Yiddish comedy for the computer age

Sam Hoffer presents his comedy with "S'helft Nisht Keyn Krekhtsn!"

By BY GREER FAY CASHMAN
February 22, 2010 22:37
4 minute read.
The cover of Hoffer's comedy CD.

yiddish play 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Most people in their mid sixties have already retired or are on the verge of retiring. Sam Hoffer of Toronto, Canada is one of the exceptions to the rule and is on his way to a new career as a Yiddish stand-up comedian.

Not that he actually planned to become an entertainer. Like so many things in life - it just happened.

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While many Ashkenazi Jews of his generation grew up hearing their parents or grandparents speak Yiddish, Hoffer not only heard mama loshen, but actually spoke it fluently because he grew up in a part of Canada in which Yiddish was the lingua franca. In fact, for the first seven years of his life, the Romanian-born Hoffer spoke only Yiddish.

At age seven he migrated with his parents from his native Czernovitz to join his older brothers in Hoffer, Sasketchewan, a Jewish farming community on the Canadian prairies founded in the early 1900s by distant relatives of the same name. Although everyone in the community knew English, they spoke Yiddish among themselves, which gave the young Hoffer ongoing exposure to and familiarity with the language.

When some of the farmers and their wives gathered at the Hoffer family farmhouse on Saturday nights, his mother would serve salami sandwiches and the guests would listen spellbound as his father read the latest chapter of a novel that had been serialized in one of the Yiddish newspapers.

Hoffer was always aware of what was happening around him and had a humorous take on everyday episodes with which almost anyone could identify. But it wasn't until a couple of years back that, as he was watching a Dzigan and Shumacher video, he was inspired to do something of his own.

To anyone who loves Yiddish humor, it's very cool that Hoffer has succeeded in bringing a so-called dead language into the cyber-space era, replete with the problems and frustrations of the day.

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His delivery is in a Bukovina accent with Canadian overtones, especially when using universal words such as "computer." Hoffer pronounces the word as he would in English rather than saying "compyuter," which would be closer to the Yiddish pronunciation.

HOFFER RECENTLY released a CD titled S'helft Nisht Keyn Krekhtsn! with the English sub-title "There's No Use Complaining!" This in itself is indicative of the nuances involved in translating Yiddish. To krechts is more than to complain - it's to whine or to winge.

The CD is a first-time effort with five tracks born out of Hoffer's belief that the ironies of life did not end in the shtetl.

Although the project was two years in production, with no particular target in mind, it was not until Hoffer had the first track, "Meyn Kompyuter," broadcast on the Yiddish Forward Radio in New York that he made up his mind to produce a CD.

It's a little disturbing that the recording was not made with the participation of a live audience. Chuckles, bursts of laughter, applause and even shrieks add to the quality of the delivery. Without this background, Hoffer sounds a little flat.

In an e-mail correspondence with The Jerusalem Post, Hoffer acknowledged that the recording would have been better with a live audience. "But that was not my focus, and frankly I wasn't ready for it," he said. "This began as a creative experience that I thoroughly enjoyed with the limited number of people with whom I initially shared it. The notion of performing before a larger audience did not even occur to me and became a prospect only later with the response that I got to the CD."


Although at this stage of the game, Hoffer doesn't know whether there will be follow-up CDs or not. What he does know is that he's been asked by several organizations to do live performances. Plans are already in motion for him to do these on a small scale over the next several months and see what happens. "Performing live involves a whole new skill set. I'd like to test myself to see how I like it and go from there," Hoffer said, noting that the positive response to the CD "warms [his] heart." He is also heartened by the number of individuals who have sent him e-mails saying, "Bubbie loved it" or "My mother listens to it over and over again."

"Meyn Kompyuter" is about the trials and tribulations of a first-time user. Another sketch, "The Bureaucrat," presents a picture of the hardships involved in working for the government. "The Washroom" is probably the funniest of all five pieces, dealing with how to cope with calls of nature when you're at the theater. "The Customer" is about the frustrations of trying to find both the right department and a sales person in a department store, and "My Dear Neighbor" is yet another take on the old grass is greener on the other side syndrome.

All in all, the themes are universal rather than specifically Jewish, but in Yiddish they somehow take on a Jewish identity.

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