Rabbi Bob Alper: ‘So, we’re left with Zoom—make the most of it!’

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This autumn, thousands of congregations, nonprofits, libraries and community groups are offering book-based classes, clubs and discussions via Zoom. To serve that rapidly growing network, in August 2020, we published ReadTheSpirit magazine story featuring three of our authors will be participating in such Zoom discussion groups this fall and winter.  In fact, nearly all of our authors are appearing somewhere on Zoom each month.  Rabbi Bob Alper, the nation’s only active rabbi who doubles as a full-time comedian, has gone a step further.  As a professional performer, he has found ways to schedule performances via Zoom. We asked him to tell us more …

Here’s Bob Alper’s story …

Bob Alper. (Photo by Sultan Khan; used with author’s permission.)

I may be the only professional comedian who has found a significant benefit in performing during the age of enforced Zoom. 

It’s because I’m also a rabbi.  I’ve discovered that doing my routine in front of a muted audience provides theological research. 

I now clearly know what an after-death experience is like.

Doing stand-up is what I call a healthy addiction.  Comedians want, and need, to perform as often as possible.  There are many reasons, but the possibility of instant affirmation through laughter tops the list. 

But comedy is a most intimate art form, requiring an audience that is sitting close to one another and close to the performer.  Which is why such a necessary arrangement will be among the last to return when the pandemic recedes. 

So we’re left with Zoom, where either the audience is muted or unmuted, in which, during the critical building up to a punchline, one may hear, “Harry.  While you’re in there get me a Diet Coke.”  As Steve Martin has observed, “Distraction is the enemy of comedy.”

Most comedians opt for muted, where the best they can expect is seeing some faces smiling or laughing.  Of course, the viewers are often eating dinner or making their cat dance on screen to the amusement of fellow audience members while serving as unintentional hecklers.

My solution has been to offer a pair of Zoom programs.

  • In one, I read a few stories from my books.  They’re similar to Garrison Keillor’s, or The Moth Story Hour, with a bit of humor but primarily poignant and inspiring.  In between each story I throw in some jokes, much as fine restaurants serve sherbet in between courses. 
  • My second program is called “The Spirituality of Laughter,” which addresses the serious value of laughter, what’s funny, a brief history of humor, why Christians and Muslims and Jews are funny, and more.  Both programs conclude with Q and A, with everyone’s mic open.

Early in the pandemic I launched another project called Quick Laugh.  Each day I email a quick laugh, a 40-second or so video from my performances.  One treasured comment from a colleague: “With 5 funerals this week—four due to COVID-19—I look forward to your Quick Laughs, which help keep me upbeat all day.”

Zoom programs and Quick Laugh are satisfying, and I hope they’re helping people get through these sad and scary days.  But I dearly miss the intimacy of performing live.  No example better illustrates what comedy can accomplish than a cherished moment that followed one of my shows.  A woman whom I knew was dying of cancer approached me. “You know,” she said. “For an hour and a half, I forgot I was sick.”

Care to learn more about Bob’s programs?


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Here’s a link to Bob’s Amazon author page.



About Bob Alper