Pope Francis seems like a pontiff who not only has a feeling for the little guy, but also someone who enjoys a good laugh. And the Pope will soon get some humor help from a Vermonter – an East Dorset rabbi who has become comedy advisor to the pope.
Before the Pope Francis' recent visit to the U.S., Father Andrew Small of the Pontifical Mission Society dreamed up a humor contest as a fundraiser to support charitable mission work.
Small invited people from around the world to submit jokes – clean, family-friendly fare – and vie for the honorary title of "Comedic Advisor to the Pope."
Rabbi Robert Alper decided to enter. The East Dorset man has performed stand up comedy for over 25 years. He submitted his joke after being badgered by one of his neighbors at the local farmers market.
"I went home, I was bored, I went on the website and got out my cell phone and recorded myself doing a joke," he recalls. "I was so invested in it that I erased the video from my phone to give me more space, because I knew I wasn’t going to win. And then a week later, I got an email saying I’d won."
No small achievement. Alper claimed the crown by beating out more than 4,000 other entries from 47 different countries.
Alper’s winning entry is a relatively new joke he’d been working on that involves his recent acquisition of a hearing aid. He worked on the joke during a drive to Cape Cod, tried it out on an audience there, and it seemed to be a hit. Here it is:
"My wife and I have been married for 46 years, and our lives are totally in sync. For example, at the same time I got a hearing aid, she stopped mumbling."
Father Andrew Small said the idea for the contest was the result of several factors.
"Just my particularity of mania coming from a funny town called Liverpool, we like to see the funny side of everything," Small says. "And the character of the Holy Father, the Pope who we work for in the pontifical missions, he’s our boss. And he talks about joy a lot and he seems to crack jokes and have repasts and he sees that as a great way of connecting people."
The criteria to win the contest were strict.
"We were looking for something, since the guy or the woman was going to be crowned Comedic Adviser to the Pope, we thought: The pope’s sitting there, he looks around at his comedy advisor and he says, ‘What have you got for me?’ And we needed something like that, some sort of humor the pope would actually use."
And Small says Alper’s joke struck a chord.
"It was sort of lighthearted, it was subtle, sort of self-effacing – it looked like he was laughing at someone else but he was laughing at himself," Small says. "And it's about many years of family life. And Pope Francis has spoken many times about the joys, but particularly the difficulties of family life, and he does that in a funny way.
Alper continues to combine his twin careers in religion and comedy, and says the two have something in common.
"There’s a spiritual dimension to humor. Whenever I can make people laugh, it’s enormously satisfying. Doing stand up comedy is an addiction – a healthy addiction – and it’s also something I adore doing," the rabbi says.
Alper has won two tickets to a taping of The Tonight Show on NBC, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, who also submitted a joke in the contest. But Fallon lost out to the East Dorset rabbi.