Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he writes the advice column The Good Listener, fusses over the placement of commas and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the weekly NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk.

In 1993, Thompson founded The Onion's entertainment section, The A.V. Club, which he edited until December 2004. In the years since, he has provided music-themed commentaries for the NPR programs Weekend Edition Sunday, All Things Considered and Morning Edition, on which he earned the distinction of becoming the first member of the NPR Music staff ever to sing on an NPR newsmagazine. (Later, the magic of AutoTune transformed him from a 12th-rate David Archuleta into a fourth-rate Cher.) Thompson's entertainment writing has also run in Paste magazine, The Washington Post and The London Guardian.

During his tenure at The Onion, Thompson edited the 2002 book The Tenacity Of The Cockroach: Conversations With Entertainment's Most Enduring Outsiders (Crown) and copy-edited six best-selling comedy books. While there, he also coached The Onion's softball team to a sizzling 21-42 record, and was once outscored 72-0 in a span of 10 innings. Later in life, Thompson redeemed himself by teaming up with the small gaggle of fleet-footed twentysomethings who won the 2008 NPR Relay Race, a triumph he documents in a hard-hitting essay for the book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years (Chronicle).

A 1994 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Thompson now lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his two children, his girlfriend, their four cats and a room full of vintage arcade machines. His hobbies include watching reality television without shame, eating Pringles until his hand has involuntarily twisted itself into a gnarled claw, using the size of his Twitter following to assess his self-worth, touting the immutable moral superiority of the Green Bay Packers and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

This is our 300th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — not counting Small Batch editions, which would drive the number significantly higher — so now's as good a time as any to thank everyone who's listened, supported us both within and outside NPR, and/or appeared on the show itself. We're feeling awfully appreciative that we've been allowed to stick around this long.

Welcome, friends, to a discussion featuring four of the only people in America to see Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping in theaters last weekend. Though the movie wasn't a box-office hit, to put it lightly, we whip up an extraordinary amount of affection for The Lonely Island's goofy comedy — a lightweight but joke-dense look at "Conner4Real," a vaguely Bieber-esque singer and rapper (Andy Samberg) who used to belong to a boy band called the Style Boyz with Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer.

Just as the winter holiday season seems to arrive sooner and sooner every year, so goes the season for summer movie blockbusters. When Batman V. Superman came out in late March, it felt like the equivalent of picking out your Halloween costumes at a store that's already hawking tinsel. A few years ago, the first weekend in May became the de facto launch of summer-movie season — itself a move up from Memorial Day Weekend a while back — but this year has been different.

When Linda Holmes and I jumped in to the studio to record this Pop Culture Happy Hour Small Batch on Thursday afternoon, news of Prince Rogers Nelson's death was less than an hour old. So if we seem a little numb in spots, well, there's a reason for that.

Quick announcement, before we get started: During the month of April, Pop Culture Happy Hour will be available a day early, exclusively in the NPR One app. Nothing else will change; the show will otherwise appear in your feeds and on this site first thing Friday morning. But for those who use NPR One, or who've been thinking about trying it, you'll get a little head start.

At the end of a grueling Academy Awards race, we at Pop Culture Happy Hour like to unwind with a good, long talk we call our "Oscars Omnibus" — a roundup of our thoughts on all the Best Picture nominees, notable acting nominees, and issues and themes surrounding the prior year in movies. This year gave us plenty to chew on, as you can imagine, and as you can hear for yourself on this page.

Sometime tomorrow, Linda Holmes and I will break down Monday night's Grammys telecast in a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour. And, for a variety of reasons, we're not likely to spend much time on the awards themselves.

Pop Culture Happy Hour entered this week juggling a couple of problems. For one, a gigantic blizzard had just dumped roughly two feet of snow on the D.C. area, making transportation virtually impossible and, it turns out, stranding Glen Weldon in a Virginia cabin for much of the week. Getting the gang together would be no easy task.

A few months ago, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby turned to Twitter in an attempt to crowd-source a solution to a problem he'd been having. Gene had begun watching Premier League soccer but couldn't settle on a rooting interest, so he asked the league's fans to convince him to root for one team or another.

Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago this past Saturday, which at NPR can mean only one thing: an opportunity to talk to the biggest Sinatra superfan we know, business reporter Sonari Glinton, about the singer's formidable legacy.

Months had passed between live Pop Culture Happy Hour tapings, so when the time finally came to record in front of a crowd, we made sure to supersize the festivities in every possible way. That meant recording on a weekend, on a holiday — on Halloween, no less! — in the biggest venue we've ever played, Washington, D.C's Howard Theatre.

Baseball is a game of ritual and routine, and traditions aren't adopted lightly. But in the past 20 or so years, major-league stadiums have adopted a system in which each home-team batter takes the plate to his own theme song — usually a piece of popular music announcing his arrival. It's often something brawny and massive, like "Welcome To The Jungle" or the Game Of Thrones theme or any number of Metallica songs, or swaggering, like Aloe Blacc's "I'm The Man." But sometimes, the players throw... well, curveballs.

On Sept. 8, Stephen Colbert made his debut in David Letterman's spot as host of CBS's Late Show, a role he took over after Letterman's retirement and the conclusion of his own nine-year run at the helm of Comedy Central's Colbert Report. This week's Pop Culture Happy Hour panel — Glen Weldon, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby, super-librarian Margaret H. Willison and me — is unanimous in its fondness for Colbert, but our feelings for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert are mixed.

When Gene Demby and I were planning this week's sports discussion, we didn't say, "We should sit down Monday to discuss the U.S. Open." We'd planned to discuss Serena Williams, the most dominant player in women's tennis, who was expected to complete a rare Grand Slam in Saturday's final. (To win a Grand Slam, a player must win the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in a single calendar year. The last woman to accomplish the feat was Steffi Graf in 1988, though Williams had technically won all four majors in a row leading up to this year's U.S. Open.)

Labor Day has come and gone, but before it vanishes from memory altogether — taking with it our dreams of barbecues and white pants — the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang gathers here for one last labor-themed discussion. Of course, we're linguistically sneaky in these parts, so Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon, Barrie Hardymon and I kick off our discussion with thoughts on depictions of childbirth and pregnancy in pop culture.

Last week, when Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and I gathered to talk about the great summer entertainment we'd neglected to discuss on the show, we came to a realization mid-taping: All three of us had been watching, and loving, the USA Network series Mr. Robot, which aired the last episode of its first season Wednesday night. (It's already been renewed for a second season.)

[You can hear Stephen Thompson and Linda Holmes chat about the VMAs on a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour by hitting the play button at the top of this post.]

The weekend before last, a pro athlete by the name of James Harrison announced on Instagram that he'd returned the participation trophies his kids had received for playing youth sports, writing, "While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy." This has, in turn, spawned a flurry of defenses and condemnations, including Albert Burneko's

Linda Holmes is finally back from two and a half weeks cooped up in an L.A. hotel for the Television Critics Association's press tour, but her return coincides with Glen Weldon's vacation, so Linda and I are joined by two guest panelists this week: All Things Considered cohost Audie Cornish and Code Switch blogger Gene Demby.

In the first two episodes of The Giant Foam Finger — a new, sports-themed offshoot of Pop Culture Happy Hour — NPR Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I have discussed one play in a decade-old NFL game, and we've tackled the phenomenon of fan hatred.

Linda Holmes is this close to returning home from two and a half weeks at the Television Critics Association press tour — so close, she swears can practically feel the fabric of the sheets on her very own bed — but she's absent from this week's Pop Culture Happy Hour taping. Which, in turn, means two very special guests on this week's show: Super-librarian Margaret H. Willison and Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby join Glen Weldon and me for a spirited and wide-ranging discussion.

Linda Holmes is in L.A. for the Television Critics Association press tour, so she's appearing on this episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour as a panelist, calling in from NPR West. I'm in her host chair. A commercially disastrous 2001 movie has just gotten an eight-episode TV prequel on Netflix. Cats and dogs are, in fact, living together across this great country. Has the world gone topsy-turvy?

Our pal Ari Shapiro is in a decent amount of demand these days: He's wrapping up a stint as an NPR international correspondent based in London, he's toured as a guest vocalist with the band Pink Martini, and he's just been named one of the hosts of All Things Considered. But we managed to gobble up one of his rare spare hours for this week's show, in which he, Linda Holmes, NPR film critic Bob Mondello and I talk music, movies and music in movies.

A couple weeks ago, Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I sat down to reflect on a decade-old sports moment — a single play in a single game — and describe how it affected us as rival fans of the teams involved. In this second episode of the series we're calling The Giant Foam Finger, the two of us tackle a far unwieldier subject: hatred.

We talk a lot about nostalgia on Pop Culture Happy Hour — about the ways entertainment has shaped our youth and placed our memories in perspective — but in doing so, we've mostly discussed movies, TV shows, music, books, board games, that sort of thing.

Just a little less than five years ago, Linda Holmes and I decided to book a studio after-hours and record what we'd call "an audio experiment" — a roundtable discussion of pop culture with the two of us and our pals Trey Graham and Glen Weldon, produced by the essential Mike Katzif. By the time the first recording was complete, we'd decided to come back every week, even though our budget was zero and we'd never asked our bosses for permission.

This week's taping presented us with a few conundrums: Host Linda Holmes had already begun her vacation, while I know jack-all about the seven accumulated seasons of Mad Men, whose finale we were duty-bound to discuss. Our solution involved a pair of our most beloved guest panelists — Gene Demby and, from a studio in L.A., Barrie Hardymon — and a brief interregnum in poor Linda's vacation. (I stayed home and ate snacks.)

Last Friday, Netflix dropped its latest 13-episode bundle of original programming: the grim and occasionally grisly superhero drama Daredevil, based on the Marvel Comics mainstay of the same name. Starring Charlie Cox and a large supporting cast, the show takes place in a bleak New York City neighborhood that's ruled by a murderous crime syndicate and defended by blind lawyer Matt Murdock, whose other heightened senses make him an oft-overmatched but extremely resourceful crime-fighter.

Stan Freberg, who died Tuesday at 88, was a pioneer in music, comedy and advertising. His resume is peppered with firsts and lasts: He was the last radio-only network variety-show host, the first pop-music satirist (Spike Jones had made song parodies, but Freberg's works commented on the performance styles and the culture surrounding them), and a visionary in the art of incorporating humor into TV and radio commercials.

If you've listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour in the last, say, 12 weeks, you've probably heard me moan about some element of my pre-SXSW workload. So it seemed only fair to indulge in a little discussion of what this year's festival was actually like, complete with scads of music recommendations.

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