Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” has nixed the character Larry Bloom in the fictional show’s current season. But where is the real Larry? And what actually happened with him and Piper?
The actual love interest of convicted felon Piper Kerman, whose eponymous memoir depicting life in the clink forms the basis of the hit television series, is her devoted Jewish husband of almost a decade, Larry Smith.
“Although Larry Bloom and Larry Smith are very different, the show illuminates community in prison and the problems in the justice system, and to do that you have to open up the story,” Smith told The Times of Israel.
“They needed to create more conflict in the show than in real life because me being a good guy and showing up to prison every week, which I did, isn’t that dramatic. Me sitting in the East Village and reading the New Yorker eating a burger, drinking a bourbon and going about my life working isn’t great TV,” says Smith wryly.
The Emmy-nominated and award-winning television dramedy has indeed helped give a human face to women behind bars. Although the fictional Larry Bloom has been reduced to passing mention on OITNB as working for Zagat’s, the happily married Larry Smith and Piper Kerman inhabit a dramatically different world.
Together with their four-year-old son, Smith and Kerman recently took up residence in Columbus, Ohio, where they are busy with fascinating projects. And while the fictional Piper Chapman remains behind bars, the actual Piper Kerman is researching her next book.
Meanwhile, her actual leading man, Larry Smith, is busy focusing his professional interests on his wildly popular Six-Word Memoir® initiative. Its latest iterations? An ongoing series of local live events that recently launched and a forthcoming book expected this fall.
“A lot of our work is in storytelling and self expression and we come at it in slightly different ways,” Smith says. “Helping getting stories heard is where our work interacts.”
In fact, since its launch, nearly one million short stories have been shared on Six-Word Memoirs, which offers prompts and contests, and its younger cousin, SMITH Teens. As Smith says, in “classrooms and boardrooms, churches and synagogues, veterans’ groups and across the dinner table, Six-Word Memoirs have become a powerful tool to catalyze conversation, spark imagination or break the ice.”
Smith and Kerman are currently taking an 18-month hiatus from their home in Brooklyn while she teaches writing in two local prisons, one for men and one for women. The follow up to her first book, “Orange is The New Black,” will focus on her experiences at Marion Correctional in Marion Ohio.
It’s all unfolding as the couple looks toward the Emmy Awards September 20. OITNB, for which Kerman serves as executive consultant, is among the nominees for outstanding primetime drama.
The show’s latest thirteen episodes released this summer have written Larry out of Piper’s life entirely. In reality, Smith and Kerman married nine years ago, soon after her release from a 13-month prison term for money laundering, and have been together ever since.
For the show, the couple signed life releases to Netflix and the show’s Jewish executive producer, Jenji Kohan.
“It was a big question: do you want to use our real names,” Smith says. “Piper thought Jenji would do a great job, and she did. But what if she didn’t?”
Thankfully, the question remains rhetorical. The smash TV program relies on the married couple’s history as a launching pad for the on-screen saga. But it is far from an accurate depiction of the interfaith couple, whose last names are changed on screen.
A retelling of the bare bones of previous seasons has the makings of, well, a primetime drama. After Piper is jailed, Larry starts up with her married best friend, Polly, who has recently given birth to her first child. Meanwhile, Piper, who dated women before Larry, reignites a relationship in prison with Alex, her ex-girlfriend, who is convicted of a drug trafficking charge. In actuality, Smith says neither her or Piper were unfaithful during Kerman’s 13 months at the Litchfield Correctional Facility.
What may be perhaps the most iconic formulation once appeared on a marquee: ‘Don’t make me come down there — God’
Smith, a former journalist and editor for leading publications such as Men’s Journal and ESPN, left the world of what he calls “fancy journalism” in 2006 to launch his namesake magazine at SmithMag.net. The project was off to a good start with a variety of story prompts encouraging writers to explore their own lives.
The concept ignited on a fledgling Twitter when Smith suggested a six-word memoir inspired by Ernest Hemingway. The celebrated writer once settled a bar bet to write a novel in as many words with the legendary response: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never Worn.”
The project has since taken flight with a bestselling book series, a chain of speaking gigs and electric live events that for Smith, are among the highlights of his work. As the project’s popularity has grown organically, SMITH magazine — a play on the concept of wordsmithing — has spawned a series of books, including the self-published Jewish “Oy! Only Six? Why Not More? Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life” in 2012.
What may be perhaps the most iconic formulation once appeared on a marquee: “Don’t make me come down there — God.”
Under the six-word title, “From This You Make A Living,” Smith shared his story at Limmud New York in 2013, explaining that the project hinges on the concept that, “Everyone has a story. It’s as simple idea I learned from my grandfather, Morris Smith, born in Russia in 1911.”
His grandfather, whom everyone called Smitty, belonged to a synagogue in South Jersey and ran a pharmacy called Smith Brothers where he stood and told stories to his friends and customers.
Of himself, Smith says in six words: “My Jewish Life. Constantly In Progress.” A self-identified cultural Jew who loves Passover but rarely attends synagogue, Smith says he is “not very religious but certainly identify as Jewish and all the good parts of food, culture and conversation that go with that. And that’s been consistent for a long time.”
His next and sixth book is the first non-memoir in the bestselling series. Ranging from hilarious to heartfelt, “The Best Advice in Six Words: Writers Famous and Obscure on Love, Sex, Money, Friendship, Family, Work, and Much More” (St. Martin’s Press, $12.99) is slated to debut November 5. Among other celebs, Molly Ringwald offered these words of advice, “Post-adolescent? Then stop blaming your parents.” Smith, in contrast, hints at the current season of OITNB, “Know your audience. Then surprise them.”
Meanwhile, what Smith enjoys most from his literary love child are the live events he curates around various themes. The newest edition, “Six in the City: Columbus” brings together residents of the midwestern capital city (population: 835,957) to share their stories in six words.
“The commonality is sharing the experience of living in the same place,” Smith says.
The series, which launched in June and is ongoing, joins a variety of programs, often relating to seasonal holidays and other themes, in which presenters offer their six words and then share their back stories. Smith also collaborates with prominent brands and organizations across the country, including Honest Tea, Reboot, Zen Hospice in San Francisco and the Columbus Museum of Art.
Interestingly, despite the sudden edit of Larry Bloom from OITNB, the current season contains the most Jewish references of the series. A comical black inmate named Cindy discovers Judaism, first merely in an attempt to obtain the better kosher meals, and then as a sincere convert. She meets with a “rent-a-rabbi” and undergoes a spontaneous mikveh to complete her ritual immersion in one of the most memorable scenes of the series.
‘Larry gets a little bit of a bad rap. He’s easy to hate because he’s kinda of a mama’s boy’
The onscreen Piper Chapman, in contrast, says she never wants to hear of Larry Bloom again.
As strange as it has been, Smith has grown accustomed to seeing variants of life depicted on screen. Before his character was written off the show, Smith had to accept that on-screen Larry, portrayed by actor Jason Biggs, isn’t always likable.
“Larry gets a little bit of a bad rap. He’s easy to hate because he’s kinda of a mama’s boy. He has that affair and so does Piper and no one seems to mind that. He can be a little lame of a guy at times,” Smith says.
“I took it in good spirits. and it didn’t really matter and because Jason Biggs is a good guy and I like him. He’s very warm guy and funny guy. That helps me a little bit with my endurance of the character,” says Smith.