This American Life

This American Life is a weekly public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.8 million listeners. It is produced by Chicago Public Media, distributed by Public Radio International, and has won all of the major broadcasting awards. It is also often the most popular podcast in the country, with around 700,000 people downloading each week. From 2006-2008, we produced a television version of This American Life on the Showtime network, which won three Emmys. We're also the co-producers, with NPR News, of the economics podcast and blog Planet Money. And a half dozen stories from the radio show are being developed into films.

The radio show and TV show follow the same format. There's a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It's mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There's lots more to the show, but it's sort of hard to describe. Probably the best way to understand the show is to start at our favorites page, though we do have longer guides to our radio show and our TV show. If you want to dive into the hundreds of episodes we've done over the years, there's an archive of all our old radio shows and listings for all our TV episodes, too.

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Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
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Blackjack20140629 (BBC7)

A woman compulsively gambles away her inheritance and Christians take down casinos.

A woman compulsively gambles away her inheritance and Christians team up to take down casinos. US public radio show from 2002.

High Cost Of Living20140608 (BBC7)

Stories of those who choose not to live each moment to the fullest to make themselves numb

Stories of people who choose not to live to the fullest, and instead make themselves numb. US public radio show from 1999.

Weaving interviews, stories, and music, This American Life takes us on an intense weekly journey into the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people and situations.

One of the great speech radio successes of recent years from Ira Glass and his team at Chicago Public Media.

Rest Stop20140706 (BBC7)

Nine radio producers, two days, one rest stop.

Nine radio producers. Two days. One rest stop on the New York State Thruway. In this show, we'll bring you stories of people who are just passing through, and people who are at the rest stop every day-working. One of them has worked there since 1969. A bunch of others came from Asia and eastern Europe to pour coffee for travelers. US public radio show from 2009.

Weaving interviews, stories, and music, This American Life takes us on an intense weekly journey into the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people and situations.

One of the great speech radio successes of recent years from Ira Glass and his team at Chicago Public Media.

Testosterone20140622 (BBC7)

Some people get more testosterone and regret it. Some lose it and love life without it.

Some people get more testosterone and regret it. Some lose it and appreciate life without it. US public radio show from 2002.

Where Words Fail20140713 (BBC7)

We tell stories to explain things that remain inexplicable.

One reason we tell stories is to explain things to ourselves that cannot, in the end, always be explained. When someone we're close to dies, we struggle for a way to get our minds around the fact of their absence. And often-the stories we invent aren't quite up to the job. In this week's show, people struggle to invent words adequate to cope with death. US public radio show from 1999.

Weaving interviews, stories, and music, This American Life takes us on an intense weekly journey into the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people and situations.

One of the great speech radio successes of recent years from Ira Glass and his team at Chicago Public Media.

75Kindness Of Strangers20140601

Stories of the kindness of strangers and where it leads. Also, the unkindness of strangers and where that can lead. All of today's stories take place in the city most people think of as the least kind city in America: New York.

104Music Lessons20130428

What's frustrating about music lessons, what's miraculous about them, and what they actually teach us. This show was recorded in front of a live audience at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, with help from KQED-FM, during the 1998 Public Radio Conference in San Francisco.

110Mapping20121230

Five ways of mapping the world. One story about people who make maps the traditional way - by drawing things we can see. And other stories about people who map the world using smell, sound, touch, and taste. The world redrawn by the five senses.

154In Dog We Trust20120506

Stories of dogs and cats and other animals that live in our homes. Exactly how much are they caught up in everyday family dynamics? We answer this question and others.

164Crime Scene20120603

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

165Americans In Paris20140518

Many Americans have dreamy and romantic ideas about Paris, notions which probably trace back to the 1920s vision of Paris created by the expatriate Americans there. But what's it actually like in Paris if you're an American, without rose-colored glasses?

17224 Hours At The Golden Apple2012101420140511 (BBC7)

The This American Life producers document one day in a Chicago diner called The Golden Apple, starting at 5 a.m. and going until 5 a.m. the next morning. We hear from the waitress who has worked the graveyard shift for over two decades, the regular customers who come every day, the couples working out their problems, various assorted drunks, and, of course, cops.

One day in a Chicago diner called The Golden Apple, from 5am until 5am the next morning.

One day in a Chicago diner called The Golden Apple, starting at 5am until 5am the next morning. US public radio show from 2000.

173Three Kinds Of Deception20130120

A story of self-deception, a story about deceiving others, and a story about accidental deception. And how one type of deception can easily turn into another.

175Babysitting2001010520140525 (BBC7)

Stories of babysitters, and what goes on while mom and dad are away and never hear about.

Stories of babysitters, and what goes on while mom and dad are away that mom and dad never find out about. Including the story of two teenagers who decide to invent children to babysit, as an excuse to get out of their own house.

US public radio show from 2001.

Weaving interviews, stories, and music, This American Life takes us on an intense weekly journey into the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people and situations.

One of the great speech radio successes of recent years from Ira Glass and his team at Chicago Public Media.

188Kid Logic20120203

Stories of kids using perfectly logical arguments, and arriving at perfectly wrong conclusions.

197Before It Had A Name2001102620140504 (BBC7)

There's the time when you know something is happening, but you're not sure exactly what.

There's the time when you know something is happening, but you're not sure exactly what. The illness before it's diagnosed. The era, before it's been given a title. And something changes when the name is given. Stories of that transformation...between what it is now, and what it was before it had a name. US public radio show from 2001.

Weaving interviews, stories, and music, This American Life takes us on an intense weekly journey into the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people and situations.

One of the great speech radio successes of recent years from Ira Glass and his team at Chicago Public Media.

199House On Loon Lake20140608

Our entire show this week is one long story, sort of a real-life Hardy Boys mystery. More than most of our shows, this one lends itself to a Hollywood-style tagline. Perhaps: "You Might Break In...But You'll Never Forget." Or "Dead Letters Tell No Tales."

207Special Ed20120805

Stories about people who were told that they're different. Some of them were comfortable with it. Some didn't understand it. And some understood, but didn't like it.

226Reruns20130310

Stories of people stuck in their own personal reruns-moments or episodes that they revisit over and over again. You can watch an animated version of Robert Krulwich's Jackie O story from this episode.

233Starting From Scratch20130317

Stories of people starting over, sometimes because they want to, other times because they have to.

283Remember Me20121028

Stories about people who are remembered very differently than they'd wished. The ghost of a kindly, distinguished philanthropist supposedly plays pranks on guests at a Ramada hotel in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. A dying mother makes a tape for her developmentally disabled daughter, hoping she'll watch it someday, knowing she might not

289Go Ask Your Father20120617

In this show, sons and daughters get to find out the one thing they've always wanted to know about their father. The answers aren't always what they hope for.

304Heretics20121216

The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who cast aside the idea of Hell, and with it everything he'd worked for over his entire life.

332The Ten Commandments20120408

Stories of people struggling to follow the Ten Commandments from the book of Exodus.

352The Ghost Of Bobby Dunbar20120909

In 1912 a four year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi (the picture at left was taken just days later). Reporter Tal McThenia co-authored a book about the Bobby Dunbar story called A Case For Solomon.

360Switched At Birth2012032520140615 (BBC7)

On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families.

Two baby girls are born in small-town Wisconsin. Then a secret is kept for four decades.

In summer 1951, two baby girls are born in small-town Wisconsin. Then a secret is kept for four decades. US public radio show from 2008.

361Fear Of Sleep20120902

Mike Birbiglia got used to strange things happening to him when he slept-until something happened that almost killed him (Mike's story is now a feature film, Sleepwalk With Me). This and other reasons to fear sleep, including bedbugs, "The Shining," and mild-mannered husbands who turn into maniacs while asleep.

379Return To The Scene Of The Crime20120422

A live episode of the radio program, including stories told on stage by Dan Savage and Mike Birbiglia. Guess what? We're doing another live show like this - nationwide on movie screens - on May 10th!

398Long Shot20120708

Stories of people betting on something with very bad odds, mostly because they have no other choice.

399Contents Unknown2014012620140601 (BBC7)

A man named David Maclean finds himself in a train station in India, with no idea how he got there or who he is. His memory gone, he has no choice but to let other people-police, doctors, friends, family-create an identity for him. David's book about this incident is called The Answer to the Riddle Is Me. Plus other stories of filling in the blank.

David MacLean finds himself in a train station in India. He has no idea where or who he is

David MacLean finds himself in a train station in India. He has no idea where or who he is. US public radio show from 2010.

409Held Hostage2012022620140720 (BBC7)

A kidnapping victim in Colombia spends his nights listening to a radio station that plays messages from the families of the kidnapped. That and other stories of people held captive-by criminals, by paperwork, and in one man's case, his own body-and the ways they try to cope.

Criminals, paperwork and the body - all of these can hold us captive.

Criminals, paperwork and, in one man's case, his own body - all of these can hold us captive. US Public Radio Show from 2010.

425Slow To React20120311

This week we have stories where people's reactions move very slowly, including the story of a wedding 17 years in the making, and what it's like

when you have a terminal illness that's supposed to kill you in a year or two, and it decides to take its time. Note: The story in Act One isn’t suitable for children and we’d like to note a trigger warning to survivors of abuse.

436The Psychopath Test20120513

Recently we heard about this test that could determine if someone was a psychopath. So, naturally, our staff decided to take it. This week we hear the results. Plus Jon Ronson asks the question: is this man a psychopath?

443Amusement Park20120722

We head to some of the happiest places on Earth: Amusement Parks! Jonathan Goldstein revisits one he worked at as a teen, Ira takes us behind the scenes at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, where the staff so loves their jobs they make music videos and other videos.

447The Incredible Case Of The P I Moms20120923

What do you get when you take a P.I. firm, then add in a bunch of sexy soccer moms, official sponsorship from Glock, a lying boss, and delusions of grandeur? This week's show.

449Middle School20121111

This week, at the suggestion of a 14-year-old listener, we bring you stories from the awkward, confusing, hormonally charged world of middle school. Including a teacher who transforms peer pressure into a force for good, and reports from the frontlines of the middle school dance. (Pictured: 7th graders at a costume dance, dressed as chararacters from The Outsiders.)

450So Crazy It Just Might Work20121118

A few years ago a cancer researcher named Jonathan Brody gave a speech at his alma mater saying that people in his field really needed to think outside the box to find a cure. Afterward he was approached by his old orchestra teacher, who had something way out of the box—a theory that he could kill cancer cells with electromagnetic waves. And other stories.

458Play The Part20120219

Stories of people who decide to flip their personalities and do the exact opposite of what they normally do. Pictured: Louis Ortiz, Obama impersonator. A documentary about him is raising money on Kickstarter.

Prologue.

Ira speaks with a reality TV producer named Bill Langworthy, who has noticed that people do things in front of the camera that they would never, ever do in their actual lives. (3 1/2 minutes)

Act One. The Audacity of Louis Ortiz.

2008 was a hard year for Louis Ortiz. He had lost his job and was playing in pool tournaments in The Bronx to scratch together some money. Then one day a friend pointed out that Louis looked strikingly similar to a man who had been in the news: presidential candidate Barack Obama. And that's when everything started to change for Louis, in ways he could never have expected. The story is told by Ryan Murdock, who is making a documentary film called The Audacity of Louis Ortiz. Ryan is raising funding for the project on Kickstarter. (38 minutes)

Play

Act Two. Wife Lessons.

Kristen Finch was a speech therapist who sometimes worked with kids with Asperger Syndrome, symptoms of which include emotional distance, inflexibility and missing social cues. Kristin and her co-workers often joked that all their husbands had Asperger's, since the symptoms overlap with stereotypically male personality traits. But then Kristen wondered—what if it was actually true for her husband Dave? The quiz that Dave Finch took to determine whether he had Aspergers can be found online (note: it's not an official diagnostic tool). Dave wrote a book about this experience, called The Journal of Best Practices. (15 1/2 minutes)

Song: "Sweet Inspiration", The Sweet Inspirations

459What Kind Of Country20120304

All across the country right now, local and state governments are finding they can't pay their bills. Schools are losing teachers, street lights are going dark, garbage is piling up in public parks, and cops are suddenly an optional expense.

460Retraction20120318

We've discovered that one of our most popular episodes contained numerous fabrications. This week, we detail the errors in Mike Daisey's story about visiting Foxconn, which makes iPads and other products for Apple in China. Marketplace's China correspondent Rob Schmitz discovered the fabrications.

Transcript. Press Release.

461Take The Money And Run For Office20120401

For anyone who has ever heard the term "Washington insider" and felt outside - we are with you. So this week, we go inside the rooms where the deals get made, to the actual moment that the checks change hands - and we ask the people writing and receiving the checks what, exactly, is the money buying?

462Own Worst Enemy20120415

Stories of people who can’t seem to stop getting in their own way - sabotaging everything from their romantic relationships to their physical health. Featuring a new radio drama by Jonathan Mitchell.

463Mortal Vs Venial20120429

Religion makes it pretty clear what differentiates mortal sins from venial ones. Mortal are the really bad sins and venial the lesser ones. But in our everyday lives, it can be really difficult to determine just how bad we've been. This week we have stories of people trying to figure out that question.

464Invisible Made Visible20120520

This week, the radio debut of the episode we just did live on stage and beamed to movie theatres all over the country. David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Tig Notaro and Ryan Knighton performed stories. Mike Birbiglia made a short film, co-starring Terry Gross, which you can see here.

470Show Me The Way2012072720140518 (BBC7)

People in trouble who look for help in mystifying places. A 15-year-old seeks out his hero

Stories about people in trouble, who look for help in mystifying places. A 15-year-old boy travels more than 1,000 miles, alone, to seek out his hero, whom he's never met. And from Wiretap, Jonathan Goldstein and David Rakoff tell the story of a man with a terrible medical problem, hoping for a cure from a famous doctor - who only communicates in rhyme.

US public radio show from 2012.

Weaving interviews, stories, and music, This American Life takes us on an intense weekly journey into the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people and situations.

One of the great speech radio successes of recent years from Ira Glass and his team at Chicago Public Media.

485Surrogates20130127

This week we look at people who see themselves in others and try to live out their lives through stand-ins — including the story of what one father saw in the convicted murderer he decided to adopt. And the proxy battle over a woman’s honor that became a presidential obsession.

487Harper High School - 120130217

We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances. We found so many incredible and surprising stories, this show is a two-parter; Part One airs this week, Part Two is next week.

488Harper High School - 220130224

We pick up where we left off last week in our second hour of stories from Harper High School in Chicago. We find out if a shooting in the neighborhood will derail the school's Homecoming game and dance. We hear the origin story of one of Harper's more prominent gangs. And we ask a group of teenage boys: where do you get your guns?

517A Day At The Beach20140202

It's January, and freezing outside. This week 5 stories from the sunny beach! Including David Sedaris telling us how losing a sister in 2013 prompted a family reunion, and an impulse buy of a lifetime — an oceanfront cottage big enough for all of them.

521Bad Baby20140330

They're small. And they're cuddly. But sometimes it feels as though our babies were replaced with demon replicas — controlling, demanding, or just downright awful. This week, stories of infants and children who dominate the adults around them with their baditude, or whom adults have painted with the "bad" brush from early on. We also ask the question: at what age does badness begin?

522Tarred And Feathered20140413

This week, stories of people being threatened and punished with public shame. Including the story of someone who was literally tarred and feathered. It happened a lot more recently than you'd guess.

523Death And Taxes20140427

It is a peculiar feeling to know with certainty that something big is about to happen to you. This week we watch people go right up to the edge of inevitable change. We hear from preteens about the terrifying knowledge that puberty is about to happen...any minute now. And true to the death and taxes saying, we found it unavoidable to include a story about each one of those things.

524I Was So High20140504

Your waitress. Your colleagues at work. Your doctor. Maybe even your parents. They’re all high. All the time. That’s what it feels like anyway. This week, stories in which drug use and daily life intersect - and in which people get high in secret and then do their best to function in the non-high world. Also, we hear some “I Was So High” stories from our very own listeners.

525Call For Help20140511

Stories of people coming to terms with being in serious trouble. They need help. Figuring out how to get it, that's another problem.

526Is That What I Look Like?20140525

There's how you see yourself. And there's how the rest of the world sees you. Sometimes those two do not match up. This week we have stories of people who get a glimpse of themselves from some other vantage point and discover things that they had never known.

527180 Degrees20140615

Flipflops, u-turns, changes of heart, about faces. Completely changing our position — sometimes it can be our best move, sometimes it can be our worst. Either way, it's usually complicated. This week we bring you stories of people who go one way, and then, for what ever reason, turn around and go the exact opposite direction.

528The Radio Drama Episode20140622

Our most ambitious live show ever! (VIDEO DOWNLOAD) We pulled together a massive team of theater pros at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Opera House - nearly 50 singers, actors, dancers and musicians. The result? Journalism turned into a Broadway musical, into opera. Mike Birbiglia, Sasheer Zamata, Stephin Merritt, Lindsay Mendez, Josh Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others.

529Human Spectacle20140629

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?