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kottke.org posts about Ira Glass

The Gap Between Having Good Taste and Doing Good Work

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 24, 2020

I’ve shared this observation from Ira Glass about the gap between having good taste and doing good creative work before, but I ran across it the other day and thought it was worth highlighting again. Here’s a partial transcript (courtesy of James Clear):

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

The full interview from which the video above is excerpted can be found here. Notably, Glass’s advice matches that of this parable from Art & Fear.

Interviewing Ira Glass

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

ira_glass.jpg

One of the troubles with interviewing Ira Glass is that Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about interviews.

Claudia Dreifus: When we first discussed doing this, you asked if I had heard a recent Terry Gross interview with Howard Stern. Why was that?

Ira Glass: Because it was an interviewer interviewing an interviewer. It was interesting to hear him appreciate her moves. He also clearly had no idea who she is. He admitted, “I sort of looked you up last night.” Whereas I know Terry has been listening for years.

To be clear: he’s an excellent interviewer. Part of the pleasure was hearing these two iconic radio voices talking to each other. Stern clearly admired the interview she was doing. She did such a good job of pointing him to things, being appropriately critical of the way that he talks about women, but also being appropriately admiring.

If I were to interview him, I’d feel intimidated.

Really?

Yeah. He’s a bossy sort of presence. I don’t like interviewing famous people. They make me nervous. I’ve always tried to avoid interviewing famous people.

Is that because they are usually over-interviewed or because they arrive at an interview with impenetrable masks?

All of these things.

It’s just more difficult. To get them to say anything real, you have to find an angle on their experience that will open them up. And there are things famous people want to keep private, things they’re tired of talking about, things they’ve told so many times that they have no interest in telling them again—but will tell again in exactly the same words they’ve used in the past…

Can I go back to something? And feel free to edit this any way you like. I’m already editing this interview in my head because I’m a crazy person and can’t stop myself. This idea of not wanting to interview famous people, that’s one of the things that led to the work I’m doing today. I knew in my twenties, while at NPR, that the thing I wanted to do was document regular people’s lives. The question then was, “How do you do that?”

It is weird to me that Ira Glass in his sixties. (He just turned 60 in March.) All this time, Ira Glass was less than a year younger than Prince.

Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about podcasts that he doesn’t seem ready to share. You can see it, he kind of schtums up and falls back on generalities and a few broad compliments. I don’t know. Maybe that’s all he’s got, maybe that’s all we can have.

Ira Glass says he borrowed and borrows a lot from Roland Barthes’ S/Z when trying to get interviewees to structure a story, but I don’t really see it. This line made me laugh though.

At college, we were assigned Barthes’s S/Z , which made me understand what I could do in radio.

Really? How did the French semiotician help shape your journalism? Frankly, a lot of people find semiotics to be…

—this incredibly pretentious literary theory that takes as its thesis that narrative is part of the general conspiracy of language to imprison us in our place in society. I ignored that.

Ira Glass should find more ways to tell stories about what working in radio was like in the seventies. There’s something there. He doesn’t catch it all.

A moving cover for the New Yorker

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2015

Chris Ware, in collaboration with John Kuramoto, Ira Glass, and Nico Muhly, made a moving cover for the latest issue of the New Yorker, both in the sense that it is actually in motion and that the story it tells is touching and makes an impression.

The New Yorker is arguably the primary venue for complex contemporary fiction around, so I often wonder why the cover shouldn’t, at least every once in a while, also give it the old college try? In the past, the editors have generously let me test the patience of the magazine’s readership with experiments in narrative elongation: multiple simultaneous covers, foldouts, and connected comic strips within the issue. This week’s cover, “Mirror,” a collaboration between The New Yorker and the radio program “This American Life,” tries something similar. Earlier in the year, I asked Ira Glass (for whose 2007-2009 Showtime television show my friend John Kuramoto, d.b.a. “Phoobis,” and I did two short cartoons) if he had any audio that might somehow be adapted, not only as a cover but also as an animation that could extend the space and especially the emotion of the usual New Yorker image.

How I work: Ira Glass

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2014

The American Life’s Ira Glass talks with Lifehacker about how he works. When asked what his best time-saving shortcut or life hack was, he responded:

I’ve got nothing. Reading other people’s answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk. I employ no time-saving tricks at all.

Though come to think of it, I guess my biggest life hack — and this is the very first time I’ve attempted to use the phrase “life hack” in a sentence — is that my wife and I decided to live just a few blocks from where I work. We did this because of our dog. Since I spend at least an hour every night walking the dog, I didn’t want to spend another 60 or 90 minutes a day commuting. I don’t have the time. Like lots of people, I work long hours.

This American Lear

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 28, 2014

This American Life host and radio superpersonality Ira Glass went to see a play and came away more vexed than Claudius walking out of The Mousetrap in Elsinore.

But it’s not a one-off thing! Glass says he’s been building to this conclusion for a long time, straining like Caliban under Prospero’s yoke:

So what’s going to happen? Will bespectacled literary nerds have to choose between Chicago’s adopted son Ira and our old friend Stratford Billy? That’s like Prince Hal having to choose between getting drunk with Falstaff and cleaning up his act for his dad the king!

Be not afraid, gentles — reporter Lois Beckett is on it, with a retelling of King Lear specially updated for Ira Glass’s post-Renaissance storytelling sensibilities. It’s This American Lear.

Update: Jesse Lansner did a second, extended Storify collection of “This American Lear,” including some of the other reactions to Glass’s and then Beckett’s tweets. On Twitter, Beckett called this “the director’s cut.”

The benefits of having your head in the sand

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2014

Ira Glass doesn’t have any idea who Jill Abramson was or that she was fired.

Jill Abramson was fired.
I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Jill Abramson got fired from the New York Times.
Okay. And she was who?

The executive editor.
Okay. I read the newspaper, but I live in my own little bubble. When did that happen?

Wednesday. And it’s been a massive … the blogosphere is going wild.
I hate reading media news so I actively sort of - I’m not interested in someone getting fired. No disrespect to people that are, but I literally had no idea who she was, or that she got fired until this moment.

I love this. Not like ironically or in the sense that I think Glass is a moron for being a media person who doesn’t know what’s going on with the media; I actually love it. There is very little about the Times’ story that isn’t just straight-up gossip. And for someone like Glass who traffics in ideas and is busy producing something of high quality like This American Life, media gossip just isn’t that important.

And as @jess_mc reminded me, this Glass thing isn’t nearly as entertaining as DMX not knowing who Barack Obama was in early 2008.

Wow, Barack! The n***a’s name is Barack. Barack? N***a named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain’t his fuckin’ name. Ima tell this n***a when I see him, “Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit” [laughs] “That ain’t your fuckin’ name.” Your momma ain’t name you no damn Barack.

Fred Armisen hosts This American Life as Ira Glass

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2013

This week’s episode of This American Life is about doppelgangers, so they decided to have SNL’s Fred Armisen come on the show and co-host it as Ira Glass.

Fred Armisen worked up an imitation of Ira and put it into a skit on Saturday Night Live a couple years ago. But when they rehearsed it with an audience, there was not a roar of recognition; it seemed like Ira might not be famous enough to be mocked on network TV. So today Armisen finally gets a go as Ira’s doppelganger in our studios by co-hosting the entire show.

The first story on the show is about artificial calamari, aka hog rectum.

Ben Calhoun tells a story of physical resemblance — not of a person, but of food. A while ago, a farmer walked through a pork processing plant in Oklahoma with a friend who managed it. He came across boxes stacked on the floor with labels that said “artificial calamari.” So he asked his friend “What’s artificial calamari?” “Bung,” his friend replied. “Hog rectum.” Have you or I eaten bung dressed up as seafood? Ben investigated.

Errol Morris making a movie with Paul Rudd and Ira Glass

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2011

It’s fictional but based on a This American Life story about a man whose cryogenics business goes wrong.

The film, as previously reported, is an adaptation of a 2008 report on Bob Nelson, a self-styled cryogenics pioneer. Mr. Morris claims the film, not listed on IMDB, will be written by Zach Helm, writer of the aptly titled Will Ferrell vehicle Stranger Than Fiction. This American Life previously spawned the kids’-movie adaptation Unaccompanied Minors, but Mr. Morris’s pedigree — and unique interests-promise to make this a bit more highbrow, and simultaneously more intriguingly tabloid-y.

Your taste is why your own work disappoints you

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2011

I love this observation about taste and creative work from Ira Glass:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

The quote is an abridged version of the transcript from this video interview with Glass: