He's not Steve Martin, or his evil twin. Hes Bob Alper, the only rabbi-comedian breaking challah and busting guts on the post-borscht-belt circuit.
"I'm it," says Alper, who resides in northern Vermont. "Every once in a while, a nun will pop up -- you know, Sister Sue tells a joke in a club somewhere -- but I'm the only rabbi working as a comedian."
Actually, Alper is a part-time rabbi and full-time comic. He still presides at Passover and Yom Kippur services to those he jokingly refers to as "H20 Jews" (Holiday, 2 Only), but as he's sure to mention, the majority of his congregants pay a two-drink minimum.
If it sounds like a gimmick, well maybe so, but it's one that keeps him gigging 100 days a year. "I was always funny," says Alper, who grew up in Providence, R.I., where he spent much of his high-school years mimicking Bob Newhart and Shelly Berman routines.
Alper's seemingly discordant callings came about independently. During college he made the decision to become a rabbi, influenced in part by an uncle working the trade back home. "I didn't wake up in a cold sweat one night and put my hand on a rock; it was a very logical career decision," he says.
Surprisingly, most of Alper's gigs are at the bequest of fellow rabbis. "Ninety-four point seven percent of all clergy envy me," he says. "When you make people laugh, it's effective and it feels really good."
And feeling good is not something Alper wants to mess with. His material remains squeaky clean and though he often performs with Arab-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed, his jokes are decidedly apolitical. "The medium is the message, an Arab and a Jew onstage together."
Though he incorporates his rabbinical experience into his routines, most of his humor is purely observational. "Most comedians are very neurotic, or they're 22-year-old guys dressed in black, talking about how they just moved to L.A. from New York and why their girlfriend dumped them. I don't like to use the microphone stand as my therapist. I have a good career, and a 33-year marriage," Alper says.
No dirt? No politics? Oy vey! Find out for yourself if Alper merits a mazel tov at Temple Shalom this Friday when he'll lecture on the spirituality of laughter or this Saturday when he'll perform his stand-up routine after an hors d'oeuvres reception.
-- John Dicker