Friends of Dennis Prager, the nationally syndicated radio talk show host, chose the Nixon Library’s White House East Room for a roast Thursday night to celebrate his 25 years in broadcasting, but you could tell their hearts weren’t in it. Everybody likes the bookish, genial Prager so much that the vengeful, passive-aggressive energy that makes for a classically mean roast was missing. Besides, Prager appears to have no idiosyncrasies beyond buying stereo equipment and enjoying a Diet Coke and cookie (eaten with a knife and fork) for breakfast, as reported by his longtime executive producer and co-author, Allen Estrin (left).
Other roasters included fellow Salem Communications hosts Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved and longtime friend Bruce Herschensohn (right, in photo and in life), who spoke earnestly if bogusly of Prager’s birth and boyhood in China a year before the 1949 communist revolution. Prager’s parents, Max and Hilda, roared with delight, having raised their two sons in Brooklyn. No Sinophile, Bruce had made up the name of Prager’s Chinese home town.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (center), Prager’s schoolmate at Yeshiva Flatbush, provided one of several conflicting accounts of Prager’s hapless performance on the school’s basketball team during an exhibition game in Madison Square Garden. During his own remarks, Prager set the record straight. Called in a minute before the final buzzer, the lanky but not especially adept senior (“I didn’t care about basketball, I didn’t want to play basketball, but there were no 6′4″ Jews, so I played basketball”) couldn’t get his teammates to tell him what basket he should run toward. After a jump ball, he ran in the wrong direction and found himself alone with a ref, who said, “What are you, some kind of schmuck?”
Before over 800 of his family members, friends, and fans, who listen to Prager, Hewitt, and Medved on KRLA-AM 870, Prager spoke of how moved he is each time he learns that he has affected someone’s life for the better and how surprised to learn how close his listeners feel to him. When he announced not long ago during drive time that he was getting divorced, many wrote to say that they’d pulled onto the shoulder and wept. Having gotten his start in LA radio as the host of a program called “Religion on the Line,” he said he’d developed an abiding affection for priests, pastors, monks, and the other faith leaders he’d interviewed. Today, he’s especially proud of serving as a bridge between Christians and Jews. Invited to participate in a debate at a national convention of nonbelievers held on Easter Sunday, he said he’d begun his remarks by saying, “Only in America can a Jew wish a bunch of atheists a happy Easter.” As regular listeners know, he believes that America’s strength and spirituality are closely linked: “If there is one thing in our country that is truly an endangered species, it’s not a frog or a plant, it’s the United States of America as a Judeo-Christian country,” he said Thursday night.
Hewitt, left, a former Nixon Library director, and Prager are shown as producer Estrin played a clip in which his boss had confidently predicted that Gen. Wesley Clark would win the Democratic nomination in 2008.