David Rakoff’s ‘Talmudic Shrug’

On the “This American Life” website, Ira Glass wrote a short but heartfelt blog post about David Rakoff, who died last week. He also posted a couple of favorite videos, including one featuring Rakoff at the show’s cinema event last May.

In what would be Rakoff’s last performance onstage, he addressed his illness, life without the use of his left arm and the fact of mortality in a way that was both poignant and darkly funny.

Last December, after his fourth surgery in four years, doctors removed a tumor from below his collar bone, which relived him of pain and from popping enough Oxycontin to “satisfy every man, woman and child in Wasilla,” Rakoff said, but left him with a flailed limb.

“It is attached, but aside for being able to shrug talmudically,” he quips in the video, pantomiming a learned shrug. “I can neither move nor feel my left arm. It now hangs from my side, heavy and sensate as a bag of oranges.”

Rakoff on one-armed cooking:

At one bittersweet point, he says “I’m sorry” and steps away from the microphone as soft jazz music plays. He sweeps his one good arm above his body and sways across the stage, a private dance that seems to punctuate the human truth that we enter and exit this world alone.

Then crowd cheers and he walks back to the microphone, his voice stronger and louder:

“This American Life” has another upcoming cinema event: Mike Birbiglia’s film “Sleepwalk With Me” will open in New York August 24, and both Glass and Birbiglia will attend the premiere. But Rakoff will be missed.

Watch David Rakoff’s Last ‘This American Life’ Performance:

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David Rakoff’s ‘Talmudic Shrug’

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