The mild-mannered radio host could turn nasty.
Wed Apr 30 2008
Illustration: Rob Kelly
Last spring, when Showtime spun off his long-running public-radio program, This American Life, Ira Glass didn't expect television to make him a sex symbol. Then, in a roundup titled "Sexiest Man Living 2007," Salon.com gushed about his "dapper, smart, bookish looks," and the 49-year-old got the message—sort of.
"I felt like a joke had gone too far," he says. Just in time for both a live staging of This American Life on Thursday 1 (which will be beamed to movie theaters around the country) and the television show's second-season premiere on Sunday 4, we talked to Glass about some of America's favorite things: pizza, politics and professional wrestling.
You moved This American Life to New York from Chicago two years ago. Which city has better pizza?
No good can come to me from answering this question. There's just no way to get out of it without making someone mad. The people in Chicago feel like, "Yes, you've had some baseball teams that have won the World Series on a more regular basis—we can't deny that. But in this area, we're No. 1." New Yorkers feel like they invented pizza. Like, actually, it didn't come from Italy; it came from some Original Ray's shop whose actual original location will never be known.
That's a very political answer—ever thought about running for office?
Yeah, because America really needs an atheist Jew.
A slogan might help. How about "Vote for Glass, or He'll Kick Your Ass"?
And that will be really good when I run for ninth-grade student president.
How about: "This Glass Is Half Full"?
That's a good platform. I'm for optimism. But don't you think people could read that wrong, like, "This Glass Is Half Full...of shit"?
Right. Well, the editors of Salon.com wouldn't. Did you read that article?
I read that, yeah. Who doesn't read that? Who is the ass who, when you ask him, "Did you see that a website called you one of the most sexy men in America?" says, "No, I didn't think that was worth looking into"?
Did your friends razz you about it?
People were actually sort of marveling at it. Because do you know how many millions of sexy men would have to die for me to be counted in the top 26 in America? It would be a genocide, a holocaust of sexy men—and unsexy men.
Do you view Garrison Keillor as a rival?
He's too big to be my rival. You know who's more my rival? Peter Sagal of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Our shows are the same size and I'm worried because he's crazy, and he's got a gun.
At the live event, you're letting the audience ask unscreened questions. Aren't you worried that some of them will be duds?
Yes. Maybe this is a bad thing to say, but New Yorkers are the worst audience for asking questions at live events. Unlike other cities, for some reason people here will just give little speeches about their take on something.
Don't you just want to say, "Is there a question in there?"
Well, I'm not mean.
You need an enforcer!
That's exactly the image we want to project. A big goon who will simply be sure that each question ends with a question mark. He'll be both a thug and a grammarian. He will be the WWE character I always wanted to be: the Bookworm.
Can you describe him?
The Bookworm carries a big tome that says A GUIDE TO WRESTLING on the front of it. When he gets put into a bad hold he furiously flips through the book looking for what to do. He's a tall, skinny fellow with glasses, and there's nothing that anyone loves more than seeing that guy get beat up. And then it's really fun that occasionally he'll get off a good move from his book and throw one of the big guys.
The WWE is totally going to contact you when this is published.
Oh my God. Do you think so? I would be so proud. Although I can't even think about how many hours I'd have to be in the gym before I'd be able to take my shirt off in public. I literally don't think I will live enough hours to work out to the point where I could take off my shirt in public. I mean, I'm almost 50.
This American Life airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime. For a list of cinemas screening the Thu 1 live event, go to fathomevents.com.