in 1991. Once again, the band took another musical turn with a noisier, more guitar-oriented sound. Unfortunately, many fans didn’t get it.

    “At the time, many people thought they were taking a piss, you know, and largely that was based on the fact that it was noisy, much noisier than Spirit of Eden, loads more guitars, which band member Tim Friese-Green was behind. There was way more out there, kind of sonics going on,” Wardle said.

    Talk Talk broke up in 1991, and Hollis stayed mostly silent musically, except for a few attempts at film soundtrack production. In 1998 he produced his only solo album, “Mark Hollis.” It’s the most minimal-sounding record of all, with All Music calling it “the most quiet and intimate record ever made.”

    Mark Hollis died in 2019 after a short illness from which he did not recover. Still, the popularity of the last two Talk Talk albums, “Spirit of Eden” and “Laughing Stock,” and his solo record continue to grow as new listeners discover the music for the first time. Wardle thinks it’s because the music can’t be pinned down to a particular era.

    “I think perhaps it’s just so timeless. And I think there’s no kind of predominant music mainstream anymore now,” he said. “I think people go to what moves them. So, word of mouth has won out.”

Episode Credits

  • Doug Gordon Host
  • Adam Friedrich Producer
  • Steve Gotcher Producer
  • Steve Gotcher Technical Director
  • Tyler Ditter Technical Director
  • Steve Gotcher Interviewer
  • Julie Nolke Guest
  • Van Lathan Jr. Guest
  • Ben Wardle Guest

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