About a month ago, I had the awesome experience of listening to Ira Glass speak before a theater audience here in Portland, Oregon. He spoke about things such as politics, the American media, the newly released Sleepwalk With Me (a movie co-written by Mr. Glass and co-produced by “This American Life”), and storytelling. If anyone can tell a story, Ira Glass can tell a story.
The last hour or so of our time together (I like to think we had a conversation, even if what that means was that I was feverishly taking mental notes in my head and trying to memorize everything he said), was spent in a Q+A format. People lined up at microphones in three areas of the theater and he answered questions ranging in topic from the music chosen on This American Life to his personal life to culture to music to pets. Finally, we were running out of time, and he said, “Alright, we only have time for two more questions.” The second-to-last person asked their question, Ira Glass answered it, and then turned towards the woman at the mic on stage left.
“Last question,” he said.
The woman standing there opened by pointing at the person behind her, and saying,
“This gentleman offered me $100 to let him have the last question. Now, I work for OPB [Oregon Public Broadcasting], so I could use that hundred bucks, but I said no, because I have a question, and I want my chance to ask it.”
I don’t remember what her actual question was. What I do remember is what happened next. Ira Glass made a point to call out the guy who’d tried to bribe this woman, and then went on to praise this fellow public radio employee for standing her ground, refusing the bribe, and getting her question in. He then walked backstage, grabbed his wallet, took out a hundred dollar bill, and handed it to the woman. He ended on a note about integrity, and with that, the show was over.
Now, I’m not one of those people who’s been listening to This American Life for years. In fact, I’d only heard bits and pieces of the show a few times. But I know that after these couple of hours spent listening Ira Glass, I now understand why we consider him to be one of the best storytellers of our time. I left the theater feeling inspired (to keep telling stories) and encouraged (to act with integrity, even in small ways, even when no one may have ever known if you took the $100).
I know that I’ve listened to every episode of This American Life since we saw him speak in person, and that the information swimming around in my head space is a more interesting and varied mix of ideas and knowledge than it was before I made that a part of my week.
A couple of months before this, I was in another local theater listening to Jane Lynch talk with OPB’s Dave Miller, and between these two experiences, I’ve learned that I really enjoy seeing and hearing smart people share a little bit about how they do what they do, how they create the work they create, and what joy it brings them to be able to share this with the world.