Old Jews Telling Jokes. The idea is simple: the joke-tellers have to be Jewish, at least sixty years old and they have to tell the best joke they know. The production is simple: the old Jewish lady or fellow stands in front of a white background and tells a joke. The review is simple: it’s charming, it’s funny, why not?
According to the creators at Jetpack Media, there will be a new joke every Tuesday and Thursday. So far there are four jokes, three of which are funny, the fourth, I’m still trying to figure out. That’s okay though, because whatever Larry Donsky, the joke-teller of number three, “McCoy”, is missing from his punchline, he makes up for in charm. And that’s really the crux of the biscuit with this one folks, the jokes are really just a forum for us to watch an old Jew tell a story.
As producer, director and editor, Sam Hoffman explains in his open letter on the Old Jews home page, “Storytelling is a Jewish tradition.” I’ll go one step further and say, storytelling is a human tradition and regardless of whether they are Jews or not, there is something great about seeing an older person tell a story they’ve probably told a hundred times. It’s in their bones and you can feel that as they get in character and hit every nuance.
Like with Donsky, ever-so-slightly changing the voice of the three McCoy’s in his joke. Or how Diane Hoffman (Sam’s mother) switches between the flaky customer and increasingly annoyed green grocer clerk in her hilarious telling of “Broccoli”. And finally, Louis Goldstein’s performance as the injured golfer is so committed, you’d swear the story he’s telling happened to him, in his joke, “Golf”. Bottom line: the performances are great. Why? Because they’ve been rehearsed a hundred times for a hundred different audiences, old people just have a lot a practice.
And Hoffman seems to know this as he’s put together a very lean and clean production. All of which centers on the joke-teller, the star of that particular episode, from a small one or two sentences about the teller that appears below the screen window, to the name, birthdate and career status that fades up during the joke-telling, and finally to the simple white background. Editing is limited to two basic shots, the medium wide to a close-up, again, keeping it simple. And then finally, what really caps it off is the genuine laughter from behind the camera and the joke-teller’s genuine reaction to their pleased audience.
It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s kind of special and respectful without being sentimental or gratuitous. It’s also refreshingly and sometimes surprisingly adult, from the use of the F-word in one joke, to the fondling of a man’s genitals in another. But it’s all in good fun, and hey, they’re old people, so in my book, they’ve earned the right to be a bit racy.
Hoffman explains in his open letter that he and his father have gathered twenty of his father’s friends to tell their jokes. With three down that means there are seventeen left. I have a feeling that there are a lot more old Jews out there with a lot more jokes and I hope like hell Hoffman figures out a way to get them on screen, because it would be a shame to see this series end too soon. I mean, seriously, what better way is there to get a chuckle a couple times a week than to have an old Jew tell you a funny little story?