This American Life Podcast presents personal and human-interest stories which reflect everyday people of ordinary existence. The 25-year-old podcast has been relating this type of content, through comedy, wit, emotion, unique angles, and experimental approaches that speak to their audience.
This American Life Podcast’s Creators
This American Life podcast is hosted and produced by Ira Glass. Ira is accompanied by the show’s regulars, who are David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and Mike Birbiglia. These are the voices behind the handheld mic, who bring the stories to life.
Ira’s contribution to the show as a television and radio personality with an extensive, award-winning career in radio; is notable.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, his radio career began in 1978 with an internship at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. His passion for radio was evident right from the beginning resulting in Ira working at NPR after graduating. The success Ira enjoyed with This American Life is ongoing, as are his efforts. Ira discusses this and more in this interview with Talks at Google.
This American Life’s team of co-hosts is also impressive.
David Sedaris was described by the Los Angeles Times as the “Champion storyteller.” He is also involved with The New Yorker and BBC Radio 4 and has penned several bestsellers.
David’s works employ satire and wit to dissect and comment on the human condition. While his commentary is insightfully brilliant and observant, his humorous approach enhances the narrative. This is an example of his commentary style, entitled, David Sedaris on irritating word choices.
Popular for her bits on This American Life, Sarah Vowell has served as the show’s editor since 1996. A critic and reporter, Sarah has contributed to many magazines, Newspapers, and other publications. Watch this interview with Sarah about her book Lafayette to enjoy her sharp wit.
More than a comedian and storyteller, Mike Birbiglia is a director and actor who has graced the global stage, with some of his shows being Netflix specials. He is also an author and filmmaker. This interview of Mike promoting his comedy show provides some insight into him.
Themes and Topics Covered
This American Life covers radio short stories and essays. The show’s kaleidoscope of storytelling methods and departure points, used to reference the man on the street, gives a voice to everyday people and their experiences. The angles and stories are comedic, light-hearted, ironic, and introspective odes to the colorful and multidimensional American life. This podcast is relatable and true. It is reflective of listeners and this makes them feel heard and seen.
“We view the show as an experiment,” says This American Life‘s Podcast creators.
The podcast’s creators are not afraid to try alternate angles and methods. The success of the podcast can be attributed to this.
We compiled examples of their experimental attempts for you to review:
172 | 24 Hours at the Golden Apple
The show records a 24hr piece in a Chicago diner called the Golden Apple. The show covers interviews with the diner’s staff, owners, and clientele, using an unfiltered approach. The footage can be described as raw or uncut.
223 | Classifieds
The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader, Sunday editions are the publications of choice for this study of the classifieds. The assessment is to understand the people behind the classifieds, through an analysis of their personal ads. The use of deduction and an understanding of the human psyche is at play here and provides interesting observations.
400 | Stories Pitched by Our Parents
This story involves turning ideas and stories pitched by family members of the show’s hosts, into a show. It has never been tried before and proves to be tough. This is a challenging and an experimental undertaking.
In commemoration of This American Life’s 25th anniversary, Ira Glass compiled a list of the show’s best episodes. These are available on the website and in this commemorative article. Net Influencer picked out Switched at Birth, Break-Up, and Act V , to serve as examples of the show’s topic choices and themes.
The Reach of the Podcast
The show is aired on more than 500 public radio stations across America and enjoys a listenership of over 2 million per week. Nearly 2.3 million podcast downloads, per episode, can be added to these stats. This American Life Podcast is not limited to the U.S. but airs on Canadian and Australian radio stations, too.
The podcast can be found on social media, which is ideal for its demographic. The show’s audience, everyday people, are able to engage with the show and connect in two-way communication that could provide feedback to the show’s producers.
This American Life has 1,068,482 likes and 1,050,191 followers on Facebook, demonstrating a firm grip on its audience via the platform.
With 59k followers on Instagram, This American Life can connect with its audience through another medium, other than radio.
Boasting 437,5 K followers on their Twitter page, the following is impressive and shows effective engagement with audiences.
Format of the Podcast
This American Life has been airing since November 17th, 1995, as a public radio program. From 1998 to 2005, the program was available online but was not free. A free feed was only made available in 2006.
Every episode of the show is based on the same weekly structure. Every week a theme is selected. Stories relating to the theme are prepared and aired. The content comprises essentially of journalistic pieces narrated as stories with plots, characters, tension, humor, and emotive qualities. The content is diverse and delivered as first-person narratives.
Each episode is an hour long and begins with host, Ira Glass, doing a brief program introduction. He then proceeds to introduce the theme for the week. The show is presented in “acts” but can be delivered in one act. This American Life is not known for interviews. Interviewees who align with the specific style of the show are few and far between. The creators do not risk airing interviews that do not match the standard or style. The end credits are presented by Ira Glass, as well.
There are 2 seasons worth of TV versions of the show on Showtime. Between 2007 and 2008, these TV versions of the radio show, aired and won 3 Emmys. The podcast creators have also produced many films, such as Sleepwalk with Me, Don’t Think Twice and Come Sunday.
Reception and Impact
From its inception in 1995, the show has aired over 700 episodes. It has also enjoyed immediate success and what is considered a cult following. There were dedicated show tours, CD collations, and the above-mentioned, movie adaptations of selected stories. The show’s popularity was expressed openly by audiences which remains a testament to the show’s success.
Having won more than 6 Peabody Awards and the first Pulitzer Prize by a podcast or radio show signifies their remarkable journalism and commentary. The winning podcast episode that secured the prize in 2020 is, ‘The Out Crowd’, which reports on Trump’s administration, “Remain in Mexico”, asylum policy.
This American Life has been deemed a success. This is probably due to its diversity and range of topics. There is something for every listener. The true test remains in listening for yourself.
Listeners can also engage with the show via their social media platforms.