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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Best Medicine

So as I was saying, yesterday I went with FOS to see "Old Jews Telling Jokes," currently playing Off-Broadway.  I don't imagine a synopsis is necessary, although I must protest that two of the cast members, Dara Cameron and Chuck Rea, are not what anyone would call "old."  Is a little truth-in-titling too much to ask?  Still, the show was highly entertaining: Ninety minutes of borscht-belt humor delivered with perfect timing.  Anyone--any Jew, anyway--past bar-mitzah age has probably heard some or all of these jokes before, but they still retain their charm.  One of my personal favorites:
Old Man Rabinowitz is getting ready to retire after forty years in the hardware business.  He tells his son, "Yitzhak, I am going to retire.  The business is now yours.  I know you will continue the fine tradition of Rabinowitz hardware."  With that, Old Man Rabinowitz leaves the store for the last time, and within a week he is down in Florida, enjoying his retirement.

A few months go by, and Rabinowitz decides to fly back north to visit his son.  On the way from the airport, he sees a gigantic billboard.  On the billboard is a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross, with the caption, "THEY USED RABINOWITZ NAILS!!!"

Well, you can imagine, Old Man Rabinowitz nearly has a heart attack right there in the cab.  When he gets back to the hardware store, he grabs his son by the shoulders, starts shaking him, and yells at him, "You, Schmuck! Are you crazy with that billboard?!? You can't say 'They used Rabinowitz Nails!' Not only will no one ever shop here again, but the goyim will run us out of town! I can't believe you could be so stupid!  You need to fix this!  I'm going back down to Florida before my head explodes, but I'm going to come back, and you better have made this right!"

Well, a few weeks later, after recuperating in Florida, Rabinowitz returns to see his son again.  He's in the cab from the airport, approaching the billboard.  He can barely stand to look, but as they pass he sees the new sign.  Now, the billboard shows a limp and lifeless body crumpled at the foot of a cross.  The caption: "THEY DIDN'T USE RABINOWITZ NAILS!!!"
Nu?  Anyway, if you like that kind of thing, there's a lot to enjoy in the show.

Insofar as "Old Jews" has a deeper meaning or a "message," it's that there is no such thing as an inappropriate time to tell jokes.  Maybe it's a "Jewish thing," but I think they're right.  Many is the time that a gentile friend or acquaintance has said something to the effect of, "How can you make a joke at a time like this?"  Even WOS has, on occasion, reprimanded me for "misplaced" levity.  But to the question, "How can you joke about [insert serious or somber topic]?" the best answer I can give is, "How can you not?" 

Sure, some topics are "not funny."  Child molestation is not funny.  The Holocaust and 9/11 are not funny.  Then again, just because something is not funny does not mean one cannot joke about it.  The Battle of Agincourt is not funny, but only the French refrain from joking about it--and they refrain from joking about everything.  Olives are not funny.  Indeed, most things in the world are not inherently funny, including--perhaps, especially--the things about which we most commonly joke: Just think about how many jokes begin, "A guy walks into a doctor's office. . . "  Life often presents us with a stark choice: Laugh or cry.  A good cry can be refreshing, but for the most part laughter is better.

1 comment:

  1. Having grown up with these jokes (yes, the "nails" joke is older than I am) I can tell you that the "old" should have been moved a coupla woids.
    But funny is funny.
    As to your quibble about some of the cast not being "old":
    A: Anyone who's telling these jokes IS an old Jew
    B: There are some people in "Oliver" who aren't Oliver. No one seems to mind