Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ira Glass at the Pikes Peak Center: journalism and jest

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 9:51 AM

You’d think that when you meet the person who has been your artistic icon, you would have come up with some halfway decent question or observation. Who knows, maybe you even stretch yourself so far as to provide him or her with some of your own material, like the person in line behind me did.

The line was to meet Ira Glass, host of WBEZ's radio show This American Life, before his talk at the Pikes Peak Center, last Saturday. I wonder how that went for her, the girl in line behind me. All I know is how my exchange went:

Gracie: Hi Ira, it’s so nice to meet you, I’m Gracie (going pretty well so far).
Ira: Hi Gracie, how are you?
Gracie: I’m great. I just want to say how weird it must be to know that people pay money to be in your presence.
Ira: ... Uh huh.
Gracie: And I just want to say that, you know, unfortunately, I’m one of those guilty, weird people.

Okay, so let’s break this down. Not only did I point out my fandom rather jarringly, but I also referred to it as “unfortunate”—unfortunate that I’m a fan? Unfortunate that I’m a fan of him?

Ira: Right ... I feel like I should give you a hug. (we hug)
Gracie: Also, you have this really debonair look in pictures. It sort of looks like this ...
Ira: Really? I look like that?
Gracie: Yeah, it’s sort of this “What? Try me,” kind of look.
click to enlarge Glass taking photos with me, both of us attempting to do our best Ira-Glass-try-me impression. - GRACIE RAMSDELL
  • Gracie Ramsdell
  • Glass taking photos with me, both of us attempting to do our best Ira-Glass-try-me impression.

After our brief modeling session, Ira asked if I was a writer and I told him yes, and that I was an intern at the Indy. He told me that he too had started out as an intern.

Afterwards, I sat in my seat in the third row and let the man use that strangely distinct voice to tell us, the audience, his stories — specifically, the stories of how his radio show, This American Life, set itself apart from the rest of broadcast journalism.

The show began with Steve Hayward, host of KRCC’s Off Topic radio program and Colorado College professor, presenting Ira for the night. (Shout out to Steve — not sure if you know this, but you’re teaching my next block class.)

Glass then emerged onto a pitch-black stage, the only light a glowing iPad. He spoke for a few moments this way. At times, I wondered if it was him speaking, or if he was playing a track of his own voice. The message was clear, though: Audio has the unusual ability to propel your mind to fill the gaps, imagining what could be.

Within a couple of moments, Glass signaled for the lights to come up, and there he stood.

click to enlarge For he has come to bring light into the darkness. - GRACIE RAMSDELL
  • Gracie Ramsdell
  • For he has come to bring light into the darkness.

The talk began with a look at the ways the folks at TAL bring fun to modern journalism. “We wanted to take the whiff of broccoli out of the air.” Glass spoke of a “segregation between serious and funny journalism,” referring to it as a “failure of craft that we should destroy.”

“If you can’t be funny, you’re just lost," he says. 

Glass then offered some of his “best tips to make you fascinating” through storytelling, a few of which I will share with you, dear Indy reader:

• "Every good story has the structure of a detective story.” It starts off surrounding a few central questions, giving you “teases that pull you forward, providing little answers along the way.”

• What is the universal something that we are all relating to? He used the example of those moments in which you’re feeling particularly charismatic and something suddenly happens to make you look like a complete and total ass.

• “You wanna get hit by lightning, so you wander around in the rain for a really long time.” That is, if you want to get a good story, you may have to explore many different avenues before you find something truly special. Glass said that for every three or four good stories they feature on the show, there are probably about 20 that were investigated and then dropped.

Though Glass clearly takes his storytelling job seriously, he adopts his own advice regarding humor. At several points throughout the night, he poked light fun at the disasters Colorado has been experiencing, saying that Colorado must be “working its way through the 10 plagues.”

Another favorite moment was when he spoke of the demographic in the auditorium. “It’s been explained to me that all of the liberals in town will be at the show ... And because of that, you won’t even fill the hall.” It was true: The balcony section was sparse. Hey, Colorado Springs.

Laughing light-heartedly about his apparent anonymity in the region, the radio journalist joked that there were probably a few bewildered people in the audience who ended up there on a date, not really knowing what they were getting themselves into. One girl raised her hand in recognition and, pointing to her, Glass said coolly, “I hope you get sex out of this.”

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