What’s So Funny?

What’s So Funny?

Did you hear the joke about the Jew facing a firing squad? Or about the two Jewish beggars in front of a church? Or about the Jew on a desert island? Of course you’ve heard those jokes. And you’ll hear — or at least, read — them again, in “Old Jews Telling Jokes” (Random House), Sam Hoffman’s new book.

A veteran movie director and producer, he collaborated last year with Eric Spiegelman of Jetpack Media in taping dozens of, well, old Jews telling jokes. Hoffman’s book is the jokes transcribed, with his sometimes-serious introductions.

Q: A Google search for “Jews” and “jokes” turns up “about 1,200,000 results.” We know Jews are funny. Why do we need another book about Jewish jokes?

A: I wouldn’t call this a book “about” Jewish jokes. It’s really a book “of” Jewish jokes and portraits of the people who tell them, organized in a way to provide a window into our culture at this time.

The title of your book states “Old Jews,” but most of the jokes in it can be carbon-dated. Haven’t there been any new Jewish jokes since Moses?
There have. I’ve been told at least four different Viagra jokes, which wasn’t approved by the FDA until 1998.

Why are Jewish jokes so popular?

You said it yourself — Jews are funny.

Do you have to be Jewish to like Jewish jokes?

I don’t think so. And I should specify, my book and website are not specifically “Jewish Jokes.” They are jokes told by old Jews. The subject matter varies considerably.

Your book grew out of taped joke-telling sessions. Did the jokes lose something in the translation to the printed page?
Certainly, all jokes are improved by a masterful telling, but I think there is a different value in reading them. Especially for readers who want to learn the jokes.

Many of the jokes are definitely X-rated. Doesn’t anyone tell clean Jewish jokes anymore?

I would say many of them are “R” rated because there is a lot of innuendo and profane language but very little that’s explicit or, in my opinion, offensive. I don’t allow anything hateful on the site [oldjewstellingjokes.com] or in the book.

Most of the people in your book probably started voting in the Roosevelt administration (Franklin, not Teddy; they’re not that old.) Why only “old” Jews? Seinfeld wasn’t available?

I made the “60 and older” rule when I started the website because I wanted a lifetime of experience to infuse the joke telling. Older people have a more direct connection to a population that came over from Europe and spoke Yiddish, and that’s the source of a lot of this humor. You have to remember that people who are 60 now were born in 1950 though. They came of age with Eisenhower and Kennedy.

A mayor, a newspaper columnist, an actress — how’d you get big machers to come and tell you jokes?

I asked Mr. Koch, and he was good enough to participate. Most everyone else was just a fan of what the site was doing.

You write very briefly about Sephardic Jews, because “they are not funny.” I guess you didn’t count on too many sales in the Sephardic community.

Well that’s probably not true. I think Sammy Davis Jr. was Sephardic.

What’s your favorite Jewish joke? Keep in mind our space limitations.

A German, a Frenchman and a Jew are wandering in the desert.

The German says, “I’m so hot, I’m so thirsty, I must have a beer!”

The Frenchman says, “I’m so hot, I’m so thirsty, I must have some wine.”

The Jew says, “I’m so hot, I’m so thirsty, I must have diabetes.”

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