Everyday Extraordinary: Ira Glass on the art of radio storytelling
To the delight of a sold-out Pabst Theater crowd, This American Life host Ira Glass brought his revivalist storytelling skills to an eager Milwaukee audience on Saturday. Over the course of the evening, Glass demonstrated that the once-dying art of telling a proper tale has as much to do with the listening experience as the delivery itself.
Stories bring out the life and heroic nature in each of us, and by sharing the secrets of a true storyteller, Glass has mastered the art of remaining comfortable in his own nervous glory. His quirky perceptions of human interaction are chronicled in such a way that it allows ordinary people to become heroes. Part of his great success is owed in part to his relentless search for common themes, and how those themes transcend the social boundaries of race, gender, religion and class.
Like all good storytellers, Glass kept us in the dark for a while — quite literally. His distinct voice flooded the auditorium as we inched forward in our seats, straining for a glimpse of our living hero. He is, at least partially, responsible for the resurgence of story culture in our tech-heavy, isolationist world.
Glass’ wildly popular series reminds us of the “everyday extraordinary,” the basic human connection that keeps us listening to and telling our own stories. In turn, the momentum created by those stories can be a catalyst for social change. For example, Apple’s new willingness to be transparent with manufacturing conditions, as well as a Georgia judge’s removal from her seat presiding over a corrupt drug court are directly tied to the response of stories told on This American Life. Perhaps Mr. Glass would like to take on the issue of Scott Walker?
Glass spent as much time speaking as he did reading the audience, adjusting his tales to meet our needs and expectations. Humor, sorrow, and wit tied us to him as much as our reactions pushed him forward toward the next anecdote. Glass noted that Wisconsin seems to be in the midst of a political war of sorts, and his general interest beyond the basics of the situation made it that much easier to appreciate his trademark snarky commentary on our busted unions and questionable political climate.
Couched in humor and narrative, Glass offered a recipe for successful storytelling while touching on popular culture, politics, and classic fables for effect. He noted that we all have stories to tell, and that by connecting the narrative with the general human condition, we are able to share these experiences in a way that grabs the attention of the listener. According to Glass, pushing ideas beyond the mundane into the realm of creativity is about “walking through a rainstorm until you are struck by lightning.”
Indeed, lightning did strike in the theater. As audience members, we left with the realization that our own stories can add value to the lives of others, bringing joy or hope to moments of doubt and darkness. It was a privilege to experience one of America’s finest storytellers in all of his awkward grace, and I am grateful to have had such an in-depth look at the craft I have long sought to perfect.