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The convergence is coming

Public Radio host Ira Glass talks about NASCAR, journalism, dance and firecrackers.
Ira Glass is taking radio in a different direction by adding dancers to his new stage show.
Image by Stuart Mullenberg
Ira Glass is taking radio in a different direction by adding dancers to his new stage show.

Everyone’s a critic. Directors, musicians, politicians, and chefs all get a good thrashing in both professional reviews and candid conversation among friends.

But what happens when the subject of your criticism, someone you thought you’d never meet, actually calls you out?

That was an unintended outcome of A&E’s interview with Ira Glass, the host of the popular public radio show “This American Life.”

Glass toured the country with stage versions of the show, in which he simply stands on stage, talking about the production process and playing audio clips.

 His new theater show, “One Radio Host, Two Dancers,” is similar, but it uses dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass to interpret the stories.

 A few weeks ago, I told my friend Mike about my upcoming interview with Ira Glass and his new theater show. Mike is a fan of “This American Life” but thought the idea of combining radio stories with interpretive dance sounded, well, stupid.

Surprisingly, Glass said he knows audiences come to the show thinking “that it’s gonna suck.”

“Nobody listened to my radio show and said, ‘You know what this really needs is some modern dancers.’ Nobody in the world wants that,” Glass said.

When I told Glass about my friend who didn’t want to see the show, Glass gave him a call. After Mike realized that it wasn’t a prank, Glass got to the heart of the issue.

“And, mainly, it’s not corny, it’s not dumb and it’s not pretentious. You’re not going to sit there wondering, ‘Am I getting this?’” Glass said. “And if you buy tickets and you don’t like it, I will personally give you the money back in cash. You can just come backstage afterward.”

Glass even gave his cell phone number to my friend to prove his point.

The rest of the interview with Glass was just as unpredictable as the three-way phone call with my friend Mike. One minute we were talking about the high cost of producing paint-by-numbers sets, and the next he was telling me about dancing in Yoko Ono’s new music video with the Beastie Boys, Roberta Flack and Questlove. My attempt to talk about “One Radio Host, Two Dancers” as a metaphor for convergence journalism led to off-the-wall responses about machines taking over the world, NASCAR and NBC anchor Brian Williams.


Does presenting your material in a different form bring out a different result?

This is like a little bit of a stoner kind of thought, but [having dancers] turns the experience into something more universal and mythic. So every story has more power by the fact that there’s this element that’s kind of abstract but kind of representational.

For me, to perform [“This American Life”], it’s like I’m going out with somebody who I really like and we’re having a nice long talk. And it’s really fun. And there’s a lot of joking around.

And [“One Radio Host, Two Dancers”] feels like that, plus we’re throwing firecrackers everywhere and confetti is going off now and then, metaphorically. It just feels like things are exploding all over the place in this way, which is really, um … This is the most stoner interview I’ve ever done, which is really fun to do. Nobody has ever asked me to describe the feeling of what it’s like to perform something on stage.

The reason I’m asking these questions is this buzzword — that if you want to survive in journalism, you have to latch on to this “convergence” idea.

Wait, is convergence the thing where the machines get intelligence? What’s that one called?

I don’t know. Artificial intelligence?

It’s the singularity. That’s what it is. Is it going to be like the singularity where all of the computers develop intelligence and decide to destroy us? I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Explain it again.

It’s like TV is no longer just TV, and radio is no longer just radio. Everything is blended together, in reference to journalism.

I don’t think your journalism professors were referring to, “And also, dance is totally going to be part of that. Let’s add a means of expression that predates the alphabet.”

But what if they did? What if that was the whole point? Like, this is convergence to the extreme.

If that’s the case, then I want to push it further and go totally the way of … body paint. And combining radio stories and … NASCAR. The marketing possibilities are crazy, when you think about it. The money to be made.

People are shouting the quotes to you from windows as the race cars pass you by: “And then she said …” And then the next car comes up, and some lady yells out the next line, and the next car is like, “But anyway, it turns out that wasn’t truuuuue.” And then the next car is like, “We sent out a private detective and what we leeeeearned.” And then the final car with the answer crashes, and it stays a mystery.

I’m just going to pitch that the next time I have a story.

Please do. No, I’m going to get a copyright on that, so you’re going to have to act fast.

The craft is a little different if you’re doing it on TV or print or radio or the Internet as a blog or something. But in the end, the kind of reasoning, thinking, investigating and interviewing you’re doing aren’t that different. I hear stuff like that and I just think, “What’s the big deal?”

I feel like journalism needs to get over itself or something. And I say that with respect. People have high standards and are interested in the world. It’s gonna be fine.

Is this [show] the convergence that people talk about journalism doing? I would love it if this becomes so popular that every major journalistic outfit, in addition to having a web presence and a mobile app, has to put out its own dance show. If the New York Times and CNN and Brian Williams — you can tell that that guy is kind of a good mover — if they have to do their own journalism-plus-dance show, that is my new goal as of this interview.

Someday, people are going to be looking back on this show as like, “Remember when that show came through before everybody was doing dance and journalism together? Were you at that one?”

“No, I didn’t go to that one. It sounded stupid.”

You’re not going to want to be that person. What they’re about to witness is journalism history. These quotes are going to look so pompous written down.

These are exactly the kinds of quotes that are really funny when you say them in a conversation on the phone. But then you look at the newspaper and you see them and go, “Was I drunk when I did that interview? I don’t remember being drunk that afternoon.”

OK, so we’re set, right? You have plenty for a short article.

We have plenty, yeah.

If you decide to release this as your own podcast, I support you in that. That will help you with the convergence. No, seriously. It’s going to help you. The convergence is coming, 10 minutes before or after the singularity, so you gotta be ready for that.


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