Old Jews (And Some Younger Ones) Telling Jokes

Old Jews (And Some Younger Ones) Telling Jokes

The entire cast ­- Todd Sussman, Lenny Wolpe, Marilyn Sokol, Bill Army, and Audrey Lynn Weston

Although the title of this revue could easily be “Old Jews Telling Old Jokes,” it also accurately could be expanded to “Old and Young Jews Telling Really Funny Really Dirty Old Jokes.”

Derived from an eponymous website started in 2009 by Sam Hoffman, where an assortment of old Jews – all men, as far as I could see – stand and tell jokes, the live presentation at the Westside Theatre doesn’t mess with success. The producers have added two women – one old, one young – and a young man, some additional “biographical” interludes, video screens, and music, but the heart of the show is the jokes. And they certainly are funny, even the ones you’ve heard many times before.

New Jersey can claim ownership of the concept. Hoffman asked his father, a retired judge, to gather his funny relatives and cronies in Highland Park for a joke-telling session and then filmed them against a plain white backdrop. The only rule was that the joke teller had to be over 60. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, teachers, and others stood up and told jokes. Surprisingly, the website was an instant success. Within a few days of its launch it had gone viral, with thousands of hits a day, and within six months the site boasted two million views.

The creators, Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent Joan Marcus

A joke lives or dies by its telling, and the joke tellers on stage at the Westside are excellent. The three veterans – Marilyn Sokol, Lenny Wolpe, and Todd Sussman – exude professionalism and a deep affection for the material. Sokol is a terrific actress, with the ability to create mini-characterizations within her bits. Even her telling of the Myron Cohen classic about the grandmother pleading with God to return her grandson from the waves has a particular poignancy. Sussman’s deadpan delivery underlines the Jewish cynicism in so many of these jokes, and Wolpe brings a bewildered sweetness to his material. The younger performers, Bill Army and Audrey Lynn Weston, do their best to claim their patrimony and prove that jokes aren’t only for people over 60. But the suspicion remains that they indeed may be. The humor of the “Seinfeld” generation and those that follow tends to be observational, leaning to the absurd. This revue celebrates a particular moment in Jewish American culture, probably mid-twentieth century, when Jewish jokes were at the top of the humor heap.

Producers/creators Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent (who was the New York Times’ first public editor) and director Marc Bruni have divided the material into thematic sections – birth, marriage, sex after marriage, visits to the doctor, and so on- to give the piece some shape. The video projections add visual interest but not much else, except for a hilarious excerpt of Alan King reading obituaries, every one of which ends with “survived by his wife.” It’s a reminder that Jews can be funny even without jokes. The humor of King’s act comes from his outrage that men die younger, an anger that borders on the deranged.

Now a word about sex. There’s a lot of it in this revue, most of it hilarious. Loads of jokes about old men and young wives, old men and old wives, young men learning about sex, old women talking about sex. You get the picture. It goes without saying that old people talking dirty is funny, but theatergoers should know not to bring the children or grandchildren unless they want to spend some time in uncomfortable explanations. So leave the kids at home and spend 80 minutes laughing at some old jokes expertly told by old and young Jews.

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