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Daniel Okrent: Swinging For The Fences

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
June 28, 2013

Daniel Okrent has managed to achieve an omnipresent status in the media world. He’s written and edited pieces for several book publishers, magazines, and newspapers, on any number of topics. He’s also published books on the Rockerfeller Center, the Prohibition Era, and baseball history, the latest work being American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith. But Okrent is perhaps best known for creating a game played by millions, year after year: Rotisserie (Fantasy) Baseball. All the while, he has squeezed in several bouts in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. For the record, he prefers to practice with the crosswords found in The New York Times.

Okrent took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with host Ophira Eisenberg about his former role as the The New York Times public editor, and how he came with the idea of Rotisserie Baseball. His latest creation, Old Jews Telling Jokes, is an off-Broadway play that pays tribute to and puts a twist on old Jewish jokes. When asked about the basic nature of Jewish humor, Okrent said the jokes are usually told by schlemiels, or unlucky people. “It’s about being a loser. it’s about life being bigger than you are, and being tougher than you are. It’s mostly self-deprecatory.”

It only seemed right that we pitted the father of fantasy baseball against a sports junkie who plays in three fantasy leagues: Mike Pesca, NPR’s sports correspondent and panelist on Slate’s “Hang Up and Listen” podcast. In a game called “The Boys Of Summer,” Okrent and Pesca answered questions from Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton about quirky moments in baseball history. The stakes were high: besides bragging rights, the winner got the right to change the loser’s fantasy team name.

About Daniel Okrent

The various stops in Daniel Okrent’s 44-plus years in the media business include nine years in book publishing; 10 as a magazine editor (including four as the chief editor of Life); 25 as a magazine writer (for Time, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, Esquire and others); 12 writing books (among them Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, cited by the American Historical Association in 2011 as the year’s best book of U.S. history); and one-and-a-half as the first public editor of The New York Times.

He has also acted in films (a speaking part in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, as well as what he calls “a mumbling part” in Lasse Hallstrom’s The Hoax); appeared repeatedly on television (most notably in two Ken Burns epics, Baseball and Prohibition); taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School; curated a museum exhibition (for Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center); and most recently co-wrote and co-produced the off-Broadway hit Old Jews Telling Jokes.

In the video below, Okrent tells a joke for the Old Jews Telling Jokes web series, in which man breaks the news to his brother that his cat has died. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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