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Old Jews Telling Jokes

“I must’ve looked pretty awful,” says a character in one of Peter Devries’ novels. “When I asked the bartender if he served Zombies, he said, ‘sure, what’ll you have?’”

Ya gotta love the old ones!

Man asks a chef, “How do you prepare your chicken?”

Chef replies: “I tell him right up front he ain’t gonna make it.”

That one comes from Old Jews Telling Jokes, currently at the Lyceum Space.

So does: “My wife likes to talk to me during sex. Yeah, she calls up and says ‘Nathan. I am having sex.”


The show has at least one gag for each of its 80, intermissionless minutes. But creators Daniel Okrent and Peter Gethers smartly added skits, musical numbers, and a monologue for each of the five performers.

The “joke-revue” covers various topics, flashed on a screen. Along with business and religion, the piece moves from youth to age to old age, and saves some of its best one-liners for the silver citizens.

“Doc I can’t pee.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m 92.”

“You’ve peed enough!”

There are hits and misses, groaners and lowest common denominators (i.e. F-bombs away!). Also old favorites, but John Anderson’s inventive direction tells them in fresh new ways. The set-ups often disguise the joke so much that the familiar punch-line tags you anyway.

All five cast members communicate a palpable kick from doing this material. John Rosen, channeling Zero Mostel, Mel Brooks, and Rodney Dangerfield, excels with mildly manic deliveries and mugging takes. Rhona Gold’s ironic/acerbic approach draws laughter even after the laughter.

Allison Spratt Pearce played squeaky clean Maria Von Trapp in S.D. Musical Theatre’s The Sound of Music. Here she’s dark-haired, boundary-free Debbi, and adept at humor so blue it’s cobalt. G Bartell performs, plays backup keyboard, and does a Yiddish version of “Old Man River.” The whacko performance is both a scream and a tribute to composer Jerome Kern, who was a Jew.

Bryan Charles Feldman’ costume’s a good three sizes too small -and what is up with those argyle socks? — but his elastic presentations are always on the mark. In the five monologues, the characters extol their connections to comedy. Feldman’s plays like a serio/comical lecture: there are no inappropriate moments for comedy, he says, even with the dying.

[That one hit home. When my father neared his end, we remembered the old jokes — he knew hundreds — and laughed and laughed. After a while, we just gave the punch-lines.]

Ross Glanc lights the spare, uncredited set with appropriately blaring oranges and reds. But the show has a nostalgic rinse. “Old Jews” tell the jokes because most of the classic comedians of the Borscht Belt — which showcased this humor for decades — are now in their 80’s or long gone.

A video connects the revue with the past: Alan King practically assaults his Las Vegas audience in a hilarious routine about relative longevity.

And where are the great Jewish comics of yesteryear? Where are Berle, Buttons, and Berman? And Benny and Lenny Bruce? And those are just some of the B’s.

One of my father’s favorites was Jackie Vernon.

He became a comedian, he said, absolutely deadpan, because there were no jobs in his regular line of work:

“I’m a Viking.”

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dwbat May 1, 2014 @ 4:49 p.m.

Don't forget my fave: Don Rickles. And Jackie Mason is also legendary.


dwbat May 4, 2014 @ 9:30 a.m.

P.S. At first I thought the actor in the middle was Henry Winkler!


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