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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.
Christopher Booker and Melanie Saltzman
This was us. We were suns of the sunset. There's Robin there…
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.
The great thing about stand-up as opposed to almost other art is that you know immediately whether it's good or not.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
I was very determined for this to really be a play and not just stand-up with furniture.
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.
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.
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?
No, I would not say it's frightening; I would say it's really freeing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
Melanie Saltzman reports, shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of issues including public health, the environment and international affairs. In 2017 she produced two stories for NewsHour’s “America Addicted” series on the opioid epidemic, traveled to the Marshall Islands to report on climate change, and went to Kenya and Tanzania to focus on solutions-based reporting. Melanie holds a BA from New York University and an MA in Journalism from Northwestern University, where she was a McCormick National Security Fellow. In 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in Berlin, Germany.
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