How funny is Rabbi Bob Alper?
Well, he just beat out Bill Murray, Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien and 4,000 other comedians from 47 countries—to win an unusual new international contest. A Bob Alper line—less than half a minute long—topped all others to win Alper the title: Honorary Comedic Advisor to the Pope.
And that’s no joke!
Seriously, folks: This is a real-deal program that is part of the Vatican’s new effort to use social media and send positive, uplifting messages around the world—and, if possible, help the world’s neediest people at the same time. This particular program was developed by the U.S. arm of the worldwide Pontifical Mission Societies. The organization also is known to many Catholics and social media users as Missio, which now is an app that provides helpful information about Catholic relief efforts worldwide.
Alper says he wasn’t even aware of the contest until a neighbor in his small Vermont town pestered him about it—more than once. Billed as America’s only practicing rabbi who also is a full-time standup comic, his neighbors in tiny East Dorset, Vermont, are well aware of his comedic talents. Finally, Alper did as the woman asked—and uploaded a video of his newest joke.
“When I called her to tell her that I had won, I think she wet her pants,” Alper says. “This is really exciting!”
Why did the rabbi cross the finish line?
You can see Alper tell the joke by visiting the Joke with the Pope website and then clicking on “Watch the Winning Video Below.”
The text is: “My wife and I have been married for more than 46 years and our lives are totally in synch. For example, at the same time I got a hearing aid—she stopped mumbling.”
Alper says, “It’s my newest joke. And it’s real. I actually got a hearing aid in June and this happened. Then, my wife and I were driving to Cape Cod and we were working on different phrasings for the joke in the car. You know in humor every word is critical and that version of the joke was the end result.”
Modesty aside and the honorary prize in hand, Alper says: “It’s probably the best joke I’ve ever written. And it’s only 11 seconds long.”
That’s why the joke won, says Father Andrew Small, OMI, the head of Pontifical Mission Societies in the U.S. and the creator of the Joke with the Pope program. News now is spreading around the world. In The Jewish Week, staff writer Steve Lipman quoted Small:
“We picked the person who fitted the role” as the Pope’s humor advisor, Fr. Small said. He called Rabbi Alper’s joke “original … situational …gentle … self-effacing.” And it is family-focused. “The Pope is talking all the time about the family. The Pope would like it,” Fr. Small said.
DOING GOOD WHILE HAVING FUN
“For me, Joke with the Pope was doing good while having fun,” says Alper. Everyone who contributed a joke also urged global support for an important cause. In the rabbi’s case, he highlighted a program to house the homeless in Ethiopia. “It’s the joy of the mitzvah,” Alper says.
In addition to showing a warmer, gentler face of the Catholic church, the Vatican is using social media to highlight programs where people can pitch in to make a difference. Father Small says he’s pleased that these jokes also wind up shining spotlights on corners of the world that often are ignored.
WARM CATHOLIC-JEWISH RELATIONS
There’s a long connection between Alper’s work and the Catholic church. When Alper talked with Small about winning the contest, they immediately connected on several levels. The stories in Alper’s newly released book, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This, originally appeared in a paperback released by the Catholic publisher Ligouri Publications.
“Years ago, when I did the first version of that book, my editor was Pat Kossmann who much earlier was an editor for Bishop Fulton Sheen,” Alper says.
Since Pope John Paul II made improving Catholic-Jewish relations a major priority for the worldwide church, many interfaith and cross-cultural programs have been sponsored by the church from concerts and educational programs to pilgrimages and exhibitions.
Alper still recalls a warm reception he was given by a large audience of Catholic women in Albany, New York. “Catholics are wonderful audiences—and these women were terrific,” he says. “When I showed up, I found that every single one of them had these little smiley faces on sticks to show how much they were enjoying the show. They were great!”
Beyond the honorary title, the comedy contest has no specific prize within the Catholic church. However, Small told The Jewish Week:
A meeting with the Pope is not a prize, but, said Fr. Small, “I don’t think it’s crazy at all. The Lord works in mysterious ways–Rabbi Bob has a bright and holy future in front of him.”
Alper says: “I’m letting Father Small and the Vatican know that, if they want to do more with this, I’ll get on a plane and fly to Rome.”
Alper also will be packing for New York City soon, because the prize does include two tickets to attend a taping of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, who was a prominent supporter of the contest.
“It’s two seats in the audience—but who knows?” Alper said. “Anything’s possible.”