What podcast rhymes with corona and gets under your skin? ‘Ronna’ stars tell all
Interview'Everyone has a talent. Mine is being right'

What podcast rhymes with corona and gets under your skin? ‘Ronna’ stars tell all

‘Ask Ronna with Ronna (& Bryan)’ is hilarious and so insightful that you’d probably never guess the ‘Jewish mom’ of the advice show is being played in character — in animal print

  • Ronna Glickman (aka Jessica Chaffin), left, and Bryan Saffi. (Courtesy)
    Ronna Glickman (aka Jessica Chaffin), left, and Bryan Saffi. (Courtesy)
  • Illustrative: Jessica Chaffin arrives at the premiere of 'Big Mouth' at Break Room 86 on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
    Illustrative: Jessica Chaffin arrives at the premiere of 'Big Mouth' at Break Room 86 on Wednesday, September 20, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
  • Jessica Chaffin (as 'Ronna Glickman'), left, and Jamie Denbo (as 'Beverly Kahn') attend Hilarity for Charity's Annual Variety Show: James Franco's Bar Mitzvah held at The Hollywood Palladium on Saturday, October 17, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
    Jessica Chaffin (as 'Ronna Glickman'), left, and Jamie Denbo (as 'Beverly Kahn') attend Hilarity for Charity's Annual Variety Show: James Franco's Bar Mitzvah held at The Hollywood Palladium on Saturday, October 17, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK — Ronna Glickman, a 50s-and-fabulous Jewish mother from Marblehead, Massachusetts, is a geyser of good advice. On “Ask Ronna with Ronna (& Bryan),” she weighs in on conundrums shared by listeners via phone and email along with her sidekick, the considerably younger but sharp-beyond-his-years Bryan Safi.

Glickman’s New England-Jewish accent is considerably different from the New York/New Jersey tones I associate with my mother, my aunt, and their circle of Stella D’oro Breakfast Treats-munching friends who held court from the kitchen.

But her from-the-hip, impervious-to-BS voice is fundamentally the same. The lilt, cadence and frankness is one I associate with truth and comfort and, ultimately, love, even if what they have to say is not necessarily what I want to hear.

Safi, though a fundamentally positive person, is brined in the world-weary sarcasm commonly found in hilarious and secure gay men. As one drawn to “the arty kids” in school, I find his banter with Ronna another source of relaxation, nostalgia, comfort.

The most recent episode is a special done in conjunction with the 92nd Street Y, the great Jewish outpost of culture on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (and, like the rest of New York, closed in all non-virtual ways during the coronavirus pandemic). The guest was actor Nick Kroll, perhaps their biggest “get” yet. Previous guests are all big names in the world of comedy, which is where Bryan and Ronna have their roots.

Now’s as good a time as any to let you know that, yes, Ronna Glickman is an act, and the woman behind it is a younger woman named Jessica Chaffin. But who is to say what’s real and what isn’t? After five minutes listening to Jessica-as-Ronna, the concept of artifice and character becomes incredibly uninteresting. Ronna Glickman is as real as you need her to be, and she’s tender, perceptive and a scream.

When I spoke to Ronna (& Bryan) over Zoom, I never for a minute felt I was speaking to anyone other than the voices you hear on their podcast. And as soon as she learned my name, Ronna reminded me she also had a son called Jordan (pronounced Jaw-den.) As if I didn’t already know.

I must also point out that we spoke prior to the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests seen throughout the United States. In a follow-up email exchange Ronna wrote that she was thinking of Martin Niemoller’s poem “They Came For Me.”

“In this case, most of us are the neighbor,” she said. “And we have a responsibility to the struggle of our friends, colleagues, lovers, and even strangers in our communities in their fight for equality, against racism, and to not be treated as ‘other.’ Call! Write! March! Donate! Vote! But, most importantly, you have to care. As a Jew, I feel an extra burden. It’s our turn to not close our eyes, and to help. Then, recharge. Take a breath. Take a walk. And prepare to fight again.”

Below is a truncated and edited transcript of our conversation, which I hope reads as funny as it would sound. So much of what makes Ronna (& Bryan) is their speaking manner and their timing. Which is why you really ought to find their show wherever you listen to podcasts and check them out.

The Times of Israel: How should a newcomer start listening to your show?

Ronna: Look at the list of guests and if you see someone you are interested in, start there.

What if I am not interested in any of them?

Bryan: Pfffft!

Ronna: Well, I know you are interested in Bryan and me, so you can just do the old map trick, close your eyes and just point.

You’ve had no trouble finding great guests.

Ronna: We loved having Robin Lord Taylor on.

Bryan: Loved him. And Paul F. Tompkins.

Ronna: Sure, and his lovely wife Janie. And Ben Feldman and Paget Brewster. Carl Tart is fabulous. What’s great is it’s a different way to show off your perspective. You know, you ask someone to be on your show they think “Ach, am I gonna have to perform? Tell the same stories?” But everybody thinks they give good advice. It’s a great way to get to know the guests, to ask “how would you deal with this?”

I’ve listened to the two of you now a bit and I find you both sagacious and wise. What happens if one of your esteemed guests says something you think is crap advice?

Bryan: Wait, first, the fact you called me sagacious? And wise? And put me in the same category as Ronna? I’m putting that on my tombstone.

Ronna: We don’t know if he’s just being polite, though.

Bryan: That’s true.

Ronna: But to answer your question: we tell them! We tell them when they’re not right! It’s our show! But there’s always value in any answer, even if you don’t agree. It’s a very Jewish thing. Questions and answers to get to the bottom of something.

Ronna, when did you know that you were always right?

Ronna: Honestly, I’ve never not known. Everyone has a talent. Mine is being right. Or, maybe, I don’t know if I’m always right, but I’m not wrong.

It’s a key distinction.

Ronna: People can’t always receive information from the people in their lives. So Bryan and I are a conduit for them. It’s the right words, wrong face. You wanna know what we think, we’ll tell you. We’re kind, but don’t sugarcoat it. We’re considerate to those who are vulnerable with us, but if you came to us for an answer, we’re gonna give it to you.

Bryan: A lot of times people know what they need to be doing, and just need to hear it. Or else they are crossing their fingers to hear something different.

Ronna: It’s hard to get advice from people in your life sometimes. You may have exhausted avenues with a problem; you’ve talked to all your friends a thousand times about this guy you know you should break up with. But you maybe want a fresh set of eyes on the same problem. Also: it’s hard to be vulnerable with the people you’re closest to. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but you don’t always want to lean on the people that you’re intimate with for these kinds of things. When you’re in a relationship, a person can’t be all things to their partner. We all end up bottling things up.

Bryan: And what’s key about asking Ronna — and Ronna, please don’t take offense to this —

Ronna: I’m sure I will —

Bryan: You really want to know what your mother thinks, but you don’t want to hear it from your mother.

Ronna: “I’d love my mother’s advice, but I don’t want her in my business.”

You mention people who have good relationships, but still there are things that are hard to bring up —

Ronna: You don’t want to rock the boat!

But is this universal? Are there some relationships that last that do have total, 100 percent communication?

Bryan: You’d become psychotic. It would become “Ugh, I hate what you are wearing, ugh, don’t look at me like that, ugh, you are an animal!” You have to keep something inside. The only people who express what they are feeling at all time are toddlers, and who wants to deal with that if they’re not yours?

Ronna: If those people do exist, I wouldn’t want to have dinner with them. And listen: it’s not great to always be in touch with your feelings at all times. You have to get your work done. You have to think about the people around you. And you have to consider your environment and physical indicators. Like, don’t ever have an argument when you’re hungry.

Ronna, I gotta say something — you have such a fabulous design sense — is that a zebra print you are wearing?

Ronna: This is, um, white tiger.

Are you into animal prints as a rule?

Ronna: I love animal prints, but it has to be the right one.

What are the wrong ones?

Ronna: You know it when you see it. Like Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.” I know an Yves Saint Laurent leopard print from 20 feet away.

Oh, so you mean the designer, not the animal itself.

Ronna: What, are you asking would I wear a hippo print? No, that’s not interesting to me. It’s the fabric, and the print itself. I love a Scalamandré tiger print for a sofa.

Bryan: Who makes what you are wearing now?

Ronna: Bryan, I’m not going to tell you. Because you get so upset when you hear how much I spend on clothes.

Bryan: Because I want you to spend that on me.

Ronna: You’re not my son, Bryan!

How have you been staying sane during the quarantine?

Ronna: We’ve raised a lot of money through the podcast, and donated to Meals on Wheels and World Central Kitchen. But it has been very hard on me not to travel. It connects me to humanity and beauty; I feel a little fenced in. But we’ve been doing a book club on the podcast and an international film festival. We’ve had a good selection.

What did you watch?

Ronna: We did “Honeyland” —

Bryan: Paired with “First Wives Club.”

Wait, what’s the connection?

Ronna: Women doing it for themselves!

Ah, the Queen Bee.

Ronna: More or less, sure.

Bryan: We did a British week, Spanish, Italian.

Ronna: “Room with a View” for Italian week.

Bryan: With “Talented Mr. Ripley.”

Ronna: Spain we did “Sexy Beast,” which you have to see. But I’ve been thinking a lot about Israel! I actually said this with Nick Kroll, that quarantine reminds me of visiting Israel on Shabbat. If there’s been any benefit, it’s taking a break to be with your family, to cook your own food; everything closes except what’s essential, and everyone is forced to slow down. But the beach is always open. I love that [on Shabbat in Israel]. I feel the people of Israel are maybe uniquely equipped to handle of this? I love to arrive on a Thursday in Israel to ease into Shabbat on a Friday. And hopefully someone invites you for dinner.

So have you thought of a Jewish-themed film night?

Ronna: I’ve been watching “Fauda” and of course everyone is talking about “Unorthodox” but I only watched two episodes. I found it screwy. She goes from being the most sheltered person in the world to making decisions where it’s “Oh, okay, you’re gonna go home with a guy you met in a coffee shop? Really? From having never been on a plane to that? Okay.” Then everyone keeps bringing up the Holocaust. Which, just so you know, is how all of my conversations go. But secular 20-year-olds don’t normally go around talking like this.

You don’t talk down to your audience. I listened to the first episode and you make a reference to “Chang and Eng,” who are maybe not household names to the youth of today.

Ronna: Listen, if you know, you know. Educated and curious people, which is what our audience is, they know things. We have a real relationship with our audience — they write to us about the most intimate details. They like that Bryan and I are interested and vocal people; Bryan reads everything. Even if they are only 16 years old, they are doing the same thing. And anyone who doesn’t know who Chang and Eng are is missing out!

Bryan: That’s our barometer. That’s our entry point: Chang and Eng.

Ronna: That was a dapper set of Siamese twins.

Bryan: They were.

Ronna: They put themselves together beautifully. Listen, if I were a Siamese twin I’d probably just take a sheet and throw it over both of us and say “why bother?”

Bryan: You’re supposed to say “conjoined,” Ronna, you don’t understand Gen Z.

Ronna: Conjoined, conjoined.

It’s the intent, with these terms. If you mean it maliciously —

Bryan [joking]: Well I do mean it maliciously.

Ronna: I mean it dismissively. So what Israeli movies should we watch for our film festival?

Well, one that kicked off a recent wave is an animated documentary called “Waltz With Bashir.”

Bryan: I heard of that, it was nominated for an Academy Award, right?

Yeah, and recently there was a remastering of an older film from the late 1960s, very sleek and stylized called “Matzor,” about the young wife of a man killed in combat, very evocatively shot in black and white.

Ronna: And then we can watch “Shoah.”

Well, that’s always a barrel of laughs.

Ronna: I’m a big fan. It’s important to watch it again as a grown-up. It’s very easy to watch when you are young and say “I’d do this, I wouldn’t do that, how could they do this?” When you get older it brings a different perspective to the choices people make. But it’s hard to watch.

I wrote about just that when I rewatched “Schindler’s List” for the anniversary release.

Ronna [fanning herself]: Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List,” don’t get me started.

He’s a handsome Nazi.

Ronna: Handsome? He gained all that weight, didn’t make a difference to me. The scene with the housekeeper? When he says “you almost talked me into it?” He definitely talked me into it.

This is maybe not the best way to ingratiate yourself to a Jewish readership, Ronna.

Ronna: What can I do? What? Look, should I be dishonest? The uniforms were impressive. Okay, let’s move on.

Jessica Chaffin (as ‘Ronna Glickman’), left, and Jamie Denbo (as ‘Beverly Kahn’) attend Hilarity for Charity’s Annual Variety Show: James Franco’s Bar Mitzvah held at The Hollywood Palladium on Saturday, October 17, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

You say where you live, Marblehead, Massachusetts, has a great Jewish community, but I wasn’t sure if you were kidding.

Ronna: Yes, there’s a Temple here called Temple Shirat Hayam. We’ve got an old colonial look, but there is a thriving Jewish community. People try to equate New York and Boston Jews, but near Boston the community is smaller, so they assimilated faster. So there’s a kind of hybrid WASP-y Jew. But there are a few characters who are living their best lives and stating their opinions.

Another question: there’s a woman in your life named Jessica Chaffin.

Ronna: I’ve seen her in this and that.

Bryan: I love her.

How would you describe her method of creating a character?

Bryan: I didn’t know she did that.

Well, she’s an actress.

Ronna: Is she really an actress or is she just someone who delivers a line? Some people are actors, others are personalities. She’s all right. She’s cute.

Bryan: Well, I adore her.

Would Ronna and Jessica be friends?

Ronna: I think Jessica and I could be friends. Like Bryan, she’s a little bit younger, so she’d keep me connected to the world. Jessica is smart, she has chutzpah, and she takes very good care of her skin, but, to be honest, I think she could be a little more put together. But I would enjoy to have dinner with her.

New episodes of “Ask Ronna with Ronna (& Bryan)” launch every Tuesday on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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