Saturday, February 19, 2011

Did You Hear the One About The Rabbi-Comedian?

We are taught, "All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven." It's something to truly strive for. Those past two sentences just came out, from brain to fingers to screen. For the past hour plus I was planning on posting and I thought my opening would be, "Words can't describe it." I just returned from a gig in the Five Towns. It went well. When it goes well, there's nothing like doing stand up. It's a comedian thing, you wouldn't understand.

Still, I feel compelled to explain, or at least describe where I'm at. I just came from a performance. The organizer googled "funny rabbi" and found me. He wanted just me, but I convinced him a line up would be better. So the line up was me as emcee and performer along with the consummate comedians Richie Gold and Stu Trivax. I warmed up the crowd (which went pretty painlessly, considering what a hard and thankless job warming up can be) and did about ten minutes. Then Rich did about twenty. Then I did about ten more, Stu did about twenty and then I closed things up. The crowd really enjoyed, and we walked away feeling that it went well.

I loved the car ride home. We were all happy. We had just done something not everyone can do. There was ego involved and fragility. But there was also health. We had used our sparks to good effect. We brought joy to others. We raised money for a worthy charity. And we had a great shmooze about comedians.

A few years ago I posted the quote that I'm going to close this post with. At that time a reader pasted the last lines into his comment and added - "that's sad." I don't find it so sad. Seinfeld once said that as a kid he dreamt of being a superhero and that when he became a comedian that dream came true. I hope that in addition to fulfilling my need to perform and succeed at it that I am lesheim shamayim in bringing happiness to others. Enjoy the quote below, and as the great comic Red Skelton used to say at the end of his show, "Good night and G-d bless."

"You want to hear stupid? Major stupid? Stand up comic. You walk onto a bare stage absolutely alone, no comfort, no help, no script or actors to support you, no lyrics and music to give you life - just yourself saying your own words out of your own head, telling each person one on one, the weirdest corners of your psyche. And everybody is judging your personality, judging whether you are worthy of their money, whether you make them happy. When they do not laugh, that silence is a rejection of you personally, only you. Not your mother. Not your piano player - if you have one. A thousand people in a room are saying, "You stink. You're nothing."
But here's what is even more stupid. In order to get on that stage and walk that terrible tightrope, you struggle through years of humiliation and privation, feeling like the misfit of the world. For this job you have to be nuts, but it is the craziness that makes you funny, makes you obsessed with your career. It is craziness that makes you live for that hour facing an audience which can destroy you at any moment. Yet, those are the truly happy times in my life, riding the laughter higher and higher, feeling that euphoria, feeling washed in love." - Joan Rivers


Blogger Ask Teacher Pam said...

Ah, Joan Rivers. I'm old enough to remember her when she was young, just getting started; her humor was so real and so different--I would love to see her on the Tonight Show! But I hate, just hate, to think that you, RN, had to go through "humiliation" to be successful (and you ARE successful--I've seen you perform!)Is it true for all comedians/stand up comics? I'm thrilled that the event in Five Towns went so well--that can be a tough crowd (my machitanim's from there) so if you feel it went well, I'm sure it did. Kol ha'kavod! to you and gratitude to HaShem for your unique skills. Keep 'em laughing!

February 20, 2011 at 2:10 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Humiliation may be too strong a term for it, I think what's referred to is the fact that sometimes people don't laugh. Especially when you don't know a crowd and they don't know you the first couple of minutes - if all goes well as it did tonight - are a get to know you time where you become comfortable with and fond of each other, them to you for your making them laugh and you to them for "getting" you and laughing.

Robin William's was asked if it helps that he has the reputation of being super-funny. He said it helps for the first five minutes of his act, he walks out to adulation. But then it works against him, for the bulk of his act he has to prove that he's really (still) Robin Williams. For lesser know people I think it's the opposite - the beginning is when you prove yourself and then it builds higher and higher without much difficulty (if your stuff is well practiced/tested as good material).

It was a good crowd. My being frum and not edgy was a plus. We connected and it made it good, quickly for everybody. One of the audience members came up after to say hi - it too me a was Avi and Mimi's son who lives in that area. Nice guy.

It was a really good night all around. Thank you Pam for the comment/care. Thank G-d.

February 20, 2011 at 6:06 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

2 Pts

1- Joan Rivers was/is an extremely talented (and obsessive - her home is filled with thousands of filed jokes on cards)comedian.

2 - For another recent sum up of a performance experience see first paragraph here:

February 20, 2011 at 12:36 PM  

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