Rick Moranis Is Back, With a Collection of Love Songs to the Jewish People

The comic actor comes out of hiatus with 'My Mother’s Brisket,' a schmaltzy, funny collection of tunes that riffs on everything in modern Jewish life.

Amy Klein
Amy Klein
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Amy Klein
Amy Klein

Actor Rick Moranis is live blogging from Marky Himel’s brit milah.

Well, it’s not exactly the actor, best known for playing doofy characters in “Ghostbusters,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and for his early comedy in “The Adventures of Bob & Doug Mackenzie: Strange Brew,” but rather his songwriter persona from his new album, “My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs.” It’s a schmaltzy, funny collection of tunes that riffs on everything in modern Jewish life from dating younger women (“I’m Old Enough to Be Your Zaide”), to cleaning ladies (“My Wednesday Balabusta”), to Jews and Chinese Food (“Pu Pu Pu”) and oversharing bloggers like the one in “Live Blogging from the Himel Family Bris.” Moranis’ baritone belts out a wedding-like klezmer tune:

“I’m live blogging Marky Himmel’s Bris / I just gave Marky Himel’s Uncle Manny a kiss / I’m posting, I’m hosting, I’m filing, I’m sharing / That Marky’s Uncle Manny smells a lot like herring …

The idea for “My Mother’s Brisket” actually started before blogging and technology took such a hold on us, Moranis says in an interview with Ha’aretz. In 2005, Moranis came out with his first musical comedy album, “The Agoraphobic Cowboy,” a humorous collection of country-bluegrass-rockabilly songs that was nominated for a Grammy in 2006. The song “Mean Old Man” was about one of the characters he used to hear his friends in high school talk about, the old guy from the shvitz steam bath their fathers went to. “That opened the floodgates for writing more songs on Jewish themes,” Moranis says.

A lot of material was unleashed from those floodgates. “When I first started out writing sketches with other Jews, we’d often get to the point and say, ‘It’s too Jewish, we can’t do it!’ It was too Jewish for the show, for the star, for the network, for the studio or for the audience,” he recalls. “That filter was always on when you were working for someone else and aiming for a much larger audience.”

It’s true: There’s probably only a certain segment of the population – fellow Jews on the Upper West Side, where Moranis lives - who will be doubled over with laughter at “Belated Haftorah Lyrics,” sung in actual Torah-reading trope, with preadolescent-like stuttering and bumblings and audience corrections:

Well here — well, here I a... — Well here I am, I made it. Still can’t believe I did this. See, I didn’t get bar mitzvahed the first time around, when I was 13. It was my parents. They were commies and they wouldn’t set foot in a shul and they thought the post-war Diaspora middle class were just appeasing their parents but had cynical bourgeois aspirations, but thank god for my Shelly … she talked me into doing this so I wound up taking lessons at 46. And I got this new suit, Also a 46. Portly.

Not that this is Moranis’ life. The actor, now 60, was born and raised in Canada. (“No way, Eh?”) His father was raised as a Reform Jew, and “he went along with whatever she wanted,” Moranis says, referring to his mother, who was raised Orthodox, but “was becoming more and more Conservative.” Even though they didn’t have a totally kosher home, he says, there were lots of rules and his mother had like “16 sets of dishes,” Moranis jokes: the milchediks (dairy), the fleishediks (meat), the good milchediks, the good fleishidiks, the Pesach milchediks …

His mother “shlepped me to shul all the time with her,” and “sent me to an enormous amount of Hebrew school, which was extremely painful,” says Moranis, noting that the only time he was glad they weren’t rich was when he found out she would have sent him to yeshiva full-time if they’d had more money. Still, Hebrew school prepared him for show business, he jokes. “It taught me how to lie, cheat, hide, steal; it taught me how to look another human being straight in the face and say, ‘I was here yesterday’ and look like I meant it: It was called acting.”

Moranis took a hiatus from acting in the late 1990s to raise his two children after his wife died of cancer in 1991. Even though they had sent them “to what passed as a Hebrew school for the sake of their grandparents,” he thinks both his kids – now in their 20s—would consider themselves having been raised in a “very Jewish household because of the feel of the it, the humor and the joy – just the nature of it.”

Regarding his own religiosity, Moranis said he “took a left turn from it very, very early because I was just burnt out on it.” Even though he’s not an observant Jew and he doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he says, “Culturally, it meant everything to me. It’s very much what I came from and who I am.”

That’s exactly the sentiment that comes across in “My Mother’s Brisket”: A feeling of nostalgia for the good old days by someone who has enough Jewish (and Yiddish) knowledge to laugh at it – and himself, as well as the Diaspora Jew’s conflict of a double identity, as evidenced in the jaunty song, “I Can’t Help it, I Just Like Christmas,” and “The Seven Days of Shiva,” which catalogs all the food the neighborhood Jews send over in the week following the death and burial of a family member. (“On the Fourth day of Shiva, the Resnicks came and brought / four pickled tongues / three steamed pastramis / two tureens of borscht / and we had to leave their kugel in the hall.” )

Although some of the songs are hokey, like the jazz/lounge-style “Kiss My Mezuzah” seduction song (“That’s the bedroom / where is done what’s expected / All of my biblical needs are respected”), the album is funny enough that he’s offering a “minyan” package of 10, and a “L’chaim” package of 18.

Do his comedic musical albums signify a desire to return to showbiz?

“I don’t know. I haven’t been on screen for close to 20 years,” he says. “I was never an actor, I was a comedian who was asked to be in films – it was never what I set out to do.” Moranis is writing more songs now, although not Jewish-themed ones this time.

While most actors say what they “really want to do is direct,” Moranis admits to a different aspiration: “My dream is to do a jazz album,” he says.

The cover of Rick Moranis' new album.Credit: Courtesy

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