And now, your moment of reflection

Master storyteller Ira Glass teaches us how to tell a story, and the importance of the moment of reflection. (In the third video he explains why when you are trying to do something creative you always suck, and that's okay.)

And once you've soaked up Ira's advice, you can admire Kasper Hauser's parodies: Going Postal and Phantom High School.

Comments (11)
  1. nathan_works says:

    We’ll have to agree to disagree. I keep petitioning for "This American Life" to be dropped from our local NPR affiliate. Thankfully, they’ve shuffled its time slot around so I don’t chance upon it too often anymore. It’s mundane, takes anything with potential to be interesting and grinds it to dust, then spits in your eye. Watching paint dry would be a typical cover feature for them, and just as exciting as it sounds.

    Just listening to Ira conjures images of hipsters in coffee shops. Fingernails on a chalkboard.

  2. Bob says:

    yup, just like life: some of it is brilliant, most of it mundane, some is awful.  I just switch stations if I don’t like it, but I wouldn’t deprive others either.  You could just listen to another station (via internet if not breadcast), and support them too, not just your one "local NPR affiliate".

  3. George Jansen says:

    Certain NPR programs do distill the essence of NPR–the self-love of the American educated classes–to a point that I find hard to take. "TAL" generally but not always does this.

  4. Bob says:

    @George – very much like the New Yorker, esp. its cartoons.

  5. RCCola says:

    …because taking pride in being educated/well-informed is bad.

  6. George Jansen says:

    @RC "…because taking pride in being educated/well-informed is bad".

    Delighting in knowledge is one thing, delighting in your own knowledgeable self seems to me quite another.

  7. Ashu says:

    Great clips, thanks for the post! Taste being ahead of the craft is something I’ve struggled with as long as I’ve been sentient. It does help to reflect every once in a while and realize that <analogy> even though running a four minute mile might seem impossible, in the beginning you couldn’t even crawl</analogy>.  

  8. Shog9 says:

    TAL is a mixed bag, which i suspect is kinda the point. They did one a while back interviewing mortgage brokers that was just brilliant, and a segment that’s been replayed quite a few times with a guy who used to prey on lottery winners. In these segments, the show really shines, giving common people, people we know exist but don’t really understand, a voice and venue.

    …And then there are the David Sedaris segments, where a guy with a voice made for television pretends he’s James Thurber. I don’t get it, and i’m not sure i want to… but then, there are a lot of parts of US culture like that. Perhaps, again, that is the point: to hold up a mirror that reflects not just hair and wrinkles, but also informs us of how bad we really look in *that* hat, and how maybe we should really shut off the radio and go for a walk.

  9. Nawak says:

    This Ira Glass interview, where he explains how hard it is to tell an interesting story, how hard it is to relate things in a captivating way really made me think about "Striptease", a franco-belgian show created in the mid 80’s, whose tag line is "Striptease undresses you".

    (It seems that "This American Life" is a lot like it, in the ‘theme’ at least. (it looks more ‘directed/commented’, but I can’t really tell since I couldn’t quickly find an episode of it))

    If you understand french, you HAVE to see episodes of "Striptease". There is no interviewer, no speaker, only a cameraman (and a sound-guy maybe) and they are mostly passive (just chit-chatting sometimes).

    They tell simple stories but are depriving themselves of all the coherency and ‘direction’ an interviewer or even a commentator could get from what they film. And yet, they manage to captivate audience with just these edited film clips.

    The key to their success (from what I’ve heard) is that they tell people they will not really film at the beginning, just mimicking so that they can get used to be filmed. This justifies their relative silence and allows people to go on with their lives. And of course, the camera is on. By not ‘directing’ people or making interviews, they manage to really capture the life of people. It’s like a human safari.

    There are many episodes that are truly amazing, mind boggling or even mesmerizing.

    I wish there was english translations or even subtitled versions, but I couldn’t find them.

    If you can understand french, there is an episode that I think could interest you. I chose it because it’s about computer and it’s a computer blog here :)

    It’s about a non computer-literate guy who gets a laptop to "build his website" and tries to do something with it.

    I think it’s a really humbling experience for us software designers, because that guy is falling in every possible trap laying there: putting the CD upside-down, trying to close a window behind a modal message box (at the direction of the tech support guy on the phone*), getting unanswerable questions ("Your computer did not resume properly from hibernate, would you like to disable hibernation?" No, of course not! I don’t want to lose any features!), etc.

    * The tech support guy really sounds depressed… and I understand him.

    The thing that is interesting with this clip is that it has none of the usual ‘bias’:

    It’s not funny. They are not trying to make the user look dumber than he is. You can’t blame neither the tech-support guy nor the user.

    The tech support gives perfect directions but to the wrong problem. He tells the guy to click on the "X" in the top right corner, but that can’t work because of the modal dialog.

    The user doesn’t know what a modal dialog is, or how to tell an active window from an inactive one.

    He does what the tech support guys says without second guessing, he is not rude and tries to explain what happens so that the tech guy understands the problem better.

    But how do you describe a screen when you know little about computers? Focused and unfocused windows are subtleties! And with all these things on screen, what to choose? Yes, why not tell that "something is rotating beneath"? (The little internet explorer logo spinning that no tech support guy wants to hear about). Its motion make this little detail seem important! Even the ‘Close’ tooltip appearing when he is over the ‘X’ is a wrong lead for the tech guy (modal still there!).

    Really humbling and it’s good to see that windows has improved since, and even using the old ‘distractions’ as way to attract your attention where it should be if you knew how computers talk.

    And if you liked the atmosphere, see the other clips in ‘related videos’ on youtube!

    Some are "must see"!

  10. Joe Chung says:

    "Running a four minute mile might seem impossible, in the beginning you couldn’t even crawl."  Most of us would learn to ride a bike or drive instead of run a 4 minute mile.  Perhaps your taste is not as quite "ahead of the craft" as you think.

  11. Paul M. Parks says:

    I’m a little bit surprised by the number of times he says "like" and "you know."


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