All about "This American Life"' host Ira Glass: his radio show, his life and his upcoming show at Benaroya Hall on Sept. 8.
Ira Glass had spent a good part of the day listening to the voice of the departed.
His friend, the author David Rakoff, — who, like essayist David Sedaris, built a career from early and continued exposure on Glass’ acclaimed radio program, “This American Life” — had passed away just days before.
Cancer. Glass knew it was coming. But still.
“I am sitting at my desk listening to old stories and crying,” Glass said, on the phone from his home in New York City. “And I am not even someone who cries at stuff. I am not used to having so many feelings.”
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You let Glass talk because you sense he needs to. But also because he sounds like, well, Ira Glass.
His voice is smart and familiar, the genius behind “This American Life,” the unofficial soundtrack of late baby boomers and beyond. The weekly public-radio show is broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.8 million listeners. It’s also the most popular podcast in the country; 700,000 people download it every week.
So it’s no surprise that tickets are selling quickly for Glass’ stage show, “Reinventing Radio,” to be held at 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.
In his talk, Glass, 53, will explain how “TAL” is put together; how and why stories are chosen and where they are found. He will tell stories, play clips from the show — basically be in the same room as his listeners, as they are listening to the show.
“It’s completely different,” he said. “On the radio, it’s a much more solitary experience. We finish the show and say, ‘That was a great one, OK, that’s it, the night is over.’ We don’t even go out drinking because we’re all so old. There’s no celebration moment.
“So it’s nice to be there. You know if something works.”
If Glass wasn’t real, he might be someone Aaron Sorkin would conjure up: an overly observant, fast-moving quip machine, cynical and heartfelt and funny all at once.
Not so funny was Glass’ experience with Seattle playwright Mike Daisey, whose “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” a monologue about Apple’s supply chain which aired on “TAL,” turned out to have significant fabrications.
Glass devoted an entire “TAL” episode to scrubbing the show clean of Daisey’s transgressions.
So will he talk about it here?
“Maybe a little,” Glass said, adding that people always ask if the show has changed because of the Daisey drama.
“We have always been fairly aggressive with fact-checking, but less so with the personal story,” Glass said. “We didn’t hold (Daisey’s story) to the same standard. This person is a comedian, a performer and just up there for fun.”
Now, Glass pays fact-checkers to verify everything.
Even David Sedaris, with his crazy family and perverted cabdrivers and toilet-flushing debacles at parties?
“With Sedaris, we don’t know what to do as a staff,” Glass said. “I never believe his stories are 100 percent true. They are written to be funny. You ask him if they’re true and he says, ‘True enough for you.’
“I assume the audience are smart enough to tell the difference,” he said. “But there is a small minority who are purists.”
The week before Glass’ appearance at Benaroya, his film, “Sleepwalk with Me,” will open nationwide.
The movie — on which he collaborated with comedian, actor and “TAL” regular Mike Birbiglia — is about a bartender who, anxious about his career and relationship, starts acting out his dreams in his sleep. It was designed to feel like a story from the radio show, performed by actors.
You wonder if Glass gets any down time, but in truth, he doesn’t really want it.
“I feel like I am getting to do things I didn’t have dreams of doing,” he said. “My dreams stopped at, well, maybe I would get to do my radio show for a couple of years.”
The first contract for “TAL” — then called “Your Radio Playhouse” — was for three years. That was 17 years ago.
“I have a really fun job,” Glass said. “I don’t need a recreational activity.”
Glass reads only what’s necessary for the show. Right now, it’s “North Country: The Making of Minnesota.”
He admits to a weakness for HBO’s “The Newsroom” (“Right-minded people are not supposed to like that show, but I find it completely compelling in its dramatic overblown-ness.”) and is a huge fan of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” (“I have ongoing theories about how it works out.”)
At their home in the Chelsea neighborhood, Glass and his wife own a pit bull named Piney who has digestive problems that require Glass prepare special kinds of protein. He has cooked rabbit, venison and even kangaroo meat in a slow cooker.
“It’s purplish and smells weird,” he said. “But if we aren’t careful, the dog will get very, very sick.”
Radio show, stage show, movie, Daisey drama and kangaroo cooking. Sounds like Ira Glass needs to rest.
“It has been an ambitious year,” he said. “I feel like I should do fewer things. I feel like everything’s going great, but I should do less.
“I think I would be happier.”
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