A young Israeli grad student named Mishy holds up a cardboard sign that says “anywhere” as he hitchhikes out of Cambridge, England. He catches a ride with a Gypsy family bound for the ferry to France. In the vessel’s cafeteria Mishy meets a truck driver name Vladimir who agrees to take him to Spain. Only, when they start driving Vladimir neglects to make the turn into Belgium and informs Mishy, “No Spain, Ukraine.” At the Slovenian-Ukrainian border the two are arrested for smuggling counterfeit Barbie dolls. Sounds like it could be a story on the wildly popular public radio show “This American Life,” doesn’t it?
It’s not. But it may end up being told — and broadcast — on “Israel Story,” a new program on Israel’s Army Radio. The similarity to “This American Life” (TAL) is no accident. Mishy Harman, the guy bound for “anywhere,” is the driving force behind the new show. And he makes no secret of the fact that he’s a huge fan of Ira Glass and company.
Harman was hipped to TAL by another Israeli, Ro’ee Gilron, who attended Brandeis University. After graduate school, Harman completed a teaching stint at Harvard and commenced a 13,000-mile road trip around the United States with his dog Neomi. He and the pooch (a Hungarian hunting dog known as a Vizsla) took along 200 episodes of TAL that Gilron downloaded for them. Harman was blown away by the TAL collection.
“It became totally clear to me that this was going to be our next project,” he told The Arty Semite.
Ira Glass is no Howard Stern — yet. By that we mean he isn’t the King of All Media (Stern’s self-anointed title), but at the very least he’s the crown prince and heir apparent.
Glass, of course, is the host of Chicago Public Radio’s popular program This American Life. More recently, he’s taken on the duties of screenwriter and producer of “Sleepwalk With Me,” a film that opens in New York August 24, Los Angeles the following week and rolls out nationally in September.
“Sleepwalk With Me” is based on the life of standup comedian Mike Birbiglia, a successful performer who, as a result of pressure from his girlfriend (about marriage) and parents (about his career), developed a sleepwalking disorder. One night he even jumped out of a closed window on the second story of a motel. Birbiglia turned the experience into a successful routine, an off-Broadway play and a book. Glass heard portions of the play, did a version of it on his radio show and has now produced it as a film. Glass spoke to The Arty Semite about his Jewish background, his radio show and the film:
Curt Schleier: For people unfamiliar with the show, what is the elevator pitch for This American Life?
I can think of three popular ideas about what God actually looks like: the bearded man wearing a white robe who sits on a cloud deciding when to make earthquakes and who sometimes shows up in a burning bush; George Burns in “Oh God!” and, long before he actually played God in “Bruce Almighty,” many of us believed that when we left this mortal coil it would indeed be the voice of Morgan Freeman welcoming us to the afterlife. But I’m of the very tiny minority that believes that when God speaks, he sounds just like David Rakoff did.
Rakoff, who passed away last night at the age of 47 after a battle with cancer, had a distinctly clever voice in his writing and his speech. He was the sort of writer who didn’t need to try and be funny; instead, it came out in his essays like quick flashes of color — albeit dark colors, since his humor could be described as “black.” He didn’t dwell on how witty or intelligent he was, he just kept producing works that proved he had these qualities in spades.