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.
810: Say It to My Face
Friends and ex-friends finally talk about the one thing between them they've been avoiding.
Prologue: Host Ira Glass tells a story he’s never told anyone before, about something someone said to him. (4 minutes)
Act One: Gabe Mollica had something important he needed to discuss with his friend — stewed about it for eight years. But rather than go to that friend, he talked about it with everyone other than that one person. (28 minutes)
Act Two: Jasmine and Gabbie are best friends. BFFs! But there’s something major that they’ve never been able to talk about. Something so important that it makes them wonder, who does this person even think I am? (23 minutes)
809: The Call
One call to a very unusual hotline, and everything that followed.
Prologue: Ira talks about a priest who set up what may have been the first hotline in the United States. It was just him, answering a phone, trying to help strangers who called. (2 minutes)
Act One: The Never Use Alone hotline was set up so that drug users can call if they are say, using heroin by themselves. Someone will stay on the line with them in case they overdose. We hear the recording of one call, from a woman named Kimber. (13 minutes)
Act Two: An EMT learns he was connected to the call, in more ways than he realized. (16 minutes)
Act Three: Jessie, who took the call, explains how she discovered the hotline. She keeps in touch with Kimber. Until one day, Kimber disappears. (16 minutes)
Act Four: We learn what happened to Kimber after she called the line. (10 minutes)
388: Rest Stop
Nine radio reporters. Two days. One rest stop on the New York State Thruway. Stories of people who are just passing through, and the ones who can’t leave, because this is where their jobs are.
Act One: Host Ira Glass describes scenes from a rest stop on the New York State Thruway, the Plattekill Travel Plaza, and the kind of people you might meet if you ever stayed long enough to talk with them. These include Robert Woodhill, the general manager, who needs a good sales day so he can beat his friend Andy, who manages a rest stop in Maine, in their weekly competition. Ira hangs out with a group of foreign students who’ve landed in Plattekill on a summer work program, and reporter Lisa Pollak gets travel tips from Lenny Wheat, who works at the rest stop’s information booth. Reporter Jonathan Goldstein spends a few hours in the rest stop parking lot. (30 minutes)
Act Two: More stories of travelers and workers at a highway rest stop. The competition between Plattekill and Maine continues. Reporter Sean Cole observes the lunch rush at the rest stop’s busiest restaurant and stumbles into a behind-the-scenes romance. Reporter Gregory Warner watches a cashier at the Travel Mart deal with an angry customer. Reporters Nancy Updike and Jay Allison hang out for the graveyard shift – midnight to 8 a.m. – and find a surprising amount of romance at the rest stop. (26 minutes)
323: The Super
The mysterious hold supers have on their buildings, or that their buildings have on them.
Host Ira Glass visits the Upper East Side building in Manhattan where Peter Roach has been the super for about ten years. Peter has a lot of keys. He doesn't know what most of them unlock. (4 minutes)
Act One: Reporter Jack Hitt tells the story of how he helped organize tenants and threaten a rent strike in a New York City building back in the 1980s. Before long, Bob, the building super became his enemy. The situation got pretty ugly. Mobster ugly. Bob began to brag about how important he was in his native Brazil, how he could kill a person and be immune from prosecution. Only many years later did Jack find out how dangerous Bob really was. (23 minutes)
Act Two: The super in Josh Bearman's Los Angeles building was kind of a needy character. He would sometimes ask Josh to come into his apartment and help him out -- check whether his garbage was being moved by a ghost, for example. Then one day he told Josh a story that involved these elements: a gas station, a beautiful woman, an orchid, a snowman, Indonesia, and a check he'd written for $30,000. It was so crazy, that naturally, Josh believed it. (12 minutes)
Act Three: A man who we're calling "Dennis" inherits his father's job as a landlord of a big apartment building. His dad had warned him that bad tenants could drive even a good man to become heartless, but Dennis vowed that would never happen to him. He's tested on this point when he tries to help a couple that falls behind in their rent. He sets up a payment plan for them, teaches them how to make a budget, helps them with their personal problems. For six years, he stops himself from kicking them out. This story was co-produced by Sonari Glinton. (16 minutes)
808: The Rest of the Story
Legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey had a popular show called “The Rest of the Story.” Today on our show, we do just that. We hear from people who, whether they want to or not, find themselves face-to-face with the rest of their stories.
Prologue: Legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey had one of the most popular radio shows of all time. For 35 years he served up big twists and jaw dropping reveals all with his one-of-a-kind delivery. (7 minutes)
Act One: Psychiatry used to be all talk. Then came a patient named Ray Osheroff. Producer Chris Benderev tells us what became of the man who changed therapy. (26 minutes)
Act Two: Contributor Samuel James thought he knew what happened to his mother. But he was wrong. Then he was wrong again. (9 minutes)
Act Three: A new resident in Berlin is greeted like a minor celebrity wherever she goes. The perks are nice, but does she really want to know why? Producer Bim Adewunmi has the rest of the story. (14 minutes)
807: Eight Fights
Nadia's family is split between Russia and Ukraine, which is pretty common. And when Russia invaded Ukraine, it didn’t just start fighting on the battlefield. It sparked family conflict, too. An intimate story of the war from writer Masha Gessen.
Prologue: An extended family, and eight fights. (1 minutes)
Fight #1: Luka’s parents – Nadia and Karen – try to figure out where to take him once war breaks out. (6 minutes)
Fight #2: Nadia and Karen have been arguing over Russian-ness since they needed to pick a school for Luka. (10 minutes)
Fights #3 and #4: Nadia remembers the times that Luka’s father would suggest going to Crimea for vacation, as if it wasn’t Ukrainian land occupied by Russia. And she remembers a present that Karen once gave Luka––the sort which had to be smuggled into the country. (6 minutes)
Fight #5: Nadia tells the story of her father, Alex, who lives near Bucha, and how differently he and she view the Russian atrocities there. (10 minutes)
Fight #6: Nadia tells the story of her mother, who lives in Russia, and how she won’t do the one thing Nadia keeps asking her to do. (2 minutes)
Fight #7: Karen sends Nadia a photo which drives them to a final showdown. (12 minutes)
Fight #8: Nadia’s step-father works for the Russian government. How to manage that? (4 minutes)
Epilogue: Nadia and Karen’s son, Luka, who most of these fights are about, gets the last word. (3 minutes)
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.
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!!
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.