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    This American Life

    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.
    en11 Episodes

    Episodes (28)

    833: Come Retribution

    833: Come Retribution

    Donald Trump has talked about taking retribution on his enemies since the early days of his 2024 presidential campaign. After his conviction last week in New York, his talk intensified. We try to understand what his retribution might look like by speaking with people who have the most to lose in a second Trump administration: people who believe Trump will be coming for them.

    • Prologue: Donald Trump has talked about taking revenge on his enemies since the early days of his 2024 presidential campaign. Ira Glass talks to reporter Jonathan Karl about how Trump has placed retribution at the center of his run and what we know about how he’s thinking about it. (16 minutes)
    • Act One: Reporter Alix Spiegel talks to two people with good reason to fear a second Trump administration. Former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham spent six years with the Trumps but resigned after January 6th and wrote a scathing tell-all book about her experience. Fred Wellman worked for The Lincoln Project - a group of high-profile Republicans who pledged to keep Trump out of office during the 2020 campaign. (22 minutes)
    • Act Two: Alex Vindman became the face of the first Trump impeachment after he reported to his superiors that Trump had asked the President of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of his political opponent. At the time, Vindman believed that his Congressional testimony would not jeopardize him; now, he and his wife Rachel are having second thoughts. (14 minutes)
    • Act Three: After hearing from people who dread a possible second Trump term, we hear from those who are excited about it. Reporter Zoe Chace checks into whether his supporters are excited for retribution. (7 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    This American Life
    enJune 09, 2024

    832: That Other Guy

    832: That Other Guy

    People tethered to one particular other person, whether they want to be or not.

    • Prologue: Guest host Emmanuel Dzotsi talks to Leroy Smith about how one high school basketball tryout forever changed Leroy’s relationship to a childhood friend. (7 minutes)
    • Act One: A man finds himself sucked into an intense head-to-head running competition against a perfect rival – all for free burritos from Chipotle. (18 minutes)
    • Act Two: Writer Simon Rich grapples with an A.I. chatbot that threatens to make him obsolete. (21 minutes)
    • Act Three: For writer Marie Phillips, moving in with her partner meant finding herself deeply connected to the woman who came before her. (12 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    This American Life
    enJune 02, 2024

    831: Lists!!!

    831: Lists!!!

    How they organize the chaos of the world, for good and for bad.

    • Prologue: Ira interviews David Wallechinsky, who wrote a wildly popular book in the 1970s called The Book of Lists, full of trivia and research, gathered into lists like "18 Brains" and "What They Weighed." The book sold millions of copies and had four sequels and a brief spin-off TV show. The list books were like the internet, before the internet. (12 minutes)
    • Act One: John Fecile talks to his brother, Pat, about a list their other brother made before he died. They each have different ideas about what the list means and how they feel about it. (14 minutes)
    • Act 2: A brief visit with Bobby, who keeps a list in his phone of all the dogs in his neighborhood and their names to save him from the awkwardness of not knowing the name of someone’s dog – because people get upset if you don’t remember their dog’s name. (3 minutes)
    • Act Two: Reporter Masha Gessen talks to Russians living in America and elsewhere, about lists they’ve been put on by the Russian government in the last few years. Masha is also on one of these lists. Each list has its own complex rules and potential consequences, for the people on the lists and for their family members who live in Russia. (28 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    This American Life
    enMay 26, 2024

    830: The Forever Trial

    830: The Forever Trial

    The trial for the men accused of orchestrating the September 11 terrorist attacks still hasn’t started yet. Family members of those who died that day are still hoping for some kind of accountability, more than 22 years later. This week, the story of how one victim’s sister is navigating this historic and twisted trial.

    • Prologue: Host Ira Glass introduces the new series that Serial is doing about Guantánamo Bay. This is the second of two episodes of theirs that we’re airing. (2 minutes)
    • Act One: We meet Colleen Kelly, a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and learn just how upside down and messed up the trial for the 9/11 accused has been over the past decade. (28 minutes)
    • Act Two: Sarah Koenig explains what’s probably the best possible outcome that everyone can hope for at this point. And why, when it hits the news someday — if it ever happens — it’s sure to be deeply misunderstood by lots of people. Plus a trip to Guantánamo with Colleen. (31 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    This American Life
    enMay 19, 2024

    829: Two Ledgers

    829: Two Ledgers

    For years, Majid believed that if he could testify in court about what happened to him when he was held in a CIA black site, a judge and jury would give him a break. Finally, he got a chance to see if he was right.

    • Prologue: Ira talks about the exciting new series that Serial is doing about Guantánamo Bay. We’re airing two of those episodes on the show – one this week and one next. (2 minutes)
    • Act One: Majid Khan struggled with his identity when he was young. And then he realized exactly who he wanted to be – a member of Al Qaeda, carrying out orders for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He did bad things. But are the things that the U.S. Government did to him worse than his actual crimes?  (38 minutes)
    • Act Two: Majid finally gets his day in court. At his sentencing hearing, he describes to the jury what his interrogators did to him. (20 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    This American Life
    enMay 12, 2024

    186: Prom

    186: Prom

    While the seniors danced at Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas—a town of about 3,000—a tornado hit the town, destroying about a third of it. When they emerged from the dance, they discovered what had happened, and in the weeks that followed, they tried to explain to themselves why the tornado hit where it did. Plus other stories that happen on Prom Night.

    • Prologue: A high school boy explains how prom is the culmination of his effort to get in with a cool group of people. (5 minutes)
    • Act One: Susan Burton reports on Prom Night 2001 in Hoisington, Kansas, a town of about 3,000. While the seniors danced, a tornado hit the town, destroying about a third of it. When they emerged from the dance, they discovered what had happened, and in the weeks that followed, they tried to explain to themselves why the tornado hit where it did. (25 minutes)
    • Act Two: Host Ira Glass talks with Francine Pascal, who's written or invented the plot lines for over 700 books for teenagers in the various Sweet Valley High series....Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley University, Sweet Valley Senior Year. She explains why a prom story is a must for teen movies and TV shows. (6 minutes)
    • Act Three: For a more typical view of prom night, we hear prom night at Chicago's Taft High School. (9 minutes)
    • Act Four: In this act, we argue that the epicenter of prom genius—the place where America's prom future is being born—is the town of Racine, Wisconsin. In Racine, they've added one ingredient to prom that takes it to a whole new level of intensity. Reported by Wendy Dorr. (10 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    568: Human Spectacle

    568: Human Spectacle

    Gladiators in the Colosseum. Sideshow performers. Reality television. We've always loved to gawk at the misery or majesty of others. But this week, we ask the question: What's it like when the tables are turned and all eyes are on you?

    • Prologue: Ira talks to Joel Gold, a psychologist and author, about a strangely common delusion known as the "Truman Show Delusion," in which patients believe that they are being filmed, 24/7, for a national reality television program. (6 minutes)
    • Act One: Producer Stephanie Foo speaks to Nasubi, a Japanese comedian who, in the 90s, just wanted a little bit of fame. So he was thrilled when he won an opportunity to have his own segment on a Japanese reality TV show. Until he found out the premise: he had to sit in an empty apartment with no food, clothes or contact with the outside world, enter sweepstakes from magazines… and hope that he won enough sustenance to survive. (23 minutes)
    • Act Two: Writer Ariel Sabar tells the story of Roger Barker, a psychologist who believed humans should be studied outside the lab. So Barker dispatched an army of graduate students to follow the children of Oskaloosa, Kansas, and write down every single thing they did. Sabar wrote a book about Roger Barker called "The Outsider." (8 minutes)
    • Act Three: Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall were a comedy duo back in the mid-1960s, playing clubs around Los Angeles, when their agent called to tell them he'd landed them the gig of a lifetime: They were going to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. The only problem was that their performance was a total fiasco, for a bunch of reasons, including one they never saw coming. David Segal reports. (17 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    306: Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

    306: Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

    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?

    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

    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

    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

    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

    826: Unprepared for What Has Already Happened

    826: Unprepared for What Has Already Happened

    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

    304: Heretics

    304: Heretics

    The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson. He was a rising star in the evangelical movement when he cast aside the idea of hell and, with it, everything he'd worked for over his entire life.

    • Carlton Pearson's church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the reverend. He didn't have an affair. He didn't embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse: He stopped believing in hell. (2 minutes)
    • Act One: Reporter Russell Cobb takes us through the remarkable and meteoric rise of Carlton Pearson from a young man to a Pentecostal Bishop: From the moment he first cast the devil out of his 17-year-old girlfriend, to the days when he had a close, personal relationship with Oral Roberts and had appearances on TV and at the White House. Just as Reverend Pearson's career peaked, with more than 5,000 members of his congregation coming every week, he started to think about hell, wondering if a loving God would really condemn most of the human race to burn and writhe in the fire of hell for eternity. (30 minutes)
    • Act Two: Once he starts preaching his own revelation, Carlton Pearson's church falls apart. After all, when there's no hell (as the logic goes), you don't really need to believe in Jesus to be saved from it. What follows are the swift departures of his pastors, and an exodus from his congregation—which quickly dwindled to a few hundred people. Donations drop off too, but just as things start looking bleakest, new kinds of people, curious about his change in beliefs, start showing up on Sunday mornings. (23 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    825: Yousef

    825: Yousef

    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

    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

    653: Crime Scene

    653: Crime Scene

    Every crime scene hides a story. In this week's show, we hear about crime scenes and the stories they tell.

    • Medical Examiner D.J. Drakovic, in Pontiac Michigan, explains how every crime scene is like a novel. (5 minutes)
    • Act One: Reporter Nancy Updike spends two days with Neal Smither, who cleans up crime scenes for a living, and comes away wanting to open his Los Angeles franchise, despite the gore — or maybe because of it. (12 minutes)
    • Act Two: Actor Matt Malloy reads a short story by Aimee Bender, from her book “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt," about what can be and cannot be recovered from a crime scene, or from anywhere. (12 minutes)
    • Act Three: Sometimes criminals return to the scene of their misdeeds — to try to make things right, to try to undo the past. Katie Davis reports on her neighbor Bobby, who returned to the scene where he robbed people and conned people. This time, he came to coach little league. (22 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    791: Math or Magic?

    791: Math or Magic?

    When it comes to finding love, there seems to be two schools of thought on the best way to go about it. One says, wait for that lightning-strike magic. The other says, make a calculation and choose the best option available. Who has it right?

    • Prologue: When guest host Tobin Low was looking for a husband, he got opposing advice from two of the most important people in his life, his mom and his best friend. (8 minutes)
    • Act One: Zarna Garg had a clear plan for how she was going to find a husband. Things did not go as she expected.  (17 minutes)
    • Act Two: People who fall in love at first sight often describe it as a kind of magic. One of our producers, Aviva DeKornfeld, is skeptical of these sorts of claims. And also a little envious. (10 minutes)
    • Act Three: Calvin is an 11 year old who is learning what love is all about, the hard way. (7 minutes)
    • Act Four: Writer Marie Phillips believes that magic is not just reserved for the beginning of a relationship. In fact, she says the real magic can be found  in the end, once you decide to finally leave. (8 minutes)
    • Coda: Tobin Low tells us which camp he falls in — math or magic. (2 minutes)

    Transcripts are available at thisamericanlife.org

    823: The Question Trap

    823: The Question Trap

    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

    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

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