You could be forgiven for not realizing that Rick Moranis hasn’t made a movie since 1997. As one of the stars of 20th century pop culture touchstones like Ghostbusters, Spaceballs, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Little Shop of Horrors, his face, bespectacled and usually in a state of either excitement, confusion, optimism — or a combination of all three — is constantly on screen somewhere. Just in the last few weeks, Ghostbusters and Spaceballs were shown as part of the Awesomefest in Philadelphia.
He stopped making movies in order to be a full-time father to his two children following the death of his wife, who succumbed to liver cancer in 1991. But that doesn’t mean the 60-year-old Toronto native and longtime resident of New York City hasn’t kept busy. He’s done plenty of voice-over work in New York, written opinion pieces for publications like The Wall Street Journal and released the Grammy-nominated CD, The Agoraphobic Cowboy, in 2005.
Last month saw the release of his second CD, My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs, a 13-song collection that covers hot topics like desirable housekeepers (“My Wednesday Balabusta”), social media (“Live Blogging the Himel Family Bris”) and that holiday (“I Can’t Help It, I Just Like Christmas”).
With lyrics like, “I used a recipe from Calvin Trillin/Things were going well/Till I tied her up with my tefillin” and “I knew she was mine/When I read her tattoo/Inside a circle of life/All that was there was a ‘U,’ ” the album affectionately and wittily tweaks some of Jewish culture’s softest targets.
In a phone interview, Moranis discussed the inspiration for his new album, what’s next for him now that his children are grown and just what it is that makes his mother’s brisket so special. The following is an excerpt from that conversation.
So, what does make your mother’s brisket so good?
Well, the song is more a metaphor than anything. The inspiration for it was a combination of memories from when I was a kid, and an uncle or someone would come up to me before dinner, and before they would even say hello, they would tell me, “Your mother’s brisket is so incredible …”
You have mentioned in previous interviews of being constantly aware of the need to put your comedy writing through a “too-Jewish?” filter. Was this album a direct response to all of those years of self-censorship?
It was a catalyst for being able to do it. That filter was on when I first started writing with Jewish partners, and we would wind up in hysterics over something we wrote, but we knew we couldn’t submit it to the producer. It was too much of an inside joke — it wouldn’t appeal to the broader audience. Here, I really went for it, writing about what I wanted to write about, using words like “balabusta.”
Do you have a weekly balabusta come to your apartment?
Yes, I do. Yes, I do.
Do you clean up before she arrives?
Why did you decide to work so much Yiddish into the album?
I was seeing how people of my generation were becoming like their parents — their kids were coming of age and they felt the need to go back and recapture some of the traditions and rituals and values of their childhoods. They were starting to use a lot of these expressions and words in their conversations. The song, “Pu Pu Pu,” is another example. I remember growing up, my mother used to say it all the time, my grandmother used to say it. Now, my sister, who never said it before in her life, is saying “Pu Pu Pu” all the time. “It’s a gorgeous day, pu pu pu.”
Most people only know you as an actor, yet this is your second album, and you write all of your songs. Do you have a musical background?
When the Beatles hit, I remember we put down our hockey sticks and picked up electric guitars. I already had a part-time job selling programs at Maple Leafs Garden, so somehow I managed to scrape up enough money to get a really cheap guitar. I never stopped playing guitar after that. I used it in my stand-up act, in my radio shows, in SCTV — I even used to play Raffi songs for my kids.
How is the album selling?
I don’t expect that sales are enormous, but apparently, we broke ground with the bundling packages. People have been buying the “Minyan Package” of 10 copies and the “L’Chaim Package” of 18 copies. As my daughter said, 15 years ago, this would have been really successful.
You grew up in a Jewish household and are quite comfortable with your Jewishness. Did you raise your children in a similar environment?
I think if you have a happy childhood, you try and recreate it for your kids, and if you have an unhappy childhood, you try and not recreate it. I had an incredibly happy childhood and a wonderful family life at home and with cousins, aunts and uncles. I grew up on a street with all of these great Jewish families. My kids grew up in an apartment building in Manhattan, but they have family here, and our home was a culturally Jewish home. I never made Shabbas dinner like my mother did, but it was a home that had the warmth, the humor, the joy, the honesty, the love and the abundance of food of a Jewish home.
Now that your children are adults, will you return to your previous career?
Well, I’ve had a lot of careers. I was in radio for many years, I did stand-up, I worked with a partner and we did radio series on CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation], I did television, I did film. If what you’re asking is, would I ever go back to making movies, it would totally depend on who the people were, what the script was, where the location is — there are so many factors that would determine that. I really do love songwriting and music production, but it is the worst time in the world to be doing this, economically, unless you’re a touring band, which I’m not.
So we shouldn’t be on the lookout for “My Mother’s Brisket: The Tour”?
The album I did seven years ago could be done with three or four pieces. This one would need seven or eight pieces, and that gets really expensive. You gotta play big halls and charge a decent ticket price if you’re going to do it in any kind of style at all. And I’m too old to get in a broken-down van and travel with eight other people and stay in fleabag motels.
My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs is available at www.rickmoranis.com , iTunes and amazon.com, among other vendors.