Dear Rabbi Ross. My 13-year-old son decided he wants to be a comedian when he grows up. I’m not asking for him to become a doctor or a lawyer, but a comedian? He likes to walk around telling jokes that he heard, and we’re getting nervous. Initially, we thought it was a phase, but he’s spending time online watching Jewish Comedians, and it’s been going on for almost two years now. Our question is, do we start trying to change his mind now, or do we still ignore this? Thank you for your Avodas Hakodesh. Sarah - Kew Gardens
Thank you for writing in. There’s a game I like to play called psychologist. I try and analyze the question to glean as much information as I can. You mentioned that your son is spending time watching Jewish Comedians online. I’m not sure what sites he’s been visiting, but I wasn’t able to find that much footage of Jewish Comedians.
When it comes to non-Jewish comedians, there are many different types. Some are what we call “appropriate” while others are less so. If your son is developing his skills as a comedian, I would try and ensure that he watches material that is suitable for children. This way, he can develop a routine that won’t conflict with the way you’re bringing him up.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m all for his career choice. Making people laugh is a wonderful feeling, and as we mentioned before, there aren’t that many good Jewish comedians. It doesn’t have to be his main occupation, but there’s nothing wrong with it. The truth is, it’s inspiring that a thirteen-year-old has a goal, or a plan. The fact that he began working on this when he was eleven makes it all the more refreshing.
Approximately eighteen years ago, a student of mine wanted to become a guitar player. His parents were so disappointed, they had dreams of him becoming a doctor. I tried explaining to them that playing guitar can be a hobby, and can even help earn money on the side, but they were adamant. After months of debate, they finally acquiesced, and he began taking lessons. This boy is now a successful doctor, and as he tells it, the money he made playing with bands put him through medical school with minimal student loans.
I’ve been to a few affairs that hired Jewish comedians, and some were funny, others were completely awkward or inappropriate. Botched presentations, poor material and worse. I was at an anniversary party a while back that hired a comedian. He was horrendous. In fact, he was so desperate to elicit a reaction from the crowd that he took off his toupee in middle of the act and began using it as a puppet. Those of you reading this that were there with me, are probably cringing remembering this. It was that bad.
The two choices you suggested regarding your son were either changing his mind or ignoring him. I’m going to go with a third option, namely encouraging him. Buy him some books on the evolution of comedy so he has a better understanding of the art. Explain to him that there is lots of questionable material, and that he needs to compose routines that will go over well with a frum Jewish crowd.
I would tell him that there aren’t that many Jewish comedians, and if he puts in the effort he can become very successful. Offer to be his sounding board, and help him polish his routines. Having supportive parents can make a huge difference, and even create a stronger relationship among all of you.
It’s important that you explain to him that there are different types of comedians. Some laugh at others’ expense, or use material that can be grossly inappropriate. Don’t avoid this discussion. He’s a big boy, and needs to be treated as such. Help him understand his target audience, whether it be children’s parties, or even Jewish adults.
It’s a huge Mitzvah to be happy. I’m looking forward to watching him perform.
Have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.