Lenny Wolpe and Todd Susman
in Old Jews Telling Jokes
(© Joan Marcus)
Lenny Wolpe and Todd Susman
in Old Jews Telling Jokes
(© Joan Marcus)
When you're not laughing out loud at Old Jews Telling Jokes -- now rocking the Westside Theatre/Downstairs -- you're probably wondering at what point shared ethnic traits harden into stereotypes. You may be also thinking that if jokes based on stereotypes are so guffaw-provoking that maybe stereotypes should be celebrated.

If the title of this revue seems familiar, it's because it shares the name of the popular website started by Sam Hoffman, from which Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent have adapted this pickle-barrelful of giggles.

Here, Gethers and Okrent have organized the material into a variety of categories, ranging from Birth, Dating, and Sex Before Marriage, to Sex After Marriage, Retirement, and Old Age. As a result, all the rabbis, the complaining wives, the fed-up husbands, the patience-challenged physicians, the nosy neighbors, the gossiping ladies, and the competitive men are on hilarious parade.

Repeating any of the specific tales would spoil the enjoyment, but it's fair to suggest that punchlines like "He had a hat" and "Max died--Buick for sale" are clues enough for long-time connoisseurs to understand the cause for so much rollicking and chortling from the audience.

It's not just the title or the jokes that may strike patrons as familiar, so will some of the music that has been included, such as Tom Lehrer's "Hanukkah in Santa Monica" and Harold Rome's "I'm Not a Well Man."

Most importantly, the jovial five-person cast infuses the lines and lyrics with well-tempered accents, eye rolls, mouth calisthenics, shrugs and more. Marilyn Sokol, whose white hair is as clenched as her features, is a constant stitch airing various comic frustrations, as is Lenny Wolpe, a burly fellow who doesn't even try to disguise the amusement he's giving himself.

Todd Susman often scores simply through his feigned stoicism. And as the younger Jews on the ride, Bill Army and Audrey Lynn Weston match their elders' tale-spinning authority and frequent weary resignation.

Throughout the proceedings, the gags are, as often as not, more than gags. They're compact comic sketches, and director Marc Bruni makes certain every amusing speech and every character nuance is mined for its full potential. He's also arranged for complimentary video projections by set designer David Gallo to conjure joke-potential surroundings like desert islands and doctors' offices.

In the end, the undisclosed secret of the enterprise is that while many of the bits rely on recognizable Jewish attributes and foibles, perhaps just as many funny jokes could be told as typical of any group of human beings caught in the act of being their typical, thigh-slapping selves. Maybe there's a sequel in the offing?