Marc Weiner is the voice actor for two characters on Nickelodeon's hit animation Dora the Explorer -- Swiper and Map. It's an apt metaphor for Marc himself really. His life has been one seemingly long adventure, and he has approached it like an explorer.
According to his parents, Marc was an obnoxious child, but he maintains that they misinterpreted his energy which was really a "search for [his] inner voice." After dropping out of college, he worked on a sail boat where he began entertaining the children on board with juggling, jokes, and basically anything he could think of to hold their attention.
Hooked on his discovered ability to make people laugh, once he returned to dry land he began street performing in New York City. One of his bits involved juggling a rubber hand which he would manipulate to say "Nanoo Nanoo" in reference to the Robin Williams character "Mork" from the television show Mork and Mindy which was popular at the time. One day, when he came to the "Nanoo Nanoo" bit in his routine, to his surprise, Robin Williams himself actually emerged from the crowd and began performing with Weiner. This was the first of many performances that the two would share together.
Marc was suddenly performing with one of the top comedic actors of the time -- but his parents weren't exactly beaming with pride. "My brothers told my parents that I was begging for money on the streets of New York," Weiner admits. "It took them a while to understand what I was doing."
Weiner began developing his act, which included stand-up, juggling and puppetry, at clubs like the Comic Strip, Catch A Rising Star, and The Comedy Cellar. Buoyed by his success, he decided to audition for Saturday Night Live in 1980. He was hired for one episode along with his puppet Rocko Weineretto, and the skit was so successful that the producers signed him up for the entire season.
Weiner presumably had it all -- but something was still missing. "With the SNL exposure, I was touring comedy clubs and selling out everywhere. It was crazy," Weiner recalls. "While I was on the plane traveling to one of my shows I remember thinking: Is this what I am meant to do with my life? Comedy and puppetry? That's all? I started to think to myself: What if I was the last Jew alive, and someone asked me what it meant to be a Jew. What would I say? What would I answer?"
"Is this what I am meant to do with my life? What if I was the last Jew alive and someone asked me what it meant to be a Jew? What would I say?"
Marc's questions led him on an exploration of his Jewish roots. He started attending lectures and prayer services at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York. People began inviting him for Shabbat dinner, and he made a realization, "It hit me that this is what I had been missing -- this connection to God."
He began observing the laws of the Sabbath, so instead of driving home from the comedy clubs Friday night, he would walk. In fact, one Friday in particular, a club owner actually escorted him home because the route went through a particularly dangerous neighborhood.
In time, as he became more observant, the Friday night shows also came to an end as he didn't want to work on the Day of Rest. Was he resentful? "Judaism was so beautiful, that I didn't really care," answers Weiner. "I wanted to observe the Sabbath and I didn't care about any of the professional repercussions."
COMEDY TO TRAGEDY
As with many adventures, Marc Weiner's life took a sudden unfortunate turn -- from a comedy to a tragedy. His four-year-old son who had been ill for many years passed away. At this difficult time, Weiner did what he had always done which was turn to God for answers. But this time he came up with only questions. "I asked God a lot of questions like how could He do this to me. I was very angry at God. I felt like I made all of these changes to observe His Torah, and this is how he repaid me? I was in deep depression and pain over the loss in our family."
Even though he was angry with God, Weiner didn't shut Him out -- he continued the dialogue. "About four years ago, when I felt like I was at my lowest I just cried out to God. But a strange thing happened -- because I opened up my heart to God, the connection grew stronger. When I fully opened my heart, the pain went away. Slowly, I started to get over the feelings of depression and hurt and my anger towards God was gone. I realized that I had the ability to choose my actions. I could choose to suffer, or choose actions that enabled me to connect with God." Weiner advises, "If you stay connected, even in the pain, you can lessen the suffering."
"When you are laughing, you are open. When you are sad, you are closed and cut off. Humor allows you to keep that connection to God."
Weiner has now taken many of the lessons he has learned and is imparting them to others though a program he has developed called the "Empathy Labyrinth." It focuses on helping people develop compassionate communication skills, thereby helping them connect to one another. Weiner uses himself as an example. "Why couldn't I connect with God during my son's death? Because I had all of these thoughts and anger like why did God do this to me? But once I was able to get in touch with my feelings and needs, I was once again open to connecting with God."
Weiner often teaches his Empathy Labyrinth when he is invited to perform stand-up in synagogues around the country. He sees this as the perfect opportunity to fuse his love for teaching people about the importance of connecting to one another, while at the same time making them laugh -- both of which, he sees as holy pursuits. "Laughter helps keep you connected to the spiritual Source. When you are laughing, you are open. When you are sad, you are closed and cut off. Humor allows you to keep that connection to God and at the end of the day, that's the message of the Jewish people -- to help keep people connected."
Marc Weiner has been to many places on his spiritual journey. He has experienced obstacles that would have been insurmountable to some, yet he has managed to persevere. He has used his experiences to teach, entertain and ultimately, to become better. That's not an easy task, but it's what makes him such a remarkable explorer.
Visit Marc's website at weinerville.com