Many rabbis tell jokes during their sermons, but Rabbi Bob Alper makes his living primarily as a stand-up comic. And he still conducts High Holiday services at Temple Micah in Philadelphia “so I don’t have to listen to other rabbis preach, because I’m funnier,” he says.
Alper promises 90 minutes of non-stop laughter in a show on Monday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Bet Shalom. A native of Providence, R.I., Alper graduated from Lehigh University, was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and in 1984 was the first Jewish student to earn a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary.
“Rabbah, a prominent Talmudic sage, started his lectures with something humorous to get his students to laugh,” says Alper. “I’ve always had the privilege of being funny and always used humor very effectively in my rabbinate” in posts at 14 congregations. “I always wanted to be a comedian and [just] needed a hook.”
Being a rabbi seemed to steer him in the right direction. Alper began his comedy career in 1986 when he entered the “Jewish Comic of the Year Contest” at the Going Bananas club in Philadelphia. He now performs nearly 80 shows per year, and has appeared on television programs such as “Good Morning, America” and “The Today Show.”
Alper lives with his wife, Sherri, a psychotherapist, in rural Vermont. “We have complementary careers,” he says. “I make people laugh. She helps people cry.
“I do a lot of college shows,” says Alper, 65. “I’m probably the oldest comedian showing up on college campuses.”
In addition to his solo performances, Alper has started the Laugh in Peace tour at colleges, synagogues and churches to promote “understanding through shared humor and healthy communication.” He appears with Ahmed Ahmed, a former lawyer who’s a Muslim and an Arab; Azhar Usman, a Muslim but not an Arab; and Nazareth, a Palestinian Christian. “I’m Jewish all the time,” quips Alper.
At a show with Usman at Georgia Tech, where they were hosted by the presidents of Hillel and the Muslim Students Association, “it was obvious to us,” he says, “that these two were good pals.” But the two students explained that before they started working together to bring the comedy event to campus, even though their offices were next door to each other at the student union, “they’d never, ever spoken.”
Alper has written about his experiences as a comedian and rabbi. His latest book, “Thanks, I Needed That,” addresses spirituality and laughter. “Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” is an inspirational collection now in its fifth printing and he penned “A Rabbi Confesses,” an award-winning full-color cartoon book. Alper has also produced two best-selling comedy CDs and a 102-minute DVD, “What Are You … a Comedian?”
Merging two callings has worked for Alper. “When I give a sermon,” he says, “I hope I move people spiritually. When I make them laugh, I know I have.”
Tickets are $18 in advance, $22 at the door. For more information, contact Sarah Frieden at 577-1171 or [email protected].