Rabbis sometimes find themselves the butt of cheap jokes in which they’re spotted walking into local bars with their happy-hour chums: the priest and the minister. On occasion, the three clergymen find themselves in some ordinary pickle — seated together in a row on an airplane or stranded in a boat on a windless sea — and religion-defining one-liners ensue.

For everyday funny guys, poking fun at rabbis, priests and ministers comes second only to mocking the sweet naivete of the unwitting blonde, who we’d feel more compassion for if only she’d stop throwing out all the “Ws” at the M&M factory.

And while some rabbis are content to ignore the tomfoolery and hold steady to their serious pontifications, others have to stand up and speak out.

Rabbi Bob Alper is standing up — as he has been for 24 years — on stage and in front of a microphone. Alper, you see, is a rabbi and a stand-up comic.

He’s been blending those seemingly incongruous titles for more than two decades, telling jokes about parenthood, marriage, his dog — and rabbis, of course.

It’s a calling that Alper says came naturally. “I always did funny, particularly in high school with Jewish youth groups. I’d do Bob Newhart routines,” he said.

After he was ordained, Alper couldn’t help but let his sense of humor shine through to his congregations. “I think I kind of mastered the skill, the use of humor judiciously,” said Alper. “In a sermon or in teaching or at a funeral or counseling, it’s helped engage people.”

And he doesn’t shy away from cracking wise about religious tradition.

“Of course the thing I love to do, just before Yom Kippur, our day of atonement, is to go around to family and friends and tell them, ‘If there’s anything during the past year I have said or done that has hurt you or offended you, I want you to know — you’re too sensitive.’ “

Eventually, stand-up comedy grew into a full-time gig, and his audience grew to encompass Jewish, Christian, Muslim and non-denominational fans of comedy. His humor, it seems, wasn’t religion-restrictive.

“It’s material appreciated by all faiths. Religious topics I touch on, everyone understands,” he said. “They’re things that I observe or make up — things around me. I don’t sit down and try to write funny.”

Rabbi Alper’s stand-up has won him invitations to perform at colleges, festivals and synagogues across the country. In 2009, he performed at MuslimFest in Toronto, opening his act by expressing his admitted discomfort being there. “I feel so out of place,” he began. “All of you are Canadians, and I’m American.”

Although Rabbi Alper says he began his career in comedy for the sheer fun of it, it’s become clear that humor can affect people on a much more profound level. Maybe even more so than sermonizing.

“When people laugh together, they can’t hate each other,” he said.

And that’s no joke.


Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at: [email protected]