Last Saturday, the sold-out crowd in Benaroya Hall sat in geeky anticipation while This American Life host Ira Glass turned out the lights and walked onstage in the dark.
"Radio is about listening," Glass said. Masked by the eerie glow of his iPad, he played quotes from a previous TAL episode. "There's such an intimacy in hearing someone's voice," he said. When Glass called the lights up, a sea of bodies stared at his three-piece suit and black-rimmed glasses. "Yeah, I didn't think you looked this way, either," he said to the crowd.
Almost every variation of Seattle nerd was present—couples, singles, elderly pairs dressed for theater, a cluster of stage manager–types in all black, a man with a bowl cut and mustache wearing a shirt that had a picture of his own face, a gentleman with a Dumbledore beard, families with mothers taking notes and teenagers texting as well as folks with arm tattoos, pink hair, straw hats, and fur coats. Looking back into the crowd, it seemed that one-third of the audience was live-tweeting the entire event, and even more wore spectacles. The array of glasses following Glass's every move ranged from red rectangular frames to dark chunky rims to wire specs on gold chains.
Glass explained how he puts together TAL episodes and how the show differs from other forms of broadcast journalism: It takes the time to make individuals relatable. "So often in the news, people don't get to talk for long enough for you to get to know someone." To further illustrate his point, Glass gave the audience almost two full hours to become acclimated to him. From his Battlestar Galactica references to jokes about his Jewish parents, the crowd watched the radio celebrity turn human. "I'm a normal person who was an editor and ended up on air," Glass said.
After the show, a girl asked her friend, "So you wanna go to that Nerd Prom thing Dan Savage mentioned?" She meant the Glass vs. Savage DJ battle that was about to unfold at Showbox at the Market. The Benaroya Hall crowd arrived to find a line that extended for five city blocks.
"What are y'all in line for?" two bikers shouted.
"A big nerdy dance party!" someone called back.
Inside, a packed group wiped the sweat from their fogging glasses while Savage busted out show tunes and Glass played Top 40 hits as well as with the crowd. On the dance floor, Glass broke it down with the ecstatic geeks of Seattle. Along with Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, Glass apprehensively leaped into the audience to crowd-surf. During the chorus of Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe," he grabbed the hands of a woman up front and shouted the lyrics while staring into her eyes.
Earlier in the night, Glass mentioned that TAL is about good stories, and that every good story needs a few shockers. "By making stories with surprises, we are reasserting that pleasure, humor, and joy are possible," he said. No one could have been more surprised when, toward the tail end of the DJ battle, an adoring fan threw her panties onstage.