Jewish Journal

Rick Moranis returns, brings ‘brisket’

by Naomi Pfefferman

July 10, 2013 | 11:57 am

Actor Rick Moranis has busted ghosts in the “Ghostbusters” flicks, shrunk the kids in that comedy film franchise, tried not to get gobbled by a man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” spoofed Darth Vader as Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” and over-parented in “Parenthood.”

So what’s he doing with his new comedy album, “My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs,” complete with klezmer, rhumba and jazzy ditties including “Pu-Pu-Pu,” “My Wednesday Balabusta” and “I’m Old Enough to Be Your Zaide”? 

In a phone conversation from his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the wry, 60-year-old Moranis said he’s been hanging with the Tribe since withdrawing from Hollywood to raise his two kids about 15 years ago. “I noticed that people of my generation were starting to use more [Yiddish] expressions,” he said. “They were in an odd sort of way becoming their parents.

“Twenty years ago, my sister never said, ‘Pu pu pu,’ and now she’s constantly spitting it into the phone. Last Labor Day, I went to a wedding, and I said to a cousin of mine, ‘I saw your grandson’s video on YouTube, he’s so talented — pu pu pu! And I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m writing a song.’ ”

The result is a klezmer-inspired tune that warns, “Before you’re jumping up and down and holding hands and kicking up a hora/ consider possibilities of triggering a juicy kanahara [evil eye].” 

Another number, “Live Blogging the Himel Family Bris” describes a nosy online journalist who is fressing (stuffing his face) with one hand so he can type with the other; “Wednesday Balabusta” was inspired by Moranis’ housekeeper; and “The Seven Days of Shiva,” sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” marvels, “On the first day of shiva, the Stulbergs sent in/the biggest potato kugel I’ve ever seen. On the second day of shiva, the Katzmans had delivered/Two tureens of borscht and a bigger potato kugel than the Stulbergs’.” 

The album’s title song, of course, pays homage to his mom’s prowess with that signature Jewish dish: “When I was a little kid, it was not uncommon for a cousin or an uncle, before they would even say ‘Hello,’ to gush, ‘You know, your mother’s brisket is just incredible; it’s so good,’ ” Moranis recalled. “That was an inspiration for creating a love song in that well-worn terrain of the relationship between a Jewish boy and his mother.”

The CD’s cover art depicts a “before” photograph of Moranis getting ready to tuck into mom’s victuals and an “after” picture of him asleep, with his belt loosened, zonked out from all that overindulging. 

Consider the album a kind of comic revenge: “When I first began writing jokes and sketches with various Jewish partners, it was not uncommon for one of us to stop the proceedings and declare, ‘Too Jewish!’ ” Moranis said. “The songs on this album are all in that category.”

And they’re dedicated to “all of the soon-to-be alter-kackers” [old guys] from his childhood summer camps and “my former fellow inmates of the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto.”

While Moranis admitted to having regarded Hebrew school as “cruel and unusual punishment,” he said he grew up in a “joyful” Jewish home in a modest bungalow on a street of all-identical houses in Toronto. 

“I was really good at impressions,” he said, which was one reason he eventually got into show business. As a stand-up comic in the late 1970s, Moranis mined laughs by mimicking celebrities like Woody Allen and George Carlin, and later, on the late-night sketch show “Second City Television” (“SCTV”), he was Bob McKenzie, one of the beer-guzzling Canadian McKenzie brothers, an act he re-created as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live.”

Eventually he got into feature films, working with directors such as Frank Oz and Ivan Reitman. But Moranis made the decision to stay closer to home, switching mostly to voiceover and commercial work, after a family tragedy: In 1991, his wife, Anne, died of breast cancer that had metastasized to the liver, leaving the actor alone to care for their two children, then 4
and 2.

“It just got to the point where I felt like I didn’t want to be talking to my kids from airports and hotels, and so I took a break, and then discovered I didn’t miss it,” he said of the film biz.

Moranis has loved music since he listened to the Beatles as a teenager and put down his hockey stick for an electric guitar; in 2005 he put out a country comedy album, of all things, titled “Agoraphobic Cowboy,” which went on to earn a Grammy Award nomination and made a profit to boot.

One song on that CD, “Mean Old Man,” was inspired by his friends’ Jewish parents, who used to regale an elderly Russian immigrant who whacked them with eucalyptus leaves at the shvitz (steam room). That, in part, whet his appetite to explore more of his Jewish roots with “My Mother’s Brisket.”

The new album features at least a dash of social commentary: The bris song, Moranis said, “was a good place to write what I wanted about blogging, which is how I loathe it and how dangerous I think it is. There’s no filter, no editing, no anything. And I thought a bris would be a perfect place for someone to violate privacy, act immorally and publish.”

While Moranis said he doesn’t much care if the album sells — “I made it for, like, 16 people,” he quipped — he was worried some of the naughtier tunes might alienate segments of the Jewish community. 

“There’s a gray area between Conservative and Orthodox people, for whom you don’t screw around with the mezuzah, you don’t mess with the holy melodies,” he said. “Now, I’m glad I had that compass on me, because that kept me from doing other things that are far worse. But the record came out this past month, and I was completely surprised by the reaction: Nobody found anything to be offensive.”

The bonus add-on gift of an inscribed yarmulke with every purchase can’t hurt.

BONUS CLIP: Ludicrous speed ("Spaceballs")

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Naomi Pfefferman Magid is the arts & entertainment editor of the Jewish Journal, where she’s spent the last quarter century interviewing everyone from Seth Rogen, Natalie...

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