‘This American Life Live’: Ira Glass is all about ‘The Invisible Made Visible’

Ira Glass

Ira Glass is a touchy talker. You wouldn’t necessarily know this from
listening to his voice come through your radio or earbuds every week.
But several times throughout a 40-minute conversation, the host of “This
American Life” literally reaches out to engage, with a “whaddaya make of that?” light knee slap or an “I know! Isn’t that crazy?” forearm squeeze.

But
tonight, Glass is all about showing the sorts of things that can’t come
through speakers, as he hosts a live two-hour presentation of “This
American Life” that will beam into more than 500 cinemas nationwide.  

“It’s
a completely unnecessary extravaganza,” he says, proudly, before
rattling off highlights that include animations, dancers, a short film
from Mike Birbiglia — with whom Glass co-wrote the upcoming feature
“Sleepwalk With Me” — a reading from David Sedaris and an interactive
performance from OK Go.

“The last time we did this, we had 50,000
people in thea-ters all over North America, and this time, we expect
more,” says Glass as he scrolls through his iPhone to share an app that
was especially made for the 50,000-plus that Glass expects.

“We’re
going to have everyone play a song together based on musical cues coming
up on the screen,” he says. “So everyone will play a song along with OK
Go.”

Glass seems keenly aware that there might be a difference
between the tech preferences of somebody who listens to “This American
Life” on National Public Radio and somebody who downloads the podcast
version every week.

“People who don’t have a smartphone will do rhythm,” he says.

‘Got anything about chickens?’

The theme of tonight’s show is “The Invisible Made Visible,” but Glass says that wasn’t the initial idea.

“The theme was going to be ‘Things You Can’t Do on the Radio,’ but it’s hard to write stories about that,” he says. “All of the writers are just like, ‘I don’t know if I’ve got anything.”

It makes sense that radio writers aren’t exactly at the ready with things that can’t be done on the radio, but how often does that happen when they come up empty-handed with an idea?

“That happens a lot, but we’ve got enough people, where if we say, ‘Got anything about chickens?’ somebody usually does,” he says.


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