The weird thing about This American Life—Live! at Pacific Place last Thursday (and simultaneously broadcast in 430 theaters around the country) was that it was not live. Not only was it not live there in the room with us—there was no stage, and no living, breathing Ira Glass to adorably sit on it—it wasn't even happening "live" somewhere else in the country. It was being rebroadcast from a show that happened in New York several hours earlier. So, okay, that's close to live, but science tells me that "close to live" is still dead. I couldn't help but wonder... whaaaaaaaaat is the point of watching this in a movie theater? Tell me again?
I mean, okay. Is my story-listening experience somehow enhanced by the sight of Joss Whedon's chapped lips blown up to the size of two dry, flaking canoes? Need I see Dan Savage's impressively large biceps (what have you been lifting, boss?) crowding the cinematic big screen in order to appreciate his (heartbreaking and show-stealing) story about lapsed Catholicism and the death of his mother?
Sitting in the sold-out theater waiting for the show to start, the draw of TAL—Live! became abundantly clear: People just love to sit in a room with other people and chuckle, chuckle, chuckle together every time someone says "Torey Malatia." That is entirely it. You don't even have to say anything funny about Torey Malatia. Just say it, and the chuckles come. Then say it again. There is no stopping the chuckles.
However, seeing as even the worst This American Life radio episode is still better than 99 percent of all entertainment (look it up, statisticians!), the "live" broadcast, entitled and loosely themed "Return to the Scene of the Crime," was still a peerlessly lovely way to spend an evening. Mike Birbiglia—who has always seemed better than the "college comic" niche his career has nestled into—told an infuriating, hangdog tale about a drunk driver, $12,000, and inept police work. A new cartoon (cartoon: doubly not-live!) by Chris Ware about an abusive inter-species relationship—"What happens when a mouse falls in love with a cat head?"—was way more fucked-up than any of us expected, in a refreshing way. TAL darling Starlee Kine talked about what happens when a parent is simultaneously overprotective and neglectful. And Whedon, with his shy, baby-faced defensiveness, sang a song—written for the DVD release of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog—commenting on the art-deadening concept of DVD commentary.
In the end, through its sheer inherent charmingness, TAL—Live! stopped feeling weird, and you forgot they weren't really there in the room with you. Glass announced that the show will be rebroadcast May 7: "And if you're watching right now and it is May 7, hi! You know the future. What's it like?" And I chuckled. Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.