‘What’s a Jewish girl’s favorite ‘wine’? I wanna go to Miami,” jibes Gina Grad with a high-nasal pitch, just slightly whiny, not abrasive. A cackle follows, so infectious the phone nearly vibrates.
“I am going to use that one on the radio tomorrow,” says Grad, 38, host of “Andy & Gina in the Morning” from 6 to 9 a.m. on 100.3 The Sound, one of L.A.’s top-ranking stations. As many as 2 million L.A. commuters tune in each morning to hear the show. Grad is also the sidekick on the Adam Carolla Show, a free daily comedy podcast that ranked No. 1 on iTunes in 2009.
Grad has no qualms about sharing her Jewish identity with listeners, through Jewish jokes, personal stories, Yiddish phrases and Hebrew slang. It’s not forced. When opportunity knocks, Grad leverages her faith.
“I like to open up a world that people might not know,” says Grad. “If you don’t have any Jewish friends, I feel like if you listen to me long enough you’ll feel like you do.”
Grad is known for her ability to speak freely, share vulnerabilities and connect with her audience. She spent six years daily recording the “Pretty Good Podcast” with Randy Wang, which iTunes describes as the “Seinfeld of Podcasts.” She and Wang offered “a candid look into their personal lives” and their constant effort toward self-improvement, according to the site.
In 2011, she shared about “her Pink Floyd-like panic attacks” and the “repercussions of having sex when one person is not that into it” on the Mental Illness Happy Hour. Today, she waxes about life with her boyfriend-roommate.
“I’m an open book,” Grad maintains. “It’s easier to open up — and more interesting, even the dark stuff.”
Grad says the more vulnerable you are in radio, the more audiences embrace you.
“Sometimes it’s like, ‘I cannot believe I said that.’ But I get emails from listeners thanking me and saying how much whatever I shared helped them,” Grad says. “There’s nothing better than that.”
Her father Steve Grad tells how when Grad found out one of her high school-aged radio listeners was dying from cancer and that the girl’s last wish was to go to the prom, his daughter spearheaded a radio fundraising campaign, sending the young lady to prom Cinderella-style.
Grad is also known for what previous sidekick Mark Thompson (now defunct “Mark in the Morning”) describes as Grad’s “millions of voices,” which she can instantly retrieve, and her love of laughter. Grad giggles unapologetically and loudly on air anytime one of her colleagues cracks a good one.
“Hey GG is there a vaccination for your infectious laugh?” one of her 30,000-plus Twitter followers recently posted.
“Her wit comes at you like a flying bullet,” describes decade-long friend Becky Wu. “She is one of the funniest friends I have ever met.”
It is Grad’s ability to laugh at herself and positive attitude that helped get her to the top of Hollywood’s radio universe.
When Grad first moved to L.A. from Overland Park, Kansas, via New York City in 2003, she paid the bills doing English voice-overs for foreign cartoons and working retail. In 2008, she played the voice of Rose on video game Street Fighter IV, but it never amounted to a better gig. She’d fill her time doing “terrifying” stand-up comedy, singing news jingles and recording commercials, willing to fill in for sick radio hosts at any station on a moment’s notice in hopes of getting detected. She was poor.
“I would get so close and they would give it to another girl,” Grad says of her many auditions. Yet, she’d pick up and try over and over again, clawing her way to opportunity.
“It was like watching her run a marathon,” recalls Wu. “Every time we thought the path was getting smoother there would be another hill. She would just power through it… always with a smile.”
Lynn Mandell, who has known Grad for 36 years, says she thinks her friend “appreciates the journey.”
Grad’s parents say her creative path was well-defined even from her humble Wizard-of-Oz beginnings. She was born to artsy parents. Mom, Marlis, and Steve Grad, met in a college acting company. Her father reads sports for KNX 1070 news radio in L.A. Marlis is a long-time volunteer and co-chair of the Jewish Community of Greater Kansas City’s White Theatre.
Grad talked animatedly from an early age, Marlis Grad says.
“We would sit down for dinner and she would talk and talk and talk,” Marlis reminisces. “Her older brother would ask to be excused and she would go on and on. She just had this zest for life.”
Grad’s parents drove her to and from community theater rehearsal, dancing lessons and high school plays — in between BBYO chapter meetings and Hebrew school at Conservative Temple Ohev Shalom. They still have VHS recordings of Grad singing show tunes.
“There was no way anyone could have intruded on the path she chose,” Marlis says, noting it wasn’t easy watching her daughter struggle.
When parents express concern about letting their children pursue creative fields, Marlis now counsels them to let their children try, as she did for Grad.
Grad says she always knew she wouldn’t stay in Kansas City. Today, she travels across the US to record the Adam Carolla Show live to great fanfare. Her stories, thousands of recordings and images pervade the internet and radio waves, positioning her as a role model and star. Still, she’s very modest.
“I don’t think of myself that way; I am a complete mess,” Grad says, her infectious laugh erupting once more, but with just a hint of uneasiness. Eventually, she admits, with millions of people following her every-morning quip, she “could be an inspiration.”
Grad’s message to younger followers: Work hard, always be authentic and don’t take life too seriously.
“We Jews have had our share of hardships. The more hardships we’ve gone through, the better our sense of humor has become,” says Grad. “Laughter is survival.”