this american life

Comic Mike Birbiglia on how he stopped procrastinating when he was writing the screenplay for his new movie, Don’t Think Twice

“I was procrastinating writing the movie. I had the movie in my head, but I wasn’t writing it. But I noticed this trend in my life which was that I was showing up to lunch meetings or business meetings, but I wasn’t showing up to meet myself. So I wrote a note next to my bed — this is so corny — but I wrote “Mike! You have an appointment at Café Pedlar at 7 a.m. with your mind!” It’s so corny, and I would show up! I never didn’t show up and I wrote this movie [in] spurts of essentially three hours, like I’d write from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and the reason why I would do that is because I was essentially barely awake. Because I feel like that moment, at 7 to 10 a.m., you’re not afraid of the world yet.”

More from today’s Fresh Air interview with Birbiglia: 

Comic Mike Birbiglia On His Best Failure And The 3 Rules Of Improv

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

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. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or 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. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
—  Ira Glass’ (from This American Life)

The 8 Best ‘This American Life’ Episodes Of All Time

1. “The Long-Haired Boys”In this classic 2008 episode, producer Robyn Semien travels across the U.S. interviewing men who had long hair when they were boys. Listeners find out if the men still have long hair as men, and whether they would consider letting their son have long hair.

2. “Boat Man”—Most boat owners avoid the pier, but not Gerald Toblowski, who enjoys smashing his boat into it as fast as possible. The story of how one family struggles to make ends meet, facing ever-mounting debt as they continually repair their boat and dock.

3. “Square One”—Stories about starting over. Nancy Updike talks about buying an identical replacement dog, David Sedaris recalls his experiences repeating first grade a dozen times, and in the third act, Jake Halpern blasts into space to see if, when you travel far enough, the universe wraps around on itself. His conclusion? It does.

She Was Upset About Her Preschooler Being Suspended. When She Spoke To The Other Moms, It Got Weird.

Some kids act out. This … isn’t acting out.

When I first heard this story from “This American Life,” I was in shock. It’s filled with moments that left me shaking my head, but here are a few that really stuck out:

The lab coats peered down at a million students’ lives — the schools they attended, how they did, when they got in trouble. And they determined that African-American and Hispanic students were twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than their white peers for their first offense." (11:20)
External image

One more striking thing you can see in the Texas numbers — kids who were suspended were much more likely to be arrested outside of school, three times as likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system.“ (12:21)

External image

"In March this year, the Department of Education issued a report that said black children make up 18% of preschoolers, but they make up 48% of preschool children suspended more than once.” (15:30)

External image

“And here’s the theory he laid out for me: You suspend a kid, he misses school, he finds it hard to catch up, he feels frustrated, falls behind. And maybe just as important, he learns he is bad. Because he feels bad when he’s in school, he acts bad.” (14:25)

External image

This story and the findings shared in it paint a scary picture of how racial bias affects students of color. Here’s hoping that sharing these insights will encourage educators to think carefully about how we discipline students and how it can affect their futures. 

Click here to listen to the “Time Out”, from This American Life

Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.

Ira Glass to Lifehacker. I’m Ira Glass, Host of This American Life, and This Is How I Work.

Quick tip for things to do immediately post-interview:

When I come out of an interview, I jot down the things I remember as being my favorite moments. For an hour-long interview usually it’s just four or five moments, but if out I’m reporting all day, I’ll spend over an hour at night typing out every favorite thing that happened. This is handier than you might think. Often this short list of favorite things will provide the backbone to the structure to my story.

Read through for the gear This American Life uses and its editing process.


The opening number from Lin Manuel Miranda’s “21 Chump Street: The Musical”, a 15 minute play he wrote in a week in 2014 after This American Life’s Ira Glass asked him to turn one of their radio stories into a mini-musical. Based on a true story, 21 Chump Street is narrated by Miranda and stars Anthony Ramos (aka John Laurens/Phillip Hamiton) as a high school student who falls in love with the new girl at school—who is actually an undercover cop.

Warning: “What the Heck I Gotta Do” is quite possibly the catchiest thing you’ll hear all week. IT WILL GET STUCK IN YOUR HEAD, THERE IS NO RESISTING IT.

  • <p><b>21 Chump Street:</b> *the part where Naomi is trying to convince Justin to take the money and the ensemble is hauntingly singing her name*<p/><b>Me:</b> 👌👀👌👀👌👀👌👀👌👀 good shit go౦ԁ sHit👌 thats ✔ some good👌👌shit right👌👌there👌👌👌 right✔there ✔✔if i do ƽaү so my self 💯 i say so 💯 thats what im talking about right there right there (chorus: ʳᶦᵍʰᵗ ᵗʰᵉʳᵉ) mMMMMᎷМ💯 👌👌 👌НO0ОଠOOOOOОଠଠOoooᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒ👌 👌👌 👌 💯 👌 👀 👀 👀 👌👌Good shit<p/></p>

Adnan Syed at house parties


SIDESHOW: Sometimes there are other ideas that I think would be awesome. So think of these as guest blog entries from other sections of my brain. (See all Sideshows here.)

This is from a Tumblr that doesn’t exist called Ira Glass Ceiling. All captions are quotes from reports to the SEC, The World Bank, and The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. All photos are of NPR radio personality Ira Glass.

Podcast lists - an update

So thank you anonymous people who gave me Podcast suggestions because some of these are AWESOME.  I basically have everything I listen to, or plan on listening to listed below.  You should check some of these out.  


The Black Tapes - this is so much fun and kinda like the x-files a little bit.  I’m really enjoying their blending of fiction and reality.  I listened to the back episodes all last week and as of yesterday I’m totally caught up and ready for the new season. 

Tanis - Kinda in the same vein as the Black Tapes, but with a larger dose of conspiracy theory, I’m also really enjoying this one.  MK the hacker is my favorite character and she’s an amazing actress who (unlike some of the other people) actually sounds natural when she’s having a conversation and not like she’s reading a script.  

Limetown - it’s creepy and supposedly takes place about two hours from where I live.  Very high production quality.  I’m liking it. Description: “ Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.”

The Truth - These 10 minute plays/stories are better than most TV shows.  So far the most powerful two that I listened to were “Can You Help Me Find My Mom?” and “Remember the Baby”

The Message - after yesterday’s episode I don’t know if this one is finished.  It seems like it came to a conclusion, and yet there’s so much more story to tell.  The production is high on this one as well and even though each episode is only about 10 minutes long, they pack a lot of story in there. 

King Falls AM - I only listened to the first episode of this one and it centers on a creepy little town’s local radio station, much like “Welcome to Night Vale” but this one seems to have a more Stephen King-ish vibe than WTNV’s light-hearted-Apocalypse,”Into The Mouth of Madness”/Lovecraftian/Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Hellmouth feel.  I’m going to keep listening. 

Wolf 359 - This one is set in space and also seems to be very high quality.  Once again, I’ve only listened to the first episode, but my interest is piqued, so I’m going to keep listening. 

Lore - This one isn’t a serialized drama or storytelling, but each episode focuses on discussing real life mysteries pertaining to the supernatural and unexplained.  It’s a good listen.  

Thrilling Adventure Hour - I was surprised to recognize so many famous actors in this one.  This is a show made in the style of old-timey radio shows (think: Dick Tracy or Little Orphan Annie from “A Christmas Story”).  Some of these are very very funny.  And it’s recorded live in front of an audience which ads a layer of fun.  


The Memory Palace - I haven’t started listening to this one yet, but it’s a story telling series from the folks at Radiotopia and each episode seems just a few minutes long.

KCRW’s UnFictional -  A story-telling podcast.  This is the description from their website: “ Fascinating documentary production and storytelling that covers the ground between the sophisticated and the profane. A half-hour of captivating stories of real life, created by the most talented producers from around the country, as well as stories from writers and performers based in Los Angeles.”

Backstory - I subscribed because I love learning about history.  Here’s the description from their website: “ BackStory is a public radio program & podcast that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths. Over the course of the hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of what’s going on today. Together, they drill down to colonial times and earlier, revealing the connections (and disconnections) between past and present. With its passionate, intelligent, and irreverent approach, BackStory is fun and essential listening no matter who you are.”

The Leviathan Chronicles - A serialized sci-fi drama and the story sounds pretty cool.  Here’s the description from their website: “ The story is centered around a hidden city called Leviathan that lies deep within the dark trenches of the Pacific Ocean. The city is home to a community of immortals that sought to create a utopia over 1,000 years ago. For a millennia, they lived in peace and secrecy, gently influencing world events to aid the advancement of mankind. But a terrible secret has been kept deep within the catacombs of Leviathan that threatens the existence of the immortals, and quite possibly the entire world.”

Strangers - website description: “Lea Thau, Peabody Award winner & former Director of The Moth, has created Strangers, featuring true stories about people we meet, the heartbreaks we suffer, the kindnesses we encounter, and those frightful moments when we discover that we aren’t even who we thought we were…”

Snap Judgment - description: “ Snap Judgment (Storytelling, with a BEAT) mixes real stories with killer beats to produce cinematic, dramatic, kick-ass radio. Snap’s raw, musical brand of storytelling dares listeners to see the world through the eyes of another.”

Invisibilia - description: “ Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.”

The Allusionist - Cause I like words.  Description: “ The Allusionist is a podcast about language and etymology by Helen Zaltzman”

Mortified - description: “ Witness adults sharing their most embarrassing childhood artifacts (journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies, art) with others, in order to reveal stories about their lives. Hear grown men and women confront their past with tales of their first kiss, first puff, worst prom, fights with mom, life at bible camp, worst hand job, best mall job, and reasons they deserved to marry Jon Bon Jovi.”


This American Life - I think everyone who listens to podcasts probably listens to or has listened to This American Life.  I don’t really know how to describe it, and even their website has a hard time to describe it (” There’s a theme to each episode of This American Life, and a variety of stories on that theme. Most of the stories are journalism, with an occasional comedy routine or essay. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe.”)   This was a great listen on my morning commutes so it’s definitely worth a listen.

Freakonomics - Another hard one to describe, but if you’ve heard of or read the book, it’s more of the same.  “The Hidden Side of Everything”.  

RISK! - an awesome story telling podcast “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public”  A lot of these stories are funny and most are rated R or X, so it’s not something you’d want to sit down and listen to with little kids or your grandma (unless your grandma is awesome) but there are so many gems that make it a favorite in my book.  

The Moth - One of the, if not the, original story telling radio show.  Real people telling true stories about their lives.  Sometimes they’re funny.  Sometimes they’re emotional.  But they’re always really really good.  

Radiolab - Kinda like Freakonomics and This American Life had a baby, this one is also one of my favorites.  

Welcome to Night Vale - If HPLovecraft and NPR did LSD and had a very bad trip.  It’s popular for a good reason.  “The City Council announces the opening of a new Dog Park at the corner of Earl and Somerset, near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the Dog Park. People are not allowed in the Dog Park. It is possible you will see Hooded Figures in the Dog Park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the Dog Park. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the Dog Park, and especially do not look for any period of time at the Hooded Figures. The Dog Park will not harm you.”

All hail the Glow Cloud.

Sarah Koenig, host of the phenomenally popular podcast ’Serial,’ joined Fresh Air yesterday.

Serial is Koenig’s reinvestigation of the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Maryland high school student who was strangled in 1999. Her body was discovered buried in a park in Baltimore. Her schoolmate and ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted of the murder and is serving a life sentence. Nearly 16 years later, he continues to maintain his innocence. Syed’s conviction was based on testimony from his friend, Jay — identified only by first name in the podcast — who said he helped Syed bury the body.

From the interview:

On finding the right tone in her conversations with Syed:

“It was very complicated. A lot is going on in any one conversation with Adnan, which is … he might be innocent and he might be guilty. It’s zero sum, a little bit, right? Both things are happening, and I, meanwhile, want him to talk to me, and I want him to stay on the phone and I’m totally aware that he can hang up at any time and cease communicating at any time, and I don’t want him to do that. So for all the accusations that Adnan is manipulating me: Hello, I’m also manipulating him. I’m using all the tricks. "Tricks” sound … sneaky, but you know what I mean, [I’m using tricks] that you do in any interview, that you do with anybody or any conversation, frankly, with another person where you are playing the angles to a certain extent.

I was definitely never lying to Adnan about anything and certainly not about my intentions, but there would be no point in trying to create a relationship with this person and be antagonistic. That would be ridiculous. … But by the same token, you don’t want to be all suck-up-y and fake and pretend you’re their best friend. … This communication that we have is — there’s only one way it can be, and this is the way it can be, which is, neither you nor I trust each other fully, but we proceed as if we do. That’s the only way you could have this. I’ve been open about that. He knows, we both know that there’s, like, two other conversations happening on top of the conversation we’re actually having, which is: “Do you believe me? Do I believe you? Are you trying to get me to say something? Are you trying to get me to repeat that so I’ll say something different?” We both know what’s happening.“

  • Listen

Before starting This American Life, Ira Glass reported for NPR. For Father’s Day, in 1986, he took to New York City’s streets to ask passers-by, “What did you learn from your father?”  There are some gems here that run the gamut from basics like learning how to tell time to indirect instruction in cursing. Have a listen and see if you can pick up some new tips from these dads.

(Found by library intern Kimberly Springer. Original airdate: 06/15/1986)