American Voice

The Best of David Rakoff: Quotes, This American Life, The Daily Show & More

The writer and contributor to This American Life could deliver some of the funniest lines anywhere. But he was best loved for lending his quivering, sometimes tortured voice to heroically and movingly reflect on his own struggles against homophobia and cancer. Here are some of his best moments.

Anthony Pidgeon / Getty Images

If you don’t have your experiences in the moment, if you gloss them over with jokes or zoom past them, you end up with curiously dispassionate memories.


New York is breaking my heart. I’ve often said that it’s like having a really interesting boyfriend suddenly becoming really, really into wine, and having to have endless conversations about it.

Gothamist interview, 2007

Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?

Half Empty

Central to living a life that is good, is a life that’s forgiving. We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether we kiss or we wound. Still, we must come together. Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more, since it beats staying dry—but, so lonely on shore. So we make ourselves open while knowing full well it’s essentially saying, “Please, come pierce my shell.”

Half Empty, performed as “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” in This American Life’s “Frenemies” episode, Sept 2009

Turns out a big old tumor was pinching my nerve. It’s great, though!

The Daily Show With John Stewart

His view of what he kept calling the homosexual agenda was literally … it’s a written agenda. Things to do: Recruit children. Have sex with them. Spread AIDS.

I finally said, “You know, HIV is transmittable by good old-fashioned, red-blooded, hetero-normative, married sex.” And he says, into my telephone, knowing that it’s being recorded, “Yeah, but not as much. The vagina can take a lot of punishment.”

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—On Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, on The Daily Show With John Stewart

While we’re on the subject of the horrors of war, and humanity’s most poisonous and least charitable attributes, let me not forget to mention Barbara Bush (that would be former first lady and presidential mother as opposed to W’s liquor-swilling, Girl Gone Wild, human ashtray of a daughter. I’m sorry, that’s not fair. I’ve no idea if she smokes.) When the administration censored images of the flag-draped coffins of the young men and women being killed in Iraq—purportedly to respect “the privacy of the families” and not to minimize and cover-up the true nature and consequences of the war—the family matriarch expressed her support for what was ultimately her son’s decision by saying on Good Morning America on March 18, 2003, “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? I mean it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

Mrs. Bush is not getting any younger. When she eventually ceases to walk among us we will undoubtedly see photographs of her flag-draped coffin. Whatever obituaries that run will admiringly mention those wizened, dynastic loins of hers and praise her staunch refusal to color her hair or glamorize her image. But will they remember this particular statement of hers, this “Let them eat cake” for the 21st century? Unlikely, since it received far too little play and definitely insufficient outrage when she said it. So let us promise herewith to never forget her callous disregard for other parents’ children while her own son was sending them to make the ultimate sacrifice, while asking of the rest of us little more than to promise to go shopping. Commit the quote to memory and say it whenever her name comes up. Remind others how she lacked even the bare minimum of human integrity, the most basic requirement of decency that says if you support a war, you should be willing, if not to join those 19-year-olds yourself, then at least, at the very least, to acknowledge that said war was actually going on. Stupid fucking cow.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

If you’re writing a book about how we should all look at the world in all its flinty, afflicted, dark reality, the ultimate money-in-your-mouth moment is: Okay, Mr. Smart Guy, Mr. I-Feel-So-Bad. Boom! Tumor.

The Daily Show With John Stewart

All of the designers I have met up to this point have been very nice, although upon being introduced to Karl Lagerfeld, he looks me up and down and dismisses me with the not super-kind, “What can you write that hasn’t been written already?” He’s absolutely right, I have no idea. I can but try. The only thing I can come up with right now is that Lagerfeld’s powdered white ponytail has dusted the shoulders of his suit with what looks like dandruff but isn’t … Seated on a tiny velvet chair, with his large doughy rump dominating the miniature piece of furniture like a loose, flabby, ass-flavored muffin over-risen from its pan, he resembles a Daumier caricature of some corpulent, overfed, inhumane oligarch drawn sitting on a commode, stuffing his greedy throat with the corpses of dead children, while from his other end he shits out huge, malodorous piles of tainted money. How’s that for new and groundbreaking, Mr. L.?

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

I will forever be grateful to my oncologist for opening the door and saying, “Damn it, the tumor’s 10 percent bigger,” before he even said hello.

—“The Waiting,” The New York Times Magazine, April 2011

Fantastic days are for goners.

—“The Waiting,” The New York Times Magazine, April 2011

And there will always be waiting. It begins immediately. Unless your presenting problem is a headache and you show up at the hospital with a knife sticking out of your skull, tests will always have to be done and then results will have to be delivered. Biopsies must be frozen, sliced, dyed and analyzed. If a culture has to be grown, then you have to bide your time while cell division takes its course. Disparate hospital departments, if not entirely disparate hospitals, cities or states will have to find and speak to one another, leaving you with nothing but a lump, inexplicable bruising, months of unexplained fatigue, your own imagination or, heaven forbid, the Internet to occupy your mind. Those weeks before diagnosis can be among the most torturous times. There is a reason you’re called a patient once the plastic bracelet goes on.

—“The Waiting,” The New York Times Magazine, April 2011

My tactics were to adopt a certain kind of world-weary, jaded, anxious neuroticism. And it was taken on as a cosmetic mantel at the beginning until such time as you simply can’t pull the mask off your face. Oh my God! It’s stuck! And there you are, years later, a jaded, affectless, neurotic, disenchanted, sad person.

—“Who’s Canadian?” This American Life, May 1997

Question 87 of the citizenship test is ‘What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens?’ The answer, formulated by the government itself, is "the right to vote." As we file out of the room, I ask someone who works there where the voter registration forms are. I am met with a shrug. "A church group used to hand them out but they ran out of money, I think.”

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Writer Melissa Bank said it best: "The only proper answer to 'Why me?' is 'Why not you?'" The universe is anarchic and doesn't care about us and unfortunately, there's no greater rhyme or reason as to why it would be me. And since there is no answer as to why me, it's not a question I feel really entitled to ask.

NPR, September 2010