A funny thing happened in that Joke with the Pope contest …

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Rabbi Bob Alper, the rabbi-comedian who won the Joke with the Pope contest. Photo by Sultan Khan

Rabbi Bob Alper, the rabbi-comedian who won the Joke with the Pope contest. Photo by Sultan Khan

Rabbi Bob Alper, the rabbi-comedian who won the Joke with the Pope contest. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Bob Alper

Rabbi Bob Alper, the rabbi-comedian who won the Joke with the Pope contest. Photo by Sultan Khan

(RNS) The Joke with the Pope contest is over and the winner is … a rabbi.

And that’s no joke.

Launched by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States ahead of Pope Francis’ U.S. visit last month, the contest netted 4,000 submissions from people, including actress and comedian Ellie Kemper, weather forecaster Al Roker and late-night TV host Conan O’Brien. Comedian Bill Murray was the honorary adviser.

But the organizers named Rabbi Bob Alper the winner Monday (Oct. 5) on their website.


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The rabbi-comedian served Jewish congregations for 14 years before becoming what he calls “the world’s only practicing clergyman doing stand-up comedy … intentionally.”

Alper shared his winning joke in a video he filmed on his phone: “My wife and I have been married for over 46 years. Our lives are totally in sync. For example, the same time I got a hearing aid, she stopped mumbling.”

That was the kind of joke the Rev. Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said he could imagine Pope Francis using.

Maybe that’s because it sounded a bit like the pope’s unscripted remarks last month at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia when he said: “Families have difficulties. In families, we quarrel. Sometimes plates can fly.”

'Joke with the Pope' comedy campaign. Photo courtesy of Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States

‘Joke with the Pope’ comedy campaign. Photo courtesy of Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States


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The campaign encouraged people to “donate” a joke to support one of three causes: helping children in need in Argentina, housing the homeless in Ethiopia or feeding the hungry in Kenya.

Enough people downloaded and donated to the society through its new Missio app that each cause will receive $10,000 from the societies.

The mission societies work to spread the Catholic faith overseas, especially in poor and remote areas.

Alper said people haven’t been genuflecting in front of him in the supermarket in rural Vermont, where he lives. In fact, he hasn’t gotten much of a response to his new title:  “honorary comedic adviser to the pope.”

He figures his friends must think he’s joking.

Alper said he admires the way Pope Francis uses comedy both to minister to people and to help them receive his message. That’s something he also sees from teachers in the Talmud, he pointed out.

“It means a lot as a rabbi to have that out there,” he said. “He has a wonderful smile. I’d love to meet him. I’d love to tell him my joke in person.”

He’d also settle for “The Tonight Show,” Alper said.

YS/MG END MILLER