In Praise of "TAL"

I’ve really enjoyed listening to podcasts in the last few months. I’ve gotten into a routine of listening to ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption show on my drive to work each day. I love the ranting style that Tony and Michael have on that show and the quickness of it all. I used to love watching it on TV when I lived at my parent’s house and they had cable. Now I can listen to a “radio” version of the show for free!

However, the show that has really been outdoing itself recently is This American Life. If you’ve never listened to the show, you’re missing out on some of the best radio out there. Host Ira Glass presents a few stories that speak to a theme chosen at the outset. The stories take the form of interviews, journalistic presentations or other narration.

One recent episode entitled “Quiz Show” explored three stories that had to do with television quiz shows. The first act was a lengthy interview with a winner of Ireland’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in which the extremely shy and introverted champion spoke about the experience and his troubled childhood. The interview was intercut with clips from his stint on the show to great effect.

Today, over my lunch break, I listened to an episode called “Tough Room” which revolved around situations where people experienced tough audiences. The opening act revealed what happened with Ira Glass sat in with the head writers of The Onion during their Monday morning brainstorming session. Basically, the staff sits around and throws out their ideas for headlines for that week’s edition of the paper. If two or more people like their joke, it gets highlighted and re-evaluated on Tuesdsay. Out of 600 or so jokes, only a dozen get chosen and have stories written around them for the satire publication. It was fascinating to hear the writers argue very seriously about the implications of these absurd headlines. Many are dissected at length to figure out exactly what the joke is driving at. Many good jokes are rejected and fall by the wayside, to the chagrin of the author.

Here are a few “Rejected Onion Headlines” from the episode that were particularly funny to me, but did not make the cut for publication:

  • Woman Crying by Penguin Exhibit
  • Gay Retard Teased
  • Cardinal Teaches Pope How to Make Church by Interlocking His Fingers
  • Scientist Realizes He’s Been Studying a Cadbury Egg
  • Infertile Woman Treats Frog-Shaped Humidifier As Human Child

All rejected for various reasons by the writing team. I personally like the last one best.

So in conclusion, I’d highly recommend taking an hour of your week and sitting down with the This American Life podcast.

Other podcasts on my pod:

Do you subscribe to any podcasts? What are they?

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