If nothing else, Rabbi Bob Alper wants his lecture audience to know the meaning of the word “religion.”
“I’ll be talking about the importance of life-cycle events and the importance of humor in those life-cycle events,” said Alper, an American author, stand-up comedian and practicing clergy member. “The fact is that we need to recognize life-cycle events like moving out of a home or children going off to college or retirement. We don’t approach those elements of our lives ritualistically, but we should.”
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 30 in the Hall of Philosophy, Alper will be “Defining ‘Religion’ (You’ll Be Surprised) and Making It Meaningful through Humor,” the second lecture in Week Six’s interfaith theme, “What’s So Funny About Religion?”
“I often use a phrase by Maya Angelou, who said: ‘People forget what you say and they forget what you do, but they never forget how you make them feel,’ ” Alper said. “And comedy makes people feel good. It’s critical to healthy living.”
Alper said his life as both a full-time comedian and a rabbi comes with a lot of “colleague envy.”
“One of the lines in my routine is: ‘I always use jokes and funny stories in my sermons, which has given me 47 years of experience performing in front of a hostile audience,’ ” Alper said. “The truth is, I’ve always used humor as part of being a rabbi. It’s enormously important. It establishes relationships between me and my listeners.”
Alper said he uses comedy the most, at least in rabbinical settings, when he officiates weddings.
“It’s not always happy or a piece of cake,” he said. “People are nervous, people aren’t happy with their child’s choice of a spouse, things like that. And to do a little humor at the beginning of a ceremony opens people up and relaxes them. It suggests to them that they’ll be able to get through it.”
Alper said he’s often asked if he’s still a rabbi, given his career in comedy.
“I realized that my practice as a rabbi is making people laugh,” he said. “That’s what I do. And that’s every bit as legitimate as a congregational life or teaching. I often say, ‘When I give a sermon, I hope I’ve moved people spiritually. But when I laugh, I know I’ve moved them spiritually.’ ”
For his lecture today, Alper said he hopes to impart “a surprisingly affirming definition of religion” on his audience.
“I want people to understand how critical humor is in a religious life,” he said.