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The Daily Tar Heel

Ira Glass visits UNC, charms Memorial Hall

Public radio host charms Memorial

Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,”  amused at UNC on Saturday.
Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” amused at UNC on Saturday.

Soon after he started out in radio, Ira Glass “invented” the perfect storytelling formula.

Friends have since pointed out that he isn’t the first to have cracked the secret of narrative storytelling. Not that the popular public radio host likes to admit that.

“I personally invented this, not Jesus,” Glass said, eventually acknowledging that the structure of Jesus Christ’s parables bear some resemblance to the style of stories featured on “This American Life.”

Saturday night, Glass walked a sold-out crowd through the process of narrative storytelling with excerpts from the radio show weaved into stories of his own.

“Radio Stories & Other Stories,” hosted by the Carolina Union Activities Board, mirrored the style of each episode of “This American Life,” which is structured around first-person stories and fiction pieces on a specific theme.

A champion of everyday stories told in interesting ways, Glass made a pitch for plainspoken and conversational reporting.

Glass shies away from the “fake gravitas” used by other broadcast journalists, describing them as “news robots speaking their news robot language to other news robots.”

He blames those types of “know-it-alls” for the decline of mainstream media audiences and the rise of opinion commentary by the likes of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly (who “talks like a crazy person, but a person at least,” Glass said).

There was no mistaking Glass for a news robot Saturday. Giggling boyishly at his own jokes and pausing the show twice to sneak a sneeze, Glass warmed the audience over with quips about UNC’s men’s basketball team, The Daily Tar Heel’s kvetching board and that other university down the road.

“Who is Cherie Berry? Did she get her job because of her beautiful penmanship?” Glass asked, referencing a Friday kvetch.

With his candid confession about his early struggles to master the art of radio, Glass also tried to reassure hundreds of soon-to-be liberal arts graduates about their own careers.

“It’s totally OK to be mediocre for a long time,” he said. “You have to be a f--king soldier.”

Saying that it takes time to learn what works and what doesn’t, Glass pushed the audience to keep working through any initial difficulties.

“In order to get lightning to strike you have to go out into the rain.”

Contact the Arts Editor at arts@unc.edu.

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