10 Reasons Why Humorist/Essayist David Rakoff Will Be Missed


In loving memory of a treasured writer.

1. David’s Wit. There are few contemporary writers out there who are worthy of holding a candle to the cynical razor-sharp wit of David Rakoff. Often described as a cultural/social anthropologist, DR’s unique style of acerbic humor tickled audience’s funny bones while also appealing to their intellect, all at the same time. A master of his craft, Rakoff always knew just the right amount of risibility needed to bring balance to life’s unpleasant, and oftentimes harsh, realities: “I had a tumor. But it was great.”How brilliant is that?

2. David’s Vocabulary. DR’s love of words was unrivaled. Pick up any one of David Rakoff’s three noteworthy collections of essays: Don’t Get Too Comfortable, Fraud, or Half Empty, and one is certain to come across a bevy of sumptuous words including: ampoule, biota, proboscis, frippery, effusive, pentimento, abstemious, commodious, simulacrum, reliquary, and bacchanal. David also had a knack for stringing his carefully chosen words together into memorable phrases. Two of my all time favorites: “Dalíesque-arcs-of-airborne-vomit” and “The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems.”

3. David’s other artistic abilities (and sensibilities). For those who may not know, David Rakoff possessed other talents besides the gift of prose. DR had a penchant for sketching Bartlett pears, sculpting tiny delicate heads out of clay, hand painting denim jackets, decoupage, crafting duct tape wallets … (He would often then give these little mini masterpieces to close friends and family.) DR was also revered for his self-portraits in ink. Created from handmade linocuts, he’d often stamp his own image, along with his signature, onto the title pages of his books to personalize them. They were just superb.

4. David’s classic appearances on “The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart.

5. David’s short film: “The New Tenants.” In 2009 David Rakoff adapted the script for, and starred in, the Academy Award winning short film The New Tenants. I highly recommend this film to all DR fans. Watch it and I guarantee that you will never think of heroin, or cinnamon buns, in the same way, ever again.

6. David’s portrayal of Sigmund Freud at Christmastime. In 1996, Rakoff impersonated world renown therapist Sigmund Freud as part of Barneys New York holiday window, a display that was fully staged with desk chair and analyst’s couch. Shortly into his stint as Freud, DR realized that he could no longer endure the monotony, and boredom, of sitting alone in a department store window any longer. His solution? Why he began seeing “patients,” naturally. Classic Rakoff.

7.  David’s opening line to his 2010 Thurber Prize-winning book, Half Empty. “We were so happy. It was miserable.”

8.  David Rakoff in “This American Life: The Invisible Made Visible.” (This one gets me every time.)
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldqjM7x6NhE]

9. David’s loving, yet sometimes complex, relationship with New York City. “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.” —David Rakoff, Gothamist interview, 2007

10. All the essays that will never be. Though I should be grateful for the glorious bounty of work David Rakoff has given to us over the years, I still want more. I know this sounds incredibly childish, but it’s true. In the wake of his death, I find myself clutching onto all of his books, scanning them for quick-witted literary fixes in order to alleviate this profound feeling of melancholia. I search the internet rummaging for essays, YouTube clips, short films, old interviews … desperately searching for anything, anything, remotely Rakoff-ian, just to fill the void. Alas, dear David. You left us way too soon.

What will we ever do without you? 

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image – Larry D. Moore