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John Lamb, Published May 08 2012

John Lamb: Radio host Glass rebounds after controversy

Most successful radio personalities are celebrated for their syntax, their commanding delivery or their sonorous voice.

Ira Glass is admired for what he doesn’t say, or rather, when he doesn’t say it. The host of Public Radio International’s “This American Life” is praised for his pauses.

Along with his awkward, often gleefully geeky delivery, Glass has emerged as the hip, self-effacing nerd king of public radio.

He’s taking his act to the next stage. Glass is adapting his show to a live theatrical performance Thursday night that will be beamed to movie theatres around the country. Century 10 in Fargo is screening the show starting at 7 p.m.

The live show features stories by David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Glynn Washington and Tig Notaro, a new short film by Mike Birbiglia, music by OK Go and more.

“I wished for a multi-media adventure and got my wish,” Glass said during a recent conference call interview. “It will either be the greatest triumph of our show’s history or we’ll always look back on this day as the worst thing we ever attempted, and nothing in between, I think, is possible.”

It may not be the show’s darkest day. That came earlier this year after it was revealed that Mike Daisey’s exposé on a Chinese factory that produces Apple goods was partially fabricated. Daisey has since claimed his piece was meant as theater and not reporting. In March, “This American Life” devoted a whole show (“Retraction”) to pointing out inconsistencies in his story and withdrew the original show.

“It is a tough show for us,” Glass says, explaining that when “Retraction” aired, he was in Barcelona promoting “This American Life,” knowing that the show’s credibility was being called into question.

“When we put the show out we felt like we were saying what had to be said and knowing we had made a mistake and wanting to be direct about it,” he said. “It was hard, especially with jet lag in another country, trying not to spend every waking minute on the Internet watching what was happening and the reaction. Then at some point I just stopped, thought, ‘This isn’t doing me any good.’ ”

Glass and the show have been able to move forward, but now they question their contributors more. When a reporter suggested Sedaris, the show’s most popular guest who will read at the Fargo Theatre Nov. 13, embellished his stories, Glass replied:

“I myself have always assumed the same thing. When he was quoting dialogue from something that happened to him when he was 14, it isn’t to be taken as reporting. It’s to be taken as somebody’s funny memories,” Glass said.

“My attitude has always been that the audience is sophisticated enough to know the difference between someone who’s on the show to be funny and the actual reporting, where we go into the field and do interviews and very rigorously try to define what is happening in a traditional journalistic way.”

He pauses, then adds that he has asked Sedaris if his stories are true, and the humorist always answers: “They are true enough for you.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533


If you go

What: “This American Life – Live”

When: 7 p.m., Thursday

Where: Century 10, 3931 9th Ave., S., Fargo.

Info: (701) 461-8902