Ok, so what happens when three old Jews, one young Jew, a goyim and a pianist are on stage …some of the funniest live theater I ever witnessed that’s what. Old Jews Telling Jokes is a 90-minute laugh fest that provides side-cracking chuckles from beginning to end and proves that laughter is not only the best medicine, it is also a great equalizer.
The concept for the funniest show to open Off-Broadway this year started in 2009 with the launch of a web series titled Old Jews Telling Jokes. The viral sensation was created by Sam Hoffman and produced by Eric Spiegelman and Tim Williams. In 2010, Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman converted Old Jews Telling Jokes or OJTJ to paperback with the subtitle 5000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs. Like the web series, the book is a treasure chest of jokes and humorous stores contributed by several Jewish funnymen and personalities.
This May, OJTJ makes it debut at the Westside Theatre and let me tell you, your face will hurt from laughter. Old Jews Telling Jokes takes the old school jokes of Jack Benny, Henny Youngman, Mort Saul, Myron Cohen and others who graced the stages of The Catskills’ “Borscht Belt” and entertained millions on television and around the world and gives them a new twist. Humor has been a long standing tradition in Judaism, which dates back to the Torah; OJTJ creates an arc of the Jewish experience in America that begins with birth and childhood and ends with old age and death. Along the way the themes of assimilation, sex before marriage and sex after marriage are also explored. The production isn’t just the retelling of jokes; it also contains a few musical numbers which provide the opportunity for audience participation and poignant monologues that perfectly accentuate the importance of humor in the fabric of not only the Jewish experience, but the human experience.
At the heart of Old Jews Telling Jokes is a sense of celebration. The preservation and reinvention of these jokes are just as much about honoring Jewish conventions as the lighting of the menorah during Hanukkah. For the Jewish members of the audience, the show is more like a family reunion; many of them are familiar with the material and sometimes finish the jokes before the actors can deliver the punch line. For audience members who aren’t Jewish, especially any that may be from Gen Y, the show is just plain funny, and although the themes are skewed from a Jewish perspective, anyone can relate to subject of family or sex. The actors include Marilyn Sokol, Todd Susman, Bill Army, Lenny Wolpe and Audrey Lynn Weston. Each night they take on the task of what I can only describe as linguistic gymnastics, sticking punch lines and musical numbers which can be changed daily. But it’s because of this reason that the show will remain fresh to the actors and the audience.
From the internet – to the pages of a book – to an Off-Broadway stage, Old Jews Telling Jokes has been knockin’ them dead wherever they go, I suspect that the Westside Theatre won’t be any different. The tagline is “You’ll laugh ‘til you plotz.” I didn’t plotz, but I did feel like I was leaving 10 pounds lighter after the crunch session my abs suffered as a result from laughing so hard. Old Jews Telling Jokes is a history lesson, a workout and a ball of laughs all rolled into one fantastic show. Go see it…the joke will be on you if you don’t.
Check out these videos of creators and the cast of Old Jews Telling Jokes:
Photo and videos courtesy of Serino/Coyne