Chaos Attraction

An Evening with Ira Glass and Daniel Handler

2013-05-18, 9:38 a.m.

(note, 5/24/13: I am transcribing a LOT OF STUFF THIS WEEK, LIKE YOU HAVE NO IDEA. So I am way slow on finishing the weekend's entries.)

Last freaking April--over a year ago--I bought a ticket to see Ira Glass when he came back here again. He was so awesome to see the first time that I actually spent waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more money than usual to see him--they told me the last one sold so well that only season ticket holders were (probably) going to get in, so I really, really should buy the entire series. Sigh. So I ended up using all of my $100 gift certificate from work on this and ended up seeing Woz and Harry Belafonte, but I don't think I wrote the latter one up because I wasn't so into it.

However, this time they did it differently. It was a "Conversations" series in which the speakers were interviewed for an hour by somebody and then they had a half hour of Q&A. The first two speakers had some local person doing the interviews both times, and the local people didn't necessarily know them beforehand. But apparently Ira Glass is buddies with Daniel Handler...and he was doing the interviewing.

I will just say ahead of time that man, those two were freaking giggling like little schoolgirls. Not kidding. It interesting experience, that. I wrote down quotes as best I could under the circumstances. Here we go:

* Ira likened going to this event as a "married people date" (i.e. someone got dragged along due to their spouse and the spouse has no idea who Ira is). DH was all, "It's the lamest adultery I've ever seen. The wife's out of town, you wanna see Ira Glass?"
* DH on This American Life: "First of all, it's not entertaining At All...."
* Ira compared the feeling you have after listening to TAL to the way you'd feel after the end of a TV show. Both tell stories, but different kinds of stories.
* DH liked noting that Ira is inspired by lousy things just as well as good ones.
* "When I hear Brahms played wonderfully, I think, what am I doing?" There was some commentary going on about how some people get inspired by hearing good things done well, but when DH reads a lousy children's book, he wants to go home and fix it. His inspiration is clearly lousy.
* Ira: "The show is whatever the producers say it is." They could do All Things Considered just on misheard song lyrics.
* It was pointed out by DH that people get turned down for All Things Considered...except you're too boring!
* The default idea behind TAL shows is "Oh, things turned out differently than you thought they would." Except that they try to change that up more.
* They take 4-5 months to find stories--they work on 20-25, produce 7-8, and keep going until pretty much airtime.
* Sometimes they take on a topic like murders or climate change, and that's sort of different. They may do subjects like climate change where the entire story is something that nobody wants to hear about--especially when you're listening to it in a car, cranking the AC. Shows like that one and Guantanamo need to be original and are the hardest to do--they're trying to give the culture a nudge, but Ira feels like it has no effect and nothing really changes because you heard it on the radio. Guantanamo still exists!
* The folks at TAL need to be cunning in a way that news stories don't.
* TAL is a documentary show...but they don't like calling it that. Ira said, "I would not listen to my own show if we called it a documentary show."
* TAL is in the tradition of narrative journalism--they didn't invent anything.
* Ira loves Calvin Trillin and says the guy can write anything and make you interested in stuff you have no interest in. "And then he'll do a piece one a chicken who can play tic-tac-toe."
* Radio should have range and voice--it's still primitive and new. We're just catching up to what was done in other forums.
* IG: "I keep trying to invent a version of our show that could be a TV show--"
DH: "Have you heard of This American Life?"
IG said he was thinking of doing a TV news show, but nobody on his staff wants to do it.
* DH on the switches between each story on TAL: "It's either the same or you say it's the same." True dat.
* DH on the cloned bull story: "Have you ever read Stephen King?!?!" Followed later by, "Victor Frankenstein had an excuse. Nobody else does."
* Even when you kind of know already how the story is going to go, there's always surprises...."And then the bull tried to kill him again. Which was a lucky break for us."
DH: "How did you feel in that moment?"
IG: "Great!....I liked that guy a lot, but I'm there to do a job."
* While talking about a story that took place on an aircraft carrier, Ira was referring to things as the 'basement of the boat" and "nuclear power thing." DH made fun of him--"I'm pretty sure they have different words for that."
* "I feel bad when something bad is happening, but I know it's good for me?" --IG
* He feels like every story is trying to be mediocre and he's desperate for something decent and special.
* IG was talking about the story of a hotel owner who decided he could run his town in Colorado like it was a business. The TAL folks got the idea to "make up a character" of someone who worked for this dude that would probably have a good perspective of it/be the ideal guest for this topic, i.e. someone who worked for the parks department--and then the guy turned out to actually exist. "We made up the character and he existed, and that happens more frequently than you'd think."
* Trying to force an epiphany on the show doesn't work--it kills the story.
* Back when he was first starting out, IG said he used to put in a little something to amuse himself in all stories. He was talking about doing a story on the Oreo cookie factory and he was totally surprised that the place smells like somewhere that bakes cookies. "I never thought of Oreo cookies AS A COOKIE." Yes, he said that to the Oreo people.
Another thing you never knew about Oreos: they can't automate putting the cookies in the plastic sleeves, so they pay poor immigrants to put them in. And the cookies still break frequently, so they chuck the broken ones over their shoulder and then the broken ones are ground up and reused--"Soylent Green is people!"
* IG: "I had to train myself to sound like myself on the radio."
* IG's parents didn't stop hounding him to go to med school until he was 38 and on David Letterman. DH started musing on Chekhov being a doctor and a writer and how somehow the guy was always writing stories about people who died while waiting for the doctor maybe doubling isn't so good....
* DH went on for awhile about working at the House of Blues for Dan Ackroyd and how he was sent these tapes of Ackroyd doing fake interviews with an imaginary interviwer. He found this odd. After that derail, DH was all: "You told me you thought you were going to interview me."
IG: "But I thought I wouldn't do it!"
* The Huntington's disease story was a shocker for everyone.
* "I had to watch the movie Dinner for Schmucks...which I regret..." but IG thought the soundtrack was perfect, and it got heavily used in shows for awhile. They eventually had to ban it, even though they had had the advantage in that nobody had seen the movie.
* They brought up David Rakoff since both had known him. IG said that he met him because they'd been introduced by David Sedaris. At the time, Rakoff was not an established writer, heard Sedaris on the radio and then concocted some reason to meet him and become friends, and then Rakoff started writing... IG has been working on the audiobook for Rakoff's last book, which Rakoff wanted to record himself before he died. Ira is editing the tapes and having a weird problem of having to cut out all of his rasping dying breaths every other word or so. He said he's a fast editor and it took 5 hours to edit 12 minutes of recording.
DH said that Rakoff took him to a burly transvestite (not drag, not going for realism) bar after midnight in which the dudes weren't even trying to act like ladies...."It felt like an episode of This American Life."
* DH brought a cocktail kit to make them drinks--but we're at a college and thus you are not allowed to drink on stage..."I will say there is no alcohol in the cocktail that I am making." And he will not narrate what exactly he is doing.
* DH referring to the lit-up mike they were using for the Q&A: "It's waiting for Judy Garland right now.."
* One person asked about Ira' s disturbingly allergic dog, Piney. Piney has moved to ostrich meat from kangaroo, so he's fine. IG said that you want to keep your public persona neutral so that people can project onto you--but boy, do a lot of people hate him after that dog story. As DH shook his drink-maker thing, he was all, "It's a sad story."
* The boys drank to Piney. IG did a visible pause after taking a sip of the drink. "It's amazing, no alcohol." "That apple juice really has the sting."
* Someone is paid to go through the TAL comments on the webpage and sort out the useful ones from the tech complaints or whatever. If you pitch TAL a story in the comments on the webpage, a senior producer will look into it.
* Someone asked IG a long and winding question about how we're on the brink of a declining civilization and what's good about it. Ir was all, TV has never been better! Anyone can post what they want online these days. "Even the movie business, which sucks!--there are a couple of good movies out every year." DH said that watching movies out of the MGM vault made you realize that not all good movies were old.
* IG has no curiosity to revisit old stories because they ended, and updates that they've done for reruns were not interesting.
* When asked if he has a hero, IG was all, "uh, no...." followed by mentioning that Wes Anderson was having a good year, but "I could pick some fights with him in previous years."
* "Being a journalist is super fun," but it's not a direct way to social change. "We don't direct people towards any action at all."
* When someone asked him for our world's best and worst futures, Ira answered Star Trek for the best and the version of Back to the Future where Biff runs everything for the worst.
* Ira was asked to imitate his old radio voice (which he played here last time), Ira claims he can't imitate it very well any more himself--"That was a really good question. It was such a good setup for a person more entertaining than I am." DH did the imitation for him.
* There was a long Q&A bit by some guy who was attempting to say that he thought going to a show like this made the audience more interesting as the show goes on, like church. "Have you ever been to church?" IG said, DH was all, "Because all churches have a Jewish guy behind a desk?" Ira seemed to think this was a weird critique of his show, but then the questioner finally got to his point-- "You remind us that we're all interesting people--" and got applause for it.
* When someone asked IG about his favorite books, DH started preening as IG said he was really liking DH's new book. He's about 85% through it, so I guess the latter 15% could bungle it....
* When asked about a favorite story so personal to IG that he wouldn't put it on the radio, at first IG was all, "If it's that personal not to put on the radio, why would I mention it here?" and DH was all, "So my wife and I have this problem...." But eventually IG started answering this. In 1972, his family was staying at the Playboy Plaza Hotel at the same time when the Jackson 5 were staying there, wearing matching gold suede outfits. At the time, IG was doing magic tricks as "Ira the Magical Mystifier." When DH was snarking on this, he was all, "I didn't have a professional novelists to consult with at the time." Anyway, there is a picture of Ira doing a magic trick for Michael Jackson, who is clearly rolling his eyes at this. IG attempted to show us this on his phone. It's captioned by his mom with "Whatever happened to...Ira G and Michael J?" and IG was all, "One of us is still alive." DH was all, "Is it a competition?"
* The final question was by a girl who just wanted to tell him that she downloaded the app on her phone--IG was all, you know that's free online, right?--so she could listen to shows all day while she's spending 7 hours a day looking at a microscope. IG wondered if this had interfered with scientific results. has taken me all week to write this out (finishing 5/24), so I hope you appreciate it!

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