Jan 30, 2020

The Bobbys

On the occasion of his retirement as cohost of Radiolab, Robert sat down with Jad to reflect on his long and storied career in radio and television, and their work together over the past decade and a half. And we pay tribute to Robert, inspired by a peculiar tradition of his.

This episode was produced by Matt Kielty. Sound design & mix by Jeremy Bloom.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

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ROBERT KRULWICH: You know what else I was thinking about?


JAD: What?


ROBERT: We're well into the 21st century. I think of myself as a 20th-century boy.


JAD: Hmm.


ROBERT: Like, I'm -- I'm a 19-something-something. 19-this, 19-that. 1956, 1960. So to be 2020, that's like well into the next one.


JAD: Oh, you mean well into the 21st?


ROBERT: Yeah, right.


JAD: Okay. Oh, and you think of yourself as the 20th?


ROBERT: Yeah, so I feel a little, like, deep in a foreign land called the future.


JAD: Robert, you're a man for all seasons.


ROBERT: I know, but you asked me the question.


JAD: Hey. Jad Abumrad. This is Radiolab. So as we said at the beginning of the last episode, here at the end of the month Robert will be retiring from the show. It's just something that he and I have been talking about for a while. It's something we've been talking about with the staff for a while. And for the last few months we've been trying to figure out as a team, like, how do we send him off? What's the right way to say goodbye? And we decided let's interview him, you know? The way he and I have interviewed thousands of people over these last 17 years working together. So I made a list of questions.


ROBERT: You've written them down on your phone?


JAD: I have. I've prepared for this conversation as I would any other.


ROBERT: I suppose. That's very professional of you.


JAD: All these different questions about the places he likes to go in the city, there was a series of questions about Robert and dating apps which I'm not gonna explain. But it was actually the first question I had written down that ended up taking us down some unexpected paths.


JAD: So let me just ask you: What are The Bobbys?


ROBERT: [laughs] The Bobbys is a little bit of a quirk. I decided at some point ...


JAD: Well, your name is Robert.


ROBERT: That's right.


JAD: We sometimes call you Bobby.


ROBERT: That I would create an award like the Oscars which I would name after myself.


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: Called The Bobbys.


JAD: When did the -- when was the first Bobbys?


ROBERT: I think it was in the early '70s. And I was thinking of awarding things that I -- and the rules about the Bobbys were I would have a audience experience. I am the audience, and I would then award the person who created that experience a Bobby. And the difference between me and the Oscars and some of the lesser awards is that I would award the creator of it whenever he or she did the act of creation was not important, it was when I consumed it.


JAD: I see.


ROBERT: So you could have a Bobby in which Judy Garland, you know, for playing a role she played in 1939 would be up against somebody who played a movie that was like two weeks old.


JAD: So Charles Dickens could get a Bobby.


ROBERT: Well, Charles Dickens would always get a Bobby. This caused all kinds of problems because there were certain people ...


JAD: How do you give Charles Dickens a Bobby?


ROBERT: Charles Dickens, well as soon as he would walk into the room with a book, like all the other authors would say, "Well, I don't see why we even have to write books anymore." But so I would -- then my wife decided that I had -- because I have always had a very, very weak memory system, I found myself awarding things that mostly I had consumed in the very end of October, early November, the awards being given in Thanksgiving. And I could not remember anything that I had seen in January, February or the previous December. So she's decided to give me a Bobby book.


JAD: Oh!


MATT KIELTY: You brought the Bobbys book.


ROBERT: I did.


JAD: Producers Bethel Habte and Matt Kielty had Bobby K. bring in his Bobby book.


ROBERT: It's a black book with a red binding. It has in gold a picture of the Bobby statue, which is Bobby with "To all the winners" written in it. So it starts in 1977. This ripped page was because one of the consultants, my wife, got so angry at me for not incl -- letting her be part of the deciding group that she ripped in a temper tantrum the page out, which then ...


BETHEL HABTE: Why won't -- why didn't you let her be part of the process?


ROBERT: Because it's the Bobby book, not the Bobby and others book. That's so -- that -- this here is just anger frozen in time and place here. '77 seems to have only winners, it doesn't seem as there's any contestants. Lives of A Cell by Lewis Thomas won Book of the Year. Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon won Song of the Year. Friendly Fire from The New Yorker by C.D.B. Bryan won Best Magazine Article of the Year. Somebody named Hieglen who wrote Climbing Swiss Mountain in the New Yorker won Best Short Story of the Year, and Annie Hall by Woody Allen won Best Movie of the Year. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Not Enough won the Play of the Year. The Ritzy Forte Award was not awarded that year. The Ritzy Forte is the name of the special award for the best cartoon of the year.


MATT: No winners that year.


ROBERT: None. So that's 1977. And then 19 ...


BETHEL: Could you do my year? Can you do ...?


ROBERT: Yeah, what's your ...?


BETHEL: 1990.


ROBERT: 1990.


ROBERT: The years passed and I would put in the winners.


ROBERT: Play of the Year: Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare.


ROBERT: To all the different categories.


ROBERT: 1979. Best Book of the Year, The Press by A.J. Liebling. Performance By An Actress, Fernanda Montenegro. Best Movie of 2005.


MATT: Oh, you were a big fan of The Notebook.


ROBERT: I was. I cried during The Notebook.


ROBERT: And I would announce them, sometimes to the winners themselves, which is always a little bit of a mixed sort of thing. And then ...


JAD: [laughs] I can imagine.


ROBERT: And in my mind of course, there's a red carpet and it's flush, and there's, you know, there's a tremendous ba-da-da-da-da of Paparazzi.


JAD: No, wait. Can I ask you a question?




JAD: So when you were awarding Bobbys, was it always to esteemed people? Was it to the ...


ROBERT: No, no!


JAD: Or could it be to just Joe who makes a really good falafel.


ROBERT: Yeah, it could be to Joe.


ROBERT: Verdi's Requiem as sung at Andy Krulwich's birthday. Oh, this is my first cousin when he turned 60 rented a chorus and sang the bass part in Verdi's Requiem.


ROBERT: But there are other things. Like, I -- there are some things where I give a just a special tribute for a -- like a kind of lifetime achievement award kind of thing.


JAD: Oh, really?


ROBERT: To various architects and cartoonists. And ...


ROBERT: Also, there's moments.


MATT: Bobby moments!


ROBERT: Bobby moments are moments in my life that year where I had a feeling of just glory or just joy or ...


BETHEL: Can you read some of the others, Robert?


MATT: Yeah.


ROBERT: Let's see. 2000 in Times Square. Yeah, ew. Redwood forest. That's with my wife. What else do you see there?


MATT: One says at my mother's bed, April 2007.


ROBERT: That's when she died.


BETHEL: That was a -- why was that a moment for you to be -- like, what was ...


ROBERT: Well, she was watching Jeopardy, and I hired a person to take care of her that night, and I walked about seven blocks and I got a phone call. She was doing really well on Jeopardy, and the lady who had never met my mother phoned and said, "I think your mother just died." So I ran back and she was dead. And, you know, that was completely a shock. I mean, she was sick, but -- and she said -- she was kept saying, "I'm gonna die," but she was into that sort of thing from -- for at least around -- and so there she was. She was dead. And I sat on the bed looking at a woman who still warm and it was my mother. You know, that was quite a -- that was a moment. The moments don't have to be, like, always pleasant. They can just be searing or, you know, things that you never will forget.


BETHEL: Are you telling me though, that moments before she passed away she was answering Jeopardy questions correctly?


ROBERT: Yes, can you imagine? That's a really great way to go.


BETHEL: Kicking ass at Jeopardy?


ROBERT: She was doing really well at Jeopardy.


ROBERT: But as I got older it gets really a bit surreal, as -- as it got into the -- into the more recent years it gets alarming because the book begins to run out of pages. I was getting down to the last 13 pages.


JAD: This is the same book from '77?




ROBERT: It -- when it gets to 2018, the book stops. Like, they were out of pages. So I said to my daughter, "Look Nora, if the Bobby book ends in 2018, doesn't it follow, perhaps as the night the day, that your father will end in 2018?" So she ran to the deepest Brooklyn and found a bookbinder and said, "Could you, like, double the Bobby book and rebind it?"


MATT: So my father could live longer.


ROBERT: So my father could live longer. So, now look at this. This is -- this just means that you're gonna have to deal with me for all these years.


BETHEL: Are you troubled that she didn't add even more pages? [laughs]


MATT: It looks like it covers 'til about 2055.


BETHEL: Yeah, you might be -- yeah 20 ...


ROBERT: By then I'll be, like, 90-something. So I'm -- in 2047, I'll be 100, so I don't really think I want to go that far. So this looks just about right, actually. And then it'll have the feeling perhaps, unless I get run over by a truck of, like, you know, pretty much being a life well-lived, or rather well-consumed with all of these rewards.


BETHEL: It's also compressing, like, your whole -- like, the adult years into, like, a tiny book, which makes it feel a lot shorter and smaller than it actually was. Like ...


ROBERT: Well, there's -- and I mean, that's an interesting subject to me. Like, there is a fellow who invented a thing called mathematica. He is -- he lives in New Jersey at Princeton. And he loves to just measure himself. So he'll send me the number of times he touched the letter T during the month of May on his computer. Or the amount of hours that he slept, the amount of hours that he ate, the amount of hours that he show -- showered, the amount of hours that he was on the telephone for the whole year, you know, worked out. And then he sends me all these bar graphs and stuff. But different people -- you know, different people reflect differently about themselves. And you know, for a person who's very mathematical like this guy, it makes sense to him, a deep sense, that he can be expressed in data points. And I don't know. He feels them the way I guess a great mathematician loves pattern feels. So he sees the pattern of himself. In my case, this is called when I enjoyed myself extravagantly, whether it was reading or going to see something or having an experience, or well I felt the intensity of being alive, that's a different kind of measure. And someone else would, you know, write a memoir or a letter to their grandchildren called, "Well, I remember when your grandpa --" So there's thousands of ways to do this, and to some degree this is not the most flattering thing, my particular form of compression. Either it's a self-help book to keep me, you know, comfortable in my very old age on the Atlantic City boardwalk. That's the -- that's what I prefer to think of it as. But viewed another way, it's a person who never much left his own circle of joy and just stayed inside himself and flattered himself right down to death. That's less of a good advertisement for oneself. Or this might be just, you know, someone with a deep learning disability taking notes. [laughs]


DAVID GEBEL: Live from 85th Street and 8th Avenue in New York City, it's the 45th Annual Bobby Awards, with your host, the judge, juror and executioner, Robert "Bobby" Krul ...


JAD: Wait. Have you ever done anything yourself where you quietly think it should win a Bobby?




JAD: Or does that violate the very rules of the Bobbys?


ROBERT: Well, it also goes to something that I just feel, which is like I -- I've been really lucky up to a degree that I can really -- can't quite understand. I've had a chance to go into one place after another, and some of them quite straight places like ABC News and Frontline, places like that, and I've pushed it so that I could do what I like to do, which is to explore sometimes from a not particularly sophisticated place, what I'm looking at. And it's fact -- it's sort of always been a sense that I've had that I must have been a little bit slower than everybody else, and I felt that way and I thought, "Well, maybe what I could do is I could take that slowness and turn it into an advantage." Because for many subjects, depending upon who you are it could be ice hockey or it could be economics or it could be irregular verbs in French or whatever, that most people know nothing at all. So if you want to talk about irregular verbs you might have to say, "Here's what a verb is, and why would you use the word irregular. And what is a regular verb?"


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: The ordinary questions. I've always done that, but it's never seemed to me to be the champagne of work. It just seems to me to be the -- my -- my daily business.


JAD: That being said Robert ...


ROBERT: Mm-hmm.


JAD: What we have decided to do as a staff, is that we're gonna honor you, my friend, with some Bobbys. Of course it is not within our -- we're not ...


ROBERT: You can't.


JAD: We can't do that.


ROBERT: No! That is completely illegal and the committee would simply tell you to go home.


JAD: No, no, but we're gonna do a hyphenated Bobbys. We're gonna do Jaddy-Bobbys.


ROBERT: Jabobs.


JAD: All sorts of staff Bobbys. These are -- these are Bobbys where the -- where these are awards, Bobbys, given to you, moments throughout your career and moments throughout your -- your tenure with Radiolab.


ROBERT: I don't know if this entirely pleases me.


JAD: I -- well, no. I think it's gonna -- it's gonna be -- I mean look, we -- we've spent 17 years together.


ROBERT: Yes, we have.


JAD: I would say at least a decade of it separated by this two feet of Plexiglas.




JAD: And there have -- we've created a lot of radio moments. And so we're gonna honor some of them with Bobbys.




DAVID: [clears throat] Tonight, the inaugural Bobby-Jaddy, Bobby-Staff Bobbys Awards Show, with your host and presenter Jad Abumrad. The first category: Best Pre-Radiolab Story.


JAD: [laughs]


ROBERT: [laughs]


JAD: Well so, okay. I have a little bit of -- as a presenter, there's so many stories, pre-Radiolab stories one could nominate for a Bobby. The -- the judges have ...


ROBERT: Well, who are the judges? This is, like, a gang?


JAD: Rachael Cusick has chosen the -- and she was the judge in the pre-Radiolab category. So this is a Cusick-Bobby.


ROBERT: Mm-hmm.


JAD: Okay, so ...


ANNOUNCER: Have you ever wondered where the word 'turkey' comes from? Sure, you have.


JAD: There are many turkey stories to choose from, apparently.


ANNOUNCER: We asked Robert Krulwich to find out, and here's his report.


HOST: Well, like a lot of things in this world, the turkey got its name entirely by mistake.


ROBERT: Oh, I did a lot of Thanksgiving ones, yes.


HOST: Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. You'd think that the turkey has suffered enough.


ROBERT: But don't you want to hear the end of the mystery of the turkey story?


HOST: Uh, we're running out of time, Robert.


ROBERT: All right. Well, let me just tell -- let me just finish my mystery.


HOST: Okay.


JAD: You've always been big on -- on the anniversary stories.


ROBERT: No, you know why? Because the holiday season in commercial television and even on NPR gives you a chance to do anything you like inside the category.


JAD: No, I know. I remember you've -- you did a -- just a whole slew of stories around Mother's Day.


ROBERT: Yes. Like, thousands.


JAD: And you would -- I remember when, in the early part of our -- of our -- the radio -- when you were just coming on for the first time.




JAD: You would always be like, "Oh, we could do it for Mother's Day." And I'd be like, "We don't -- we don't do that, Robert."


ROBERT: I know. We don't do that.


JAD: We don't do the anniversaries.


ROBERT: No. But see, those anniversaries are the days when -- when you're allowed to put any -- that's when you put not newsy things onto the news. Like the news people say what just happened, what just happened, what just happened. And then on Mother's Day, they go, "Mommy." So that's an always category, and then you get to do always.


JAD: Yeah, I know.


ROBERT: See, that's -- that's -- that's why those things are useful.


JAD: Well, so the winner of Best Pre-Radiolab story has nothing to do with Mother's Day or with turkeys. It is, in fact, a story from 1977 ...


ANNOUNCER: NPR's Robert Krulwich saw some strange markings on the back of a five dollar bill and he investigated.


JAD: That we're calling Five Dollar Bill.


ROBERT: As soon as she came into the room I smelled trouble. This dame had a nose like a toothpick on a face like an olive. She was tough, she was smart, and she had a problem. I could tell. I'm a private eye. I told her I had nothing but time.


ROBERT: Lady, I got nothing but time.


ROBERT: She took out a $5 bill, laid it on my desktop, smoothed it out real flat, and then she spoke.


RK FALSETTO: This here's a $5 bill.


ROBERT: I could see it was and I said so.


ROBERT: Lady, I can see that.


ROBERT: She took a long drag on her Silverthin and I got a whiff of her Chanel.


RK FALSETTO: Look, Chuck.


ROBERT: She called me Chuck, though my name isn't Chuck. But I like that in a woman.


RK FALSETTO: Chuck, I like privacy.




RK FALSETTO: I got an unpublished number.




RK FALSETTO: I got an unpublished address.




RK FALSETTO: I got blank plates for my Bentley.




JAD: I'm like, what the fuck is going on?


ROBERT: This is a -- this is what those film noir things sounded like to me.


JAD: I know, but it's like what -- okay, so only does one discover ...


ROBERT: I haven't heard that in a really long time.


JAD: ... about three-quarters of the way through this, that the whole piece is about some mysterious secret message in a bush?


ROBERT: Shadows in a bush. Yes.


JAD: On the back of a five dollar ...


ROBERT: Some 92, something something 92. Yes.


JAD: There was numbers written on the bush ...




JAD: ... next to the Lincoln Memorial.


ROBERT: There was a theory that the artist, you know, the Bureau of Engraving hires humans, artists to design it. And so I was tipped or must have read in a collectors magazine, who knows, that the five dollar bill contained a secret number and all I had to do was look for it. And when I was shown where it was, I couldn't not see it. It was always there. So that's a perfect radio story. You get -- make everybody listening to you take out their five dollar bill and see the thing that they will see. Because I saw it and ...


JAD: But it wasn't actually numbers on the back of the five dollar bill.


ROBERT: Yes, it was. If you choose to see the shadows that way.


JAD: No, because you use one piece in a -- in a five and a half minute story, you use one six-second bit of tape of some actual person.




JAD: Who's looking at the -- at the five dollar bill, not seeing the number.


ROBERT: Oh, not seeing it.


JAD: Not seeing the number. He sees a different set of numbers than you see.




JAD: And you argue about what numbers are there. Which leads me as a listener to believe that actually it wasn't ...


ROBERT: It wasn't as obvious as I remember.


JAD: No. That it was maybe ...


ROBERT: Well, you have me at a disadvantage because that was, like, 40, 35 years ago. But ...


JAD: But what's amazing about this is that it's -- it's so entire -- like, the whole point of it seems to be for you ...


ROBERT: To play all those characters.


JAD: To play all those characters. It doesn't seem ...


ROBERT: Well also, it was a chance I guess for me to make a film noir, like, of my own. I could just make one of the Humphrey Bogart movies for myself.


JAD: I just think that's amazing that you're -- you're -- you go -- that I don't even know what the story's about until three quarters of the way through but I'm still riveted.


ROBERT: Yeah. Well, I think it's a little magical to me, when you listen to NPR these days, to remember that when National Public Radio started it A) wasn't much listened to; wasn't highly-esteemed, that's very important; and didn't have any money. Those three things, put them together and they had a 90-minute show to do every single day. And there were things that we used to do on All Things Considered that, you know, I don't think would -- I think they would make people's -- people poop in their pants if they heard them now.


DAVID: The next category: Best Improvisation.


ROBERT: [laughs] Best Improvisation.


JAD: Because one of the things that I -- one of the things certainly that I will always -- see, I always have, were it not such a cliche, I think we would do -- we could do the best blooper reel of any show in the history of media. But mostly when you get on a -- when you catch a wind on something.


ROBERT: Like Dan da da Dan da da. Dan DeLaurio.


JAD: No, Dan Dilly -- what is it? Don? Dan -- Doral D. Denny or something? [laughs]


ROBERT: [laughs] Sometimes I feel relieved that you have -- that you have -- that you have to endure some of these little tics. Just -- maybe you're like a Touretter and -- you know, and when you hear, like, too many consonants in a row you just can't get them out of your head and just repeat them. And poor Jad has to listen to them in the studio over and over again.


JAD: Better yet, they're -- they're immortalized on tape.


ROBERT: So you saved some of those?


JAD: Oh, yeah. There's so many. So I think that the -- one of the nominees is a consonant pileup.


ROBERT: Battle bird battle between Bethel Bethel -- it's a bird battling with Bethel and beauty. It's the B Show! Bob and Bethel battling about birds and beauty on Badiobab.


JAD: [laughs] There was some throat-clearing singing.


ROBERT: High C. High C. High C. High C. Father and son. They have their own company. Yes, they do. Is that the line I needed to do?


JAD: Yeah, that was the line.


ROBERT: And they're in a family business. Yes.


JAD: Well, the winner in this category I believe is Slinky Credits.


ROBERT: Slinky credits?


ROBERT: Thanks. Big thanks to Steve Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics at University of Colorado, which is not really where he is teaching because it's called Cornell, but it's those C colleges, you know, Connecticut and Connecticut College and Community Community of Kansas, which is with a C. The C kind of Kansas. Those are all the colleges we like to think of as The Big C. C is for Cookie, that's good enough for me. I'm Robert Krulwich.


JAD: [laughs]


ROBERT: Big thanks to Steve Strogatz who is a Professor of Mathematics at Cornell University. His new book is called The Big X.


JAD: Joy of X!


ROBERT: Or The Joy of X, which is like The Joy of Sex, but it's missing the S.


SOREN: And the E.


ROBERT: And the E.


SOREN: And the fun.


ROBERT: And the fun.


JAD: And the sex.


ROBERT: And the sex! But you get the last letter which is, of course, the only thing that really matters. As many copulating couples have always said at the end, you know, just before the cigarette, "I really liked the X part." And I think we all agree with that.


JAD: [laughs] That's going right in there. That's funny.


ROBERT: Now, so what's the ...?


SOREN: Joy of X.


ROBERT: Yeah. Joy of X. Big thanks to Steve Strogatz who is a Professor of Mathematics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. And he is the author of a new book called The Joy of X. And to the Slinky Company, manufacturers of fine, coiled objects worldwide. [speaks Swedish] in every one of your local Target stores.


JAD: Okay! You're such -- you're such a weirdo!


ROBERT: [laughs] Yeah.


JAD: Oh my God.


JAD: So that was the winner in the category of the Best Improvisation.


ROBERT: Uh-huh.


JAD: Okay, so in the next category, this one is I think a little bit more pertinent to the spirit of the show.


DAVID: Best Question.


JAD: To -- to set this one up, you've heard me say this before. One of the most kind of amazing qualities of working with you is that you always consistently ask a question that I would never think to ask, but then suddenly must know the answer to. And in this case, it was one of these things that you threw out in the middle of an interview and it became the basis for the best-loved moment in our most downloaded show of all time.


ROBERT: Oh, this is the shrimp.


JAD: The shrimp. So we were talking to this scientist, asking him all these questions about how we perceive color and how color is sort of outside of us and yet we only make sense of it internally. And in the middle of this interview, you just tossed out ...


ROBERT: Well, here's a question. If a dog and a human and a crow were to be staring at a rainbow, would they be seeing very different things?


JAD: And that was it.


ROBERT: Yeah. I remember that.


JAD: I was just like -- I remember the -- there was that -- when you asked that question, all of a sudden we were like, "Huh? Would they see the same rainbow? Would they be doing --" but I remember we lived with the question for a long time.


ROBERT: Mm-hmm.


JAD: And then what ends up happening of course, is that I go up to this church on 33rd and 8th.


[CHOIR: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet.]


JAD: 120 people sing the colors of the rainbow, and it was a funny thing. It's a funny thing to be standing up there in this beautiful church ...


JAD: We need -- we need B flat on top of the F.


JAD: ... conducting all these people as they're singing and think, all of this began with some weird moment in a studio where Robert asked the question. Like, your questions so often lead to the weirdest stuff.


ROBERT: Well, that's nice though, right? Like, it's -- like it's nice that we can -- we can get loose enough to go where someone maybe has never gone before, or at least -- or at least we haven't gone before.


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: I think that's really -- it's one of the things I'm gonna miss is that -- that -- I mean, listening to that guy who was the five dollar bill, like that was -- like, that was me sort of delivering my idea of what a, you know, a 1929 or 1939 detective Marlowe story would be like. But I kind of worked it out in my head as I -- as I did it. With us, I -- I never knew what was gonna happen.


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: It really was an improvisation.


JAD: That's what I'm gonna miss, actually.


ROBERT: Yeah. Like that's what's really ...


JAD: It's that thing ...


ROBERT: Where does this go?


JAD: It's like -- yeah. It's like that thing of I still can't after 18 years predict what you're gonna say.


ROBERT: Nor can I.


JAD: Or what you're going to find interesting.




JAD: You know?


ROBERT: Well, sometimes I can insist that it's interesting and you will not -- Like, snail sex has been the -- has been the thing that's separated us for so many years.


JAD: No, I'm never gonna get there. It's -- it's a line in the sand.


ROBERT: You're so wrong, too.


JAD: Literally in the sand.


ROBERT: I don't know why, there's just something wrong with you that you don't feel that that is so worth investigating.


JAD: Maybe that should have been the last story we did.


ROBERT: The last story should have been snail sex, yeah. I don't know, but that would've been ...


JAD: Okay. Well, give me your best pitch. What is so damn interesting about snail sex?


ROBERT: Everything.


JAD: Go.


ROBERT: These are two ardent, ardent, loving animals. The sex is slow because they're hermaphrodites. So they are both male and female. Now this is hard for us to understand, but imagine if you were both the male and the female in a tryst with a animal that was also a male and a female. So part of your boy part wants part of their girl part, part of your girl part wants to avoid part of their boy part, and all of this takes a lot of thinking. It's also ...


JAD: You mean just like who -- who's ...


ROBERT: "I'm going to hug you here, but do I want to hug -- do I want to be hugged down there?" I -- and this is, like, in the same individual because snails are both male and female at the same time. So that's hard, and then the fact that you're doing it under the sun, under the sky. And who is in all the trees above them? The -- the animals that want to eat them because they have no -- they have no way to protect them, they have to leave their shells to have the sex. So ...


JAD: So it's slow.


ROBERT: ... you're exposed, you're slow.


JAD: It's confusing.


ROBERT: You're in danger. It's confusing. And you do it anyway.


JAD: That sounds like all -- all species.


ROBERT: It's especially -- I think when sex wanted the poster child for -- from the animal kingdom to, like, when we are good, when sex is as good as it gets, who knows it? Snails do.


JAD: There. You did it. You did it. Okay. So, where are we going with this?


ROBERT: I don't know.


JAD: Onto the next category, I guess.




JAD: Okay, next category. Best laugh.


ROBERT: Best laugh.


JAD: Yeah. This is -- I mean, we're gonna give you a Bobby for having the best laugh of all the humans.


ROBERT: There was a good -- there was a lot of things to laugh about, that's for sure.


JAD: Yeah. So I believe our announcer David Gebel has the nominees for this category.


DAVID: The nominees for best laugh. Snort. Hearty laugh. Chortles. High laugh. Yucks. Laugh with insight. Quiet chuckle. Strange chortle. Natural laugh. Social laugh. Santa laugh. Whisper laugh. Uncontrollable laugh while reading ad copy.


ROBERT: [laughs] Hi, I'm the future at heart. I'm supported by Target line presenting to you the future at heart in Washington, New York City and a million more. [laughs] This says so little so badly. But we will try again and I'm trying to get myself sober here. Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is supported by Target. Presenting [laughs].


JAD: [laughs]


ROBERT: I do have trouble reading some of those ads. Like, there were some weird copy in those ads.


JAD: Oh my God. So that last one was our winner. But do you want to know something though, about the laughs?


ROBERT: Mm-hmm?


JAD: So, like, back in the early days of the show, so much of the show was being put together in the edit. And what we'd end up having is, like, chunk of Robert-Jad conversation, chunk of Robert-Jad conversation, chunk of Robert-Jad conversation, and there would be these big gaps between them. And we would need to replace with other conversations. And so I would scratch in the connecting tissue, which occasionally, like, would mean having to say something that you would -- that you would chuckle to or react to. So what we did at a certain point is we -- we went through a bunch of interviews, combed through, plucked out a bunch of your reactions and laughs and various things and put all of them into a folder. And so I've had this folder of your laughs for about 10 years.


ROBERT: Really?


JAD: Yeah. And I have a folder of your laughs. I have a folder of your affirmative reactions. Your negative reactions. I have yes's, no's. Oh my God, I have a whole folder of Hmm.


ROBERT: [laughs] You do?


JAD: I have a whole folder of those. But I would take your laughs, like when I was editing really late at night and I was really stuck and I was very disheartened as one gets at 1:00 a.m. when you're trying to make a story work and it's just not working. And I would just -- I would put all your laughs in iTunes and I would just play them back to back and it would cheer me up.


ROBERT: Really?


JAD: Yeah. I would -- it would cheer me up, and it would make -- it would remind me that we are making a conversation. Because sometimes you forget that when you're editing. You start to make ...


ROBERT: Oh, that's very nice to know.


JAD: Yeah. So that folder of laughs is very, very important to me.


ROBERT: The therapeutic laughing folder.


JAD: Hmm.


ROBERT: Yeah. Wow.


JAD: So I think what we're gonna do, we don't have a ton left to do. But I think what we're gonna do is take a quick break and then come back and finish the awards with a bang.




DAVID: Coming up, a singular, spectacular performance from Lady Gaga with Kenny Loggins, Richard Simmons, the cast of the hit movie Cats, Sisqo, Scarlett Johansson, Beyonce with Destiny's Child, Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker, Steven Spielberg and Diddy all on one stage singing one song. And the first-ever Jaddy award. That's coming up. Stay with us.


[EMILY: Hi. This is Emily and I'm calling from Toronto, Canada. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org. Thanks.]


DAVID: Jad. Robert. Radiolab. Back to the awards.


JAD: Okay, I would like to -- this is gonna be the -- the first-ever Jaddy.




JAD: I would like to award a Jaddy.




JAD: To you, Robert Krulwich. And I was trying to think what would my Jaddy be for? And I -- I was trying to isolate a moment, a story, a -- maybe, like, okay of the four tours that we've been on together, maybe something from there. Lord knows there have been a million things that happened on those tours.


ROBERT: A lot of things.


JAD: Then I was thinking of all the, like, hundreds and hundreds of stories we did. Is there like a particular story mo -- memory, and I couldn't really think of one. But then I thought of a -- I thought maybe the most appropriate thing is if I awarded a Jaddy to you, to the first 20 minutes of every studio conversation we've ever had.


ROBERT: What does that mean?


JAD: It means when we sit down in these studio sessions?




JAD: As you know, they go on for hours and hours sometimes if we're tracking a story or if we're interviewing somebody and sometimes these interviews are three or four together. So we're sitting in these seats for, like, four hours sometimes. But the first 20 minutes of -- of every time we sit down, we just start ...


ROBERT: Oh, they're just like -- they're pre- -- they're not radio parts. They're just making noises together parts.


JAD: Yeah. It's um -- I was thinking about -- and it drives -- I mean, all -- it drives all the producers crazy, except for Soren who has come to love it and understand it at this point, because most of the time we're like, "Oh, we got to get these things done," but then you and I sit and we just banter for 20 minutes before we actually start working. And it's always this really important moment in not just my day, but it's like this -- it's always these really important calibrating moments for me.


ROBERT: What do you mean?


JAD: Well, it's like I walk into the studio with all of these problems in my head.


ROBERT: Right.


JAD: Problems with the stories I'm trying to solve and the things I'm trying to edit.


ROBERT: All the cobwebby things.


JAD: All the cobwebs, and maybe there's somebody unhappy and there are meetings that I haven't prepared for, and it's all kind of in there. And then we sit down and then for 20 minutes we start to banter. And it's friendly banter, but there's always like 15 minutes in or 18 minutes in, there's a moment where I feel the shift in me, and I discover that I was like, oh, this is really fun. You're -- like, we have so much fun together. And I discover. It's almost like relearning, being reborn every single time. Where the -- it's such a joy and a pleasure to do this with you. And you've always served that role for me, where in the -- in those 20 minutes you remind me that to have delight and joy, and -- and it's like, you -- you know. It's like, I'm that way too but I forget.


ROBERT: Right.


JAD: And you've always served this role to remind me. You're the guy who reminds me.


ROBERT: Also, I kind of noticed at a certain point that -- I noticed at a certain point that what was really making the show work for the audience was probably a little bit less what the subjects were, because I'm not sure there was a ravenous interest in, you know, physics and philosophy and all these things, but when two people are having real fun.


JAD: Mm.


ROBERT: It's sort of like a warm fire or something. People just want to sort of sit next to it. And I -- I like that. I like that -- that this is true. Whatever else may be going on, it's like trying to manufacture it. But this is true. Like, we are really -- we are really engaged here. And there's something just nice about it.


JAD: Yeah. It's funny. 'True' is an interesting word too, because I -- I think about -- like, we often talk about play, like we want to have -- it should be -- what we do is should be playful.




JAD: And the show has gotten darker over the years, right?




JAD: And so it's become this -- this conversation we're always having which is like, let's embrace that sense of play and joy, and let's bring that back onto the air, you know? So much of our early stuff was that, and then we sort of started to tiptoe into other territories. But I -- I feel like what's been always been really inspiring is that you commit to the act of playing in a way that feels like it's actually deeply connected to truth in some way.


ROBERT: Yeah, it might ...


JAD: If it ever feels dead, it's not true in some way. And ...


ROBERT: Or at least -- at least one of the things about whatever it is you're staring at, one of the things that you might want to go for is: yes, there might be something wrong that you need to know, or something scary that you need to deal with, or something that makes you angry that you need to -- that you need to confront, but it seems to me that the thing that most people like to hear is they like to hear all those feelings translated into a kind of, "Oh, no!" And then into a small, quiet, grab of the hand. Like, under the table. Like, it's okay, or we'll do this together. And laughter is just such an enormously powerful part of that. Like ...


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: It asks you to stay and it gives you a little courage, really.


JAD: Well yeah, it's like sometimes people write it off as whimsy, but I don't think it's that at all. I think it's actually much more. It's like being playful is so much more important than playing in some way.


ROBERT: Yeah, and particularly if you're going to get very serious about something, probably the hardest but most beautiful way to get serious about it is to giggle your way in. However, it's not the normal way to do it, but if you can you bring a much bigger group, and you bring for some reason a little bit more attention. And key -- key is people stay a little bit longer.


JAD: Right. So I -- I was -- I would like to award you, Bobby, a Jaddy for all of those moments that you have actually fought like hell to protect the play. And it happens with me personally at the beginning of every interview. For 20 minutes, we just kind of talk and we banter and I click back into that understanding every time. And then the studio happens, and so I feel it's somehow -- it's a been an important part of my -- my journey with you is that you keep reminding me of that.


ROBERT: That's nice.


JAD: If I was -- if I had thought this out better I would have given you a statuette of some kind.


ROBERT: Uh-huh.


JAD: I was thinking maybe I -- it would be a statuette of, like, a Pied Piper or something.




JAD: You know, it's like you can ...


ROBERT: I'm not leading you, you come right -- you like ...


JAD: No, I know, I know. But it's, like, something like that. It's like a little ...


ROBERT: No, a Jad -- a Jad should be -- a Jad should be ...


JAD: A Jaddy.


ROBERT: A Jaddy should be a somewhat humble if not actually ugly for -- see, I feel Oscar is this sleek sort of golden thing. I don't even think it's a human. I don't know. I mean, it's called by a human name, but what is that? A Bobby is a wilting sort of sad old sad guy.


JAD: Have you ever given a statuette of a Bobby?


ROBERT: I've -- no, I've drawn one. I've never -- there's no actual physical representatives of it, no. It's too beautiful for -- for materiality. It just -- it can't be made in the real world, I don't think. The world would crack if Bobby actually got made. But Bobby in the imagination is a sort of kind of bald, paunchy statue. So that's just Bobby. And I -- you know, I think you should think of Jaddy in those -- in the same terms. Like, Jad, it shouldn't be -- it shouldn't be muscular, sleek or -- it should be like something that's tired.


JAD: Tired.


ROBERT: And want to -- and wants to ...


JAD: He's just looking down at his shoes.


ROBERT: Looking down at his shoes. [laughs] Yes. That's right.


JAD: He's a shoegazer.


ROBERT: That's right. A shoegazing Jaddy.


JAD: So that's my Jaddy award.


ROBERT: Okay. Thank you. I'm humbled.


JAD: So that's pretty much it. It's been really nice getting to look back on all this stuff with you.


ROBERT: Yeah, it's been an interesting -- yeah, it really -- this thing, to do this for this long and to have, you know, think about all the things we've gotten to sort of get to think about. Like ...


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: That's mostly been self-assigned. Like, you know, a decade just looking up any old thing that just interested you.


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: And then getting to play with your mind like this. And then -- and maybe the most beautiful part is, you know, sometimes you get really irritated at the audiences because they're so stuck on what they know and expect, and sometimes they can be a very conservative part of what you do. But then sometimes you meet them, you know, when you're walking around. And one of the coolest things -- because in television you're walking across the street and someone thinks, "Oh, I know them from summer camp or from the elevator or something. I've seen them before." Or they know that you're on TV, but they say, "Yo, I saw you on TV," and that's like a compliment, I guess. But with Radiolab, it's been, "Hi. Oh, thank you for what you do. I do have an argument though, about the thing you did about cell --" and I thought, "You remember that? And you have an opinion about it? And you want to keep that conversation going?" For -- for someone who does this, because you kind of want to expand -- you want to leave the universe in people's heads a little bit bigger than where you find them, then to actually meet them and they say, "I'm bigger. I listened to this thing and I'm bigger."


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: "And thank you."


JAD: That's a nice way to put it.


ROBERT: That's the nicest -- the nicest thing, the nicest thank you that there is.


JAD: Yeah.


ROBERT: If you're trying to give yourself a crown, I can't think of a better one, really. Called, "I listened and you made a difference to me. Thank you." Just -- just that sequence.


JAD: Mm-hmm.


ROBERT: That's -- yeah.


JAD: Yeah. Thank you, my friend.


ROBERT: You're welcome.


MATT: You guys might want to sign off for the last time.


JAD: Okay. Oh, yeah. Well, it's not -- I mean, let's be -- let's be -- let's just think about this for a second before we sign off. This isn't gonna be the last time.


ROBERT: Well no, it can't be because we're ...


JAD: Because we're gonna be rerunning stuff. And so you're gonna be around.




JAD: And I take you at your word when you say that you'll drop in we'll do an adventure every so often.


ROBERT: Every so often. Why not? Yeah. Yeah, because there'll be something that occurs to me and I'll just call you up and say, "What about, blah bup bup?" And then we'll ...


JAD: And you know, assuming it has nothing to do with snail sex, I'd say, "Sure, that sounds great!"


ROBERT: Maybe my first seven calls should be about snail sex.


JAD: Well, I'll just ...


ROBERT: No, you might -- you should never take the position ...


JAD: I'll just be getting my hair done those days.


ROBERT: You should never say never, Jad. Even to snail sex.


JAD: Well, all right. All right. For you, Robert, I'll keep my mind open to the snail sex.


ROBERT: Never say never to snail sex.


JAD: But all this is to say it's not a goodbye.




JAD: It's a see you around a little bit less.


ROBERT: That's right. That's right.


JAD: Except during reruns, and except when you come and hang out.


ROBERT: That's right.


JAD: So, all right.


ROBERT: Except breakfast and stuff.


JAD: Yeah. There's ...


ROBERT: But they're not coming to that.


JAD: There's that -- they don't get to hear that part.


ROBERT: No. Okay.


JAD: Okay. I'm Jad Abumrad.


ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.


JAD: Thank -- thank you, Robert. And thank you all for listening.




JAD: Hey, one more thing. Next week, we actually have the beginning of something really special. We have a -- the first in a six-part series from our producer Latif Nasser. He's been working on this story, he and Suzie Lechtenberg, Executive Producer here, have been reporting this story for three years. It is incredible.


ROBERT: With a very startling premise.


JAD: Yes!


ROBERT: And that's actually -- let me just say one last thing before I leave the room.


JAD: Please.


ROBERT: It is one of the pleasures of having done this is that, like, the people who have come here since you and I came here are bursting with experiments and ideas, and the things they want to do are so sharp. And I just -- it is a source of enormous pride to me that in a way we've only just begun, which I ...


JAD: Yeah. Well, and it's also like you have imprinted on Latif, I know that for sure.


ROBERT: I tried.


JAD: And me. And so we -- we -- you are in all of us at this point.


ROBERT: Okay. That's -- all right, let's bring this to a halt.


JAD: Yes. Okay, sorry! Okay. Well, yeah, so that's coming up next week, six-part series. Until then, thank you Robert.


ROBERT: You're welcome.


JAD: And thank you everybody for listening.


[REUBEN: Hi, this is Reuben, watersliding in 30-degree weather in Pennsylvania. Radiolab is created by Jad Abumrad with Robert Krulwich. And produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our Director of Sound Design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our Executive Producer. Our staff includes: Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, W. Harry Fortuna, Sarah Sandbach, Malissa O’Donnell, Tad Davis, and Russell Gragg. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.]


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