In this season of giving, Ira Glass — the Pulitzer Prize-winning host of This American Life — and the actor Neil Patrick Harris shared a stage on Tuesday evening to raise funds for America’s public radio stations.
The two connected in New York City for a wide-ranging conversation about journalism, acting, artificial intelligence and creativity. And to have a balloon animal-making race. (Fun fact: both Harris and Glass took up magic as children, and learned to make balloon animals while playing other kids’ birthday parties. Tonight, in a race to make the best poodle, Harris won on speed, while Glass won on style.)
The two had previously connected back in August for an interview celebrating the 100th issue of Wondercade, Harris’s award-winning weekly email newsletter. Tuesday’s conversation, hosted by the Midnight Theatre on Manhattan’s west side, took place in front of 150 donors and friends, as public radio donors across the country watched via livestream.
Halfway through the program, Glass and Harris conducted a giveaway contest, randomly picking one station out of 181 from across the country to win $10,000, courtesy of the evening’s sponsor, The Glenrothes. TROY Public Radio (in Troy, Alabama) took home the prize.
“On behalf of Troy Public Radio’s team, our community of listeners, and fellow fans of This American Life, we are delighted and over the moon about this gracious gift from [event sponsors] The Glenrothes and The Edrington Group,” said TROY Public Radio director Kyle Gassiott and manager of development Michelle Mowery in a statement. “This is definitely an unexpected end-of-year gift, but one which we will collectively benefit from in 2024. Thank you for making us a part of the live event, we really feel like superstars!”
Neil Patrick Harris Interviews Radio Legend Ira Glass for Wondercade’s 100th IssueIn a wide-ranging conversation, NPH and IG chat the art of storytelling and more
Throughout the evening, Glass and Harris compared notes about the commonalities between journalism and acting, and how both are driven by emotion, conflict and plot. In one anecdote, Glass recounted a harrowing story he worked on in which a 13-year-old girl survived being attacked by a shark while on a family vacation. Despite being severely injured, her parents shrugged it off after a blasé response from the doctor who tended to the girl following the attack — even after she started vomiting up blood and stomach lining. “Mind over matter,” they said. They only finally took her back to the doctor once she had trouble breathing and it was clear she was on death’s door.
Glass recalled the story to highlight the importance of conflict in radio journalism. In the girl’s story, he noted, the true conflict was not with the shark — it was with her parents. Convincing them of the severity of her condition was a literal life-or-death situation. Radio journalists, Glass explained, find the drama, and identify characters who may have conflict, or try to convince each other of something, just as actors in a movie do.
Harris pointed out another similarity between actors and journalists, and their ability to tell stories: the power of putting pen to paper. It helps actors memorize scenes; Harris said if you can write the scene out by hand from memory, you’ve got it down. Glass agreed, and said it helps radio journalists better plan the story — writing notes as they listen back to the audio drills the material into their heads, and also helps them map out what goes where in the narrative. (Indeed, the cognitive benefits of such tactile techniques are backed by science.)
The event closed with another call to the importance of donations: “Because of you, we get to do our jobs,” Glass said.
Click here to find your public radio station. Give them a listen — or even better, some cash.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.