Life’ lessons

Ira Glass, host and executive producer of “This American Life,” modestly says he can’t believe he’s made it as far as he has in radio “with a voice that sounds like your little brother’s.”

Every week “This American Life” chronicles the sublime and often moving weirdness of living in America for an audience of 1.4 million. From the story of a police officer who nearly burns down a house trying to catch a squirrel, to a riveting account of a non-believer who follows a group of Christians praying, block by block, for the souls of Colorado Springs, “This American Life,” has revitalized storytelling on the radio.

“This American Life” will be doing a live show 7 p.m. Friday, May 16, at the Keller Auditorium. Tickets are available from $25 through Ticketmaster at 503-790-ARTS.

Jacob Fenton: In one of the most recently aired episodes, the son of a deaf woman who channels an ancient Buddhist monk named Aaron returns home to ask the really important questions, like, ‘Is my mother crazy?’ and ‘What does Aaron, the channeled monk, do, when the parents have sex?’ Could you talk a little about how this episode came about, and what the son learns through it?

Ira Glass: Yeah, that’s a really typical story for our show in that, I think a lot of journalistic outfits, if they had someone do a story about channeling, would be something of a kind of smirking quality to it, but the guy who did that story, Davey Rothbart, really adores his mom and in fact is really, really funny with her and is constantly joking around with her and its fun to listen to them talk.

There’s none of the condescension, and he went into that story realizing that when he was a little kid his mom started channeling this, like, ancient, 2000 year old being and she turned it into a little cottage industry where Aaron, the ancient being gives advice to people and counsels them and teaches them Buddhism.

Davey realized as an adult in his early twenties that he and his brothers had never really stopped to talk about whether they really believed that Aaron was real. And we’re like “That’s a story, man!” and lucky for us, it laid out exactly as you’d want it if you’re doing a piece of nonfiction.

One of the brothers was pretty sure that Aaron was real, pretty much absolutely believed. The second brother, was deeply skeptical, pretty much didn’t believe and didn’t care, and Davey, who does the story, really didn’t know what to believe, and what happens over the course of the story is that he just kind of goes through figuring out what to think about the whole thing, and he also gets to ask Aaron and his mom some really tough questions about the whole thing.

JF: Even though you’ve moved away from traditional forms of journalism, “This American Life,” still does, occasionally, shows that are based around current events.

IG: We do sometimes. That’s something that’s come about in the last few years. Basically, for the first three or four years of the show, our motto was: “Nothing in the news, nothing you can read about elsewhere, no one famous.” Our feeling was, everything else in the media was about famous people, the news, and the issues. So the first few years it was just applying the tools of journalism to everyday life. …

Three or four years ago, as a staff, we decided that it would be interesting to take what we were doing, which was shows in a certain style, which were sort of movies for radio, and basically take that and go back and try to tackle some of the news stories that other people do. …

One of our shows in the last few months was this kid who grew up in California and his dad ran a shop where they sold, like, Fubu and surfer clothes. His dad was an exiled Afghani who used to be very political in Afghanistan and when the Taliban got kicked out, Hamid Kharzi basically called up his dad and said, “Hey why don’t you come down here and help us out.” And this kid, who’s just about to go to college, became the first American teenager to move back to Afghanistan. He took a tape recorder with him to record what it was like. And just over the course of the summer that he was taping, he totally changes in this really amazing way. A story like that is about stuff that we’ve all read about in the news, but done in a way, which for me, is so much more interesting to hear because there’s somebody who’s easy to relate to at the heart of it and going through something that’s easy to relate to.

JF:Could you give us a preview of the show you’re doing Friday without ruining it?

IG:The main thing I would say is that there is a bunch of stuff that the radio audience will not ever see or hear about. Sarah Vowel, who’s on our show all the time, who’s really funny and great, does this whole story which evolves on stage going back and forth with the band. We have every form of entertainment. We have sad stories. We have funny stories. There’s a band, a pretty great band. There’s a theremin player. There’s cartoons (laughs). There’s not dancing. It didn’t seem like people wanted dancing, and if people haven’t heard the radio show, they’ll probably still like the live show …

It includes Davey Rothbart who finds pieces of paper that people have dropped on the street and he brings them up on stage including a four page play that we do on stage, except that he’s lost page three, so we perform it with anyway with a gap that sounds really funny.

“This American Life” airs on KOPB, 91.5 FM, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.. Back issues of the show can be heard online at