‘This American Life’ takes the stage

Stuart Mullenberg

If you don’t regularly listen to public radio, Ira Glass is just another eloquent, well-dressed guy. But if you do? Well then, Ira Glass is something of a rock star, whose signature uniform of a slim-fitting suit and black-framed glasses makes for a viral dog Halloween costume (Google it).

“It is 100-percent totally weird,” says Glass of this Halloween’s popular (in some circles, at least) doggie get-up. “I don’t know if this is the type of thing that’s supposed to happen to a person. I’m like, I guess it’s OK? It is a little weird that a suit and glasses is me. I’m at a very peculiar level of famous.”

Part of his almost-famous status is, of course, a hazard of the job. As the creator and host of “This American Life,” Glass’ endearingly nasal voice is familiar, iconic even, after 19 years on the air. And yet, that might change as the popular program takes to the stage more frequently, as it will this weekend as part of the First Person Arts Festival.

It’s a switching of gears that Glass welcomes, if one he’s not particularly prepared for after decades alone in the studio.

“Not being seen is certainly one of the upsides to radio. I wear the same outfit every day. I only have three different shirts,” he admits. “But it’s also fun to be in front of people and get immediate feedback from an audience. Working in radio, we can’t tell. We make the show for the people in our office, basically, and then send it out and hope that people like it.”

Behind the scenes

Titled “Reinventing Radio,” Saturday’s live show at the Merriam Theater will offer a behind-the-scenes look at how Glass and his team create the weekly show, as well as explore the evolution and possibilities of broadcast journalism. It’s worth listening, closely, if you’re interested in storytelling in the age of Buzzfeed and iPhones: Despite being a radio program, “This American Life” is as relevant as ever, with a wildly popular podcast and a just-launched, much-buzzed spinoff, “Serial.”

“It turns out that the thing we were making before the Internet was a force happens to fit in,” says Glass. “This show where people are talking to you, as if in a friendly conversation, meshed rather seamlessly and caught on quickly, luckily.”

Luck, possibly. But couldn’t it also be that when you produce solid work that people connect to week in and week out, you’ll never be at the mercy of the technology du jour? Maybe, but good luck getting Glass to deviant from his patented brand of Unfailing Politeness Meets Charming Curiosity.

“There might be some truth in that,” he concedes. “But there’s also luck.”

This American pitch

Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few “This American Life” stories are fished out of the unsolicited pitch pile. What do Glass and his producers look for when story hunting? Although there’s no sure-fire recipe, Glass has a tip: “The most important thing is that it needs to have a surprise, a twist. And, of course, it helps if that’s sad.”

If you go

‘Reinventing Radio: An Evening with Ira Glass’

Saturday, 8 p.m.

The Merriam Theater



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