Thursday, February 12, 2009

Today on This American Life...

No, I haven't been kidnapped, taken to the Caribbean, and used as bait at a shark-themed amusement park. I haven't run away with the circus as the world's least flexible contortionist. I haven't disappeared from Rock Creek Park, assumed a secret identity, or joined a cult.

I've just been busy. Busy and boring: the supervillains of the blogging world. Did you really want to hear about how my new faux-Aveeno CVS-brand hand lotion smells oaty and yet kind of like barbecued snack foods? Or how I've decided that my true love is a Roomba (Happy Valentine's Day to you, too)? I didn't think so. Also, I've been struggling over my next What I'm Watching post for an embarrassing amount of time. You can blame that, if you want to.

I did go to Borders last night to hear Ira Glass speak. If you're not hip to Ira--and I do mean hip; the audience at this thing was hilarious--you clearly aren't listening to enough public radio. He's the host of This American Life on NPR: a reporter, a storyteller, and a hero to radio fiends with nerdy glasses everywhere.**

The strangest thing was hearing Ira and seeing him at the same time. You have to understand: I spend a lot of time with this guy's voice. I listen to his show all the time--at work, on my commute, in airports, in the car, sometimes when I'm cooking. It's a distinctive voice, a reedy voice, and not really what you'd expect to hear on professional radio in the first place, but it sort of sinks into your consciousness after awhile. And so there I was last night, and the man on the dais opened his mouth, and he sounded just like Ira Glass! I felt like he was lip-synching, and like I should shut my eyes.

It was great, though. This American Life is first and foremost a radio show, but Ira was there to promote the second season of the their recent foray into TV (also called This American Life). He talked about radio and television, and his genuine surprise at the usefulness of visual storytelling. He took questions and told crazy stories--his forte and his livelihood, after all--about the making of the show(s) and about the relationships he forms with his interviewees and about what it's like to look like Rachel Maddow and be a guy. The best thing was his obvious passion for what he’s doing; he clearly loves the stories and the people of This American Life, which is awesome, because I do, too. He was nice, and funny, and I like him even better now than I did before.

I am charmed.

I think I'll go listen to the radio now.

**If you're not familiar with This American Life, let me introduce you to its glory. TAL is an hour-long weekly radio show on NPR (find your local station here), and it tells stories about people. That's it. Crazy stories, funny stories, sad stories, everything stories. Each episode has a theme, and a varying number of stories on that theme--sometimes it's just one long story, if it's a really good one; usually they're in the range of three or four, though one episode is called "Twenty Acts in Sixty Minutes," for obvious reasons. If you've never heard TAL, check it out: you can download it for free on iTunes, stream it for free from the TAL website, or try to find it on the radio. AND! The most recent podcast (the podcast version runs a week behind the live version) is a rerun of one of my all-time favorite episodes, "The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar," which is one of those stories I will never forget. One warning: if you do listen, you may become one of those people who starts every other sentence with, "I was listening to NPR the other day, and..." but it'll be worth every pretentious second.


bilunabirotunda said...

Awesome! I do like This American Life and I am becoming reconciled to Ira Glass's voice. But, yay, Sarah Vowell!

In related news, we're taking my mom to see Wait Wait being taped live next Friday night. It's a surprise. :-)

Sarah said...

Yay, Ira! Again. I've been thinking that all day. I love him.

Also, I like Bobby Dunbar, but I think my favorite one (thus far) in that arena (the only one story arena, of course) is Switched at Birth. That was just the craziest story. I dare say even crazier then Bobby Dunbar.

And to biluna, the above commenter: OMG I LOVE WAIT WAIT!!! I am so jealous!!

Xerxes said...


Welcome back!

So does mean no 12 on 12 this month?

I am more of a Wait Wait and a Car Talk guy, I love the sarcasm and the caller abuse.

Being slightly ADD I lose interest / become impatient in TAL during the musical interludes. I really wish Ira would drop those!

Anonymous said...

Even though I only know Liz, I must say how glad I am to find fellow fans of each of the programs mentioned! If I had more time, I'd spend it all listening to TAL's podcasts. It's my favorite!

p.s. I think everyone I know is tired of me referring to how I was listening to NPR the other day and what I learned while I listened.

Liz said...


Aww, I'm glad you and Ira are getting along better. When I first heard him, I was all, "Radio? Really?" But now it's just his voice. And then, last night, I had to go and read Sarah Vowell's essay about the time Ira Glass tried to teach her to drive. It's hilarious.

OMG, you're going to see Wait Wait? I'm so jealous! And your mom is going to LOVE it. So cool.

Also, I miss you. We should chat. :)

Liz said...


You're totally right about Switched at Birth--that's the other one that totally sticks with me. I'm constantly telling people about it, because I think I still can't believe the weirdness of it. (Also, even though I don't love 20 Acts in 60 Minutes as an entire episode, I've been thinking a lot about that short story where Mary Poppins and the Penguin get seated together at a dinner party, because they both travel by umbrella. I love that story.)

Hee, Sarah, meet my California friend Heather, who also hearts Wait Wait.

Liz said...


Nah, I just posted twice. When it came time for 12 of 12, I was all, "...maybe I should post for real, too." So, there we go.

Oh, I do love Car Talk, too--my favorite part is the people calling in and saying, "So my car is making THIS noise: NnnnNNnnnnNnnNNn!" The Tappert (?) brothers crack me up.

I hadn't thought about the musical interludes. But hey, if I see Ira again, I'll pass it on. :)

Liz said...


It makes me happy to know that I'm not the only one who's super-obnoxious about my NPR habits. But I just always hear such interesting things! I can't help it.