Over the past several years, Ira Glass has branched out in ambitious ways. Along with producing the wildly popular weekly radio show This American Life, he's toured nationally with TAL live shows and produced two seasons of a TAL television series for Showtime. (Despite its Emmy-winning success, this show ended at the request of Glass and fellow TAL producers, who were multitasking themselves into exhaustion.) Most recently, Glass coproduced the film Sleepwalk with Me, an indie comedy written by and starring Mike Birbiglia, based on a story that originated as a This American Life segment. The film was released last week to wide acclaim.
This week, Glass returns to Seattle as an ambassador of the radio show that made him a legend. Last week, we talked on the phone.
Tell me about the show you're bringing to Benaroya Hall.
Basically, it's me standing onstage talking about what we're doing on the radio show, how it's different from other radio shows, and I play examples. Onstage, I've got an iPad, and I can play clips and music from the show, and basically re-create the sound of the radio show as I stand there—the scoring, ambient sound, quotes—so as I describe the stories, I can make them appear out of the mist and narrate them live. That's it. It doesn't sound like the most emotional or hilarious description, but I swear that in practice that it is!
You've been producing This American Life for 17 years, and there have been enormous changes in the way we communicate in that time—home phone to cell phone to e-mails to text messages, along with the self-dramatizing of Facebook and Twitter. Have these changes affected the way we tell stories?
[Long pause] No! No, I don't think it's changed how we tell stories. If anything, I think we have way more people out there saying what's on their mind in public, which seems like an entirely positive thing... but maybe I'm not thinking that through [laughs]. The advent of movies and television has not changed the way that at the end of the day we go out for drinks with our friends and recount something funny that happened that morning. If there were easy access to scoring music, perhaps people could be scoring their own stories as they tell them to their loved ones at the end of the day. But that's a lot of work.
So, Mike Daisey.
I completely respect the fact that you're asking me about this, and I'd really prefer not to talk about Mike Daisey. I think if you look at what he's done since we aired our episode, he's tried to go back and rethink his show and his position... And I feel like I owe him the courtesy of letting him do that without me keeping any kind of beef going. I feel like I said everything I needed to.
So, Dan Savage. After the Benaroya show, you two are having a DJ battle. How are your preparations coming?
[After a pause so long it makes me afraid I'm the first person to inform him this event is happening] Horribly. When we set this up, I was totally going to spend months thinking through what kind of music to play and really do an awesome job. And now I realize I've got to do all that in the next week. I was going to make a whole study of this! I was kind of looking forward to spending months working on it, going to friends who listen to a lot of new music, and really thinking it through—and I have done nothing. Fortunately for me, everything Dan plays is infected with a kind of Broadway-show-tune showiness, so even when it's not a show tune, it is a show tune in its immortal soul. So even with my lax preparation, I believe I will best him.