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Radio lives on and hits the big screen with “This American Life”

Christine Nguyen | Monday, April 7, 2008

A beloved “Saturday Night Live” skit opens with Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer speaking softly into microphones about cracked wheat and how exciting sandwiches are. In walks Alec Baldwin carrying what only he can describe as “Schweatty Balls.” This is what most students imagine when someone mentions Public Radio.

Though occasionally Terri Gross does wax poetically about the smell of old books and the joys or fresh vegetables, NPR is much more than just news and old ladies.

Public Radio is a media outlet that offers reality outside of “Reality TV.” While “Rock of Love II,” “Flavor of Love 27,” and “A Pitcher of Shame and Self-Loathing w/ Tila Tequila” may fill up the DVR of many Notre Dame students, there is an alternative. Now, to be fair, this alternative requires that the viewer give up what has become an integral part of entertainment: the visual part. However, the payoff is big, at the least big enough to merit actually listening to a radio broadcast.

“This American Life” is a truly unique and amazing show that is a much better commentary on real contemporary American society than most reality television. It was mentioned on “The O.C.” for crying out loud. In an integral scene, which the show’s host, Ira Glass, talks about during his live tour, Seth mentions TAL, to which Summer rebukes “‘This American Life’? Isn’t that the show by hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?” As unexciting and often pretentious as Public Radio may seem, there is an untapped source of humor and amazing storytelling that lies between the speakers. Listeners of TAL know that the stories and themes selected each week by the Ira and the staff of frequent contributors range anywhere from readings of salacious high school diaries, performed publicly by members of the traveling show “Mortified,” then recorded by TAL, and broadcast to listeners free of censure, to real stories of boys traveling thousands of miles away to attend an Israeli Zionist-themed summer camp.

Each show has at least three or four different segments, all based around a common theme. Each segment focuses on either a documentary piece, with interviews and events being documented, the reading of a short story, or the recording of a performance. While stories range from sad to hilarious, there is something interesting for everyone. If you are not convinced, listen to the last segment of “My Experimental Life,” if you ever wondered what the diary of a formerly sheltered Catholic school girl who got the chance to go to public school, and subsequently went what Flavor Flav would call “Buckwild,” would sound like, here’s your chance. Yes, it’s everything you think it would be and worse.

Earlier this year, Ira Glass made the exciting announcement that TAL will be broadcast in theatres, via satellite, so that loyal listeners and new ones all over the country will be able to enjoy the show both visually and audibly. Last year, TAL also made the leap to television, showing just six episodes on Showtime, with TAL heading out to various locations. This time, instead of the usual recording with a tape and microphone on location, they took the time to film a live recording on stage, making this a completely new venture for the show.

The only theatre within fifty miles to be showing this live taping is the Mishawaka 14. Tickets went on sale April 4 for the May 1 showing at 8 p.m. and are sure to sell out. They are available online at the Mishawaka 14 website, as well as at the box office.

You can catch “This American Life” through the following:

Radio Broadcast: Tune in every Saturday at 4 p.m. WVPE 88.1 FM

Podcast: Search This American Life on iTunes. Totally free updated every Monday morning. The best way to listen because shows are downloaded automatically and can be loaded onto an iPod to be listened to in the car or on the way to class.

Streaming Online: ThisLife.org has every show ever aired available for free, streaming online. Click “On The Radio” and then “Listen”.

On TV: The season may be over, but YouTube has segments of the TAL television show originally aired on Showtime.

In Theatres: May 1, 8 p.m. at the Mishawaka 14 Theatre.