Training Wheels

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Tell Us How You Got There
By Victoria Muirhead

Tell Us How You Got There

In 2010, This American Life hit their 400-episode milestone. To commemorate, TAL staff decided to take on a challenge: produce stories pitched by their parents. Ira Glass shared an awkward story about losing his suit on a train, Nancy Updike came up with a jingle about the Erie Canal, but the far-and-away winner of this challenge was Lisa Pollak, who accepted a pitch from her mother to create a piece about “funny funerals.”


In addition to being completely hilarious, Funny Funerals offers aspiring podcast producers, like me, a rare insight into how to tackle a difficult story. Lisa Pollak reveals that even if you lack the ingredients of a good story (protagonist, dramatic arc, etc.), all is not lost!


I used to think Lisa’s piece was about funny funerals. It wasn’t until I listened to it about half a dozen times that I realized it was not a piece about funny funerals, but a piece about Lisa Pollak’s search for funny funeral stories.


How to Tell a Heartbreaker
By Bonnie Swift

This country’s history is filled with stories that are difficult to read. I’ve been trying to finish Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for a year and a half now, and can only get through one chapter before I have to set it down. It takes me a month or so before I have the energy to pick it up again. These kinds of stories take tremendous effort to absorb, and yet these are important stories and we should know them.

But how do we convince our listeners to listen to stories that yield an immediate jolt of sorrow and shame?

One way is to couch them in more hopeful narratives, as evidenced by pieces like this, which tells the extremely difficult story of Chief Joseph within a more buoyant, contemporary framework.