top of page

By Shira Dicker

  • Dec. 26, 1993

THE Building and Design Center on Route 202 is a tribute to suburban consumerism. Featuring everything to furnish or decorate one's home under one roof, the mall is suitable for one-stop shopping. During store hours, a steady stream of shoppers shuttle from store to store, caught up in that most suburban of activities -- home improvement.

But behind a heavy metal door marked "Employees Only," one's preconceptions are likely to peel away like paint beneath a heat gun. Contained within the cavernous confines of what used to be a wallpaper emporium is the antidote to that which is mass-produced and predictable: Marc Weiner's Weinerville Studios.

With its scores of neon-colored puppet sets littering the floor amid the neo-Gothic pink arches and columns built by the previous tenant, Weinerville Studios has a distinctly surrealistic appearance. The fun-house feeling is enhanced by the Pop Deco style of the sets and by the locales they evoke: the inside of a diner, the office of a washed-up movie agent, a Manhattan newspaper kiosk -- miniature stages that are urbane and sophisticated yet playful and reminiscent of childhood. Individualistic and likable 

In the former wallpaper shop, Mr. Weiner creates the cardboard-box world that has brought him success as the hyperkinetic star and host of "Nickelodeon Weinerville," a half-hour comedy and game show, broadcast Mondays through Fridays from 3 to 3:30 P.M. and on Sundays from 2 to 4 P.M. (when four half-hour shows can be seen back to back) on the Nickelodeon cable television channel.

Having premiered in July, with 28 pretaped episodes running initially in two-hour blocks on Sunday afternoons, the show went into reruns within a matter of weeks and has proved so popular with its audience of children 2 through 11 that Nickelodeon ordered 40 more episodes.

Like his sets and stable of puppet personalities, which include Dottie, the frazzled yet kind-hearted Mayor of Weinerville; Boney, the cantankerous dinosaur skeleton; Joey Deluxe, a Hollywood agent gone to seed, and Cocktail Frank, an ultra-hip rock-and-roll musician, Mr. Weiner is off-beat, individualistic, instantly likable.

Yet he does not project his personality when not performing, and the initial impression one receives is of a shy, deceptively nondescript man. Of medium stature with brown hair, dressed in jeans and a neat, button-down shirt, Mr. Weiner looked one day recently like any number of husbands being dragged by their wives through the Building and Design Center on a Sunday afternoon.

But if Mr. Weiner's manner and dress pronounce him normal, it is his eyes that give him away. They bulge slightly and broadcast wise-guy wackiness and the guilty gaze of a compulsive mischief maker. It is the eyes that undoubtedly aroused suspicion in the hearts of his elementary school teachers. It is the eyes that now command the attention of young cable television viewers and their parents every afternoon but Saturday. Comedic Alchemy 

Literally, Mr. Weiner lends his eyes -- and his head -- to his puppets. Bearing the disproportionate dimensions of caricature sketches -- tiny bodies and oversize heads -- the Weinerville puppets are fashioned out of foam rubber, glue, Magic Marker, Barbie Doll clothes and Mr. Weiner's actual face.

To accomplish this comedic alchemy, Mr. Weiner carves a half-moon shape out of each elaborately decorated set to accommodate his head. Mr. Weiner, donning either dark glasses or any number of guises, slips into his characters as he slides his head into his sets, positioning his chin above their stationary bodies while manipulating their arms from behind the set with wires. 

The sheer weirdness of Mr. Weiner's concept accounts for much of its charm. The inimitable art form, perfected over the course of nearly two decades, has been greatly aided by his wife, Sandy, an artist and comedy writer who is, Mr. Weiner said, "an integral part of the whole process."

The unstated yet explicit gag of "Nickelodeon Weinerville" is Marc Weiner's name, which he exploits to the fullest. Hot dogs are constantly mentioned, as prizes that contestants win (the Silver Weiner and the Golden Hot Dog), as names of puppets (Cocktail Frank and the Weenies) and even as the decor (pictures of hot dogs). Mr. Weiner has managed to turn what might have been a great liability into his greatest asset and marketing tool.'Tent-Show Behavior' 

The recent rise to fame comes on the heels of nearly a decade of relative obscurity for Mr. Weiner, who is 41 and a resident of Katonah. As he sat behind his desk in his private office at the Viacom Conference Center in midtown Manhattan (Viacom owns Nickelodeon, a division of MTV Networks), he spoke about his artistic development.

A self-described former "class clown," Mr. Weiner said that as a young child he was "an obnoxious person who didn't have many friends."

Recounting the futile efforts of his second-grade teacher to get him to behave, Mr. Weiner recalled a note the teacher had written on his report card. "She wrote, 'If Marc's tent- show behavior is not checked, he will end up in a circus or side show,' " he said with a poker face.

Mr. Weiner's unremarkable school career led him to Monmouth College in New Jersey, where, as a major in history and sociology, he dropped out after two years. "When college didn't work out, that's when I started painting," he said. "I ran a coffeehouse on campus and started making candles. This artistic feeling happened after I left school."

Afternoon With Robin Williams 

Saying he was interested in "doing something helpful to society," Mr. Weiner joined Clearwater Sloop, an environmental boat, and worked as a vegetarian cook. After a few years on the boat, he took a clown course in Boston and started working there as a street performer. In 1976, he traveled with the Bicentennial Barge as a deckhand, entertaining people as they came aboard.

After that, Mr. Weiner began working as a street performer in Manhattan and started going to comedy clubs with his act. An oft-told tale is how, performing for a crowd on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he was joined by Robin Williams. The synergy was instantaneous, and the two performed improvisational comedy for the enthusiastic onlookers all afternoon.

Finding a niche for his puppets and his stand-up style at such clubs as the Improv, the Comedy Cellar and Stand-Up New York, Mr. Weiner also found a rapt audience in college students. Soon, he was opening for acts like Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and the singer Debbie Harry. His comic style and puppetry eventually caught the attention of the producers of "Saturday Night Live," who hired him to do regular segments for the show, featuring "Rocko," a hand puppet, during the late 1970's.

Mr. Weiner's star continued to rise until the mid-80's, when he decided to take a break from performing to devote more time to his family. A few years spent out of the limelight, however, is severely handicaping to a comic's career, he found.Executives Saw a Prototype 

There were years of nominal recognition as Mr. Weiner played clubs and the college circuit, his elaborate puppet sets all but gathering dust in his former Mount Kisco studio. His stand-up work was still fetching laughs, but the heady early success he had enjoyed became elusive.

A pilot show he taped for Comedy Central in the early 90's called "That's Not Fair" failed to make it onto the air, but the prototype caught the attention of Nickelodeon executives.

Herb Scannel, senior vice president of programming for Nickelodeon, recalled: "I saw the pilot Marc had done and thought that it was very funny. Marc is very physical; his comedy is very slapstick, and the program tested well with kids. We asked him if he would be interested in developing the idea further. What we had in mind was a Soupy Sales for the 90's, a character comedian who could entertain, a likable one-man show."

Mr. Scannel is enthusiastic about "Nickelodeon Weinerville," calling it the type of television that "kids haven't seen for 30 years."Laced With Cartoons 

Indeed, "Nickelodeon Weinerville" is a show with a format unlike any other. Featuring Mr. Weiner as the star and host, the show combines his puppetry -- both live and prerecorded -- with his gags and audience participation. A highlight of each episode is watching children from the audience get "Weinerized," or placed within a large rumbling machine only to emerge as puppets in a Weinerville set. Parents might scream at the sight of their children's heads appearing over tiny puppet bodies, but the young audience loves the transformation.

Divided into short segments, the program also offers vintage cartoons, like Honey Half-Witch, Gerald McBoing Boing, Sir Blur and Mr. Magoo, which were retrieved from Paramount and Columbia video archives. While the cartoons are well received, the aim is to devote more time to "Weinerville".

On Nov. 29, Mr. Weiner flew to Florida to work on the 40 shows being taped over the next three months. Before leaving New York -- which entailed packing the puppet sets in crates, closing his Katonah home, taking his 5-year-old daughter, Rebecca, out of kindergarten and his 3-year-old son, Max, out of preschool -- Mr. Weiner, his wife and his writing staff worked at a feverish pitch.

At the Nickelodeon studios in Orlando, they are editing and reworking scripts, pretaping puppet segments, building sets and rehearsing routines. Celebrities at School 

Mr. Weiner concedes that his children enjoy star status among schoolmates. Teachers and parents at Max's preschool in Mount Kisco have requested autographed photographs, and Sandy Weiner recalls how the butcher recently predicted that her husband will make $20 million and offered to serve as the couple's financial adviser.

So well known is "Nickelodeon Weinerville" among schoolchildren that the Weiner offspring are sometimes accused of padding their resumes.

"Recently, Rebecca came off the school bus, highly upset because some older kids did not believe that Marc was her father," Sandy Weiner said. "We had to send her with a picture the following day to prove that she was telling the truth -- and now she is a star."



Marc Weiner's Cosmic Joke

by Devorie Kreiman

Marc’s journey took him down hard roads and confusing turns. With a mic in one hand and a prop in the other, he draws laughter and meaning from pain.

Marc likes to recount the events that led to his first “real” Shabbos—a comedy of errors and a life-changing discovery.

“My mother told me to marry a Jewish girl. So, I asked my mother, ‘How do I meet a Jewish girl?’

“She said, ‘Go to a shul. You’ll find Jewish girls there.’

“I told her, ‘There’s a shul near my apartment. It’s Orthodox.’

“She said, ‘Be careful.’ 

"I said why?"

"She said, Orthodox people have strange customs."

"Like what?"

"She said, I don't know, just be careful"

On a Friday night in 1982, Marc walked into Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.

“A man looked at me and started tapping the top of his head. I thought that’s how the Orthodox people greet each other, so I tapped the top of my head, too. He showed me a box with yarmulkas and doilies. I was so intimidated, I accidentally put on a doily that the women wear. Inside the shul, I saw men and women on separate sides. I figured since I was there to meet a women, and I was wearing the same head covering as them, I should sit with the women.

“I asked one of the women, ‘Do you come here often?“She was in the middle of davening, so she made some kind of sound to shush me away. I’d never seen anyone daven before and had no idea why she didn’t answer me. The other women also made those funny sounds when I talked to them. I thought: No wonder none of the guys are sitting with them. These women have an attitude problem!”

Marc was directed to the beginners’ minyan run by Rabbi Ephraim (Effie) Buchwald. It was in a small classroom upstairs. Rabbi Buchwald was away for the summer; Richard and Gloria Kestenbaum were in charge. They welcomed him warmly, showed him the davening and encouraged him to ask questions at any time. The beginner’s minyan davened very slowly, a lot was in English, and he was able to follow without too much diffculty. Marc says, “On that first Shabbos in the beginners’ minyan, it hit me. This! This is what I’ve been missing. I felt my neshamah.”

Marc got his start as a comedian when he was a child growing up in Putnam County, New York. In1961, his teacher, Mr. Miles, wrote in the comment section of his third grade report card, “Marc gets laughs in the short run by playing up his failures as though he were celebrating, but this an attitude similar to that of individuals in a side show who capitalize on their malformities.”

Behind the clowning around was a young boy struggling to get by. Marc was one of the smallest kids in his public school. When he was a second grader, he was diagnosed with Leg Perthes disease, a rare condition in which the ball-shaped head of the thighbone (femoral head) temporarily loses its blood supply. As a result, the head of the thighbone collapses, and the area becomes inflamed and irritated.​​ The body eventually restores blood supply to the ball, and the ball heals. But if the ball is no longer round after it heals, it can cause pain and stiffness. The complete process of bone death, fracture, and renewal can take several years. Marc was on crutches for a year to allow the bone and cartilage to grow back, and he missed many days of school because of his frequent doctor appointments.

And, school was hard. He had difficulty memorizing and keeping up with the lessons. It wasn’t until a few years later, when he was diagnosed with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, that he understood why he’d felt so lost in the classroom. Marc says, “I made jokes in class because I wanted the kids to like me.”

Marc’s parents belonged to a Conservative temple. He says, “Shabbos? Kashrus? I knew nothing about any of that. For us, Judaism was going to shul because our friends went. Then we’d go home and try to be like everyone else.”

His parents sent him to Hebrew school for a few years, where, “I spent more time in the rabbi’s office than he did.”

Marc’s father and mother ran a plumbing supply store. Marc describes him as, “Funny, but more serious than my mother. My father would come home from work exhausted, wanting quiet time, and I’d be goofing around. He’d say, ‘There’s a time to clown around and a time not to clown around.’ But, as he talked, my mother was behind him making funny faces."

When Marc was in fourth grade, his family took a train trip across the country, to Disneyland. At one of the sideshows, a magician was performing for about 20 people, and he asked for an assistant. Marc was called up. He says, “I knew from that moment that I wanted to perform. I was nine years old. I don’t remember the trick that I helped the magician do, but I will never forget how I felt, up on that stage.”

When Marc was in college, he worked in the student union commissary and converted an empty room into a coffee shop with a stage and invited entertainers to perform. After college Marc volunteered on a boat, a 106- foot sloop called the Clearwater, which was owned by an environmental activist group, . As Clearwater traveled up and down the Hudson River, its staffprovided passengers with lectures on ecology and the harmful effects of industry on the river.

Marc started as the weekend cook mate, cooking for the 14 crew members who lived on the Clearwater. He says, “When I started, I knew very little about cooking. I opened a can of pineapple, dumped it over chicken, and put it in their wood burning stove. They liked it and hired me to be their full-time cook.” He spent three years on Clearwater, two as cook and one as the first mate. He earned his captain’s license, and often entertained the children who came aboard—by juggling their food.

In the winter, the Clearwater docked in Kingston, New York, near an old riverboat that had a theater and a magician. Marc was drawn back to the magic—and the stage. He interned for the magician. He says, “I knew I was born to do this.”

The following winter, Marc took a clown course in Maine at the Celebration Mime Theatre, in a barn where students learned clowning, juggling. unicycling, mime, and improvisation. What he loved most about clown school was that it was exactly the opposite of a typical school. “Here, the only way you can graduate is if you get kicked out of class for clowning around.”

When he came back to Boston, he paired up with a fellow street performer, Sunshine Sean a.k.a., Sean Morey. Marc became Marco the Clown. The two of them developed an act and performed it on the street every weekend in Boston Common. They’d start offstanding still, pretending to be statues, wearing black pants, striped shirts, and vests. When people passed, they broke out and followed them, mimicking their movements. They also juggled balls and narrated the politics of the day— in the inflation juggle, they threw the balls extra high; in the stock market juggle, they dropped the balls on the ground; and in the IRS juggle, instead of opening their hands, they grabbed the balls and held onto them. If there was a child on a bike, they’d take the bike, and Marc would sit on the back and pretend to pedal and say, “We’re being followed by the police,” and as the light went offhe’d say, “No, we’re not” and as the light went on, he’d say, “Yes, we are,” and they’d keep that up for 20 seconds. Then, they’d pass around the hat. They gathered large crowds every time.


His parents didn’t understand what a street performer did. “They thought I was going around panhandling,” Marc says. In 1978, Marc moved back to New York and performed in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His act included juggling with a rubber band, a peanut M&M, and a plunger. He also did a shtick piece in imitation of a famous comedian, Robin Williams, in hopes of meeting him one day.  One day, the famous comedian showed up among the crowd. During the show, he came forward and performed along with Marc. The two of them got thunderous applause. Afterwards, they shared a cab across town and agreed to meet again the next week. When Marc’s parents heard who’d joined him for his routine, they no longer worried about his work as a street performer. Of course his parents still worried about other things about Marc.

By 1980, Marc’s career was thriving. Marc is a visual performer. His specialty is puppetry. The learning disabilities that had made school so unpleasant for him turned out to be the catalyst for his unique art. He says, “It’s hard for me to memorize a standup comedy routine. But with props, all I have to remember is what goes with each prop. I can do standup for hours. And the prop always gets a laugh.”

Unlike traditional puppets, where a hand moves the mouth, Marc’s puppets have human heads—usually his. He uses his hands as the hands and feet of the puppets. At some points during his act, he turns away from the audience and talks to the puppet, then turns back to address the audience directly.

Marc and his unusual puppets were an instant hit, and his career took off. He was headlining at comedy clubs and flying all over the country to perform. It was everything he’d dreamed of.

And it wasn’t enough.

He says, “I felt an emptiness, and I didn’t know what it was.”

He dated a wonderful woman who was not Jewish, and was planning to propose to her. Even though his parents were not observant, they had strong feelings about intermarriage. “They told me I should marry a Jewish girl,” Marc says, “but I wasn’t listening. Judaism had been on the back burner all my life.”

Then the girl he wanted to marry asked him to go to church on Christmas eve with her. Marc looked around and saw that everyone was kneeling. Suddenly, “I had a realization: Jews don’t kneel. I don’t know how I knew that, but I did. I told her, ‘I can’t kneel.’ She asked, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Jews don’t kneel.’ That was my first wake-up call. Hashem was leading me away from this. Towards home.”

He ended that relationship and decided he would only marry a Jewish girl. “It was the start of my Judaism journey, but I didn’t know what it means to be a Jew, to be connected to Hashem.”

He's close friend and fellow comedian Mark Schiff, who, like Marc, was well on his way to becoming a star and, at the same time, searching for meaning. The two of them were offen on the road together, performing on Friday nights. Marc says, “We felt the tug of soul. The need to nurture something beyond the physical. We started going to Jewish events together.”

Marc was on a flight, on his way back from one of his performances, when he looked out of the window of the airplane, and he felt what he can only describe as “A downward pull. A spiritual moment. I heard a voice saying, ‘If you were the only Jew left, could you tell the world the purpose of the Jews?’ I looked around: What’s going on? Where did that come from? Then I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know,’ and the voice said, ‘Go find out.’”

That quest brought him to the Lincoln Square Synagogue for his first experience with Shabbos. He continued to attend the beginners’ minyan, week after week. He met Rabbi Effie Buchwald, developed a strong connection with him, and moved steadily towards becoming shomer Torah umitzvos.

In the beginning, Marc tried to keep Shabbos while still doing the work he loved. His performances were always on Friday night. He did his act and then walked back to his hotel—through all kinds of neighborhoods, usually very late at night. As he developed a deeper appreciation for the kedushah of Shabbos, he realized that he was at a critical crossroad: He would have to choose between his career—which was taking him, rapidly, towards stardom—and keeping Shabbos properly.

He gave up the Friday night performances and reduced his comedy tours to avoid working on Shabbos. He continued to perform at colleges and venues where he could choose the dates. As he took on kashrus and continued to grow in his Yiddishkeit, he carried books around with him and started to relearn the Hebrew he’d been introduced to in the Talmud Torah classes of his childhood.

Although his parents had wanted him to marry a Jewish girl, they were not thrilled by his “extreme” version of Judaism. He says, “They asked me, ‘What did we do wrong? You can’t eat by us? Can’t do this. Can’t do that. So many can’ts.’” Eventually, they came around, and even made their home kosher to accommodate the “strange customs of the Orthodox.” Marc met his wife and the two were married by Rabbi Buchwald in 1984. A year later, their oldest son, Avi, was born. Immediately, it was obvious that something was wrong with the baby; he had physical deformities and many of his internal organs were irregular. The doctors didn’t know why. As new parents who’d been joyfully preparing to welcome their first child, Marc and his wife were caught in a maelstrom. When Avi was two weeks old, the nurses showed them how to give him medication, insert a feeding tube, and change a colostomy bag, and sent them home with their baby.

Little Avi had 17 surgeries in his first year of life. He needed specialized care when he was home between hospitalizations. Marc says, “Every time we tried to feed him, we hurt him. He’d be screaming, and we’d have to insert a tube. After the surgeries, he had open sores, was in so much pain, and he couldn’t tell us about it. It’s the most devastating feeling for parents—not to be able to comfort their child.”

When he was about a year old, Avi was diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia, a rare inherited disorder that blocks the production of red and white blood cells and platelets. The doctors told them that Avi wouldn’t survive to adulthood.

Every milestone became a reason to celebrate—when Avi ate a few pieces of cereal and kept them down, and when the feeding tube was removed. Nothing was taken for granted.

Taking care of Avi’s needs was all-consuming. Marc had no time to think, and no one to talk to about what he was going through. And, he could no longer find it in himself to be funny.

The anger kicked in. He says, “I was shell-shocked. How could Hashem do this to us? I gave up my career and my livelihood to keep Shabbos! I davened for Avi, and I saw him go through so much torture. I started to question everything. I was so angry...”

He desperately needed financial and emotional support. Marc and his young family move closer to his parents in Westchester, New York. Marc’s father gave him a job in his plumbing business where Marc’s two brothers were employed. Six months after Marc started working in the plumbing business, he got a call from the world-class puppeteer company of Jim Henson asking him to perform with on a new TV show. Marc said, “I told him I was working full time in the family business. But, when my brothers heard about his offer, they pushed me out the door,‘Get out of here. You’re not meant to be in the plumbing business. Go. Go.’”

Marc went back into performing with puppets. As a parent of a child with special needs, his work was different now. Gentler. Kinder. He explains, “Comedy is usually about making fun of others. The language can be insensitive and coarse. But, here I was, with this gift of Avi, and I realized Hashem wants me to cut out the garbage and use my time in this world for something better.”

Avi stabilized. He was a sweet child who loved to listen to music and to laugh—especially when playing with his father’s puppets. Although he wasn’t verbal, he had a beautiful laugh. And, after his surgeries, he was able to walk, though not easily.

When Avi was a toddler, Sandy gave birth to a healthy daughter. Two years later, she had a healthy son. When their third child was two months old, Marc and Sandy brought Avi to the hospital, again. Avi was in agonizing pain, and his body was shutting down. Marc says, “We knew that every trip to the hospital could be his last, but we never fully believed that he would die.”

Avi passed away in 1990. He was almost five years old.

Everyone in their community in Katona, New York, knew Avi and showed up during shivah. A few people from Kiryas Yoel, also came to be menachem avel. Marc was beyond consolation. He says, “People tried to talk to me, but nothing came through. I was so broken.”

After shivah, after everyone left, Marc struggled to regain his footing. “Our family still functioned as a frum family, but the anger got in the way, and I started slipping in some of my observance.”

The changes he’d made because of his experience as Avi’s father continued to influence his work as a performer. He created an original act geared to children. He turned boxes, paints, and a collection of household items into a colorful town he named Weinerville, which was occupied by a lively cast of puppets.

The show caught the attention of Nickelodeon network executives, and Marc was given a slot on national television. His show was 30 minutes long. They played four episodes back to back on Sundays for the first six months, and then played single episodes 

every day. He had a Chanukah special, as well. The show ran for four years. At the conclusion of the episodes, children filled the stage, Marc danced among them, and a voice announced that the show was taped in front of a large studio audience in Universal Studios, Florida. The last sound the audience heard is a recording of Avi’s laugh. Marc says, “I was sending his laugh out into the universe.”

In 1994, Marc and Sandy had another healthy child, a daughter, Sara. Marc still struggled with his grief over Avi’s death, and his marriage was falling apart. He remembers a pivotal moment, when he was crying harder than he’d ever cried before:  in desperation, to Hashem. It was a turning point. “I heard Hashem ask me, do you feel that anger in your heart, and I checked and it was gone..... Hashem said to me, ‘Welcome back.”

Another chance. Marc took it. He became a baal teshuvah all over again. But this time, his commitment, forged through suffering, was deepened.

He says, “Hashem has many messengers.” One of them was a car salesman, 

who actually knew very little about cars, and had only been working at the dealership for a week when he met Marc and sold him a car. Marc says, “He was a complete stranger, and I noticed that he was so present, so empathic, that when we went inside to sign papers for the car,

I asked him, ‘What are you reading?’ He told me, ‘Three books.’”

One of those books was Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist. The car salesman explained that nonviolent communication (NVC) is a means of recognizing our own feelings and needs, and the feelings and needs of others.

Marc says, “In a word, NVC is connection. I learned to ask myself, ‘What am I feeling? What do I need?’ You center your- self and reconnect to your heart. Here’s the wondrous thing. Once you’re connected to your heart, you can connect to your higher self, your spiritual self. NVC took me full circle, to the beliefs we learn in Chovos Halevavos, and to the concepts we learn in chasidus about Hashem’s concealment in this world.”

In 2008, Marc was on an airplane heading to Florida to speak at a Chabad dinner, when he encountered another messenger and got another nudge in the right direction. The plane was still at the gate, and most of the seats were filled. The seat next to Marc was empty, and he was hoping it would stay that way. They were about to pull away from the gate, when a last-minute passenger arrived. Marc describes him as “Middle-Eastern, with an open shirt, gold chains, and carrying a large duffle bag, that, as he went down the aisle, kept hitting people’s heads. So, now I’m thinking: Please Hashem, don’t let that guy sit next to me.”

That guy reached Marc’s row. All the luggage compartments were full. He lowered his bag to the floor, but it didn’t fit. The flight attendant told him to stow it underneath the seat, so he shoved it in against Marc’s feet. He pulled out a falafel turned to Marc, handed him the sandwich to hold, and got into a loud conversation in Hebrew.

The flight attendant approached and said, “We’re taking off and you need to turn off your phone,” and he said, “I’m almost done.” She returned with two more crew members. They said, “Sir, if you don’t turn off your phone, we’re taking the both of you this plane.” And he said, “Okay, Okay.”

“I’m sitting there, with my yarmulke and they think we are together, and I have no place for my feet because of his big bag, and I’m getting really upset with this guy.”

As the f!ight neared Miami, the pilot announced that they were going through storm clouds. The plane bounced up and down violently. Some of the overhead compartments opened and bags fell out. People were screaming and crying. Then the plane stabilized, and the passengers calmed down, and the guy next to Marc asked him, “Did you say Shema?”

Marc says, “I thought: I’ve dedicated my life to Hashem, but when I was in danger, I forgot something so basic! When a Jew thinks he’s about to die, he says Shema. It was an important reminder straight from Hashem.”

During the final descent, the airplane went into another storm cloud, and again, the cabin shook violently.

Marc said "So now I think Hashem is testing me again, to see if I say the Shema. I did say it.

Marc laughs at the memory, “Unbelievably, while we were still in the air, but very close to the ground, this man’s phone rang, and he picked it up and started to speak in his loud Hebrew. People reacted all around us. Someone cried out, ‘He’s a terrorist!’ and I said, ‘No, he’s an angel.’ A little rough around the edges but here to deliver a message.”

Today, Marc lives in Stamford, Connecticut. His children are grown, and he’s a proud grandfather. His son works with him. One daughter lives in Los Angeles; the other, in Eretz Yisrael. He learns Chovos Halevavos and Tanya with Rabbi Dovid Vigler, and chasidus with Rabbi Levi Mendelow. And he says, “I love Shabbos.”

He performs at Jewish outreach organizations and at shuls and yeshivos all over the world. Often, while telling his story, Marc likes to make fun of himself: the confused baal teshuvah who fumbles through the packed shul, sits in the only empty seat—the big chair by the bimah—and tells the man with the beard who motions for him to leave, “I was here first,” then, leans in to share what someone confided on the way in, “Don’t worry. I hear, once the rabbi starts speaking, the crowd thins out...”—only to have the man answer, “I’m the rabbi.”

Props continue to be central to his act. He showcases his portable sukkah that he can wear on his head like a hat, and his practice tallis—very small, with caution tape on the edges so the other mispallelim know he’s a baal teshuvah in training. He turns, shuckles, so the crowd can read the signs on the back of his tallis: Student Davener: Do Not Follow. How’s My Kava- nah? 1-800-Shuckle.

Recently, at the end of his act he burst into song: Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach, and, as always, the crowd went wild.

In addition to his standup comedy, Marc works with adults and children on nonviolent communication. He says, “I’m an empathy and communications coach. People come to talk to me individually and in groups. I take them through the empathy labyrinth— a mat with 125 feelings words and 100 needs words—to help them connect to themselves and others. I do this because I was doing a lot of performances, and I realized I have something even more important to offer.” (
At a recent Shabbaton for a Hebrew day school in Baltimore, he performed his comedy routine first. Then he had the students—about 60 of them—sit around the empathy labyrinth. Marc says, “All of them were in the same space: the popular kids, the outsiders, the bullies and their victims. They had a chance to share, ‘I’m feeling this because I need that...’ If one boy is feeling sad because his need for friendship isn’t met, the entire group can show him empathy.”

Marc works with Chabad in their pro- grams for prisoners on Rikers Island. He says, “On Chanukah and Purim, there’s a party going on, and, on the side, I’m talk- ing to prisoners and helping them peel back the layers of what they really want. It always comes down to connection to source: There is only Hashem. You are part of Hashem. And you’re not alone.”

In addition to bringing smiles to the faces of young and old, Marc Weiner has a knack for lifting people by showing them how to connect to their essence, to find peace within themselves, with others, and with the Creator.

Marc Weiner Headshot 2024.jpg
bottom of page