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Rabbi finds his true calling — as a comedian


Thirty-seven years ago, a local interfaith couple was looking for someone to marry them.

The person they found, thanks to a family friend, was a comedian — who was also a rabbi. And, yes, he cracked a joke or two during their wedding ceremony.

Fast-forward to 2023 and Bob Alper, that rabbi/comedian, is still making people laugh. He doesn’t do weddings anymore, except for family and close friends. But he does do stand-up.

In fact, Alper, 78, has been making a living as a stand-up comedian for three decades. He has appeared on Comedy Central, “Good Morning America,” and Showtime, and was featured on T.V.’s “EXTRA!” And he is heard daily on Sirius/XM’s “clean comedy channel.”

He’s also the author of three books, including his most successful work, “Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” a collection of inspirational stories; the award-winning full-color cartoon book, “A Rabbi Confesses”; and the recently published, “Thanks. I Needed That.”

Alper’s current tour, with dates in New York, New Jersey and Florida, includes a show at the Comedy Cabaret at Poco’s in Doylestown Sunday afternoon. It’s one of the first places that gave him mic time when he was starting out.

“The Comedy Cabaret in Doylestown holds a special place in my heart,” said Alper, a longtime resident of rural Vermont who formerly served as a rabbi in Montgomery County. Speaking about club owner Andy Scarpati, Alper said, “He let me perform when I was just starting out, and that means everything to a comedian.”

Alper always knew he was funny. But becoming a comedian? It “never occurred to me,” he said — not during his time earning a doctorate at Princeton Theological Seminary or while serving his congregations, first in Buffalo, N.Y., and then in Montgomery County, at Beth Or in Spring House from 1978 to 1986.

It wasn’t until he entered a contest — for Jewish Comedian of the Year in 1986 — and came in third, behind an attorney and a chiropractor, that he thought, “Maybe this could work.”

“I walked out on the stage wearing a pulpit robe. I spread my arms as wide as I could and I said, ‘Try not to think of me as a rabbi.’”

Then the Steve Martin look-alike added, “People always tell me I remind them of another comedian, so please don’t compare me to him.” He took off his robe and turned around, and taped to his back was a huge photo of Steve Martin.

Alper had resigned from Beth Or just prior to the contest to do more life cycle events and pastoral counseling, and he started a High Holy Days synagogue called Temple Micah, which met, first at a Lulu Temple and then in a church in Glenside for 33 years.

By 1990, Alper said, he was doing enough paid gigs that he and his wife, Sherri, a “very supportive,” now-retired psychotherapist, with whom he has an adult son and daughter, could move to rural Vermont.

Alper has performed across North America and England, as well as in Israel — at corporate events, in theaters, for nonprofits, conventions, private parties, in churches and, “naturally,” synagogues.

He was part of the “Laugh in Peace” Tour, performing hundreds of shows with comics from other faiths.

The idea of performing with Arab-American comics came from a publicist who, otherwise, “was not particularly effective,” Alper said. “Basically, she got me into the witness protection program.”

But then, she had an idea that turned out to be a good one. After resisting it at first because he didn’t want to perform as a duo, Alper changed his mind and went on to perform hundreds of shows with comics including Ahmed Ahmed and Mo Amer.

Alper is happy to once again be on the road doing what he loves.

“My rabbinate is making people laugh,” he said. “It’s something I adore doing.

“I never, ever want to give it up,” he added.

“The hardest time in my life was when I had to perform on Zoom,” Alper said. “It’s good to have live laughter.”

And so as the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that once brought Alper back to the Delaware Valley draw to a close, the rabbi/comedian prepares to return to the pulpit — of comedy.

Tickets for the “live TV taping” performance, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Comedy Cabaret Comedy Club at Poco’s 625 N. Main St., Doylestown, are available on the Comedy Cabaret’s website,