Meeting Ira Glass, and a story worthy of This American Life
It must be weird to be a famous person. Realizing that you will encounter other humans on a regular basis who want to engage with you because they feel like they know you -- and also realizing that you have to be cordial during 99 percent of these interactions or you look like a jerk -- sounds exhausting.
Oh, look. It's a people with glasses convention.
Fame is also relative to each person's perspective, which is why some people probably don't know or care about Ira Glass. (He is, after all, a relatively faceless celebrity, even for his millions of radio listeners who have probably not Googled his image.) But as I stood hugging the perimeter of the VIP meet-and-greet tent at Chautauqua Auditorium Saturday evening before his appearance there, trying not to stress-eat an entire shiny tray of baklava while contemplating my entry-point sentence, I watched as Glass expertly navigated through dozens of potentially graceless conversations with total strangers -- and was amazed by his stamina.
I talk to strangers on a daily basis; it's part of my job as a reporter to engage with people I don't know in a way that makes them feel comfortable enough to tell me things about themselves. But this guy was a fucking champ, smiling and posing with a ten-year-old cool nerd in a collared shirt, entertaining pitch after pitch from random folks who probably saw this event as their one chance to get their "incredible" story set to atmospheric music and shared with the world on public radio. The place was swarming with dorks (like me) who thought that Ira Glass and the writers and producers and broadcast journalists of National Public Radio were the shit!
In a nutshell, this strange, hour-long snack time in a tent in Boulder is what fame is really about at this level: being the not-awkward person in a room full of weirdos who are in love with you in some capacity. And the love in this joint was thick, like a shark tank disguised as a cocktail hour, except at a regular cocktail hour, most people wander around drinking as much as possible, snagging any and all free swag and avoiding the most important guy in the room.
I watched as the flock slowly backed Glass closer and closer into the corner near the ginger lemonade dispenser, making me so uncomfortable for him that at one point, I myself wanted to leave. But the whole time he stood there smiling and engaging each person, face-to-face. (He even had a really comfortable-looking signature pose that he did for photographs, making it appear that you and Ira were good friends hanging out, just by the way he was standing.)
As the clock struck 6:40 p.m., my inner dialogue went the consolation route: Even if I didn't meet Ira Glass in person, at least I was given the chance to interview him over the phone and, later, be in the same room -- er, tent -- with him. That was enough cool points for life for me. However, my extra-pushy (because she's from New York -- upstate, but whatever, same difference) roommate was my guest of honor at this meet-and-greet I'd so graciously been given a chance to attend, and she was not going to let me leave without meeting-and-greeting Ira Glass.
The bulk of humans surrounding him seemed to be loosening its collective grip, and my roommate was able to creep closer to Ira -- repeatedly glancing at me and then glancing at him, as if to introduce us via our eyes. Then, out of nowhere, a women stepped into the small opening of the circle and unleashed the greatest story never told to Ira Glass before.
She told him how she had changed her course of studies to journalism after listening to This American Life. She told him she loved David Rakoff's work and it inspired her to keep going -- because she had a brain tumor that she had been living with for ten years and had been documenting the experience.
Then she started crying, but for a good reason. I mean, this was a super-serious part of her life, and she was getting to share it with Ira Glass, in person. It was in that moment that I felt myself turn into this selfish, seething, George Costanza-like version of myself. All I could think was, Great: How in the hell am I supposed to follow a story like that?
And the truth was, I couldn't follow that story. My roommate budged her way in and made a vocal segue that sounded something like, "Ira! Meet Bree Davies!" -- at which point everything went blurry and I just wanted to die.
Ira Glass was so polite, and even remembered our twenty-minute phone chat a few days prior. (For the record, he called me six minutes earlier than our scheduled interview time, resulting in the single greatest message ever left on my voice mail because it is from Ira Glass, the man with an unmistakable voice. Also, our phone numbers are only one digit different, resulting in my deluded mind believing it is somehow fate that translates to him one day giving me my dream radio job.) During our phone conversation, he'd told me that surprise is what makes for a great This American Life piece. The woman ahead of me in line definitely qualifies.
The moral of this story: if you want to impress a famous person, don't get in line to meet him behind a brave lady with a brain tumor.
Ira Glass will be back in Denver on December 7, when he'll join forces with Monica Bill Barnes & Company for an evening of dance and radio in Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Tickets are on sale now at denvercenter.org.