Pop culture people we're pulling for : Pop Culture Happy Hour There are pop culture figures we love, and those we could maybe do without. And then there are the ones we're rooting for: The underdogs, the comeback kids, the stars-on-the-rise, and everything in between. Today we're talking about the pop culture people we're pulling for.

Pop culture people we're pulling for

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AISHA HARRIS, HOST:

There are pop culture figures we love and those we could maybe do without. And then there are the ones we're rooting for - the underdogs, the comeback kids, the stars on the rise and everything in between.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

They've excited and entertained us, and we're shouting our support for these artists from the rooftops. I'm Stephen Thompson.

HARRIS: And I'm Aisha Harris. And today on NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, we're talking about the people we're pulling for.

Joining me and Stephen today is our fellow co-host, Glen Weldon. Hello, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, HOST:

Hey, Aisha.

HARRIS: Also joining us is POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR producer Candice Lim. Yay, Candice, welcome back.

CANDICE LIM, BYLINE: Hello, guys.

HARRIS: Yes, yes, yes. I'm so happy to have all of you here with me. Now, as I already mentioned at the top, every now and then here on PCHH, we like to show some goodwill toward pop culture movers and shakers who have brought us some joy. In previous episodes, we've rooted for people like Shonda Rhimes and comedian John Early. And so what are our current picks for the people we're pulling for? Glen, let's start with you.

WELDON: OK. Well, Chris Thorburn is a very funny, young Scottish stand-up comedian. He's also pretty great on Instagram and Twitter. And, in fact, Twitter is how I came to know him. If you know him at all, you likely know him from one of his comedy videos, in which his character convinces his partner to sit down with him and watch his favorite film from when he was a kid - "Sex Times At Spring Break High."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS THORBURN: This was, like, my favorite film growing up. You are going to love it. I haven't watched it since I was like 15.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Bro, you need to get out of the friend zone and into the bone zone.

THORBURN: That's not aged well.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What are you, gay? What's up, homos? Y'all are acting like a bunch of queers.

THORBURN: I mean, it was a different time. It was 2004.

WELDON: And I just want you to know that I put you in at the very beginning of that bit. It escalates a great deal from there.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) I bet it does.

WELDON: And it ends with such a perfect button. And, you know, what is he doing there? A universal experience that's perfectly captured in a way that I haven't seen it captured before. And I think one of the reasons I gravitate toward him is because most of his comedy tends to skew towards commenting in and around pop culture and less about, you know, relationships and the wacky foibles of heterosexuality. But mostly, as you could probably tell from that clip, he's deeply funny in a way that's unique to him. He's got the chops. He has an identifiable comic voice, which, of course, as we talked about on the show many times, that's the whole ballgame. I am fascinated to see where he takes it.

But the real reason I'm pointing him out here is because I think following this guy is a good idea because he is deeply enmeshed in a comedy community that we, in the states, don't see much of unless we deliberately seek it out. I always forget that people can be huge in the UK - household words - but completely unknown over here. So he is a great foot in the door to the world of UK sketch and stand-up. I've discovered a lot of my favorite comedians through their appearances when they pop up in his feed. He seems like a good egg because he is such an enthusiastic promoter of his friends and colleagues. So if you follow him, you don't get, like, 20 posts in a row of, come see me at Yuk Yuks, you know, like a lot of U.S. comedians do. Or I guess in the UK it would be, pop round and see me at Having a Laugh. But he really curates his feed so you get the most out of a follow, a lot of new names and faces. That is Chris Thorburn - C-B-T-H-O-R-B-U-R-N. I think he's got what it takes, and I think he's going to go far.

THOMPSON: So, Glen, I appreciate the call to action to follow the guy. What do you want him to do next? What is, like, your dream casting for him? Do you want to see him in movies? Do you want Netflix specials? What's your dream for this guy?

WELDON: I just dig where he's coming from. And I also love him as a kind of avatar for the UK comedy community to me.

LIM: So hopefully, like, a Netflix comedy special, maybe.

WELDON: Yeah, I guess that's a thing, right?

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: I don't know. I just - I like where he is now.

THOMPSON: I don't want him to succeed per se.

WELDON: Let me clarify. I don't want him to succeed in the kind of, he's the head of a household...

HARRIS: Yeah.

WELDON: ...And he's got, like, a long-suffering wife.

HARRIS: Yeah.

WELDON: I don't want that. I want him to stay true to who he is but just have more people know about him. That's kind of what I want.

HARRIS: OK. All right. I can see the vision there. I can see it. OK. Stephen, what about you? Who are you rooting for right now?

THOMPSON: I'm going in almost the complete opposite direction, where I am going for a long-standing veteran whom I have rooted for for roughly 40 years and have continued to love with a completely unbridled fervor ever since, and that man is Mr. T.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: OK.

HARRIS: Whoa.

LIM: Great. Did not see that coming.

WELDON: Didn't see that coming. The scrappy up-and-comer.

THOMPSON: OK, but you know what? I think new people are born every day...

LIM: True.

THOMPSON: ...Who aren't necessarily steeped in everything Mr. T has ever done. But Mr. T has, in my mind, been a delightful figure in pop culture for four decades now. He hasn't been working as much in recent years. He was in the voice cast of the first "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" movie, and then they replaced him with Terry Crews.

WELDON: Sure.

THOMPSON: Mr. T is one of the closest things that we have to a real-life American superhero. You know, he was in "Rocky III," he was in "The A-Team." But he also was in these, like, delightfully sweet and corny kind of self-help videos, with names like, "Be Somebody Or Be Somebody's Fool."

WELDON: I was waiting for the fool word to come in because it had to.

THOMPSON: Yeah - where he acts in a series of incredibly earnest PSAs encouraging kids to believe in themselves and not do drugs. There's something about his weapons-grade sincerity that I just find enormously appealing. I got to interview Mr. T for The Onion back in the early '90s, literally, like, 30 years ago. I was definitely still in college. And he's really one of the closest things to the platonic ideal of the interview subject where the interviewer says one word, and that word is go because Mr. T just goes on a rampage. He addressed me as Brother Steve throughout this interview. The interview contains the words which are seared into my mind 30 years later. Reading leads to knowledge. Knowledge leads to understanding. So read on, young man. Read on, young lady. And I just love his deep, deep and abiding commitment to reading and friendship and just this deeply intense positivity I find to be completely sincere. You know, he's a cancer survivor. He's somebody - I just root for him to continue to thrive. I'm very, very happy that he's in the world.

WELDON: I am fascinated by this, Stephen, because to people of our generation, one could think of Mr. T as a piece of cultural furniture, right? He's just always been there. And when you started in on this, I was challenging you in my head because, like, well, what does he bring?

THOMPSON: Yeah.

WELDON: Yeah. And you made a pretty good case - sincerity...

HARRIS: Yeah.

WELDON: ...And literacy. Are you arguing for a comeback?

THOMPSON: Hell yeah. I will take Mr. T in anything.

WELDON: OK.

THOMPSON: He's one of those people where he turns up, and I'm happier for it - and really for, like, my entire life, right? Like, I love him, and I want more of him.

HARRIS: Candice, as our resident young person, do you have feelings about Mr. T (laughter)?

LIM: I mean, I think it's really interesting that you brought up the Terry Crews recasting...

WELDON: Yeah.

LIM: ...Because I kind of think my generation sees Terry Crews as that. Like, every time...

WELDON: Yeah.

LIM: ...Terry Crews...

HARRIS: Yeah.

WELDON: Yup.

LIM: ...Is hanging out with the Property Brothers, he has this whole spiel about how he was down. Now he's up. I will say, though, Stephen, I now want to pitch Mr. T two career paths. The first one is, do you guys remember when, like, Mike Tyson would cameo in, like, everything for a few years...

WELDON: Oh, sure. I remember "The Hangover."

LIM: ...Like...

HARRIS: Yes.

LIM: ..."The Hangover"...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

WELDON: Right.

LIM: ...And all this stuff? I think he could go that route, you know, fulfilling your cameo love. I also really like the books idea because you guys remember "Rich Dad, Poor Dad"? Spinoff - "Rich Fool, Poor Fool." What are we thinking?

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I am more than happy to prep a vision board for Mr. T's career.

WELDON: Mr. T in a remake of Richard Russo's "Nobody's Fool."

THOMPSON: Yup.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: If you're listening, Mr. T, we've got your career path lined up for you for the next few years. Candice, tell us what you're feeling.

LIM: The person I want to not only survive but thrive is an actress. Her name is Keyla Monterroso Mejia.

THOMPSON: Oh. Yeah, that's a good pick.

LIM: You might know her as Maria Sofia on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

HARRIS: Yeah.

LIM: And that is where I fell in love with her. In Season 11, she plays a terrible actress. She is horrible. But Larry David, unfortunately, has to cast her in his new show because he is being blackmailed by Maria Sofia's father. And the hilarity of it is, like, she has no experience in acting. She's only ever, like, worked at one place, her family's restaurant. But she is so un-self-aware of how bad of an actor she is that it becomes this blind confidence, which I love because, you know, she is doing stuff in the season like dancing on command in the middle of the taqueria. She is trying to, like, seduce Larry David during an audition. And then she physically attacks Ted Danson on tape.

And the beauty of all of these things is that she really does a good job of going from deadpan to adorable funny in, like, two seconds. And watching her scenes, I want to be in that room. I want to be her. And she's done a few things here and there. She was in, like, a Toni Collette movie called "The Estate." She's going to be in a spin-off of "On My Block" on Netflix. But the moment I knew that I was, like, definitely watching my favorite character actress of the next decade was "Abbott Elementary" Season 2.

WELDON: There you go.

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

LIM: There is an episode where Melissa is overwhelmed because she's teaching this combo class, and so she decides to hire an aide. And in the very, very last minutes of this episode, Principal Ava Coleman - she tells Melissa, oh, your request for a teacher's aide has been filled, and they're sending one today. And in walks Keyla as Melissa's new aide, Ashley.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABBOTT ELEMENTARY")

KEYLA MONTERROSO MEJIA: (As Ashley Garcia, singing) Waiting for Ashley - oh, I'll be the aide of your dreams. Waiting for Ashley - oh, you'll get help with your class needs. Waiting for Ashley - what's up, Melissa? I'm Ashley.

LIM: It's so beautiful. It's so beautiful. And when I tell you I screamed when I saw her, I screamed like Lucille Bluth seeing Gene Parmesan. Like...

WELDON: Sure, sure.

LIM: Just so much...

HARRIS: Yes.

LIM: ...Surprise and joy and love. And funny enough, Quinta Brunson, creator of "Abbott Elementary" - she told The Hollywood Reporter that she cast Keyla because she saw her on "Curb." And because we love lineage, Keyla was only supposed to do one episode of "Curb," and then she ended up arcing the whole season, which is kind of, like, the hero's journey for all of your favorite character actors. And so in terms of her future, if I was her agent, manager, publicist, I would love for her to become the next Keegan-Michael Key - like, someone who can do any genre, hit any mark. I also want to see her do, like, a "Key & Peele" type of thing, get into a partnership like that, because there was something so uniquely defiant about the way Keyla went up against Larry David, Cheryl Hines, beat up Ted Danson. Like, she could do that. So I want to see her guest judge "Nailed It."

THOMPSON: Oh, yeah.

LIM: I want to see her get Emmy noms.

HARRIS: Yeah.

LIM: I want her to just kind of be, like, the next Jennifer Coolidge or Kathryn Hahn, just this type of career where she is in everything, but you love her so much. And so the person I'm rooting for, the person that Quinta Brunson...

HARRIS: Yes.

LIM: ...Is rooting for...

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

LIM: ...The person that you should be rooting for is Keyla Monterroso Mejia.

THOMPSON: This is such a good pick.

WELDON: OK. This is a great pick because - I don't watch "Curb," but the minute she showed up on "Abbott Elementary" - sometimes you can tell this from the outside, that a casting director, a showrunner, has been keeping this actor in reserve for exactly the right moment because they know there's the script, and then there's what this person is going to do with the script. And that is exactly the feeling you got. She kind of outshone the episode that she was in.

THOMPSON: She's a comedic disrupter.

WELDON: Yep.

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

LIM: I like that. I like that, Stephen.

THOMPSON: She is delightful. She's very jarring.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Jarring is such a great word for it, but, like, in the best way possible, so...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

LIM: Yeah.

HARRIS: Oh, my goodness, Candice...

THOMPSON: Love it.

HARRIS: ...Such a good pick.

THOMPSON: I love this pick.

HARRIS: Thank you.

LIM: Thank you.

HARRIS: Yeah. So my pick - I'm going to maybe dampen the mood a little bit. I'm sorry. But last year, Megan Thee Stallion had a troubling year, I would say. You know, she did release her second studio album, "Traumazine," which I thought was very good. It got really - pretty good reviews. And "Plan B" - that track was one of the best tracks, I think, of 2022. But, of course, I feel like all of the celebratory moments have at this point been overshadowed by her case involving Tory Lanez, who is a producer and rapper, who - I will not go into all the details, but basically he has been convicted of having shot Meg in 2020. And the vitriol that has been hurled at her, the accusations of her having lied about certain things - and when you get into the details of things, there were things that - her stories did change. But if you actually look at the reason the stories change, it makes sense. It's just been really troubling to me to see how a Black woman has not been believed and has been criticized.

And, frankly, I'm concerned about her mental health. And it just frustrates me that someone who has been on such an ascent in her career has had to deal with this and had to, like, focus her energies on this when she should just be focusing on getting bigger and making great songs and collaborating with all these people. And I also just have been very kind of disappointed at how few of her peers have spoken out in support of her, to add to the chorus of people online who are, you know, rooting for her and saying, like, we hope Meg feels better and we hope now that this case is done with, at least for now - he might appeal. Who knows? I want nothing but the best for her, and I hope that in this year and in the years that follow, that, A, she has a great therapist and security guards who are going to keep her safe and that she's able to, if she feels like she needs to, take the time to, you know, recalibrate and get the help and support she needs and then come back and, like, kill it, be bigger than ever and hopefully be able to move on beyond this.

You know, I think about someone like Tina Turner who, herself, has, like, had to face ridicule and also just, like, have her relationship with Ike Turner sort of overshadow her work in a way. And so I'm basically hoping that Megan has her, like, "Private Dancer" moment where that can all just kind of, like, fade into the background, at least for a little bit, and that doesn't become the only story about her. I want Meg to just be - just to flourish and for Tory Lanez to just disappear.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Yeah. I want for her the best possible team. Nobody is going to forget who Megan Thee Stallion is if she takes a year off. Nobody's going to forget who she is if she takes the time she needs and then comes back and crushes it. I could not agree with you more.

WELDON: Yeah, I like this. I like that we are, historically, rooting for entertainment success, but here we're rooting for mental health support and then crushing it.

HARRIS: Yes.

THOMPSON: Love it.

HARRIS: Well, we want to know which pop culture person you're pulling for. You can find us at facebook.com/pchh to tell us. And that brings us to the end of our show. Candice Lim, Glen Weldon and Stephen Thompson, thank you so much for being here. I'm going to be rooting with all your picks as well.

THOMPSON: Woo-hoo.

LIM: Yay.

WELDON: Cool. Thank you.

LIM: Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

HARRIS: Yeah. And we want to take a moment to thank our POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR Plus subscribers. We appreciate you all so much for showing your support of NPR. And if you haven't signed up yet and you want to show your support and listen to this show without any sponsor breaks - that's a plus, I think, yes - head over to plus.npr.org/happyhour or visit the link in our show notes. This episode was produced by Rommel Wood, Hafsa Fathima and Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Aisha Harris, and we'll see you all tomorrow.

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