Overview:

Ira Glass's stage show '7 Things I've Learned' would have been completely delightful if he'd dropped 2 things.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week I saw a live performance by Ira Glass. If you have not seen his stage show “7 Things I’ve Learned” and intend to, consider this a spoiler alert.

Everyone probably knows Ira Glass from his immensely popular public radio program “This American Life,” which he has hosted and produced since the mid-1990s. How many times have we all delayed going into our apartments and homes as we sat in cars listening to the remainder of the Glass show?

At the live show last week, Glass had an easy and charming presence on the stage, though his vocal delivery was not exactly in the recognizable tones I was accustomed to from hearing him on numerous automobile stereos over the last twenty-five years.

He was funny from the first: “This is what I look like.”

And then, with a hand-held state-of-the-art iPad, a giant screen, photos, illustrations, videos, and a decent sound engineer, he began what he called, his prepared ‘speech,’ the written text of which he relied upon heavily, glancing at it regularly upon its music stand.

The seven things Glass has learned (not the only things he has learned, he was quick to point out) all emerged from his career as a storytelling journalist.

He went through some familiar ‘things’ about how to tell a story, how to espy a child’s future career, how to talk to kids, how to be bad at something before you get good at it, how to invite beauty into your life, how to avoid saying hurtful things to teenage girls. All good stuff.

But there were two of the seven things I could have done without.

One was when Glass told the story of a high school tough boy who crushed on the new girl only to have his life ruined by her, since she was an undercover cop who busted him for pot, sullying his dream of getting into the military. This story had a disturbing aura to it, because we in the audience got a hint that Ira Glass and his producers did not care one fragment about this poor lovesick boy who was entrapped and ruined by a good-looking cop for mere marijuana possession. To garnish the injury, Glass and his crew even made a very brief musical about this story, written by none other than Lin Manuel Miranda, before his ‘Hamilton’ fame. And Glass’s producers continue even now to use a bawdy but sanitized catchphrase the boy used when referring to this beautiful cop. Glass seemed entirely unaware that journalistic insensitivity peeped through every part of him as he told this story, as if he had long ago pledged undying allegiance to a journalist motto, “The story must go on—no matter where the chips fall.” This was the general feeling among people we spoke to after the show.

The other was when Glass offered a second tin-eared lesson about the culture of lies enfolding the current GOP, itemizing all the usual untruths. Doesn’t Ira Glass know that any audience coming to see him is a proverbial choir he need not preach to? The interesting part of this tale was that it was only storytelling that made its way into the impenetrable hearts of vaccine deniers and got them to their doctors’ offices for shots. After this story, Glass knew he had deflated the crowd and said, “Ok, enough of the downer stuff,” or words to that effect.

Five of seven things learned were worth hearing, and Glass plainly possessed all of the charm needed to deliver those five good lessons.

But he and his writers should replace two of the lessons. That should be easy to do since Glass himself said at the beginning of the show he has learned more than seven things in his life.

Choose two others, Ira. Or go with five.

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...