No one conducts an interview quite like Terry Gross. The host of NPR’s “Fresh Air” has a knack for getting people to open up and entertain in utterly, well, fresh ways.
This week, “Fresh Air” celebrates 30 years on air. In order to join in, we chose eight of Gross’s best interviews with Jewish notables, from Mel Brooks to Carrie Fisher. Listen in.
1) Mel Brooks
Originally aired in 1991, Gross’s interview with Brooks, one of the great Jewish comedians of the 20th century, included revelations about Brooks’s own inspirations: “My heroes when I was young were, of course, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly.”
2) Joan Rivers
Speaking to Gross in 2010, Rivers remembered the first joke she told about the taboo subject of abortion. “My friend had 14 abortions” she said, “and she was lucky because she was Jewish, she married, finally, one of the abortion doctors. It ended up happy for her mother. My daughter married a doctor.”
3) Shalom Auslander
Auslander, a fiction writer and memoirist, came from an Orthodox Jewish background that he later rejected. Speaking to him in 2007 about his memoir “Foreskin’s Lament,” Gross asked “Do you think that having an angry father kind of exaggerated the notion of the angry god, and vice versa?”
“Absolutely,” Auslander replied. “I think it might have been nice if this father at home was balanced out by a god that my rabbis were telling me was incredibly kind and forgiving, and ‘hey, it’s just a cheeseburger, he’ll get over it.’ But it wasn’t that.”
4) Carrie Fisher
Fisher spoke to Gross in November, 2016, just weeks before her untimely death. “As you’ve pointed out, in ‘Star Wars’ you were the only girl in an all-boy fantasy,” Gross said. “When did you start realizing that you were part of boys’ sex fantasies?”
“Not until way later,” Fisher said. “And I’m very glad of that. Like, about — I don’t know, maybe eight years ago some guy said to me, I thought about you every day from when I was 12 to when I was 22. And I said every day? And he said, well, four times a day.”
5) David Rakoff
Rakoff, a writer, actor, journalist, and frequent contributor to “This American Life,” went on “Fresh Air” in 2001. Gross asked him about an essay in his then-newly released essay collection “Fraud” in which, writing about his work acting in a daytime soap opera. “You write in the piece that the parts you get are either ‘Jewy McHebrew’ or ‘Fudgy McPacker,’” she said. “They’re two Scottish clans,” he responded. “The McHebrews are your prototypical Jewish clan…Jewy McHebrew is generally a kind of a careworn, inquiring, furrowed-browed bookish type.”
6) Lisa Kudrow
Gross sat down with Kudrow, the actress who famously played Phoebe on “Friends,” in 2003. They open the conversation by talking about pornography, and it’s just as frank and funny as you’d dare to hope.
7) Philip Roth
In a 2005 interview with Roth, Gross commented that “a lot of writers who have early success worry about resting on that success for the rest of their career,” asking if Roth’s lack of that worry was reassuring. “I’ve forgotten those books,” he said of his earliest work. “Truly. I mean, I know vaguely what they’re about, and I know vaguely the way they’re written, but I haven’t read them in I don’t know when, 30 years?”