Listen to Ira Glass’ 10 Favorite Episodes of This American Life

American Life Titles

Even when one is a long­time, jad­ed denizen of a major city, celebri­ty sight­ings can still induce a thrill. Dur­ing my tenure in New York City, I ran across my share of famous names, though I’ve nev­er been one to both­er a stranger, world famous or no. This almost changed when I ran past Ira Glass one evening and found myself sore­ly tempt­ed to chat him up. I’m sure he’d be glad I resist­ed the urge, but hav­ing heard his voice on the radio every week for well over a decade… well, I felt like I knew him.

Since 1995, Glass has host­ed This Amer­i­can Life, per­haps the most pop­u­lar pub­lic radio show ever pro­duced and—before its huge­ly suc­cess­ful spin-off Ser­i­al—the most pop­u­lar pod­cast in the U.S. The show is quick­ly approach­ing its twen­ty-year anniver­sary (its first episode aired Novem­ber 17th; hear it here), and in hon­or of that mile­stone, we revis­it anoth­er: the show’s 500th episode, which aired in 2013. For that occa­sion, Buz­zfeed vis­it­ed with Glass for a reveal­ing inter­view.

Though he respond­ed to episode 500 with typ­i­cal understatement—saying it felt “more like an odome­ter rolling over than any­thing else”—many fans of the show, myself includ­ed, felt a great deal more enthu­si­asm, as did Los Ange­les’ KPCC, who brings us the list below of Glass’ top ten episodes (includ­ing one two-parter). Glass not­ed that his top picks also hap­pen to be fan favorites as well. You can hear all of his favorites at the links below:

  • Notes on Camp
  • Harp­er High School One and Two
  • The Giant Pool of Mon­ey
  • Some­where in the Ara­bi­an Sea — “I love how fun­ny and human-sized every­one is in this show. It’s a sur­pris­ing­ly fun­ny show about the war on ter­ror,” Glass writes.
  • Switched at Birth — Glass: “The struc­ture of this show — where the whole episode you won­der how a mom could know for decades she was rais­ing the wrong baby and final­ly, she answers it in the end — is per­fect.”
  • Break-Up — “The stand­out sto­ry is Star­lee Kine’s essay on breakup songs, which includes an inter­view with Phil Collins that’s so men­schy and real, it changed how I saw him for­ev­er.”
  • Babysit­ting — “Espe­cial­ly the inter­view with Myron Jones, which is the best inter­view I’ve ever done, main­ly because he had so much grace and humor talk­ing about his past. Any ques­tion I could think of, he’d come back with an amaz­ing sto­ry, which is rare.”
  • My Big Break — “David Segal takes a turn in the mid­dle of this sto­ry that’s one of my favorite reveals in any radio sto­ry ever.”
  • Harold Wash­ing­ton — “How can you go wrong when the cen­tral fig­ure in your sto­ry is fun­ny and can­tan­ker­ous and big­heart­ed and ide­al­is­tic and utter­ly prag­mat­ic and on top of all that, total­ly charis­mat­ic? If you don’t know who Harold is, be pre­pared for a treat.”
  • Heretics — “Carl­ton Pear­son, like Harold, is some­one they should make a movie about, for lots of the same rea­sons. An ide­al­is­tic preach­er whose ide­al­ism costs him pret­ty much every­thing: the church he runs, his rep­u­ta­tion, his for­tune, near­ly his fam­i­ly.”

As a spe­cial treat, Glass also shared with Buz­zfeed the doc­u­ment at the top of the post, a page of ideas for alter­nate titles for the show orig­i­nal­ly called Your Radio Play­house. Before renam­ing the show in March of 1996, Glass and his crew con­sid­ered such titles as the unin­spir­ing “Amer­i­can What­ev­er,” weird “Mouth Noise,” and goofy “Ira Glass and his Radio Cow­boys.”

I kind of wish they’d gone with the lat­ter, but it’s hard to imag­ine the show we know as This Amer­i­can Life could ever have been called any­thing else. (See it pen­ciled in almost as an after­thought above.) The show’s title per­fect­ly sums up the breadth and scope of a pro­gram that tack­les every­thing from the triv­ial to the high­ly con­se­quen­tial, often back-to-back in the same themed hour. Though Glass would sure­ly balk at such high praise, I think his show has done more to help Amer­i­cans know and under­stand our­selves over the last twen­ty years than near­ly any­thing else on radio, TV, or the pod­cast­ing world.

via KPCC

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ira Glass’ Advice on Achiev­ing Cre­ative Excel­lence Pre­sent­ed in Two Art­ful, Typo­graph­ic Videos

Ira Glass on the Art and Craft of Telling Great Radio Sto­ries

This Amer­i­can Life Demys­ti­fies the Amer­i­can Health­care Sys­tem

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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