Anyone who wanted the title of “honorary comedic adviser to the pope” had their chance a few years back.
Nope, we’re not kidding—it was as real as it gets. In fact, it was a 2015 online campaign for the children in Argentina, the homeless in Ethiopia, and the hungry in Kenya. Inspired by the pontiff’s sense of humor, the digital campaign was a contest called “Joke with the Pope,” and the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States were responsible for the flood of funnies that had the world chuckling. The idea was to donate a joke and choose among the three causes. The victor would not only get to donate the wining $10,000 to their chosen cause, but would also get to be the pope’s honorary comedic adviser!
People of all faiths got in on the joke (contest). It even drew the attention of famous funnyman Bill Murray! But the best part? Pope Francis took notice! Rev. Andrew Small of the Pontifical Mission Societies got a letter from the Holy Father himself.
“Happiness is one of God’s most precious gifts,” the pope wrote. “And so I ask you to become ‘missionaries of joy’ even when you do not feel like it.” Admitting that he likes to laugh, the pope continued, “It helps me feel closer to God and closer to other people. When we laugh with each other and not at each other, God’s love is present in a special way. Share your jokes and funny stories, the world will be better, the pope will be happy, and God will be the happiest of all.”
Can you guess who won the contest? Out of more than 4,000 people (including talk show hosts Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien) who submitted jokes, a rabbi emerged as the winner! Rabbi Bob Alper, who was then 70 years old, served congregations for almost two decades and now performs his 90-minute stand-up act all over North America and England.
Here’s the prize-winning joke by Rabbi Bob Alper:
“My wife and I had been married for 46 years, and our lives are totally in sync. For example, at the same time I got a hearing aid, she stopped mumbling.”
Light-hearted and gentle—and a joke that you could actually tell the pope—it was a hit with the judges. Most particularly, it was about family, and we all know how important the family is to Pope Francis!
Since we’re talking about jokes, have you heard the one about the pope? No? Well, a priest and a rabbi walked into a… Oh wait, we’re saving it for the next joke contest!