Ira Glass On The Peculiar Experience Of Watching Himself Go Viral

In 2011, a video of the This American LIfe host talking about creativity spread across the internet. But for Glass, it was a “weirdly impersonal” experience.

1. In 2011, David Shiyang Liu created a video that animated words spoken by This American Life’s Ira Glass, and posted it to Vimeo. It went crazy viral.

Video available at: http://vimeo.com/24715531.

The original video has logged over 800,000 views alone, and posts of Liu’s video on YouTube and elsewhere have added at least another 100,000 views. The video has also inspired a few other videos using Glass’ words — and it’s apparently become something of a standard exercise for designers and design students.

2. The audio came from a video Glass had shot for Current TV two years earlier (and posted by PRI on YouTube), in which Glass talked more expansively about the creative process.

This is the section from which Liu pulled the audio for his project — note how Liu snipped out the bit about sorghum, among other smart edits. (It’s worth watching the entire thing: Here are parts one, two, and four.)

3. BuzzFeed recently asked Glass what it was like to watch this all go viral without any input or effort on his part. Here is his response, in his own (lightly edited) words:

4. “It’s just so random.

Like, even the shooting of that video wasn’t a big deal. Some people came by, I didn’t prepare for it, and didn’t think about it at all, before or after. And then years passed, and then it just kind of started to exist on the internet in a way that was so visible. It feels like it doesn’t have anything to do with me, in a weird way. I feel like I happened to say a thing that happened to hit people. It feels weirdly impersonal.”

5. “I don’t feel proud of it, do you know what I mean, the way I feel proud of episodes of the radio show that I killed myself on.


It feels like, ‘Oh, I said something, and it just got printed on a billboard without me knowing, and I guess that’s OK with me.’

Any time that I Google my own name or search Twitter on my own name, a fair percentage of what’s being written about me is just people on the internet passing around those videos. Visibly. Some days, it’s more people talking about those videos than talking about the radio show.”

6. “Still, I won’t rest until it’s a Sheryl Crow song. I’m sorry, that’s like, a terrible line.

The truth is, I did spend most of my 20s being bad at what I was trying to do and really struggling with it, and really trying to figure out how to get to the next step, and really trying to figure out, ‘How do I think about this so I don’t just lapse into despair?’ I feel like everything I say in that video was very hard-won knowledge, and I wish somebody had said that stuff to me. It would have been a comfort to know that people went through that phase of being lost. And now that I’ve met lots of writers and lots of other people who do creative work, I feel like it’s really, really common. It’s much more common than the people who are these sort of instinctive, early geniuses. I think that that’s actually very, very rare, and most people who do some kind of creative job for a living, really, it takes a while.”

7. “And so, I feel OK about the video.

It’s sobering to have seen how that video is more popular than my actual program, I think, in some ways. But, you know, I meant what I said. I stand by it.”

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