This Little Miggy Stayed Home: Life Lessons with Ira Glass

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life Lessons with Ira Glass

The husband and I have been trying to step up our date night game.  This weekend I believe we accomplished a firm stepping up in the game.  If you're a fan of This American Life (and you should be) then you know that the man pictured here with B and I is none other than Ira Glass himself.  Ira gave a presentation in downtown Cincinnati entitled Reinventing Radio, where he spoke about This American Life and how this show breathed new life into public radio with their completely new approach to new reporting when they started back in 1995.  As Ira pointed out himself, he's really only semi-famous.  In fact he asked the audience to clap if they were brought here by someone else and really didn't even know who he was.  A fair amount of people clapped.  Then he told a story about a skit on Saturday Night Live in which one of the cast members was going to impersonate Ira.  The skit got cut because "Ira wasn't famous enough to parody."  Personally, I think that if you're going to be famous this is the best kind of famous to be.  Famous enough to be on Jimmy Fallon and to be the inspiration behind the winning costume at Brooklyn's 14th Annual Pupkin Dog Costume contest, but not so famous that you have body guards to protect you from screaming fans and paparazzi.  I think it was this perfect blend of famous-but-not-too-famous that made it even possible to meet Ira.  At the end of the show we decided to go on a walk.  There were a handful of people wanting outside the theaters back entrance.  B and I shrugged and decided to wait and see if Ira would come out.  He did.  And for the handful of us there, it was such a treat to meet him, take pictures and chat for a few minutes.  There were no paparazzi or mobbing crowds.  Just a handful of fans wanting to shake his hand and get a picture.  So we did.  Right before us a teenage boy was meeting Ira and just gushing about how much he looked up to him and loved his work.  Ira, ever the class act, was really gracious and kind. That was actually a great moment to see

But there was one thing in Ira's show that I wanted to talk about.  He was explaining how news has this interesting tradition of being very factual, very dry and totally void of humor or spontaneity.  Of course when you watch the news these days they do allow for humor but it's usually reserved for the weatherman or right before they wrap up for the night.  But it is separate, away from the hard-hitting, serious news.  He said that one of their main goals when starting This American Life was to have fun.  Then he played some clips from the show where they take a topic--war--that is usually done with such weight and seriousness and they bring a little humanity and personality to the topic.  As he plays the clips he gets to this one point where we all laugh, you know...because it's funny.  And then he says (paraphrasing here),

These funny moments, these great quotes don't just happen.  As a producer you have to tease them out of people.  You really have to work to make these spontaneous, magical moments happen.  

For some reason this really hit me.  Because when you listen to TAL, it feels all so free flowing, so easy and natural.  But hearing Ira describe how much they have to work to create these moments surprised me.  Isn't spontaneous synonymous with effortless?  Additionally he also said that each show goes through an editing process 4-5 times for each show before it's ever on the air.  So again, lots of effort, lots of calculation to create humor and spontaneity.

Once again I'm reminded that the life you want, doesn't just magically happen.  You have to actually purposefully, intentionally create it.  Certainly, there are times when you get lucky, when all you have to do is show up and the magic unfolds and blesses you with moments and memories worth their weight in gold.  But often there is thought, effort and plain old work involved to have the life you want to have.  It's not like I didn't know this, but hearing a professional who is in the business of crafting memorable stories talk about the work involved to create these memorable stories ...well it just made me feel better.  Like if life's feeling a little lackluster, it's OK... I have the power to change it.  And if it feels like I'm putting waaay too much thought into what is supposed to be a spontaneous dance party in the leaves?  That's OK too... the details matter and add the the richness of the moment.  

Speaking of spontaneous dance party in the leaves, here are some pics from our leaf party yesterday.  Sick of seeing my kids with piles of leaves yet?  Good.  Me neither.

Any other This American Life fans out there?  Are you surprised about what Ira said and do you find any correlation to your own life?  Are you purposeful and intentional about your life?  How do you do this?  And do you think there are times and seasons to this aspect of life as well?  I sure hope so...

Also, funny side note...I talked with B beforehand about a story idea I've thought about pitching to This American Life, but not sure I would ever actually do it.  So on the spot, my husband ended up pitching him my story idea!  Ira actually seemed intrigued and gave me his email (his real email)--ha!  So you know, if we end up sharing a story on This American Life you heard it here first. 

(For the record... I'm not holding my breath.)  


  1. Jed and I were at that show too! It was so much fun and very interesting. I'm super jealous you got to meet Ira though :)

  2. I just printed out your fifth paragraph. This is helpful to me as I continue to try to summon the patience to finish my PhD ("just" my dissertation left) . . .

  3. I love this post! Love that you got to meet Ira. Love the reminder to live more deliberately. Loved the tossing of Lamp into the pile of leaves. And I adore the idea that TAL might produce one of your story ideas! Hope it pans out

  4. You + TAL = Brilliant. I'm staying tuned.

    I heard my first episode when we lived in the little house (15 years ago--we are getting old!). It was about elves in Iceland and was fascinating. I was hooked. (

  5. Jessamyn3:22 PM

    Love This American Life and Ira so much! The one about his dog just about killed me it was so funny. I literally pulled a muscle laughing.
    Do you watch OITNB? Larry (Jason Biggs) wrote an article about having a loved one in prison and he ended up on a show just like TAL. And their "Ira" came to Thanksgiving dinner.

  6. I love it! Of course, like most shows, it's hit or miss for me. But the "Good Guys" episode? Blew my mind. It would be amazing if you could get on TAL! I've got a story to pitch to The Moth...we shall see.