Rick Moranis hasn’t been in the limelight much since he retired from acting with 1997’s Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. And though he was nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for country music parody album The Agoraphobic Cowboy, few likely associate Moranis with musical comedy, The Great White North and Little Shop of Horrors aside. So My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs, Moranis’s nod to Allan Sherman’s Yiddish-flavored parodies, will come as a surprise to those thinking they’d next see him in a long-rumored Ghostbusters sequel.
Sherman’s influence is heavy; a quick listen to his “The Ballad of Harry Lewis” and “Harvey and Sheila” reveals the blueprint Moranis used to construct these songs. The music is orchestral, the humor broad, many of the melodies are borrowed from jazzy klezmer music, and the references to Jewish culture come fast and furious. Play this album without telling listeners who it is, and they might think it came from Sherman’s vaults.
Except Moranis plays up the Jewish content even more than Sherman did. His accent is thick, and it’s obvious even in the song titles—“I’m Old Enough To Be Your Zaide,” “My Wednesday Balabusta,” “The Seven Days of Shiva,” “Belated Haftorah.” Gentiles may need to do some Googling or consult a glossary to understand concepts behind certain jokes. (A couple of Yiddish translations to get you started: “zaide” means grandfather, and “Haftorah” is a reading from the Prophets on the Sabbath.)
Moranis plays with Jewish stereotypes while adding a few modern updates. On “Live Blogging the Himel Family Bris,” he sings amongst swirling clarinets, “I’m live blogging Marky Himel’s Bris / I just gave Marky Himel’s Uncle Manny a kiss / I’m posting, I’m hosting, I’m filing, I’m sharing / But Marky’s Uncle Manny smells a lot like herring.” There are jabs at those who cheat on the Orthodoxy. On “Wiggle Room,” he sings about finding a place to “cyber-letch” and eat ribs. On one track he confesses, “I Can’t Help It, I Just Like Christmas,” and on “Asian Confusion,” admits to ordering Chinese food on Sunday nights (as far as not eating kosher, “once a week is understood”).
The project is an exercise in dam-busting for Moranis after having to reject some jokes and sketches he wrote when he was a younger comedian as “too Jewish.” As he admits in the liner notes, “Among Jews, the more observant may find some of these songs objectionable. And the more secular may not appreciate the references. But I’ve always found smaller audiences to be more intimate anyway.” It’s clear from the first song that the album will be filled with cultural inside jokes, and the shtick stays the same throughout. Those turned off by “I’m Old Enough To Be Your Zaide” will want to stop there. For those who venture on, Moranis has an appealing and resonant voice, and he’s written some clever material. Whether Allan Sherman needed updating is beside the point. Moranis has done it, and done a worthy job of it.