Flavorpill Required Viewing: This American Life Live!

Last Thursday, Ira Glass & Co. stepped out of the shadowy anonymity of radio and into hundreds of movie theaters across the country via satellite for a special live extended broadcast of This American Life with Glass, Dan Savage, Starlee Kine, Joss Whedon, and Mike Birbiglia. (Hear it for free here.) We caught a screening in Brooklyn at one of our favorite theaters in the city, BAM Rose Cinemas, but if you missed it, you can catch an encore performance tomorrow night. Find out why this is a show that’s worth the price of a movie ticket after the jump.

The theme for the show is returning to the scene of a crime, and it opens with a Chris Ware cartoon illustrating “scarlet letter” punishments in Florida. It’s like the “I steal forks” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry is forced to parade up and down the entrance of the restaurant from which he “borrowed” the fork in question.  In Florida, the teenager in question stole some candy from a convenience story, and is completely unrepentant. The judge who sentenced her talks about needing stronger punishments to spur a cathartic moment inside the offender. As is often the case, that’s pretty hard to do, and these greater moments of realization can’t be imposed by an outside authority. This point is highlighted when the teen in question talks about how her friends come to watch and laugh it her, and instead of being ashamed, she’s amused as well, negating any effect the judge hoped the punishment would have.

The second story comes from Mike Birbiglia, a very funny and talented comedian whose one-man show, Sleepwalk with Me, is currently off-Broadway. (In fact, this tale is lifted straight from it.) It’s all about now being in the wrong place at the wrong time can cost a lot of money but turn out okay in the end. We’re being intentionally vague here because so much of the fun comes with the anticipation of what will happen next, Birbiglia’s spot-on timing, and his sarcastically-knowing delivery.

Next up is Starlee Kine, a writer and This American Life favorite. It’s easy to see why with this darkly-comic story about soothing the wounds of a painful childhood by killing your parents. Yes, you heard right. Kine goes to a rehabilitation center that provides support and a communal experience along with a baseball bat to whack away at dear old mom and dad. The group spends the day with mom, pummeling pillows and letting loose their feelings. When they get to their fathers, they just go for it full throttle. By returning to the scene of the crime of her childhood, she’s able to find a catharsis.  No parents were harmed in this therapeutic exercise.

Which brings us to Dan Savage. Best known for his snarky sex advice column, he tells a heartfelt story about how his mother’s death led him to question his own agnosticism and move away from the Catholic Church as he came to terms with his sexuality. It’s the most startling moment of the evening and gives a glimpse into Savage’s life beyond the witticisms. There are many moments where his voice shakes and the audience is silent, hanging on each word. It’s as much his personal journey as it is an exploration of faith and what it means to believe.  This is followed by footage of an old TAL broadcast where Savage and his mom are answering sex advice questions along with Ira Glass and his late mom. It’s a perfect moment of sadness and humor that has come to be the signature of the show.

Other highlights include a animation short of an Andrew Bird song about the impossible love between a mouse and a cat’s head — there is a place for them — and Buffy the Vampire creator Joss Whedon performing a couple songs from his internet musical, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Clocking in at 90 minutes, they leave you wanting more, which is OK, because all of their shows since 1995 are archived at www.thisamericanlife.org.

Here’s to another 14 years!