Ira Glass on 'This American Life -- Live!' and 'Retraction'
For the first time since retracting the most popular episode of This American Life, "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," host Ira Glass is speaking to the media again. He's all done with apologies though -- now it's to encourage listeners to get up out of their easy chairs and into a local movie theater for This American Life -- Live! The one-night only program will be performed live in New York City and simulcast to 550 theaters around the country, including eight in Minnesota.
In a conference call with reporters, Glass answered questions about the line-up for this year's show, but also indulged inquiries about the aftermath of "Retraction" and what Garrison Keillor might be like to get drunk with.
The Thursday, May 10 screening is Glass's third live show and the second to be beamed out to movie theaters -- the first drew 50,000 viewers. This year's version features stories by contributors David Rakoff, Tig Notaro, Glynn Washington, and David Sedaris. There will be a Sundance Audience Award-winning short film, penned by Glass and comedian Mike Birbiglia, and a dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company. OK Go will also perform a number that can be synced to audience's cell phones through an app.
Though it's a little hard to conceptualize, Glass swears that as their most ambitious undertaking yet, the show will either be spectacular or a must-see train wreck. Below are a few excerpts from his Q&A with reporters:
On the concept behind This American Life -- Live! 2012:
I got the idea for this show when I was at a dance performance, which I almost never do, but I was watching this dance performance by this not very famous company called Monica Bill Barnes. There was something about the way they did their performance that reminded me of our radio show. There's' something about the personality of it and the way the dances unfolded. Something about the pieces seemed to be about moments of awkwardness and anxiety. The thought flashed in my head that the This American Life audience would be really into this. Then I thought, 'Of course I could never present it because it's entirely visual.' Then I thought maybe we should do another cinema event.
On the invention of the smartphone app that will accompany a performance by OK Go:
We thought, 'Let's make an app for iPhone and Android so that when people are in the theater we could have everyone -- all 50,000 of them -- play along when OK Go performs.' So it's all designed, and we're just waiting for the app store to approve it.
We basically tried to invent things you could never do on the radio, so that was one of them.
On the future of stories and fact-checking on the show, post-Mike Daisey:
In the wake of Mike Daisey, one of the things we've talked about at our show is, 'Should we only have stories on that we fact-check?' Like, should we only have on stories that are 100 percent true? For example, the New Yorker has David Sedaris pieces, and I assume he goes through some sort of fact-checking process and what appears in the New Yorker is all true. So we've talked about his stories in the future, and on this show. We would either fact-check them and let the audience know they're true, or possibly figure out some way to clue in to the audience that this is not to be taken the same way as journalism.
Although, truthfully, it's a funny thing. I would like to believe that the audience is sophisticated enough that they can tell the difference, and we don't have to cue them. So that's kind of where we are on it.
On how he personally watched the aftermath of "Retraction":
I was in a weird situation, because just by coincidence I'd agreed to go to a European radio festival to try to promote foreign countries picking up our show. So we put out that show, we finished production on a Thursday night, I flew to Barcelona to this festival, and was there on Friday when the show first aired. It was hard, especially with jet lag in another country, not to spend every waking minute on the internet watching what was happening and watching the reaction. I spent hours watching it. After like six or seven hours, I just stopped. I thought, 'This isn't doing me any good.' I just kind of called it quits and stayed off the internet for a day.
But it was hard not to see what happened. It got a stunning amount of coverage and attention, and when we put the show out we were in a very odd position of feeling like we were saying what needed to be said, and knowing that we had made a mistake and wanted to be direct about it. We didn't know how people would react.
On drinking with other public radio stars, and whether he or Garrison Keillor is a better drinker:
That's funny. I don't know if Mr. Keillor drinks. I would assume he must, being onstage as much as he is, from time immemorial when people walk offstage, you know, they drink. I bet he's a really fun person to get drunk with and being of sturdy Minnesota stock I bet he holds his liquor better than I do, too. But that would just be a guess. Of everybody to get drunk with in public radio, I have to say he would probably be really fun. Everybody knows he's full of stories, and it would be a nice way to spend time with him.
This American Life -- Live! screens this Thursday. Check online for a complete list of participating theaters, including local venues in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Mankato, and Duluth. Tickets are available here.
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