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Rabbi or comedian? He's both
by Aaron Leibel

Arts Editor

Let's face it, every good congregational rabbi has a little ham in him or her. Not the kind that violates the strictures of kashrut, heaven forbid, but the sort of "ham" that leads people to crave the limelight. For when a rabbi gets up on the bima every week to try to convince his congregants to be better Jews, to be more righteous people, he'd better be entertaining or he'll likely lose his audience, most of whom are sure they already are tzaddikim, holy people.

So, it's not unusual for a rabbi to enliven a dvar Torah, a sermon, with a joke or two.

Most of our spiritual leaders, however, would do well to keep their daytime jobs, for it takes a special talent to make people laugh. Rabbi Bob Alper, whose latest DVD, What are you ... a comedian?? (Isaac Productions) has recently been released, has that ability.

For example, Alper -- who was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1972 and led congregations in Buffalo and Philadelphia before hitting the comedy circuit in 1986 -- says that ever since he was a kid, he had dreams of being a TV celebrity "surrounded by beautiful, adoring women." But then he says he remembered that it was an impossible dream for he is Jewish and couldn't be a TV evangelist.

Or there are the fantasies that he had as a rabbi. "Instead of saying, 'We invite the bar mitzvah to ascend the pulpit for the reading of his portion,' just once, I would like to say, 'Joshua Shapiro, come on down.' Or, before Yom Kippur, to go to family and friends and tell them, 'If there is anything during the past year that I have said or done that has hurt you or offended you, I want you to know, You're too sensitive.' "

The rabbi, who still conducts High Holiday services in the Philadelphia area, says he has a friend who works in a bank in the Vermont town where the comic lives. Last fall, that person took a call at the bank for Sue. "I'm sorry," he said, "Sue is not here. This is Yom Kippur."

The person replied, "Maybe, you could help me, Yom."

As you can see, the humor is skewed to the Jewish end of the dial. It might be best to take your good friend Chaim, but not Chris to see Alper perform.

But even Chris might appreciate the inherent easygoing nature of Alper's humor. There's no cursing, no screaming, no derision in his jokes.

Even his sexual references are gentle.

For instance, the comedian relates that a psychotherapist counseling a couple asked the woman how she signaled that she wanted to have sexual relations with her husband. She said she tells her husband, "Sweetheart, I am going upstairs to take a long, hot shower." The startled husband said, "All these years, I thought you were telling me not to run the dishwasher."

But his humor seems always to return to its Jewish roots. He was a rabbi in 1977 during a blizzard and was trapped in his synagogue for 30 hours. During that time, he says he learned the real meaning of "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

As I said, a very funny Jewish comedian.

Comedy Reviews - DVD - Bob Alper - What Are You ... A Comedian?


What Are You … A Comedian?
Bob Alper
Stand-up Comedy DVD
Independent Release
102 minutes with special features

Bob Alper, What Are You ... A Comedian? Is the Pope a German shepherd? This independent release stand-up comedy DVD is really good stuff. Alper is a smart, family friendly stand-up comic who really knows how to tell a joke and doesn't know a bad one.

Though Alper's fans will recognize some material from his two CDs (Guaranteed Funny 101 Totally Clean Jokes and Rabbi/Stand-Up Comic (Really there is a lot of new comedy in the almost one hour long main feature on What Are You ... A Comedian?

The new material includes Rabbi Bob Alper's adventures adapting to life in Vermont, stories about his pets and his experiences in Israel and in various synagogues. The latter is where the comedian indulges in a few puns and quite a few very funny groaners.

This DVD is a must for anyone who likes stand-up, even more so if you like clean, intelligent comedy. The act looks effortless but it is obvious a lot of effort was put on this release. Production values wise What Are you ... A Comedian? shames many big studio releases. The camera work is really good, the picture and sound crystal clear, and the menus and so on fun and easy to use.

The menu is especially useful as it allows quick access to the bit you really want your friends to hear. Mine is Play All.

The only thing wrong with this independent release stand-up comedy DVD are the backdrop panels behind Alper: even my grandmother's curtains were not that ugly . . .  and she was color blind.

Extra features on the Bob Alper comedy DVD are an interesting interview with some early clips and the comic performing his 33 best jokes. I do not know if there are thirty-three, I was busy laughing, but they are all excellent.

This independent release stand-up comedy DVD is gentile friendly so available at the Vatican Blockbuster. Otherwise, visit the comic's website for a video and an audio clip before you click the BUY button.

Other Bob Alper Reviews

Guaranteed Funny 101 Totally Clean Jokes: Guaranteed Funny 101 Totally Clean Jokes on one CD? It sounds like a gimmick. It is not.

Rabbi / Stand-up Comic (Really): Rabbi and stand-up comic doesn't sound like a funny combination but it is.





Rabbi Bob Alper ©