’Tis the season for Jerry Stiller. This year, the veteran comedian’s got his hands in festive ventures on all parts of the holiday spectrum. For Hanukkah, he’s the voice of a singing, dancing, latke-proffering doll; as Arthur Spooner on the CBS sitcom “The King of Queens,” he gave his daughter and son-in-law a Christmas present of a cherry-red jalopy, and for Festivus, the holiday he helped introduce to the world on a 1997 “Seinfeld” episode (as Frank Costanza), Stiller wrote the introduction to a new book that outlines trends in the nascent holiday’s observance.
But behind the kitsch is a commitment to charity.
The seasoned laugh maker recently joined author Allen Salkin at a Manhattan launch party for “Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us.” The Festivus holiday, as outlined on “Seinfeld” and described in the new book, is observed in three key ways: erecting a Festivus pole, airing grievances and engaging in feats of strength. As Costanza père, Stiller insisted on being pinned to the ground at the culmination of the Festivus celebration. A real-life torn rotator cuff prevented him from participating in the launch party’s feats of strength, but he was in good enough shape to air grievances in accordance with tradition.
Stiller has donated his portion of the new hardcover’s royalties to his favorite charity, the Boys and Girls Republic, a clubhouse on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where kids elect their own mayor — as they did when he hung out there. In a silent auction, a Festivus pole and an early version of a “Seinfeld” script, both signed by Stiller, were sold.
Stiller’s other big holiday project is a new plush chef toy named Latke Larry. The toy was invented by Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann, head of the Ohio State University Chabad House in Columbus, Ohio. Kaltmann met Stiller through a mutual friend and convinced him to vocalize the latke maven’s message. Proceeds from sales of the charismatic, tzitzit-wearing fry cook go to the Friendship Circle, an international organization that operates under the auspices of local Chabad-Lubavitch centers. The organization encourages teenagers to create community by volunteering with kids who have special needs. The latkes in Larry’s pan may seem a bit pale, but what the doll lacks in culinary presentation he makes up for in song. Stiller gives a deadpan delivery, crooning revised lyrics (provided by the rabbi) to the tune of “Maoz Tzur” (“Rock of Ages”): “I’ve got tales of Maccabees/Oy! And plenty of calories/Celebrate our history/How we made it is still a mystery…. Fill your plate/Eat my chow/Finally I have some serenity now.”
Stiller’s peace of mind seems to come from helping others. Kaltmann can’t stop raving about his generosity: “He cares, he’s funny. Like Larry, he’s a cuddly rabbi. He has such a big heart.” Latke Larry may be “the world’s only talking action Hanukkah gift,” but Stiller’s good deeds are likely to echo throughout the year.
Both Latke Larry and “Festivus: A Holiday for the Rest of Us” are available online at www.chosencouture.com.