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David Rakoff died a week ago, on August 9th. He’d appeared on This American Life 25 times, first in 1996, during the third month of the show; his last appearance was just three weeks ago. He was on the program so often that in putting together this week’s show, we realized we could tell a lot of his life story, simply through things he said on the show. So this week we do just that, with excerpts from some of his favorite stories over the years:
65: Who’s Canadian?
David on how he tried to pass as a local once he moved from Toronto to New York. He claims that there must be a chip in his head — or something like it — that automatically tells him when someone or something famous is Canadian.
116: Poultry Slam 1998
David writes about how his life changed after a single evening spent with 5000 chickens.
241: 20 Acts in 60 Minutes
Working at an advertising agency in Japan in the early ‘80s, David scoffed at their computer “network.”
156: What Remains
David’s first battle with cancer came at age 22. Years later, he wrote about the experience.
208: Office Politcs
Recalling the years when he worked low-level publishing jobs, David describes the life of a writer who doesn’t actually write.
We hear an excerpt from one of Terry Gross’ interviews with David on Fresh Air, and a never-before-aired story about the Broadway musical Rent.
SONG: "BLUES FOR BILLIE BASIE", BEN WEBSTER
The first time David appeared on our show was in a courtroom radio drama. He played a cat who was also the prosecuting attorney.
470: Show Me The Way
A story David co-wrote and performed with Jonathan Goldstein, originally for the CBC’s Wiretap, about a man who believes he’s turning into a cockroach and reaches out to a famous doctor for advice. Except the doctor will only respond in rhyme. David plays the doctor.
David demonstrates — in rhyme — how to make a wedding toast for people you never wanted to see married in the first place.
The show also includes never-before-heard excerpts from David’s newest book, Love Dishonor, Marry, Die; Cherish, Perish…A Novel by David Rakoff. David recorded these less than two weeks before he died. The book comes out next year. David’s other books are Don’t Get Too Comfortable, Fraud, and Half Empty.
SONG: "WHAT'LL I DO?", NAT KING COLE
David in our cinema event from May: