This American Life fans galore crowded together last night for the closing night of the IFC Center’s Stranger Than Fiction series. Hosted by Thom Powers, the event included a discussion with Ira Glass, the founder of the beloved radio show, and Christopher Wilcha, the director of its Showtime spawn, as well as behind-the-scenes clips from the first season and a sneak peek at the second (which starts in May).
Glass described the television version of the show as an experiment he kept putting aside. “When Showtime came to us, we kept raising our conditions, hoping they’d go away, but they agreed to everything,” he laughed. And regarding the transition from radio to the small screen? “Radio has never seemed so easy,” Glass said. “There are different risks associated with television, a greater vulnerability. We have to make sure that our audience can relate to the person at the center of the story.”
Indeed, there were some hurdles in the transition between meduims, with one of the more pressing questions being what to do with Ira. “We considered never showing his face and having him as this omnipotent voice,” Wilcha said. Avid viewers know how this dilemma was resolved; Glass’ desk appears in myriad landscapes, from the desert to suburban backyards, as a way to emulate the iconic image of a radio host and to create a visual space that achieves the reflective nature of the show’s radio version. And obstacles of varying degree continue to arise; more recently, humorist and This American Life contributor Dave Sedaris agreed to be on the show so long as he doesn’t ever appear on screen. “We’ll just have to figure out a way to animate him,” Glass laughed.
Selected video clips for the evening included a story about a 14 year-old boy who doesn’t believe in love (unless, of course, he can access a Dungeons & Dragons-like portal so that he and his companion can spend their days battling monsters, then he’d consider it), an artist’s efforts to recreate biblical scenes by rounding up Utah’s scarce population of bearded men (here we learned about the similarities between Wal-Mart and Mormonism … educational!), and finally, a look at a young man from Iraq who set up a Peanuts-inspired “Talk to an Iraqi” booth in public places ranging from the beach to a car dealership parking lot. The questions and comments he received ranged from an inquisitive, “Are there fat people there?” to a sincere apology from an 11 year-old girl, once again providing the audience with a wide spectrum of individuals that make up this American life (oh, we are suckers for a good pun…).