JCCs Host 8 Days of Laughter for Annual Humor Fest

The biggest surprise of Rabbi Bob Alper’s career has nothing to do with his time on the pulpit of his Vermont congregation; it’s that he has made a name for himself as a stand-up comedian.

Alper’s Jan. 21 show is just one of the events that are part of the Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival, which runs from Jan. 14-22 at the Sabes JCC and St. Paul JCC. The Festival is part of the continued commitment to sharing cultural arts programming across the Twin Cites’ two JCCs.

This year is the eighth year of the Festival, which was the first of-its-kind in the country.

“I’ve had many JCCs contact me about starting a HumorFest,” said Claire Avitabile, Humor Festival Director. “We were trying to figure out what to do in the winter when no one wants to go out. What could be better than getting together to laugh?”

The event opens with headliner Carol Leifer, a sought-after comedy writer and producer who has written for such shows as “Saturday Night Live,” “Seinfeld,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Modern Family.” Leifer draws on her natural gifts as a storyteller to weave an interconnected tale that touches on her Jewish upbringing, her experiences as a woman in the male-dominated entertainment industry, and her coming out as a lesbian at the age of 40.

”Everyone loves stand-up,” said Avitabile. But we are also including a film, a podcast, and an all ages theater, circus and magic show.

In collaboration with the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival, the Festival will present the Minnesota premier of “Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind The Clown,” at the Sabes JCC on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m.

That evening, in St. Paul, audiences can attend a live-taping of the “Not So Kosher Podcast,” with host Becca Kvasnik interviewing Kim Friedman and Kate Siegel, the mother-daughter duo behind the hit Instagram account @CrazyJewishMom and the new “New York Times” bestselling memoir “Mother, Can You Not?” The book and Instagram account are not shtick; it’s really how they are.

“This is our life, unfortunately,” Siegel said.

“What do you mean unfortunately?” Friedman countered.

A recent conversation with the duo centered on what many of the text messages between the two tend to focus on: Siegel not being married, not having children, and living in a “deathtrap” of an apartment in Brooklyn.

“What’s funny is the real insane Jewish mom thing,” Siegel said. “And the insane human thing.”

Said Friedman: “I don’t’ really care what anybody thinks anyway.”

Siegel: “The whole experience with my mom, to talk to her and hear the stories, has been great. It’s made me reconsider the things I fought about when I was younger.”

Friedman: “Let’s not get all cheesy. I have a single, 27-year-old daughter.”

Siegel: “I feel this gets lost in the Internet, but she’s a very funny woman.”

Friedman: “I’m not being funny; you are incredibly single. I’m glad she wrote a “New York Times” bestseller, but did get it her a job at Facebook? At AOL?

Siegel, for her part, recognizes that nothing she accomplishes will make her mother happy.

“There’s never going to be a moment where she’s happy with all the decisions I made,” she said. “We’re on the book tour, and on the last flight, she says ‘don’t you want to go back to law school?’ There’s never going to be a moment where I win.

Siegel is developing the memoir into a script for CBS, which led her mother to say “Writing for CBS? You should be president of CBS.”

Siegel: “If I was president of CBS, you’d say ‘You’re such a good writer. You should be doing that.'”

January 18 brings “Die Laughing with William Novak.” From the co-creator of the “Big Book of Jewish Humor,” Novak brings a collection of jokes about growing older that pokes fun at memory loss, marriages, medicine, sex, the afterlife, and more. The book will be on sale with a signing to follow.

“Anxiety Tonight (Pigtails are Kosher)” is one-woman cabaret with Miriam Pltkin, a one-woman show filled with humorous parody songs in true Allen Sherman fashion.

Saturday night (January 21) with Rob Alper is sure to be a favorite. “The older I get, I more fully understand why George Burns booked a show for his 100th birthday and why Don Rickles is still out there performing,” he said. “Because comedy and making people laugh is incredibly satisfying.”

While it may have some mature subject matter, is a clean performance. He said all of it is informed by his Judaism and his life on the pulpit.

“Not that it’s Jewy, but all of my material is underlined by my sense of the importance of being funny, but also clean and unhurtful,” he said. ”I want to make sure that when you attach the word rabbi to comedian, it upholds that. About half of my material is based on being a rabbi: Stories about congregational life, religious school, baby-namings, wedding, funerals, studying in Israel, the Hebrew language, hospital visits, conversion ceremonies, being Jewish in Vermont.”

Last, but not least, the Festival closes with an all ages event by Theatre of Fools entitled “Serious Nonsense.” Nonsense weaves theater. Circus and magic into a unique fun filled show that has toured festivals and theaters all across the country!

Tickets for any of the events at the Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival can be purchased on the event’s website, as can full-series passes. Please note – Not So Kosher on Sunday, Jan. 15, and Anxiety Tonight on Jan. 19 is for mature audiences only due to content and language.