A Jokester's Playground

Comic duo Shai (Goldstein) and Dror (Raphael) star in a new show for parents.

Here is the essence of a skit that will soon be broadcast on the new Baby Plus channel: Two men are pushing their kids on swings in a playground. The fathers ask their children to pronounce the missing syllable in a word, such as "kit-ten" or "ta-ble." While one child refuses to complete the word correctly, the other tot thrills his father, who is barely able to suppress his delight at his son's advantage; the competition is tough, and the nuances are emphasized accordingly. It is an amusing scene, one of 25 called "Avot Akhlu Boser" ("Long-suffering Fathers"), which will be broadcast on a new parents channel (satellite channel 39). The fathers are played, quite surprisingly, by the sharp-tongued satirical duo, Shai Goldstein and Dror Raphael.

Shai Goldstein, 37, is married and the father of a 3-year-old son, Bar; Dror Raphael, 31, is married and the father of two sons, 4-year-old Ofek and 1-month-old Einav. Notwithstanding this, what is the satirical duo doing with "cute" skits? While it is true that, as parents, they function somewhat differently, both Goldstein and Dror are equally alert and keep a keen eye focused on the new arena in which they find themselves, a threatening place defined by rules and nuances: the playground.

The two radio personalities met six years ago at Radio Tel Aviv, where they still broadcast their daily program (4 P.M.-6 P.M.). The duo became famous for surprising celebrities and public figures with penetrating phone conversations that were broadcast live. As a result of their radio success, the two created the television program "Zu Artzeinu" ("This is our Land") on Channel 2 (Reshet). Later, they appeared on a daily program on the Beep channel, and on Channel 10; over time, they established a cult status and are greatly admired.

Every afternoon, the comic couple come to work in a small and smoke-filled room, located at the entrance to the 102 FM radio station in the Tel Aviv port. Their schedule consists of reading all of the newspapers, as part of their preparation for their daily program (60 percent of which is improvisation, says Goldstein); as well as collaborating on their column in the mass-circulation daily Maariv (Raphael types, because of speed). They say that they are so used to writing together that they cannot imagine writing separately. Shai and Dror admit, however, that prior to all of these important matters, they are preoccupied mainly with what food they are going to order.

A parent without a camera

Goldstein's and Raphael's children have not become friends yet, because although the two spend the week together, they part on weekends. Nevertheless, the first words of their children included the name of their fathers' friend - Shai, Dror.

"That's because of the PR picture that shows both of us," says Raphael.

During a conversation, Goldstein and Raphael are asked to discuss the parenting experience that gave rise to the skits; although they are asked, they do not always reply. Raphael is hesitant. Every question is accompanied by an invisible tic, a reaction to what he sees as an invasion of privacy.

"Parenting is an intimate thing," explains Raphael, whose new creation is drawn from his private life.

Goldstein replies that he experienced a little of what many women undergo during their maternity leave, the "intensity of the experience," because he was at home for the first three months of his son's life.

Raphael is clearly reluctant, but consents to say that he also spends a lot of time with his children.

"I'm not a guest in their lives, not one of those fathers who take his child to kindergarten and brings him back, and that's the end of his role. I don't wait for them to go to sleep in order to have time for my own interests." He says that he is not a "camera parent."

"I'm not willing to experience all the events in my children's life behind the camera. I want to be a part of them," he says. Goldstein recalls the Robin Williams film "One Hour Photo," in which the actor works as a photo lab technician.

"He says that if one takes each person's family album, it looks as though they have a happy life. It's dishonest. They photograph only the festive moments."

Goldstein actually likes to photograph his son crying. "I don't think that's nice," responds Raphael.

Their presence in their children's lives is apparently the reason why the two so aptly illustrate the complex dynamics of the playground. Raphael describes the playground as a "tumultuous place, with all its jealousy and envy" where parents with young children come seeking new company.

Raphael admits that he is usually the only father at children's enrichment classes, such as the Gymboree, where he absorbs "all that talk that implies something else; the double talk," referring to comments such as "He'll catch up," which really means, "I'm so lucky that my child doesn't have such problems."

The skits do not deal with the social experience alone, but also with what happens at home. Goldstein's favorite skit, for example, is the one in which a father buys his son a toy that he actually wants for himself - a toy car with a remote control. Like many parents, he also found himself deeply moved by the fact that their young son returned from his day-care group with a greeting card written in his name by the kindergarten teacher. He says that he accepts his parenthood, with all its absurdities.

"We put ours on the refrigerator," he says unapologetically.

Goldstein's attitude toward raising his child is very direct, not tortured and complex. He is not disturbed by the fact that his son may take after him, nor does he want to spare him the difficulties that he himself experienced at that age. Raphael also prefers the "natural" way (not in a New Age sense), and sends his son to an ordinary kindergarten.

"We're not drowning in approaches. We're developing our own independent approach," says Raphael.

Goldstein attributes his great enjoyment from his new role to the fact that he never saw himself as a father, and he had his son when he was relatively old. He says that "anyone who doesn't consider this route natural is surprised by its impact."

Raphael, who is six years younger than Goldstein, is more of a veteran father (his older son was born when he was 28), but he says that "the child is born in a continuum, at the right and natural place. Without any connection to commitment, to age or to social issues."

Raphael says that his child arouses all of his anxieties: "All the fears come to the fore. I see that I'm the only one who runs after him all the time in the playground, for fear that he'll fall."

For the time being, Raphael says, two children are enough. Goldstein, on the other hand, hopes to have three children. In response to the question as to what surprised him most about parenthood, Goldstein says that it was "the responsibility, and the need to give up your own needs."

Raphael says he was surprised by the fact that "it's really the greatest thing in life." When he talks about parenthood, all of the venom and sarcasm that are part and parcel of his television personality vanish. "The excitement comes from the little things that accompany the parent, language acquisition and each stage that the child goes through."

No more practical jokes on the phone

Despite this warmth and sensitivity, the pair, who have not been seen on screen for some time, have not lost their sarcasm. This week they found out that the election program that was supposed to be broadcast on Keshet, under the temporary name "Shai and Dror - Elections 2006," was cancelled. The official explanation given to them was "broadcast scheduling." The two do not know what lies behind this vague expression, but outside observers cannot help but link it to the latest scandal surrounding Keshet's investigative program "Uvda" ("Fact"), particularly in light of Shai and Dror's past, which is rife with lawsuits and provocations.

In any case, the duo's two new programs will not be broadcast live from a studio as in the past, so there is no chance that "innocent" people will receive surprise phone calls (their love for telephone harassment, say the two unanimously, developed in the army).

Keshet says that it is in contact with the two regarding other projects. One is an animated series created in the ShortCut studios, which is still in the "initial stage of development." According to Raphael and Goldstein, it will deal with a talk show host, "like Jay Leno." A second potential project is a political satirical drama in the style of "Yes, Minister." The actor who will play the minister has not yet been chosen, but they know who his two advisers will be - "a two-headed monster," says Raphael. If the new program is in the spirit of that series, we can already assume that for the most part the two will give bad advice, and the minister will make the worst of it.