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Photo of Rabbi Bob Alper Storming synagogues
Malcolm Hay
meets Rabbi Bob

ob Alper was ordained as a rabbi at Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972. He served congregations in Buffalo and Philadelphia for a period of 14 years. Then he entered a local competition to find the Jewish Comic of the Year.
      He did fairly well without exactly setting Philadelphia on fire. 'I came in third,' Alper says. 'Behind a chiropractor and a lawyer.' But the experience was life changing. 'I'd never thought of being a comedian. Of course, I'd done imitations of famous comics when I was at high school. I'd used humour in my sermons.' But this was something else. 'It was also the most difficult thing I'd done in my life,' he adds.
      Before long Alper had done some Open Mic Nights. He progressed to longer sets. He acquired a manager. Now he's a full-time stand-up, though he rarely plays comedy clubs. Instead Alper performs in theatres and civic centers. Or at corporate events. When he does a synagogue show, he normally plays it from the pulpit. He doesn't do comedy, of course, on Friday because it's the Sabbath. The only rabbinical work that remains is to take occasional special services.
      Last February, on a trip to London, Alper saw a Jewish Comedy Night listed in TO. It was at the Bull in Barnet. 'I went out there on the tube. I talked to them before the show and said I wanted to perform.' Perhaps if he was back in England next year was the initial answer. But he produced some newspaper cuttings. 'Just to show them I wasn't some crazy guy who'd wandered in off the street,' Alper adds. 'So I was given ten minutes and in the end I did half an hour.'
      Now, just under a year later, Alper is back by prior arrangement. This Wednesday (26) he's at the New End Theatre in Hampstead and then again on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On Thursday he returns to the Bull for just one night. He's also appearing on Friday at the West London Synagogue where he delivers a guest sermon on the spirituality of laughter.
      It's no surprise to hear that Alper's humour is 'clean' and 'not hurtful'. 'I believe it's healthy,' Alper maintains. 'I would never want anyone to be embarrassed or upset by the material.' The attendant danger, of course, is that rabbinical humour could seem bland to London comedy goers brought up on the stand-up equivalent of raw red meat. If so, Alper can probably afford to remain unconcerned. After London he's already booked to take his show to Arizona and then Ohio and Florida.
      His resemblance to Steve Martin is often remarked on, Alper concludes. 'I look like him. After all, I wouldn't be able to make a living in comedy if I looked like Charles Manson.'