Old Jews Telling Jokes – soon in the Holy Land?

Internet video site created by two young Jewish men is spinning off in all directions, from a book and a DVD to a Web series and even a film.

Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jewish history has been characterized by a unique brand of self-deprecating humor, but Old Jews Telling Jokes has taken the art to new heights in cyberspace.
As an Internet video site, it may just be the funniest phenomenon in the Jewish world today, and is now spinning off in all directions, from a book and a DVD to a Web series and even a film.
Its American creators, two young Jewish men named Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman, dream of spreading it around the globe, including to Israel.
In case you haven’t heard, Old Jews Telling Jokes (oldjewstellingjokes.com) is exactly what it purports to be: video clips of alter kockers sharing their favorite sidesplitting stories.
And if you want to laugh so hard that you plotz with pain, you should check it out regularly – it’s updated all the time.
Based in the United States, OJTJ was launched last year and, according to its operators, now averages a massive 800,000 monthly video plays, featuring stand-up performances by big names such as legal eagle Alan Dershowitz and former New York mayor Ed Koch to unheard of but hilarious comedians like nonagenarian Jesse Cohen, who still works as traffic court attorney. Cohen, who relates a funny tale titled “Stud Rooster,” claimed that playing the harmonica and telling jokes kept him young.
“I owe my vitality to tonality, and my longevity to levity,” he quipped.
Hoffman told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week that he and Spiegelman had “both a high-minded and a practical motivation to start the website.
“Our lofty goal was to archive, celebrate and share an element of American Jewish culture that is potentially disappearing with an older generation,” he said. “From a practical standpoint, we were trying to make something interesting and fun for the Internet.”
Although the website is not yet making a profit, Hoffman noted that their new book, Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So- Kosher Laughs, went on sale in the US in September and “is doing extremely well.
“I’d love to see the site continue to expand by shooting in locations around the world,” he said. “We’ve already shot on the East and West coasts of the US and we have plans to shoot in Florida.
If it were economically feasible, I would love to shoot in London and in Israel as well. It would be fascinating to see how these locales affect both the content and the performance of the jokes.”
Hoffman said he had already written a screenplay for a narrative feature film called Zumwalt’s Suit, which is inspired by the OJTJ project, and he is currently casting for the movie, which he hopes to shoot in early 2011.
Spiegelman disclosed that “Nag and Noodge” would be “a spinoff web series, but stressed that, contrary to some media reports, it would be broadcast on the Internet, and not on television.
“It isn’t based on Old Jews Telling Jokes, but it will be presented to our audience,” he said. “And it will actually be written by one of our joketellers.”
He declined to provide details of the joketeller in question, but insiders said it was being written by Fred Rubin and Marley Sims, who have worked on the popular TV series Night Court, Diff’rent Strokes and Home Improvement.
Spiegelman and Hoffman are also taking the show on the road, most recently in Los Angeles last week, in a question and answer session at the Skirball Cultural Museum.
OJTJ started small, with the first stand-up video shoot in New Jersey organized by Hoffman’s father and another in Hollywood arranged by Spiegelman’s dad, and now has more than 200 episodes under its belt.
“I found this mirrored paternal joke-gathering activity, from the East Coast to the West, immensely satisfying,” Hoffman wrote on the website.
“After all, in Hollywood or New Jersey, old Jews are old Jews. Maybe the chais on gold chains are a little easier to see in LA, nestled as they are in thatches of thick gray hair over tan chests and half-buttoned Prada shirts. But, Hollywood or not, these men and women are still your aunts and uncles, your wisecracking attorneys and your periodontists. Their jokes, some new, some not-so-new, were all reassuringly familiar. And why shouldn’t they be? These jokes are the oral history of a culture.”
Hoffman concluded with this sound advice to the audience of Old Jews Telling Jokes: “Enjoy, and remember, laugh loud! We don’t hear so good.”