‘Not That Jewish’ is a comic roadmap to Jewish-American life

December 11, 2016 at 2:41 PM EDT
Monica Piper has worked in nearly every corner of comedy, including stand-up and television. Now, she’s lent her comedic pen to “Not That Jewish,” a one-woman Off-Broadway show, starring Piper as herself. It chronicles the origins of her life in comedy and her quest to understand what it means to be a Jewish-American woman. Christopher Booker has more.

By: Christopher Booker and Melanie Saltzman

MONICA PIPER: This was us. We were suns of the sunset. There’s Robin there…

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Whether performing with a young Robin
Williams, touring with Jerry Seinfeld or writing for such shows as Roseanne or Nickelodeon’s Rugrats – Monica Piper has worked in nearly every corner of comedy.

MONICA PIPER: The great thing about stand-up as opposed to almost other art is that you know immediately whether it’s good or not.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: But after nearly 40 years making people laugh, the Bronx raised Piper has lent her comedic pen to a one woman, Off-Broadway show called Not That Jewish.

MONICA PIPER: To make people laugh … Seinfeld said it’s powerful and addicting, and it is, but to see them laughing in this broader context is a whole new thing.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Performing in New York’s New World stages, Piper chronicles not only the origins of her life in comedy, but her quest to understand what it means to be a Jewish American woman.

MONICA PIPER: “When I was growing up we didn’t belong to a temple, but on the high holy days me mother would make us dress up and stand in front of the apartment building so it looked like we just got home from temple.”

MONICA PIPER: I was very determined for this to really be a play and not just stand-up with furniture.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: While the show is threaded with some of the same jokes that carried her comedy routine, Piper takes the audience through failed romances, the death of her parents and her life as a single mom to an adopted son.

MONICA PIPER: So if I talk about the men that I’m meeting, which in stand-up would be, “Then I went out with this guy.” But this now has meaning in a greater sense.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Is that frightening to not only change the format, but also to change the format in a way that you’re revealing so much more about yourself?

MONICA PIPER: No, I would not say it’s frightening; I would say it’s really freeing.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Within this freedom, Piper bares all. Her revelations that her marriage is over, a battle with breast cancer and her struggles to raise an adopted son born of Christian mother to be a Jewish man.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Piper traces much of her comedic instincts to her father, who, in his early years, also worked as a comedian. Ultimately, the undertow of the entire play comes by way of Piper’s revelation that this comedic instinct has not only passed down from from her father to her, but onward to her son Jake.

MONICA PIPER: There’s a line in the play earlier, right before his Bar Mitzvah, when I say to my father, “This is crazy. Every time I turn around, it’s a thousand bucks.” My father says, “Don’t turn around.” That’s my father. So I tell Jake that, and he laughs. Now, that was when he was 13. Now he’s 18 telling me he’s not Jewish and I’m doing the dishes, and he comes in the kitchen. And I say, “This is unbelievable, every time I turn around, there’s another dish in the sink.” He says, “Don’t turn around.” And we don’t even say anything, we just look at each other, the humor, the spirit, the— his grandpa’s words.

MONICA PIPER: That’s what I love about the play. The first third, not even, is my childhood and my relationship with my father, my father being funny. Then me being funny. And now my son being funny. That’s what we’re passing down, you know.