Richardson — You don’t have to be Jewish to love Old Jews Telling Jokes at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for Performing Arts. Nor must you be familiar with the Catskill Mountains strain of humor, fine-tuned in the grand (think Dirty Dancing) Jewish summer resorts north of New York City in the 1950s and ‘60s. The style spun off into the comedy of famous (and then-young) Jewish comedians including Alan King and Buddy Hackett, and shaped a nascent stand-up comedy movement.
You just have to like jokes.
A good joke is timeless. A punch line punches. Laughter bursts out in spite of social and personal mores. These jokes in one form or another appear in the acts of thousands of stand-up comics, Jewish and otherwise.
Middle-aged father: Son, if you keep masturbating you’ll go blind.
Son: Dad, I’m over here!
But having these classic jokes told by five talented theatrical performers enlivens them far beyond what most stand-ups could do. Multiple guffaws are guaranteed.
Each comedic character exemplifies a Jewish stereotype that also exists in all other cultures: a witty young woman making points that pierce (Emily Freeman); an earnest young man making jokes to cope (Robyn Eli Brenner); a dapper middle-aged man with a sharp tongue (David Samuel); a wife driven over the edge by the fools around her (Sharon Geller); a scraggly older man who’s seen it all and is going to share his opinions, dammit (Michael H. Small).
The travails of marriage and cohabitation make up a big part of the show. And OMG, so bawdy! Barely a few minutes will pass before there's another bit on unbridled lust, sneaky affairs, sexual attractiveness, and unwilling body parts. Biggest laughs of the night--especially the visual one about catsup bottles and penises, so good they do it twice.
A woman sitting next to a man on public transport sneezes. It launches her into a robust shuddering orgasm. Another sneeze, another orgasm.
Man: Are you all right?
Woman: A rare disease. Every time I sneeze I have an orgasm.
Male: That sounds serious. What do you take for it?
While the show is light and bright — a constant patter of jokes, bits, and routines broken up by occasional songs — at its core is finding levity amidst pain. Another deft balance is found in the way it manages to be both politically incorrect and dirty, yet heartwarming.
Each character has a moment to address a personal story directly to the audience. As a practical matter, it breaks up the vaudevillian patter — essential, because 90 uninterrupted minutes of jokes is a lot. One performer relayed how influential Jewish comics of old were to their personal development. Another offered paternal pathos as a hospice-bed Jewish joke-off.
Old Jews Telling Jokes, directed with caffeinated verve by Jeremy Quinn, is a polished and audience-friendly production from Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, producers of My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy, and My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, & I’m in Therapy.
And, just because I double-dog-dared my editors to print it, here’s one last joke:
Father: So, do you understand the birds and the bees now?
Pre-teen daughter: Yeah, but who fucks the stork?