Editor’s Note: In our ReadTheSpirit magazine cover story this week, we report on a national conversation we held with two dozen media professionals—an opportunity to share some of the inspiring work they all are doing in this time of crisis. Standup comedian and author Bob Alper is among our pioneers in developing special online programs to continue his professional outreach. Because everyone in that 90-minute conversation was encouraging such creative adaptation, we asked Bob to write this short column about how he has done so.
At a time of universal sadness and anxiety, one of the unfortunate casualties is live stand-up comedy.
Stand-up depends on intimacy: audience packed together, sitting at the feet of the performer. And, the performer’s facial expressions are critical. But for now, we’re committed to social distancing and face masks.
So, live comedy performances? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Some of my comedy colleagues are attempting to “do funny” via Zoom. Except with an audience unmuted, one hears, during the critical build-up to a punchline, “Harry. Get me a Diet Coke.” And alternatively, if the audience is muted, even the best joke seems to bomb when greeted with resounding silence.
Performing stand-up is what I call it “a healthy addiction.” I love to make people laugh, and miss it terribly. Telling a joke in the local market, wearing a mask and separated by 6 feet (or, as we Vermonters prefer to measure it, “a cow’s length”) doesn’t elicit nearly the response that in-your-face humor receives.
I badly want to reach people at this needy time. So I designed a Zoom program drawing on the other two parts of my career: rabbi and writer, presenting an offering that (some say) is engaging, informative and even occasionally funny. Basically, I read four or five poignant, true stories from my books, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This—and Thanks. I Needed That.
And I also make people laugh. Using a few minutes of material from my act between chapters, kind of the way a top restaurant serves sorbet between courses at a fine meal, we shake out the seriousness and dry the tears a story may have brought on, and then move on to the next inspiring chapter. At the conclusion of the Zoom hour, mics are opened for questions and a brief conversation.
Following a recent Zoom event, one participant wrote, “Bob, your stories are magical! We love listening to you read them. Thank you so much for doing this, especially meaningful during this horrible situation. You brought joy to 47 people tonight.”
Who says I’m good at this? Well, to be honest, lots of people. The Detroit Free Press called my first book, “A volume of spiritual gems” in a 4-star review.
The second event I’m offering via Zoom is a program I have presented before this crisis to wide acclaim. It’s called “Spirituality of Laughter” and explores humor in ancient and modern Jewish tradition, and considers why laughter has been such an integral part of Jewish culture. It’s an engaging and inspiring event – while averaging two genuine belly laughs per minute!
I’m a professional with years of experience playing events and comedy clubs—and my material regularly appears on the Sirius XM clean comedy channel.
In short: People know me. They call me. They’re eager to book these events.
My posted rate for each one is $500 and, yes, I’m booking those events regularly now.
Are you—and some of your friends—dying for a good laugh?
Hope to hear from you.
(And, by the way: I also provide a free service—a daily laugh via a brief email video clip. Just visit my website and subscribe. www.bobalper.com Look forward to tomorrow morning. You’ll be laughing with me as you go through your morning email.)