Rapid Round: Ira Glass Talks Dark Side of Comedy, Stays Mum on 'Serial' Season 3
The 'This American Life' host produced the improv troupe dramedy, which nabbed the highest per-screen average of 2016 this past weekend.
Ira Glass, host and executive producer of public radio's This American Life, is frustratingly tightlipped when it comes to questions about the next season of Serial. “I cannot give you any sense of Season 3. That is a secret,” he says, declining to even confirm there is a Season 3.
But he is more than willing to talk about his latest movie, Don’t Think Twice, a fictional film about a New York City improv troupe whose inner-relationships implode when one member lands a breakout gig. Glass is one of the producers of the dramedy, which was written and directed by his frequent collaborator Mike Birbiglia (a familiar face to fans of Orange Is the New Black, where he plays conflicted bureaucrat Danny Pearson).
Glass is no stranger to the film business given that a number of This American Life episodes have been or are being adapted for the screen including Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 The Informant and Paul Feig’sm 2006 Unaccompanied Minors as well as Birbiglia’s 2012 Sleepwalk With Me.
On July 22, The Film Arcade released Don’t Think Twice in a single theater in New York, where it nabbed the highest per-screen average of 2016 ($90,126). The film will expand to Los Angeles and Chicago this weekend, followed by a rollout in top-10 markets the weekend after. Glass talked to THR about his role in This American Life spinoff Serial (he's “like a Judd Apatow figure to them”), why his guest appearance on Veronica Mars was a career highpoint and how Danny Strong should write the movie about this year’s wacky presidential election.
Don't Think Twice explores the dark side of the standup life. Why are comedians so tortured?
I think you have to have a difficult past to have the will to entertain, especially to make people laugh. At this point, I’ve listened to so many Marc Maron podcasts to just take it for granted that people who are super funny have to be, at some point in their life, a little f___ed up. For the comedians, what they’re doing is just a naked act of entertainment where it’s them on a stage with a mic. It’s so unprotected. And to have the chops to be able to make that work, it’s almost like the level of trauma going into it is part of what makes you able to succeed.
If you could adapt one episode of This American Life for film, which would it be?
“Act V,” which is about a bunch of prisoners, most of them in prison for murder, who were in a prison drama program putting on Hamlet. What was great about it is Hamlet is a play about the decision to commit a murder, and most of these guys had committed murders, so they had really interesting opinions about Shakespeare’s treatment about the subject. It was just a really interesting glimpse into the dynamics of prisons and prisoners and also a really effective way to tell the story of Hamlet. We tried to develop it years ago with Brad Pitt’s Plan B. And it kind of never went anywhere. I think it’s still my favorite of all the 20 years of stories we’ve done, something that would be exciting to see on the screen.
Who should direct?
I’d want Gary Ross, [Martin] Scorsese or [Jonathan] Demme. That’s my shortlist.
Any plans to bring This American Life back to TV?
Not right now. Though The Lego Movie guys [Phil Lord and Chris Miller] are developing Serial as a TV spinoff.
What’s you favorite movie of all time?
It changes. I would say right now it’s a tie between Three Kings and American Hustle. I love that Three Kings has the sort of structure of a sort of James Bond-y, heroic Hollywood movie but, in fact, the people who you side with are the poor Iraqis and not the Americans. There’s something incredibly diabolical about doing this kind of Mission-y, let’s side with the Iraqis thing at the same time as doing this film that’s totally an out-for-fun, Hollywood entertainment. I love the ambition of that, that it’s a very message-y film but also super fun and entertaining. That combo, when you can pull it off, is just the greatest thing I think.
What’s the biggest difference between tackling a story for radio and film?
You can just make stuff up for the films. I loved that when we were working out the plot on Don’t Think Twice, we could just think, ‘What is the ideal place for that scene to happen, something visual,’ and invent it. We invented a scene where they’re clearing out all their stuff and memorabilia from years as an improv troupe and going through old photos, and they start talking about stuff and they get to say things like, ‘I think your 20s are all full of hope and your 30s are full of realizing you were wrong to hope.’ The invention of visuals and scenes and moments to go with any feeling or idea you have is so fun. Obviously, it’s totally out of bounds if you’re doing documentary work.
Were you surprised by the response to Serial?
Yeah, we all were.
How involved are you?
I’m an editorial consultant for the show. I hear drafts of all the scripts and do edits on all the scripts and just kind of talk with them about general direction. I’m kind of like a Judd Apatow figure to them if you think about Judd’s involvement with these 1,500 TV series he produces. I look at scripts and give some notes, but they have to do all the hard work.
News just broke that Mark Boal is suing the U.S. government in response to its threat to subpoena interviews with Bowe Bergdahl. Any thoughts on that?
I have no thoughts on that. I will leave that to the Serial team.
What will Season 3 be about?
I cannot give you any sense of Season 3. That is a secret.
But there is a Season 3, right?
I can’t even confirm that.
You or your voice has appeared on 30 Rock, Veronica Mars and The Simpsons. Which one was the most fun?
Veronica Mars because I got to be there in person and go to the set. And meet the cast and hang out with the director. That was definitely the most fun. On The Simpsons, you just sit in a studio in New York City and you talk to super funny people down a fancy phone line, and they direct you and your lines, which is lovely. But it was way more fun to go to set and perform in person and meet America’s sweetheart Kristen Bell.
You’ve spoken about being Jewish and being married to a Muslim/Christian woman. What are the benefits of interfaith marriage?
What’s your take on this election?
One of the things I’ve found interesting is how many people are in situations where their loved ones and people close to them have opinions of these candidates which they find utterly incomprehensible. It’s a weird byproduct of an incredibly divisive election. It was Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska who called this election a dumpster fire. I feel like when Danny Strong someday writes the movie of this election, that’s going to be the title. Dumpster Fire. It’s going to be the sequel to Game Change. Somebody should contact Danny Strong immediately that your movie has a name. It’s now time to write it.
What profession would you do if not this?
I don’t have other skills, so I’m sort of stuck in this profession. But I would probably be teaching public school or be a doctor. My parents really wanted for me to be a doctor. My parents are the only Jews in America who hate public radio. They worried that I would never make any money.
Who would you like to meet that you haven’t already?
While there are people who I admire tremendously -- creative people and political people -- I don’t feel the desire to engage in small talk with them. I admire David O. Russell, but I don’t want to meet him. I think our president is a completely fascinating, smart person, but I don’t want to meet the president of the United States.