While I would expect that anyone who needs translation for words like “zaide” and “balabusta” might not be thrilled with the Rick Moranis comedy album, My Mother’s Brisket, I would also expect that quite a few listeners who need neither translation nor explanation of anything on the record might be less than thrilled with its ethnic stereotyping, inoffensive as it might be. This is the paradoxical nature of this kind of humor. On the one hand it demands an audience that has some real familiarity with what is being parodied; on the other hand the more familiar they are the more likely to take offense.
It is not that the material in and of itself is offensive, indeed most of it is quite clever—an older man bumbling his way through his Haftorah like a beleaguered bar mitzvah boy, a Jew who can’t help catching the Christmas spirit, a man obsessed with his cleaning lady. There is some very funny, even some lovingly funny material.
“The Seven Days of Shiva” uses “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to parody the practice of visitors trying to outdo each other with food for the mourners. “Live Blogging the Himmel Family Bris” uses a traditional melody to give a blow by blow description of the ritual circumcision. “My Mother’s Brisket” is in spirit almost a passionate tribute to the gastronomic pleasure of pot roast. There are some comic rhymes, but the real humor is in the singer’s sentimental attachment to his mother’s food. “Parve” is a Frank Sinatra parody that makes a witty application of the idea of food that can be eaten with meat or dairy to a woman, with Moranis doing a take on a cheesy cabaret singer.
Although Moranis was probably best known for his comic acting, it comes as no surprise that he is a fine singer. After all he did play Seymour in The Little Shop of Horrors. When he sings in character, he can be captivating. All you have to do is listen to “Suddenly Seymour,” his duet with Ellen Greene from the film, to see how spectacular he can be. He has the ability to create the persona appropriate to the song, He sings, as the poet once said, in so many voices not his own. The voice that does the traditional Yiddish mumbling in “Wiggle Room” is quite another character from the man ordering Chinese food in “Asian Confusion.” More importantly, they are the right voices.
Again, with the caveat that My Mother’s Brisket will not please everyone, it is nonetheless a meal that will appeal to quite a few Yiddish gourmets.