What We Learned from Ira Glass in Dallas, Including His Love of a Certain C-Word
"There is an intimacy to just hearing someone's voice," Glass said while the entire stage was dark. No one could see him, but the iPad screen bouncing around the stage indicated that he was pacing.
"I tried to convince the Winspear to let me do the whole show like this," Glass said. "They said maybe you should try it when you're in Fort Worth." Apparently the Dallas-Fort Worth divide reminds him of dealing with Israelis and Palestinians. "I'm surprised you guys don't have checkpoints."
"Yeah, you don't look like I thought you would either," he told the audience when the lights come on, despite the fact that there was raucous applause and cheering from these public radio fans. Glass came to the Winspear Opera House promoting his radio show, This American Life, by showing the audience how the show is produced and edited. There was nothing on stage except him and a podium, and the iPad he carried with him as he paced and shifted from leg to leg like a teenager.
To demonstrate how the show makes action build on itself he plays clips from "Just Keep Breathing," the story of a 13-year-old girl in New Zealand bitten by a shark. She's found by fishermen and brought to a hospital by her family, where a doctor told them she would probably get dramatic but she's fine, not realizing she then had sepsis. It turns into an intense story about grown-ups not listening to children, but it's also the only episode I couldn't sit through when it first aired. Glass told us that five people apparently fainted while listening it (three were driving, no one died).
Broadcast reporting typically sells gravitas and authority. Reporters have to convince their viewers that what they're discussing is important, and they refuse to be surprised by anything. "Their vision of the world is so small and dumb," Glass said.
By contrast This American Life constantly looks for surprising information. They can admit when something surprises them (Glass believes Anderson Cooper is one of the only broadcast journalists who does the same thing).
It was a banner night for anyone who wanted to hear Ira Glass say "cocksucker" a few times. I kept a running tally of vulgarity while he was explaining what it's like dealing with the FCC. Seven "dicks." At least three "cocksuckers." Six "cocks," one of which made a woman in the orchestra section scream. Glass lamented having to censor a rant against the musical RENT by the late This American Life contributor David Rakoff. All because the line "You can suck a mile of cock -- it does not make you Oscar Wilde," evoked too strong an image.
Which forced Glass to ask, what the hell image is that? Is it one mile-long cock? Enough cocks lined up to measure a mile? And if so do you measure the rest of the guy behind that, or does just the cock count?
Glass closed out the night with some audience questions, which revealed more about the romantic ideas of the audience than Glass himself. Here are the highlights:
"Hi, Ira Glass."
"You just said hi to me!"
"I brought a package for you. Can I give it to you?"
"Is it drugs?" After a moment: "Yeah, toss it." He weighed the bag in his hand. "Is it food? A pitch? Barbecue?"
"What are you most proud of in your life besides your show?"
"In 2007 I lost 40 pounds."
"What's your favorite movie to rewatch?"
"I don't know that I've seen a movie more than once." He listed a handful of movies he'd seen recently, including Frances Ha and Moonlight Kingdom.
"But Darjeeling Express can go to hell."
Another questioner asked if Glass and the TAL crew ever wanted to revisit a story and see how the subjects were doing.
"No," Glass said abruptly. "We're busy making next week's show," which can get a bit factory-like, he said. But there's never any interest in following up on old stories for a simple reason: It won't be interesting. "What we told was the interesting version of the story."
"Can you talk about the China story?" a man asked, referring to This American Life's famous retraction episode.
"There's not much more to say that wasn't said on air."
"Do you ever narrate your own life?"
"No, because then I'd be a crazy person."
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