By Jessica Shaw
Updated May 25, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
Joan Marcus

Old Jews Telling Jokes began as a cringeworthy-but-kind-of-funny web series in 2009, became one of iTunes’ top podcasts in 2010, and inspired a book of the same title featuring anecdotes written by the likes of Ed Koch and Annie Korzen (Doris Klompus from Seinfeld). Add this new play, now playing at Off Broadway’s Westside Theatre, to the simple concept’s successful franchise and you’ve got a lot of jokes about overbearing wives who don’t want to have sex with their shlemiel husbands. Plenty of people will laugh during this 80-minute-long play (See: Jews, Old). In fact, the performance I attended left the mostly geriatric audience in stitches, often repeating punchlines for their hard-of-hearing seat mates.

Divided into thematic segments (Birth, Childhood, Dating & Courtship, Business & Money, Marriage, Religion, Assimilation, Retirement), the play features five actors telling one-liners (”A Chasidic Jew walks into a bar with a parrot…”) and occasionally tries to bring some gravitas to ground the chuckles (”Now that I’m an old Jew myself, it’s the jokes that make me feel as if I’ve come home”). The funniest moment has to be standout Todd Susman’s (Hairspray) spoken-word rendition of ”Old Man River” delivered with a Yiddish accent as thick as schmaltz. Toward the end of the play, theatergoers are treated to a recording of Jewish comedian Alan King’s ”Survived By His Wife” routine. It’s fantastic, but comes out of nowhere. If the production had incorporated other classic old Jewish comics doing shtick (Allan Sherman? Mickey Katz? Mel Brooks?) into the production, it might have contextualized some of the humor. Instead, too often Old Jews Telling Jokes feels like a night of community theater put on for an Upper West Side nursing home. B?

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