Regular, or even occasional, listeners of National Public Radio know the name Ira Glass, who brought his Seven Things I’ve Learned: An Evening with Ira Glass to the Durham Performing Arts Center this past Saturday night. For those who don’t, an introduction is in order:
Ira Glass is the creator, producer, and host of NPR’s This American Life (TAL), a weekly journalistic program that broadcasts out of the WBEZ studio in Chicago. The program has been on the air since 1995, and features field recordings, essays, memoirs, interviews, and the occasional short fiction piece.
This American Life will celebrate its 600th episode later this year, and is syndicated across the United States, Canada, and Australia. Its listenership has increased dramatically since its appearance as a podcast download on iTunes several years ago. An Emmy-winning television series of the same name, and with a similar structure, ran on Showtime for two seasons, from 2007 to 2009. TAL can be heard in Central North Carolina on WUNC/91.5 FM.
In addition to TAL, Glass has worked on other programs that NPR listeners will recognize: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Serial, and the now-cancelled Talk of the Nation. He has produced a few feature films, including the recently released Don’t Think Twice, a comedy about an improv comedy troupe now playing at The Rialto Theatre in Raleigh and other Triangle locations.
Glass is credited by many as “discovering” essayist David Sedaris, who was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. Glass was the first person to invite Sedaris onto the radio, asking him to read his humorous essay “SantaLand Diaries” on Morning Edition in 1992.
The title of Ira Glass’ new tour, Seven Things I’ve Learned: An Evening with Ira Glass, does not do justice to the interesting material that he presents. This title feels too much like a lecture series, and this show is anything but.
Glass stated openly at the beginning that this is an experiment: a new way of approaching his speaking tour. The Durham Performing Arts Center was one of a handful of theaters that are getting to experience this piece, with a fewer than a dozen shows remaining between now and next spring.
Ira Glass knew his audience. He started by calling WUNC (North Carolina’s flagship NPR member station, produced at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) one of the greatest public radio stations in the country. He went on to congratulate the station on celebrating its 40th year on the air. “If you listened to most of the other member stations, you’d know how much better WUNC is by comparison,” he said in his introduction.
There was much excitement at his entrance. It was as if he jumped out of our car radios and just started walking around among us.
He took a risk on a joke about Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President. Johnson made a huge gaffe last week when asked a question about Syria on MSNBC. Glass seemed surprised that his joke got a reaction. But, really, the kind of crowd that’s going to pay money and get a babysitter to see Ira Glass speak is probably one that’s up on the week’s political news.
Glass used audio clips, music, and video to enhance his stories of life lessons and career lessons from more than 30 years in public radio. He operated the entire projection and sound system himself, from the stage, with a tablet.
After a very minor hiccup, Glass ran the show smoothly; and the multimedia he used were engaging, relevant, and entertaining. It wasn’t explicitly stated, but it appeared that Glass was actually mixing multiple audio tracks (effects, music, and interview) live on stage to create segments to comment upon.
He often asked the audience if we thought a certain story or clip should be included in future speeches. He always received an enthusiastic “Yes!”
Glass told a number of stories about his early days in radio, his experiences taking TAL from radio to television, and the myriad details that go into audio-based storytelling. The “How to Tell a Story” lesson was the strongest. A better title, and better focus, for his show would be Telling Stories: An Evening with Ira Glass. The show is part Journalism 101 and part memoir, and the DPAC audience found Glass’ observations to be extremely astute and often hilarious.
The Q&A period at the end of the show was almost a waste of time, considering the lackluster questions posed by several audience members. Ira Glass should follow the “preshow question card” format, which allows for questions to be vetted by the speaker’s staff and reduces “dead air.”
Overall, Ira Glass provided an enlightening, funny, and informative evening of storytelling. He is an engaging speaker, and two hours with him is time well spent. Given his wont to improvise and embellish, no two shows will be the same. Durham was lucky to have him on site last weekend.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Stacy Chandler: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article100152642.html; and Sept. 7th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Tina Haver Currin: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/this-american-life-host-ira-glass-remixes-his-radio-saga-onstage-at-dpac/Content?oid=5064172.
SEVEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED: AN EVENING WITH IRA GLASS (Durham Performing Arts Center, Sept. 10 in Durham).
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/user/talwithiraglass.
This American Life (radio show): http://www.thisamericanlife.org/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/thislife/ (Facebook page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0805978/ (Internet Movie Database), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_American_Life (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/talwithiraglass (YouTube).
Ira Glass (host and executive producer of This American Life): http://www.thislife.org/ (official website), https://twitter.com/iraglass (Twitter page), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1101712/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Glass (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.