At the age of 18, George Saltz got the opportunity to do a stand-up gig in the Catskills, but he forgot his routine and felt like a loser. Some 63 years later, Saltz took the stage again — and walked away the winner.
Saltz made his comeback at The Jewish Week’s 18th Annual Funniest Jewish Comic Contest, which was held at the Broadway Comedy Club on June 26.
The 81-year-old from Ardsley, in Westchester, said he panicked when he had a set in the Catskills and was promptly fired. But he was fired up to get back in comedy two years ago. He took a class in comedy writing and began performing at open mic nights. This time he was calm and collected as he fired off zingers on the theme of the old generation versus the new.
“This was not a good day for me,” he told the crowd. “I found out I was unfriended. Not on Facebook. I read it in the obituaries.”
Rina Blech, who finished third in last year’s contest, took second place this year. A portion of her set was devoted to jokes about dating. She described talking to a matchmaker about what qualities she required in a husband.
“I’m looking for two things in a man,” she said. “Male and breathing. And then I thought about it and I said ‘breathing is overrated.’”
She added that she met a man on frumster.com who asked her if she was shomer negiyah, meaning that she did not touch men before marriage.
“I took one look at him and I said, ‘I just started.’”
Before the competitors took the stage, the crowd was treated to a set by veteran comic Stewie Stone, who has worked with dozens of celebrities, including Frankie Valli.
The 77-year-old got the audience laughing when he explained that as men get older, priorities change and sex isn’t the most important thing.
“You’re lucky you could find out where you parked your car,” he told one man in the crowd. “Sex is not No. 1 on my list. I’m honest. Regularity is No. 1 on my list.”
Steve Marshall, who hosted the show and was one of the judges, said he was jealous of his Italian friends, especially one of them who had a girlfriend in the fifth grade.
“I was Jewish,” he said. “In the fifth grade, I had a stamp collection.”
The other judges were Geoff Kole, who has run the contest for the last 15 years; Gloria Davidson, who hosted an interview show called “In The Spotlight”; and David Goldman, founder of David Goldman Agency, who represents artists working in TV, publishing and other fields.
Headliner Cory Kahane went political, saying that after “Brexit,” she would like to see “Flexit” or “Texit” — if only some U.S. states could leave.
Saltz, a clinical psychologist, told The Jewish Week he sometimes wondered what might have been had he done well during that Catskills set. Lately, he said, his life has been difficult. For the past few years he has spent most of his time caring for his wife, who has a progressive disease.
“There was a time I was so depressed I lost my sense of humor,” Saltz said. “Eventually, with the help of staff [his wife’s caregivers], my humor came back, and they encouraged me to pursue comedy. I was despondent and now I feel like I have done something that gives me a little something for me. To have that resilience shows that nothing is impossible.”