Old Jews Telling Jokes

Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, based on the original Internet series created by Sam Hoffman
Westside Theatre, New York

Original Cast Credit: Joan Marcus

The title says it all—well almost. This entertainment, which is turning the Westside Theatre into a Jewish community centre alongside My Name is Asher Lev, is an 80-minute revue designed to make viewers laugh.

The breathless performance is more like music hall or vaudeville than theatre, though the performers are trained as actors.

The style is rather like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In as a quintet of performers reel off jokes one after another with only loose themes.

The original premise is somewhat Shakespearean as we follow the modern seven ages of man from birth to beyond the grave. There are also characters who return again and again to give some sense of continuity.

In reality, what you get are three Old Jews Telling Jokes and two younger ones to provide a contrast. By the end, it is possible to appreciate the character that each is playing.

There is a young woman (Audrey Lynn Weston) who likes to give the impression that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and an older one (Marilyn Sokol) who makes you feel that every joke she tells is dirty (and most of them are).

The male contingent is led by a straight man who deliberately mumbles without ever cracking a smile (Todd Susman, fondly remembered as the PA announcer in the MASH TV series), a handsome young guy who looks as if he is having a great time and has not heard any of the jokes before (Bill Army) and an older guy who sings and bounces around having fun (Donald Corren).

The subject matter is wide-ranging, though somehow sex seems to come in more often than any other topic, with maligned husbands / wives a close second.

While British audiences would recognise and understand the humour, it is characteristically American, or more precisely New York, comedy that carries the day and gets the biggest laughs.

At times, it does feel as if the title has got a little garbled and should read Jews Telling Old Jokes but overall there is much to amuse in a show that will undoubtedly enjoy a long run, as audiences love light entertainment and this script scores fully on both legs of that description.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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