Twenty years of This American Life
November 1995-November 2015
Ira Glass is journalistic excellence in a suit and spectacles. He tells stories in a quirky quiet manner, stories that document lives I don’t hear anywhere else. They’re inspiring, challenging. They open my heart.
We live in a world where joy and empathy and pleasure are all around us, there for the noticing.
― Ira Glass
Glass, the spike-haired and baby-faced center of the “This American Life” cult, is a revolutionary. He tells stories that are changing what we think stories are.
This American Life is documentaries, monologues, overheard conversations, found tapes, anything we can think of to illuminate a theme.
I have so many favorite episodes. Like the story about two bulls. The theme is “reality check” and the lesson of the day is that if you try to bring back someone from the dead, “that never comes out well”. Two ranchers, Ralph and Sandra, clone their prize bull. Hilarity and enlightenment ensue.
Every story is a movie… for radio. There’s drama, humor, raw emotions. The narratives are always astonishing. And a real romp. There’s the contest where everyone stands around a truck for days until only one person is left on their feet. In another, a grown man tries to convince a skeptical friend that not only has he heard the world’s greatest phone message, but that it’s about the Little Mermaid. Then there’s one about a man who’s obsessed with Niagara Falls, lives minutes from the Falls, writes and thinks about the Falls all the time, but can’t bring himself to actually visit the Falls because, as he says, “they’ve ruined the Falls.”
Where to begin? Go the archives. Start with these ~
The Twentieth-Century Man is the story of a preacher-in-training who becomes an actor, then a Beat writer, then a man in a gray flannel suit, then a hippie, then a born-again Christian ~ as told by one of his daughters. A half-hour documentary by Alix Spiegel is about her journey to Colorado Springs, where she, a secular Jew, attempts to understand a group of evangelical Christians who spend their days praying for strangers. Careful Who You Pretend To Be is a show about people pretending to be something they’re not, such as an historical interpreter who plays a slave-owner and spends his days screaming at “slaves.” In Do-Gooders, Glass travels to a poor Missouri town where a middle-class couple moves and tries to improve things ~ with very bad results. Elna Baker’s bizarre story of working at the F.A.O. Schwartz “newborn nursery” may just surpass the hilarity of Sedaris-as-Holiday.
Are you already a Glass Groupie?
What episodes are your must-listens?
TAL’s aim is to tell stories that help us empathize and help us feel less crazy and less separate. And just, you know, go straight to your heart.
Ira’s stories aren’t about today’s news or celebrities. They are about people like us, our neighbors and friends, everyday lives, personal lives, what it’s like to be here, now, in the world. He presents reality without tabloid hype, told in old-fashioned ways in a newfangled format. His stories take you someplace you’ve never been and make you see something you’ve always seen, but never noticed.
Are you thinking you have a story to tell? Don’t we all?
Submit it to TAL. Tell what happened in a page or two. Brevity counts. You don’t need to be formal about it, just tell the story the way you’d tell it to someone over drinks or coffee. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or tell your transcendant tale right here in the comments.
There are still enough moments out there. I feel the stories in my heart. There’s still a huge, undiscovered country.
Ira Glass is a genius. So, a word of caution. He’s a master storyteller. His stories hold fast for days, weeks, months, some linger for a lifetime.
That’s some serious power and why I never miss a show. It’s that good.
Subscribe to the podcast here.