Joshua Malina is known for his work on the stage, screen, and television, appearing in some of the most popular television shows this century: West Wing, Scandal, The Big Bang Theory, to name a few. So how is it that his Hollywood work led him to being paired with Rabbi Shira Stutman to launch Chutzpod!: Ancient Texts for Modern Times, a podcast on Judaism?
“Josh and I met twice, actually, one of the times we met was on Shavuot at Sixth & I (Synagogue) where I used to work. But then we were together for a few days in the West Bank on a program called Encounter. And we became friendly then,” Stutman said. “Tim Shovers, our executive producer came to me and said, ‘Let’s do a podcast.’ I said great. And who else would I want to do a podcast with other than Josh Molina? He was my first and last call.”
Malina and Stutman will be in St. Paul doing their first-ever live-audience recording of Chutzpod for Temple of Aaron’s annual fundraiser, as part of a two-part event. “A Scandalous West Wing Event with Joshua Malina” is 3 p.m. Sunday, July 31 at the O’Shaugnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University. In part one, Malina will talk with Rabbis Rachel and Marcus Rubenstein about his career in Hollywood; part two will be the live recording of the show.
Malina may have been Stutman’s first and last call, but he almost forced her to make other calls. He initially turned down her offer. Not because he was busy, but in case he was about to become busy.
“I’m trying to protect my time, like, I’m sure just around the corner is that big job that I won’t be able to do anything else,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting to spend an hour or an hour and a half a week talking to somebody who’s smart, from whom I can learn about things that I care about. And I very quickly wrote back and said, ‘I hope you haven’t offered it to anyone else, because I’m totally wrong. I do want to do this.’ And so it really was just, it was a gift I gave myself. I just found the rabbi delightful and interesting and smart. And so I knew right away that we would get along well.”
This isn’t the first time Malina has co-hosted a podcast on the PRX network. Along with Hrishikesh Hirway, he was part of The West Wing Weekly, a podcast that did an episode-by-episode recap each week over several years of the show that Malina was on for the last half of the seven-year run.
West Wing Weekly created a community online of fans of the TV show that listened to the podcast regularly – a podcast whose episodes were often longer than the TV episodes that they were discussing. That community feel is something that Malina is hoping comes out of Chutzpod, including the possibility of taking the show on the road again.
“Judaism is about kahal and community; this is as much community as most of us get, talking to each other on the screen,” he said. “But I know the kind of community that can build around something as ordinary as a podcast. And I would like to see that magic happen for Chutzpod, too. Because the West Wing Weekly community is really nice, mutually supportive.”
For both the hosts, the podcast is an opportunity to open up on religion and spirituality, which is of course different for everyone.
“I have my persona – to the extent that I have a persona – that is sort of edgy and dark, but this is the stuff I really kind of care about,” he said. “It feels a little risky to say I wake up every morning and I say a prayer that thanking God that I’m alive again. But one of the foundational ideas of the podcast is that we would approach it with chutzpah, we would be brash and bold, and we’ll share things and say things that I don’t normally put out to strangers. But I think I think people really do want to talk about that kind of stuff. I know I do.”
Said Stutman: “I think that many people spend time in their lives trying to sort of figure out ‘is this all it is? How do I find more meaning?’ And, and the podcast is an attempt to explore where to find it. And … the best models we have for this journey, in a way, is ourselves. Telling our own stories and showing our own vulnerabilities and our own practices are actually what will help other people choose to make decisions in their own lives.”
For information on tickets, check out the St. Catherine website.