10 episodes

Each week we choose a theme. Then anything can happen. This American Life is true stories that unfold like little movies for radio. Personal stories with funny moments, big feelings, and surprising plot twists. Newsy stories that try to capture what it’s like to be alive right now. It’s the most popular weekly podcast in the world, and winner of the first ever Pulitzer Prize for a radio show or podcast. Hosted by Ira Glass and produced in collaboration with WBEZ Chicago.

This American Life This American Life

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.6 • 82.8K Ratings

Each week we choose a theme. Then anything can happen. This American Life is true stories that unfold like little movies for radio. Personal stories with funny moments, big feelings, and surprising plot twists. Newsy stories that try to capture what it’s like to be alive right now. It’s the most popular weekly podcast in the world, and winner of the first ever Pulitzer Prize for a radio show or podcast. Hosted by Ira Glass and produced in collaboration with WBEZ Chicago.

    306: Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

    306: Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

    A girl signs up for a class. A couple hires an accountant. A group of co-workers decides to pool their money and buy a couple of lottery tickets. In the beginning, they're full of hope and optimism — and then something turns. Stories of good ideas gone bad.

    Prologue: Paul was a cop. One night he was pulling second shift when he had a perfectly good idea: He'd stretch out in the back seat and take a little nap during his break. He fell right asleep, and slept well until he woke up and realized the funny thing about the back seats of cop cars: The doors don't open from the inside. Paul is author of the book Bad Cop: New York's Least Likely Police Officer Tells All. (8 minutes)

    Act One: It was two months into the tour. Katie Else and the rest of the Riverdance cast had been performing eight shows a week. They decided to pool their money for the Mega-Millions lottery. Lotto fever gripped the cast. They started to genuinely believe they would take home about $2 million each, and quit Riverdance the next day. They took the stage the night of the drawing and pulled off their best performance ever, "For the Lotto!," trying to direct their energy towards the win. An hour later, at the hotel bar, the numbers came in. (17 minutes)

    Act Two: After years of neglecting their personal finances, Joel and his wife finally decide to sort things out. They hire a tax accountant named Len, whose casual manner is a real comfort, at first. But then, "casual" turns into "drunk" and then it's clear that he's just plain delinquent. Joel tries to take his business elsewhere, but Len refuses to let go of their file. He begs for a second chance, which it seems, came too late. Joel Lovell is executive editor at Pineapple Street Media. (8 minutes)

    Act Three: Davy Rothbart was on a 136-city tour appearing on morning TV talk shows to promote his book Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World. Just before one appearance he had what seemed like a great idea at the time. Without letting the host know, he tested it out, live, on-air. Davy is the creator of Found Magazine and author of the book of essays My Heart Is An Idiot. (6 minutes)

    Act Four: When Elspeth was a girl, she wanted nothing more than her father's attention. He was busy, a doctor, and distant. One day he agrees to put on a volunteer seminar for their church, about his area of expertise: "The Function of the Heart." Elspeth and her best friend are the only two kids who show up, and Elspeth is attentive and engaged, the perfect student. It was an incredible experience for her, the best day she's ever spent with her dad...she thinks. That is, until her mother takes her aside and explains her big mistake. (8 minutes)

    • 59 min
    564: Too Soon?

    564: Too Soon?

    It can be hard to know the right moment for something to happen.

    Prologue: When Jordan was going into his senior year of high school in small town Utah, he and his buddies all lived together in a house, daring each other into Jackass-style pranks and stunts. There's one particular thing Jordan did that he did not want to talk to Ira about. (10 minutes)

    Act One: Harmon Leon is a writer and comedian whose cocktail party story about “the-weirdest-gig-I-ever-did” is more weird—by a lot—than anyone else’s we’ve heard. He answered an ad several years ago that called for a hilarious sidekick to a celebrity on a hidden camera show. (30 minutes)

    Act Two: One of the show's producers, Zoe Chace, tells Ira about a joke she made pretty soon after
    something terrible had happened.

    • 1 hr
    828: Minor Crimes Division

    828: Minor Crimes Division

    People taking it upon themselves to solve the tiny, overlooked crimes of the world.

    Prologue: Host Ira Glass bikes around Manhattan with Gersh Kuntzman, in search of illegal license plates. (11 minutes)

    Act One: Writer Michael Harriot reexamines the DIY criminal justice system his mom invented to deal with his bad behavior as a child. (20 minutes)

    Act Two: Producer Aviva DeKornfeld talks to Caveh Zahedi about a crime he may or may not have committed, depending on who you ask. (7 minutes)

    Act Three: Micaela Blei accidentally solves a crime that had been going on for a long time, right under her nose, and has to decide what to do next. She told this story onstage at The Moth. (7 minutes)

    Act Four: Editor Bethel Habte examines video evidence of two parents trying to get to the bottom of a minor crime committed in their own home. (7 minutes)

    • 59 min
    587: The Perils of Intimacy

    587: The Perils of Intimacy

    Mysteries that exist in relationships we thought couldn't possibly surprise us.

    Prologue: Ira talks to Rachel Rosenthal, who spent years trying to figure out who had stolen her identity. She was closing bank account after bank account, getting more and more paranoid, until she realized she knew exactly who the thief was. (5 minutes)

    Act One: Ira’s conversation with Rachel Rosenthal continues. She tells the story of why it took her so long to break up with her boyfriend, even after she figured out that he had stolen from her. We heard about Rachel's story via the podcast Risk! (9 minutes)

    Act Two: Producer Neil Drumming conducts an experiment to find out: can two adults, both new in town, become friends, with the right help? (16 minutes)

    Act Three: Comedian Kyle Mizono, in a live performance, tells about the time she met her hero, spent a week working with him every day, and it went really well. And then, she emailed him. (10 minutes)

    Act Four: A short story by Lydia Davis about trying to calculate the cost of a love affair. The story is read by actor Matt Malloy. (12 minutes)

    • 1 hr 2 min
    827: All the King's Horses

    827: All the King's Horses

    The things we break and the ones we can't fix.

    Prologue: Ira tells the stories of three things that broke–two of them in his own family. (8 minutes)

    Act One: A teenage whiz kid invents a new toy for Milton Bradley. Then the trouble starts. (28 minutes)

    Act Two: Reporter Dana Ballout sifts through a very long list—the list of journalists killed in the Israel-Hamas War—and comes back with five small fragments of the lives of the people on it. (10 minutes)

    Act Three: A skateboarding legend makes a final attempt at a high-flying trick. (6 minutes)

    • 1 hr
    826: Unprepared for What Has Already Happened

    826: Unprepared for What Has Already Happened

    People waking up to the fact that the world has suddenly changed.

    Prologue: Jackson Landers tells the story of a very strange decision he made one summer day. (6 minutes)

    Act One: Elena Kostyuchenko tells the story of how she was probably poisoned after reporting on Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, and how she kept not believing it was happening. Bela Shayevich translated this story from Russian and reads it for us. (21 minutes)

    Act Two: A recording of comedian Tig Notaro in the process of trying to catch up to the present and absolutely not being able to. (8 minutes)

    Act Three: Producer Zoe Chace with a political fable that she noticed playing out last week in North Carolina. (11 minutes)

    Act Four: Producer Tobin Low finds a group of people with a special relationship with the idea of catching up. (10 minutes)

    • 1 hr 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
82.8K Ratings

82.8K Ratings

Murrrrrrry ,

Beware Of This Show!

Oh sure, This American Life almost always begins with some rollicking, humors piece directly related to its theme. You’ll hear Ira interview someone to a backdrop of fun, upbeat or whimsical music….You can’t help but get sucked in.

But know this, and know it well: Ira Glass is an insidious and manipulative genius. Sure you’ll start out the hour laughing (maybe harder than you’ve ever laughed at a public radio show) but inevitably and seamlessly, in a completely unconscious manner your emotions will be turned inside out and you’ll end the hour sobbing in your car, in the Target parking lot you’ve been parked in for the last 40 minutes. And sometimes you won’t even know why you’re crying, all you’ll know is that some sort of emotional release is needed before reintegrating yourself into the outside world.

Remember how the television show The Outer Limits began with the warning, “We have taken control of your TV….” well, Ira Glass and Co. take control of your emotional state with full reign to raise you to dizzying heights of euphoric happiness or plung you down, down into unsettling depths of despair.

So beware. The stories within have the ability cling to you for days, weeks, month, or even a lifetime. That’s why I never miss a show.

Callipygian ,

The Last Remaining Reason to Own a Radio is Gone

The podcast itself is evidence of the producers' dedication to their art. I've purchased this program for the last couple of years from Audible. I held on to an XM Radio subscription only because they added TAL to their lineup. I've streamed it online. I even offered to help my local public radio station raise money to carry the program JUST so they could carry TAL. The fact that it is now available as a free podcast is a great public service. Since Audible will be refunding this year's subscription price, I plan to send the money to my local public radio affiliate. Thanks, Ira and Gang!!

wurdNinja ,

Wish I could give it six stars, because it outshines SO MUCH of radio.

I don't know if it's true for you, but I am SO very tired of listening to ridiculous, air-headed, disingenuous disc jockeys handing me "life trivia" stories of "public interest." Most of the time their false giggles make me want to puke.
This American Life is so very different from any other radio experience I've probably ever had or will have. It captures, as well as it can, in audible form, the human condition, in all its delicious and uncanny glory. Glass may well be suited to manipulate his audience into convulsive laughter or tears, but I have never finished broadcast feeling as though I were duped into feeling anything. Each one of the participating storytellers edits his or her tale brilliantly and with individual flourish. I would be loathe not to admit that it sometimes can be geekily playful, but really, my friends, if you're telling yourself you've never been a geek about anything, you need to check your pulse. You're downloading podcasts for goodness' sake. Regardless, this is an excellent, moving and already blazingly popular radio program, so if you don't listen to it already, you should at least give it a try. I have NEVER heard an unsatisfying show yet from Glass and his crew.

Top Podcasts In Society & Culture

Inconceivable Truth
Stuff You Should Know
Fallen Angels: A Story of California Corruption
Freakonomics Radio
Freakonomics Radio + Stitcher
Shawn Ryan Show
Shawn Ryan | Cumulus Podcast Network
Unlocking Us with Brené Brown
Vox Media Podcast Network

You Might Also Like

WNYC Studios
The Moth
The Moth
Fresh Air
Hidden Brain
Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam
Spotify Studios
The Daily
The New York Times

More by WBEZ

Serial Productions & The New York Times
Serial Productions
Sound Opinions
Sound Opinions
Curious City
WBEZ Chicago
WBEZ Chicago
The Pie: An Economics Podcast
Becker Friedman Institute at UChicago