This American Life
UCLA Royce Hall
March 12, 2007
8:00 - 10:30
"What I Learned From Television"
WOW! I'm still pinching myself! What a rare opportunity to see my favorite radio show, This American Life with Ira Glass, live on stage! If you missed it, all I can say is that I hope they do another one some day. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I'll do my best to capture the moment. Then you'll just have to listen to the edited version of this radio show when it comes out, later on this month.
Those of you who are unfamiliar with This American Life will have to visit their site and listen to one of their free podcasts. I urge you to do so... this is some of the best entertainment out there today!
Each show features a theme and three acts. Topics range from Fiasco's (one of my favorite shows) to summer camps, liars, babysitting, and accidental documentaries. Each show has writers and authors who contribute their spoken word, as well as 'ordinary people' from all walks of life who share their stories. The hour-long broadcast is a mixture of cinematic story telling and a feast for the ears -- great mixing, segues, and thematic music.
Celebrity Sightings! (Okay, I put this here first to grab your attention, and make you read further)
I knew the show was about to start because a guy in a suit was walking around with a xylophone, lightly drumming bing-bong. I was sipping cabernet out of a plastic glass while casually standing by a trash can, trying to finish it before I went in. My hubby said, "Down it!" But it's not an easy task to chug wine!
As I stood sipping, I saw a sober-looking Jack Black, dressed in a button-down and jeans, with two lady friends (they did look like his friends, not dates) on either side. He looked refreshed, healthy, and much more handsome in person. He's actually around the same size as my hubby! Not too tall, not with the camera-weight, and just a down-to-earth looking guy. In Hollywood, there is no real fanfare, so people pretty much ignore celebs, Jack included. Plus, you have to think... this crowd is devoted to public radio... and unconcerned with celebrity sightings. Myself included, but hey, some of you are into this, and news is news! (or gossip anyway)
I admit, I'm not too savvy at remembering names, but I do remember faces. So when reached across Catherine Keener to grab a paper towel in the restroom, I recognized her I immediately. She gave me a warm smile, a double-take, and I said, "Hi," and commented on her top, which was the same color as mine. Instantly, her multitude of characters and movies flashed through my head: Being John Malkovich, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Capote. All of which she'd done amazing work, and won several awards, including her Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Being John Malkovich. In person, she was absolutely adorable!
There were many others, stand up comedians, broadcasters... however, their names escape me...
Onto the Show:
The lights dimmed and the band OK Go came on stage. They played a song I hadn't heard before about television. Wow... is all I can say. What dynamic performers. They came on stage after every act, and the singer, Damian, even joined in on several impromptu conversations with Ira Glass. When Ira asked what on TV prompted Damian to become a musician (paraphrased), Damian told him Prince; Prince in Purple Rain. Ira then joked, So that's what made you say, Mom, Dad, I'm not going to medical school?
Here's a couple of videos from OK Go:
"Invincible" by OK Go
"Here It Goes Again" by OK Go
Buy OK Go - Oh No at iTunes.
Ira Glass came on stage and told the story of two young boys in elementary school that created 'video cameras' out of cardboard, paper towel rolls, and paint. He went on with his story and then stopped. Spoken word may have worked for his radio show, but for an audience, he said, there needed to be visuals!
He then retold the story, with lights dimmed and animation flowing. It was hilarious! The animation showed how these kids created a trend among their fellow classmates through 'videotaping' -- exemplifying how people act differently behind a camera, and kids are no different. Pretty soon the whole schoolyard was taping each other, and when a fist fight broke out between two boys on the playground, the whole student body crowded around in a circle with their cardboard video cameras 'taping' the fight!
Sarah Vowell came on stage and read a story about pilgrims and Thanksgiving on television. She talked about the education she received from TV, by recalling a Happy Days Thanksgiving episode. Quite entertaining!
Next, John Hodgman was the highlight of the evening, in my opinion. He talked about how television made him famous, and his sudden rise to fame ever since he became the Mac commercial's PC. He told several stories that had me buckling, but I'll share one with you.
(Abbreviated) After coming out of the 'captain's lounge' at the airport -- a room that has a bar, all the comforts of home, including a shower -- a business man struck up a conversation. "You know you should have the company pay for a private jet." John didn't know what to say and started laughing uncomfortably. The business man went on, "You know you can trade some of your pay for a private jet..." John wondered if the business man knew something he didn't and just laughed uncomfortably again. What if this was a set up? Was this business man trying to lure him into flying endlessly around the world with him? He pictured him and this man together, flying from town to town, airport to airport, exchanging their pay for endless private jet trips while their families were left to fend for themselves at home! He laughed uncomfortably again, trying to appease the businessman.
Later on he came to an epiphany, that the business man had obviously recognized him and was just trying to strike up a conversation. It was the first time he realized that HE was actually a celebrity, and that people came up to talk to him because of it. (You'll have to listen to the show... it's much funnier when he tells it!)
As you may have heard, This American Life is going to be a TV show. Many of their diehard fans, including myself, were a little worried that the format would change, the show would bomb, or be a disappointment. Well, we got to see some parts of the show! Chris Wilcha, the director of the show came on and had a conversation with Ira. They talked about the decision whether to put Ira Glass in the show or not, and then showed some extremely funny outtakes. Trust me, the show is going to be a huge hit with everyone, public radio fans and television fans. It's just like the radio show, but with amazing visuals.
Check Out the Trailer!
Dan Savage talked about the stereotypes of homosexuals on TV. When he grew up, they were portrayed as swishy, poodle walkers who cruise parks late at night. He'd sit watching these shows with his dad, and at those moments, the room would become silent, as if his father knew he would grow up to be one. From that day on, he swore he'd never become a poodle walking, swishy gay guy. Years later, his adopted son begged him to get a toy-cup poodle, and now he walks it in the park late at night sometimes, regretfully becoming the stereotype he never thought he would become.
Rounding out the show, Ira Glass talked about his obsession with The OC television show, and played some dialogue from the show that mentioned This American Life! "This American Life... isn't that the show where suburban hipsters sit around talking about ordinary people... Uhg, gawd!"
Then as a bonus, OK Go, came out on stage and did a synchronized dance!
What a great show. If you've never heard This American Life, check out the free podcasts now! You'll be glad you did.