Darth Vader Impersonator

I do not recommend this piece to children (seriously). I recommend it to basically everyone else, though.

I play it for my friends, I’ve played it for romantic partners, and I’ll be playing it long after radio is succeeded by whatever medium comes next. “Darth Vader Impersonator Impersonator” was put together by Sean Cole and Benjamen Walker– two public radio stalwarts– and it has to be one of my all-time favorite pieces of radio.

So what have we got here? What we have is, not to overstate it, but, the perfect story. A compelling character? Check. A struggle? Check. Change? Check. Something to teach us? Check.

The story goes through a series of extremely interesting events and revelations: the main character Bo was teased as a child, which prompted him to embrace Darth Vader. He built himself a Darth Vader suit, and obtained a contract from Lucas Films to officially represent their company. He even got a tracheotomy so that his voice would have that metallic, Vader ring to it, and then. . .

Let’s pause for a moment, and go back to our list of perfect story ingredients.

Compelling Character: The Character of Bo is every radio producer’s dream: a compelling and articulate individual who is totally different from you or me. All three parts of that equation are important. If the person isn’t compelling, no one will want to hear their story. It’s up to you, the radio producer, to figure out what compelling is. If the person is too much like you or me, well, that works for some stories, but I already know what I think and what I want. I want to know what someone who is completely different from me wants. And what does this character want?

To be evil. How beautiful. And an evil we all know, an iconic evil from one of the best known stories of our generation, Star Wars. Something we all can relate to. Except this is reversed. Here’s someone who wants the bad guy to win. I want to hear more.

Struggle: For most of the story, everything goes well for Bo. Or as well as things can go for an adult obsessed with a movie character. But we need a problem. Otherwise this won’t be an interesting story. And what’s that problem? Bo gets a request from Lucas Films to represent Vader’s “inner goodness.” He fights.

Change: Bo ends up losing what he’s worked so hard for. He’s in trouble. Then we see him get into (more) trouble, choking the kid at the mall, getting caught masturbating in the security booth, being mocked online. So things get pretty bad.

Something to learn: In the end, we see how Bo’s doing today. We find out he’ll be ok (because we really don’t want anything that bad to happen to him.) So we have a beautiful story, well-told. We also have a narrator who remembers to wrap the story up with a moral: “Evil chooses its own constituency.”

And did I mention it’s all made up? (But you knew that all along, didn’t you?)

Darth Vader Impersonator Impersonator
Produced by Benjamen Walker and Sean Cole for Your Radio Nightlight.
[10:43] (includes some profanity)


This week on our show, four stories of giving. First, it’s a story about a charity fundraiser, and the woman who comes to question why fundraisers even exist. Then it’s the story of a t-shirt entrepreneur’s attempt to send one million shirts to Africa. Third, it’s two interviews with people who had to decide if they were willing to donate bone marrow. Last, the story of Odyssey Works, a group of artists that create works of art for a single person.

 Producer: Charlie Mintz

Featuring: Rachel Hamburg, Will Rogers, Jason Sadler, Saundra Schimmelpfennig, TMS Ruge, Nick Hartley, Mandeep Gill, Kristina Kulin, Abraham Burickson, and Jen Harmon

Release Date: 18 April 2012



Story 1: Me and the 49ers Cheerleaders

State of the Human producer Rachel Hamburg had the chance to cater a charity fundraiser. She got to see what enticements were used to get people to give. She started to wonder, what was the point of it all?


Featuring: Rachel Hamburg



Story 2: How Not To Give

It was an epic project: send one million shirts to Africa. But before it even got off the ground, it hit a snag. Is sending a million used shirts across the Atlantic ocean even a good idea?


Producer: Will Rogers and Charlie Mintz

Featuring: Jason Sadler, Saundra Schimmelpfennig, TMS Ruge

Links: Good Intents; Project Diaspora; I Wear Your Shirt



Story 3: A Tale of Two Donors

No one said donating bone marrow was a trip to the water park. But if it’s a choice between avoiding pain, and saving a life, how do you decide what to do? 


Featuring: Nick Hartley, Mandeep Gill

Links: Stanford BLood Center


Story 4: Odyssey Works

What would it be like to have a play made just for you? One that incorporated your dreams, and your wishes, and brought you into its world to participate?


Featuring: Kristina Kulin, Abraham Burickson, and Jen Harmon

Links: Odyssey Works

Seeing Ourselves

Since the days of Narcissus and the looking pool, we’ve known there’s a danger in seeing ourselves. There’s a possibility of caring too much, or seeing something we don’t want to see. But that hasn’t stopped humans from trying to see more and more. Today we have more ways to see ourselves than ever before. So it’s time to take a look at looking. What do we want to see, and what do we do with that information? Today on our show, four stories of people who tried to see themselves clearly. A woman views her genetic profile, and learns why her tendency towards depression might be an asset. A true mirror–one that doesn’t reverse your image–is deployed on Stanford students. A personality test called the Meyers Briggs profile is taken to the max. And a girl explains her point system that lets her keep track of exactly how people feel about her.

Producer: Jonah Willihnganz

Host: Xandra Clark

Featuring: Daniel Steinbock, Lone Frank, Colleen Caleshu, Hank Greely, John Nantz, Rachel Hamburg, Xandra Clark, Iris Clayter, Christy Hartman, and Alexzandra Scully

Release Date: 11 April 2012



Story 1: The True Mirror

Every day we look in the mirror to see what we look like. But that reflection is a lie. It’s flipped. The face you see in a mirror is a face only you know. Maybe that’s fine, but if you want to see how you look to other people–and not just frozen in a photograph–you need a “true mirror”. State of the Human brought one to Stanford’s White Plaza, in the heart of campus, to see how students reacted to seeing themselves, truly.

Producers: Xandra Clark and Rachel Hamburg

Featuring: Daniel Steinbock


Story 2: The Human Map

For seeing one’s self, there’s no portrait more fundamental than the genetic code. But the genome is a frustrating way to see ourselves because there’s still so much we don’t know. Hear how three individuals deal with this incomplete information to see themselves, others, and the future of genetics.

Producers: Raj Bhandari and Jonah Willihnganz

Featuring: Lone Frank, Colleen Caleshu and Hank Greely

Image via flickr


Story 3: I Have Enough T For 1000 People

Personality tests are ubiquitous today. You could spend a life time answering multiple choice questions, figuring out which brand of sports drink you are, what animal you most resemble, and which pop star is your psychological twin. But how helpful are any of these? And which just feed our desire about ourselves? In our next story, you’ll hear about one test known as the Myers-Briggs. It’s about someone who was exposed to the test at 14, and hasn’t stopped pondering it since.

Producers: Rachel Hamburg and Xandra Clark

Featuring: John Nantz


Story 4: Keeping Score

The most powerful mirror we use may be other people. We all know the cliche, true self-worth comes from within. But what if that’s wrong? Like it or not, we see ourselves how other people see us. We like to know what other people think. But not too many of us, probably, have developed a point system for keeping track, like in our next story.

Producers: Christy Hartman and Alexzandra Scully

Featuring: Iris Clayter


An Evening with Peter Guber


Tuesday, April 17, 2012
CEMEX Auditorium, Knight Management Center
FREE; no registration is required

Today, all of us—whether we know it or not—are in the emotional transportation business. More and more, success is achieved by using compelling stories that move audiences—media, donors, consumers, and employees—to action. In this special event, executive, entrepreneur, and bestselling author Peter Guber will share what he has learned over decades in the entertainment and communications industries about finding and telling authentic stories that make deep emotional connections with audiences. Through his own entertaining and enlightening stories, Guber will share how to capture the attention of your audience, connect your story to the audience’s self interest, and especially how to turn passive listeners into active advocates for your cause. Join us for an evening that will demonstrate how to transform information into compelling narrative and will empower you to employ purposeful storytelling as your “secret sauce” to propel greater good and social change.

Peter Guber is Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment
 and has been a producer or the executive producer of five films that have received Best Picture Academy Award nominations. His box office hits include The Color Purple, Midnight Express, Batman, Flashdance, and The Kids Are All Right. He is a professor at UCLA, and is the owner and co-executive chairman of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. His newest book, Tell to Win, became an instant #1 New York Times bestseller.

This program is co-sponsored by The Stanford Storytelling Project, Stephanie and Fred Harman, and Stanford Continuing Studies.

A “Cry” Button

There’s one radio trick that brings me to tears every time, and it features quite prominently in a 10-minute piece called “This can go on forever,” by Shea Shackelford and Virginia Millington.

The piece tells the story of an adopted young man who, after having a child of his own, reunites with his birth-mother. The moment when the tears erupt (quite predictably) occurs when a mother, after 19 years of no contact, meets a grown-man version of the baby to whom she gave birth.

But it isn’t just the content of the story that makes me cry. I know this because it happens in non-emotional stories as well as emotional ones. Radiolab, for example, does it all the time; I cry nearly every time I listen to the show.

It has to do with the convergence of two perspectives.

Here’s the formula:

Step 1: Get more than one character telling the same story from his/her own perspective.

Step 2: Choose wisely, after you consider your options regarding the moment when the perspectives converge:

  • Tease it out.
  • Hit the listener with it from out-of-nowhere.
  • Creep up on it slowly, like a zombie in a horror film.

Every producer has her own way of playing with these moments of convergence. For me, the result is always the same: I cry. I sometimes cry so hard my lips curl, and I become wary of the moaning noises that attempt to escape my mouth.

In this piece, it’s the moment when both characters paraphrase the same line.

He says it from his perspective, then she says it from hers. They were both there. They both heard it. They both remember it. To travel with these characters for the 8 minutes leading up to that moment is like watching two powerful magnets draw closer to one another from two sides of a desk. You know they’re going to stick, you just want to watch it happen. And when it does, it’s beautiful.

If you’ve been needing a really good cry, this might be just the thing for you. Or if you’re not one for tears, just notice how you feel when the two perspectives converge.

“This can go on forever”
Produced in 2010 by Shea Shackelford and Virginia Millington at the DC Listening Lounge
10 minutes, 25 seconds
first heard on saltcast
Photo courtesy Carol Broebeck