Granted a blazing stamp of approval from no less than Mel Brooks, the 2012 off-Broadway smash hit “Old Jews Telling Jokes” is coming to Baltimore for a day in which audience members will have not one but two opportunities to enjoy the nostalgia and humor so many others around the country and, in fact, world have experienced with the show.
“Old Jews,” a 90-minute comedic romp through Jewish heritage that is appropriate only for those 18 and over (due to suggestive/raunchy humor and adult language), will be presented at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation-Dalsheimer Auditorium at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13.
“Having grown up and around the Catskills kind of Jewish humor, this show had an immediate emotion appeal for me,” said producer Jay Kholos of the comedic revue that includes a kind of reinterpretation of classic Jewish jokes along with a few songs.
“That’s probably what attracted me initially and from a business standpoint,” said Kholos, whose company, Orchard Street Productions, is based out of Nashville, Tenn., and is focusing mainly on marketing and promotion for this particular run involving a cast of New York and Philadelphia actors.
Kholos, whose own stock company of actors has been touring with “Old Jews” for the past two years, said he’s not alone in his emotional connection to the material.
“What people tell me is they get a very nostalgic feeling for what Jewish theater used to be like and what they grew up with,” he said.
“For younger audiences, it brings them back into the stuff their grandparents told them. Jewish humor is a part of Jewish life, and that’s a big part of what the show is about.”
Director Matt Silva, who notes he’s not Jewish but was raised Roman Catholic in a predominantly Jewish community, said he “laughed my butt off for 90 minutes straight” when he first saw the performance off-Broadway in New York.
“It was absolutely hysterical,” he said about the show he’s been directing around the country with his team for the past two years.
“The challenge,” Silva said, “is: How do you take the play, which is a bunch of words in a script, and turn it into a show that can be enjoyed in a theater through a full experience?”
There’s more than merely having a fun time when it comes to experiencing “Old Jews” in the way Silva aspires toward.
“I think there’s something to be said about riotous laughter,” he said. “It relaxes our body and releases endorphins you didn’t even know you needed to release. It’s needed; it’s deeply human. The show is a terrific reminder that laughter is human and necessary.”
“Especially with our political climate right now, the show is very good at pointing to the fact that laughter will get us through,” Silva added.
The show also has a direct connection to one of the godheads of the Jewish comedic world, with Kholos’ daughter (a playwright herself) being married to Brooks’ son, Max.
“It’s an honor to make Mel Brooks laugh,” Kholos said about Brooks’ take on the project.
As summated by the producers: “If you’ve ever had a mother, visited a doctor or walked into a bar with a priest, a rabbi and a frog, ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’ will sit in the dark, give you a second opinion and ask you where you got that.”
“Old Jews Telling Jokes” will run at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation-Dalsheimer Auditorium, 7401 Park Heights Avenue, on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. For more information and ticket sales, visit playhouseinfo.com or call 1-844-448-7469. For group discounts (12-plus), call 1-615-400-7793.