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Author: This American Life

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Each week we choose a theme. Then anything can happen. This American Life is true stories that unfold like little movies for radio. Personal stories with funny moments, big feelings, and surprising plot twists. Newsy stories that try to capture what it’s like to be alive right now. It’s the most popular weekly podcast in the world, and winner of the first ever Pulitzer Prize for a radio show or podcast. Hosted by Ira Glass and produced in collaboration with WBEZ Chicago.
225 Episodes
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A girl signs up for a class. A couple hires an accountant. A group of co-workers decides to pool their money and buy a couple of lottery tickets. In the beginning, they're full of hope and optimism — and then something turns. Stories of good ideas gone bad. Prologue: Paul was a cop. One night he was pulling second shift when he had a perfectly good idea: He'd stretch out in the back seat and take a little nap during his break. He fell right asleep, and slept well until he woke up and realized the funny thing about the back seats of cop cars: The doors don't open from the inside. Paul is author of the book Bad Cop: New York's Least Likely Police Officer Tells All. (8 minutes)Act One: It was two months into the tour. Katie Else and the rest of the Riverdance cast had been performing eight shows a week. They decided to pool their money for the Mega-Millions lottery. Lotto fever gripped the cast. They started to genuinely believe they would take home about $2 million each, and quit Riverdance the next day. They took the stage the night of the drawing and pulled off their best performance ever, "For the Lotto!," trying to direct their energy towards the win. An hour later, at the hotel bar, the numbers came in. (17 minutes)Act Two: After years of neglecting their personal finances, Joel and his wife finally decide to sort things out. They hire a tax accountant named Len, whose casual manner is a real comfort, at first. But then, "casual" turns into "drunk" and then it's clear that he's just plain delinquent. Joel tries to take his business elsewhere, but Len refuses to let go of their file. He begs for a second chance, which it seems, came too late. Joel Lovell is executive editor at Pineapple Street Media. (8 minutes)Act Three: Davy Rothbart was on a 136-city tour appearing on morning TV talk shows to promote his book Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World. Just before one appearance he had what seemed like a great idea at the time. Without letting the host know, he tested it out, live, on-air. Davy is the creator of Found Magazine and author of the book of essays My Heart Is An Idiot. (6 minutes)Act Four: When Elspeth was a girl, she wanted nothing more than her father's attention. He was busy, a doctor, and distant. One day he agrees to put on a volunteer seminar for their church, about his area of expertise: "The Function of the Heart." Elspeth and her best friend are the only two kids who show up, and Elspeth is attentive and engaged, the perfect student. It was an incredible experience for her, the best day she's ever spent with her dad...she thinks. That is, until her mother takes her aside and explains her big mistake. (8 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
564: Too Soon?

564: Too Soon?

2024-04-1401:03:037

It can be hard to know the right moment for something to happen. Prologue: When Jordan was going into his senior year of high school in small town Utah, he and his buddies all lived together in a house, daring each other into Jackass-style pranks and stunts. There's one particular thing Jordan did that he did not want to talk to Ira about. (10 minutes)Act One: Harmon Leon is a writer and comedian whose cocktail party story about “the-weirdest-gig-I-ever-did” is more weird—by a lot—than anyone else’s we’ve heard. He answered an ad several years ago that called for a hilarious sidekick to a celebrity on a hidden camera show. (30 minutes)Act Two: One of the show's producers, Zoe Chace, tells Ira about a joke she made pretty soon after something terrible had happened.Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
828: Minor Crimes Division

828: Minor Crimes Division

2024-04-0701:00:4110

People taking it upon themselves to solve the tiny, overlooked crimes of the world. Prologue: Host Ira Glass bikes around Manhattan with Gersh Kuntzman, in search of illegal license plates. (11 minutes)Act One: Writer Michael Harriot reexamines the DIY criminal justice system his mom invented to deal with his bad behavior as a child. (20 minutes)Act Two: Producer Aviva DeKornfeld talks to Caveh Zahedi about a crime he may or may not have committed, depending on who you ask. (7 minutes)Act Three: Micaela Blei accidentally solves a crime that had been going on for a long time, right under her nose, and has to decide what to do next. She told this story onstage at The Moth. (7 minutes)Act Four: Editor Bethel Habte examines video evidence of two parents trying to get to the bottom of a minor crime committed in their own home. (7 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
587: The Perils of Intimacy

587: The Perils of Intimacy

2024-03-3101:06:3414

Mysteries that exist in relationships we thought couldn't possibly surprise us. Prologue: Ira talks to Rachel Rosenthal, who spent years trying to figure out who had stolen her identity. She was closing bank account after bank account, getting more and more paranoid, until she realized she knew exactly who the thief was. (5 minutes)Act One: Ira’s conversation with Rachel Rosenthal continues. She tells the story of why it took her so long to break up with her boyfriend, even after she figured out that he had stolen from her. We heard about Rachel's story via the podcast Risk! (9 minutes)Act Two: Producer Neil Drumming conducts an experiment to find out: can two adults, both new in town, become friends, with the right help? (16 minutes)Act Three: Comedian Kyle Mizono, in a live performance, tells about the time she met her hero, spent a week working with him every day, and it went really well. And then, she emailed him. (10 minutes)Act Four: A short story by Lydia Davis about trying to calculate the cost of a love affair. The story is read by actor Matt Malloy. (12 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
827: All the King's Horses

827: All the King's Horses

2024-03-2401:01:0211

The things we break and the ones we can't fix. Prologue: Ira tells the stories of three things that broke–two of them in his own family. (8 minutes)Act One: A teenage whiz kid invents a new toy for Milton Bradley. Then the trouble starts. (28 minutes)Act Two: Reporter Dana Ballout sifts through a very long list—the list of journalists killed in the Israel-Hamas War—and comes back with five small fragments of the lives of the people on it. (10 minutes)Act Three: A skateboarding legend makes a final attempt at a high-flying trick. (6 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
People waking up to the fact that the world has suddenly changed. Prologue: Jackson Landers tells the story of a very strange decision he made one summer day. (6 minutes)Act One: Elena Kostyuchenko tells the story of how she was probably poisoned after reporting on Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, and how she kept not believing it was happening. Bela Shayevich translated this story from Russian and reads it for us. (21 minutes)Act Two: A recording of comedian Tig Notaro in the process of trying to catch up to the present and absolutely not being able to. (8 minutes)Act Three: Producer Zoe Chace with a political fable that she noticed playing out last week in North Carolina. (11 minutes)Act Four: Producer Tobin Low finds a group of people with a special relationship with the idea of catching up. (10 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
825: Yousef

825: Yousef

2024-03-0301:05:5314

A series of phone calls to a man in Gaza named Yousef Hammash, between early December and now. He talks about what he and his family are experiencing, sometimes as they are experiencing it. Act One: Over the course of one week in December, Yousef tries to get his sisters to safety, in Rafah. (29 minutes)Act Two: Yousef is managing a camp of 60 people in Rafah, including his youngest sister, who is 8 months pregnant.  Every day there’s talk that Israel will launch a ground assault in Rafah.  Yousef and his sister make a plan for her to give birth safely, but it doesn’t go according to plan. And all 60 people in the family are looking to Yousef to tell them where they should go next and how to stay safe. (27 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
824: Family Meeting

824: Family Meeting

2024-02-2558:5619

Your mother and I have something we want to talk with you about. Prologue: A family sits down to discuss one thing. But then the true purpose of the meeting emerges. (9 ½ minutes)Act One: For one kibbutz-dwelling family in Israel, the decision of where to land after the October 7th attacks goes back and forth… and back… and forth. (28 minutes)Act One: For one kibbutz-dwelling family in Israel, the decision of where to land after the October 7th attacks goes back and forth… and back… and forth. (28 minutes)Act Two: An excerpt from “Belles Lettres," a short story by Nafissa Thompson-Spires from her book Heads of the Colored People, performed by actors Erika Alexander and Eisa Davis with a cameo from our colleague Alvin Melathe. (14 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
823: The Question Trap

823: The Question Trap

2024-02-0456:3722

An investigation of when and why people ask loaded questions that are a proxy for something else. Prologue: Host Ira Glass talks with producer Tobin Low about the question he got asked after he and his husband moved in together, and what he thinks people were really asking. (4 minutes)Act One: “What do you think about Beyoncé?” and other questions that are asked a lot, raised by people on first dates. (12 minutes)Act Two: When a common, seemingly innocuous question goes wildly off the rails. (13 minutes)Act Three: Why are people asking me if my mother recognizes me, when it’s totally beside the point? (14 minutes)Act Four: Schools ask their students the strangest essay questions sometimes. The experience of tutoring anxious teenagers through how to answer them requires a balladier, singing their lived experience to a crowd as though it were the Middle Ages. (10 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
822: The Words to Say It

822: The Words to Say It

2024-01-2857:4813

What it means to have words—and to lose them. Prologue: Sometimes we don’t want to say what’s going on because putting it into words would make it real. At other times, words don’t seem to capture the weight of what we want to say. Susanna Fogel talks about her friend Margaret Riley, who died earlier this week. (6 minutes)Act One: The story of a woman from Gaza City who ran out of words. Seventy-two days into the war, Youmna stopped talking. (27 minutes)Act Two: For years there was a word that Val’s mother did not want to use. Val sets out to figure out why. (22 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
821: Embrace the Suck

821: Embrace the Suck

2024-01-2159:0117

People finding themselves in situations that are worse than they thought and deciding to really go with it. Prologue: A Boston woman takes her dog for a walk and suddenly finds herself in a terrible situation she never anticipated. The strange thing is, it helps her. (9 minutes)Act One: Two college friends try to stop Donald Trump’s primary season momentum by convincing New Hampshire voters to vote against everything they care about. Producer Zoe Chace follows along. (22 minutes)Act Two: When producer Ike Sriskandarajah tries to sleep-train his baby, a neighbor decides to call the police. Later, Ike thinks, "I can work with that." (9 minutes)Act Three: A story by producer Boen Wang about how to get through a summer of bad days. (9 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
Often we see someone’s situation from the outside and think we know exactly what’s going on. This week, we get inside and find out just how much more interesting the reality of it is. A mysterious tunnel is found in a forest in Toronto. Public speculation is all over the place and totally wrong. Nick Kohler tells Ira the story behind the tunnel. (10 minutes)Act One: A teenager reports what it is like to be inside an abusive relationship with an older man. (29 minutes)Act Two: Larry speaks English. His dad speaks Chinese. They grew up in the same house but Larry could never speak to his dad. After 20 years, with the help of filmmaker Bianca Giaever, he and his dad have their first conversation. (16 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
205: Plan B

205: Plan B

2024-01-0759:208

There's the thing you plan to do, and then there's the thing you end up doing. Ira summarizes the results of an informal poll of about a hundred people, about whether they were living their Plan A or Plan B and recounts a moment from a short story by author Ron Carlson. (2 minutes)Act One: John Hodgman first encountered Cuervo Man on a press junket to Cuervo Nation, a small island owned by Jose Cuervo Tequila. Cuervo Man was wearing nothing but a Speedo, wraparound shades, and a red cape. Occasionally he’d stick a toilet plunger on his bald head. John was fascinated and eventually got to know Cuervo Man, whose real name was Ryan. Though the Cuervo act was Ryan’s Plan B, it had a special power that John couldn't help but envy. (19 minutes)Act Two: Starlee Kine was becoming friends with a woman named Robin when they started to encounter an obstacle, a common obstacle people run into when the become friends as adults. So Robin invented a Plan B to solve the problem. (6 minutes)Act Three: Ira talks with Barry Keenan, who was living a lot of people’s plan A in the early 60’s. He was rich, he was successful. But when he lost all his money and got hooked on painkillers, he switched to a Plan B to make money.  He decided to kidnap the 19-year-old Frank Sinatra Jr.  (11 minutes)Act Four: Jonathan Goldstein took a telemarketing job as a kind of temporary Plan B, never suspecting that it would be a ten year chapter in his life. (10 minutes)Act Five: J. Robert Lennon reads an excerpt from his short story "The Accursed Items," in which he demonstrates that even objects can fulfill a fate different from the one for which they were intended. Even inanimate objects can have a plan B. (6 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
Instead of the usual "each week we choose a theme, and bring you 3 or 4 stories on that theme" business, we throw all that away and bring you 20 stories—yes, 20—in 60 minutes. Ira Glass introduces the idea of doing 20 stories in one hour.Act One: Contributor Starlee Kine talks to actor Tate Donovan about the day he felt he was being exactly the kind of celebrity he'd wanted to be: when suddenly, he was approached by a kid with a camera.Act Two: Writer and producer Scott Carrier recognizes a woman he sees in a restaurant.Act Three: Susan Drury talks about "Swap and Shop," a local radio classifieds show that has become a low-tech, personable sort of Ebay.Act Four: From Patty Martin: a one minute, four second vacation on Nantucket Island, involving a lot of waving.Act Five: From Vicki Merrick, Eric Kipp, and Jay Allison at Transom: scallops on Martha's Vineyard.Act Six: From Blunt Youth Radio: a story of a possibly bad "food situation" at the cafeteria in juvenile detention.Act Seven: Jonathan Goldstein, host of Wiretap, brings us this story about The Penguin as a young man.Act Eight: Two brothers, ages 12 and 13, have very different ideas for their dog's name.Act Nine: Elaine Boehm overhears a couple in her pet shop, trying to choose a dog collar.Act Ten: A two minute play called “Title,” written and performed by Greg Allen and Heather Riordan of the Chicago group, The Neo-Futurists. It’s part of their long-running show "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes."Act Eleven: Author David Sedaris on cell phone usage in restrooms.Act Twelve: Brent Runyon reports from the kids' section at the public library.Act Thirteen: Catherine and John, two college undergrads, do a babysitting gig together. After the kids are asleep and the two of them get hungry, John doesn't think they should eat any of the food in the house; they settle on a compromise.Act Fourteen: Mystery and missing flavor at the hot dog plant.Act Fifteen: Author David Rakoff worked at an advertising agency, and could see exactly where its technology was going.Act Sixteen: Someone sits next to the printer. You see him forty times a day. What's his name? What does he do?Act Seventeen: Richard Kerry has an impressive ability: he can recreate the sound of a whole swamp.Act Eighteen: Author Chuck Klosterman and his friends make a party game out of comparing television shows to rock bands. They call it "Monkees Equals Monkees."Act Nineteen: Every year 1,200 new army cadets arrive at West Point. Once they say a single sentence correctly, they can go to their barracks. But not until then. David Lipsky reports. He's the author of Absolutely American.Act Twenty: Teenage girls from a detention center perform a song for their parents.Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
A major political party in a major swing state bets on a new leader: a total political outsider. How does that work out for them? Prologue: In 2022, Michigan Republicans ran anti-establishment candidates who claimed the last presidential election was stolen. And they lost big. Now, the state party regroups and must decide whether to stay the course or moderate. (7 minutes)Act One: The Michigan GOP’s newly elected leader, Kristina Karamo, faces her first big test: Can she organize and pull off the state party’s fabled, expensive Mackinac Island conference as a political outsider – with no fundraising experience or establishment connections? (9 minutes)Act Two: Two young Michigan GOP vice chairs are totally on board with Kristina Karamo’s take on politics and hate the establishment like her. So why do they feel iced out by her? (15 minutes)Act Three: At the start of the year, Warren Carpenter was a Kristina Karamo supporter; helped her get elected. Now he’s plotting her ouster. (13 minutes)Act Four: Kristina Karamo and her camp defend themselves against Warren’s attacks that they’re bad at fundraising and bad at leading the party. (13 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
A series of conversations with a man in Gaza over the course of one week. Act One: One of our producers, Chana Joffe-Walt, had a series of conversations with a man in Gaza over the course of one week. They're so immediate – and particular to this moment in the war in Gaza – that we're bringing them to you now, outside of our regular schedule.Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
In the last year and a half, New York City has scrambled to try and provide shelter and services to over 150,000 migrants. We take a look at how that’s going. Prologue: In the middle of the night, host Ira Glass meets a woman on a mission at Port Authority bus station. (13 minutes)Act One: Producer Valerie Kipnis follows a group of people who’ve just arrived at their new home, a tent shelter in the middle of nowhere. (11 minutes)Act Two: Producer Diane Wu talks to an asylum seeker trying to hustle his way through bureaucratic limbo. (11 minutes)Act Three: Host Ira Glass meets some of the city’s newest arrivals in every New Yorker’s least favorite place. (9 minutes)Act Four: Three girls, whose families traveled thousands of miles to get to New York, navigate their latest challenge: American middle school. (11 minutes)Act 5: One woman needs to find shelter for 27 young men in a matter of hours. (15 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
786: It's a Game Show!

786: It's a Game Show!

2023-12-1001:05:168

Something we’ve never done before: true stories told in the form of a game show. Prologue: Jiayang Fan has this theory that because she's spent so much time thinking about her own accent when she speaks English, she believes that when she hears other Chinese-Americans speak, she can tell how old they were when they immigrated to the U.S. (7 minutes)Act One: We test Jiayang Fan’s self-proclaimed special skill by having her listen to three Chinese-Americans speak, and then guss when they came to the U.S. (20 minutes)Act Two: Is it possible for the U.S. to reach the goals set by the Paris Agreement? What steps would we have to take to cut emissions by 50% by 2030? We challenge climate researcher Melissa Lott to get us to that number. (11 minutes)Act Three: A game of telephone played on the podcast Normal Gossip reveals how gossip spreads, and why stories change from person to person. (15 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
When you realize that help is not on the way, what do you do next? Prologue: Saddam Sayyaleh’s job right now is trying to get trucks filled with aid into Gaza and he knows it’s nowhere close to what’s actually needed. (10 minutes)Act One: Tim Reeves runs a hospital in rural Pennsylvania, and he’s trying to do something that is so hard to do and that he knows is completely up to him. (11 minutes)Act Two: One of our producers, Nadia Reiman, talked to officials who work in the asylum and refugee branches at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. They gave her a window into the immigration system under President Biden that you don’t usually get. (32 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
816: Poultry Slam

816: Poultry Slam

2023-11-2657:558

During the highest turkey consumption period of the year, we bring you a This American Life tradition: stories of turkeys, chickens, geese, ducks, fowl of all kinds—real and imagined—and their mysterious hold over us. Prologue: Ira Glass talks with Scharlette Holdman, who works with defense teams on high profile death row cases, and who has not talked to a reporter in more than 25 years. Why did she suddenly end the moratorium on press? Because her story is about something important: namely, a beautiful chicken. (2 minutes)Act One: Scharlette Holdman's story continues, in which she and the rest of a legal defense team try to save a man on death row by finding a star witness — a chicken with a specific skill. (10 minutes)Act Two: Yet another testimony to the power chickens have over our hearts and minds.  Jack Hitt reports on an opera about Chicken Little.  It's performed with dressed-up styrofoam balls, it's sung in Italian and, no kidding, able to make grown men cry. (14 minutes)Act Three: Ira accompanies photographer Tamara Staples as she attempts to photograph chickens in the style of high fashion photography. The chickens are not very cooperative. (15 minutes)Act Four: Kathie Russo's husband was Spalding Gray,  who was best known for delivering monologues onstage—like "Monster in a Box," and "Swimming to Cambodia." On January 10, 2004, he went missing. Witnesses said they saw him on the Staten Island Ferry that night. Two months later, his body was pulled out of the East River. Kathie tells the story of the night he disappeared, and about how, in the weeks following, she and each of their three children were visited by a bird, who seemed to be delivering a message to them. (9 minutes)Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org
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Comments (3600)

Michelle Sawall-Kneale

had to quit listening once you guys decided to give O.J. attention. nope, nope

Apr 22nd
Reply

Drew Anderson

Total Immortal is an awesome music selection for attempting to break some windows. of course Ira called AFI "metal" 🤦

Apr 21st
Reply

Steven Hsu

Amazing how none of the comments have anything to do with the podcast.

Apr 20th
Reply

Harlem Dawgs

Chana Joffe Walt I cringed when you said," I've never heard you say that. You're always the guy who says I'll figure it out." There's no way you could produce journalism that's this thought provoking and poignant and be emotionally tone deaf enough to articulate to a war worn exhausted man with the weight of dozens on shoulders; just how shocked you are that he feels beaten and defeated. Maybe it was a device employeed to evoke sympathy but it was cruel. Great reporting though. Peabody worthy

Apr 16th
Reply

Sharon Maitland

Love this feel good ep, The Harriet Court - what a beautiful family ❤️

Apr 16th
Reply

ladan

✨❤️

Apr 9th
Reply

Max Rivers

When I was a landlord, my first tenant couldn't actually afford the apartment and I realized I had traded something of value with someone who wasn't able to keep that agreement. The next time I rented the apartment, besides first last and security, I asked for an emotional security to speak to exactly the issue in this piece. I asked people to give me something not of financial value but of such sentimental or emotional value that they would never want to leave without it. adding this worked.

Apr 8th
Reply

chris grant

Man theres a lot of russian/republican bots on here.

Apr 2nd
Reply

Farzaneh Sadegh

what a horrible situation , i pray for yuosef

Apr 2nd
Reply

ID435671123

"Say hello to oyster bunnies" - actual Joe Briben' quote on Easter Sunday. I mean, National Transgender Illumination Day or whatever.

Apr 2nd
Reply (2)

ID435671123

Joe Briben' designates Easter Sunday "transgender day of visibility". Folks, they're not even trying to hide it anymore .

Mar 31st
Reply (1)

ID435671123

Did you see the NYPD tell Governor Kathy Hochul she wasn't welcome at the funeral for the slain hero and to take a walk? Demoncrapp politicians are so hated yet we're expected to believe they win elections fairly.

Mar 30th
Reply

POTUS 45, 46, & 47

BREAKING: Simon and Schuster withdraws contract for major book about Biden's presidency after lack of market interest

Mar 28th
Reply

Joe Biden is a miserable failure.

President Donald Trump - still wealthy. Womp womp, sorry leftists.

Mar 25th
Reply (5)

chris grant

It doesnt surprise me that the angry comments from the trumpers here yield zero content or perspective from the podcasts listed here. Just more troll dribble as usual.

Mar 25th
Reply

Nazanin Hoseyni

where is the lyrics

Mar 21st
Reply

POTUS 45, 46, & 47

"How many Black communities are in a situation where they come from a circumstance where they're in difficult, where they have difficulty? ... Even those families that are really poor don't have any books in the house." -actual Joe Biden quote from a radio interview earlier today. These old Democrap racists try to hide it, but it always slips out.

Mar 20th
Reply

POTUS 45, 46, & 47

New hashtag for the collapsed borders just dropped: #bidensborderbloodbath

Mar 19th
Reply (3)

Shadi Na

I loved it

Mar 18th
Reply

selena

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Mar 16th
Reply
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