So maybe you enjoy a good joke, a little humorous story, a song and dance? And maybe you shouldn’t mind if the jokes are a little off-color, a little raunchy, and sometimes even corny?
That’s the premise behind Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent’s hit, off-Broadway comedy, “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” starring five local actors performing an 80-minute, non-stop revue of jokes, songs, and stories, at the Regent Theatre in Arlington.
The show originally opened off-Broadway in New York City, May 2012, ran for 1-1/2 years, then in Chicago for six months. Productions are now appearing in 15 cities, including Arlington and Providence. Gethers also expects the show to open in London.
Gethers is president of Random House Films, editor-publisher at Random House, Inc.; screenwriter, TV writer-producer, novelist, prolific sitcom writer, and founding member of the Rotisserie Baseball League fantasy sports craze. Okrent invented the Rotisserie Baseball League, is the first public editor of The New York Times, prolific writer-editor for Alfred A. Knopf, TIME, Inc., and a Pulitzer Prize finalist in history.The duo conducted extensive research to find the type of jokes they wanted for the show - literally hundreds of them.
Although the show is based on Jewish humor, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it, says local director Jerry Bisantz, longtime Lowell actor, singer, theatrical producer, playwright, and licensed optician. In fact, Bisantz isn’t Jewish. He grew up Irish Catholic, married a Jewish woman and raised his children Jewish. No matter.
”[Instead of a Jewish guy], the jokes could be about a Mr. O’Shaunessy, or a guy calling his priest, instead of a rabbi,” says Bisantz. “The humor is universal.”
Proving his point, Bisantz hired five local actors, Jewish and non-Jewish - portraying two older men, an older woman, a younger man and younger woman.
David Frank portraying Nathan; Michael Hershberg as Reuben; Dana Block portraying Bunny; Arielle Kaplan as Debbi; and Barry Lew as Morty generate laughter, especially among last Wednesday afternoon’s mostly senior set. However, sometimes, something is missing.
You needn’t be Topol,Fanny Brice, or Alan King (who’s featured in vintage video footage) to get gags across, but you must have that self-effacing, self-torturing yiddischkite. Occasional oy veys with facial expressions don’t cut it. You need gevalt. Schmaltz. Yiddish soul. A little this. A little that.
“Life is pretty darn hard, so we have to have a little old Jew in us and laugh hard,” Gethers says, in a telephone interview from his New York City apartment.“Lots of jokes come from pain and tragedy
. “We wanted it to be a little more than jokes and not stand-up, so we wrote the jokes to be acted.... We also wanted to give each character a monologue that explains their relationship to humor and why humor is so important in the life cycle. We try to get the audience into the rhythm of the jokes.
“The story line is that birth-to-death concept, where you’ll get emotionally caught up in the characters’ [individual] stories,” The jokes range from birth, childhood, religion, assimilation, dating, pre-marital, marital, and extra-marital sex, business and money, doctor visits, aging, retirement, and death. There’s also a running life cycle of a guy named Saperstein.
One of the funniest jokes takes place at the Wailing Wall. There’s another running group of jokes, accompanied by a video desert island background, that involves various individuals.
“The whole idea was to make the jokes contemporary and valuable for all ages,” says Gethers.
BOX INFO: Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent’s off-Broadway comedy, appears through May 17, at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington: Wednesday, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Thursday, 7 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m. ; Sunday, 2 p.m. The show contains adult material and is recommended for audiences 17+ years old. Seats, $45,$55,$65. Call 781-646-4849 or visit regenttheatre.com. Another production is at Trinity Rep’s Chace Theatre, 201 Washington St., Providence, RI, through May 10:Wednesday, 2,7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2,7:30 p.m.; Sunday, at 2 p.m. Tickets:$44-$64. Call the Box Office at 401-351-4242 or visit www.trinityrep.com.