Funny with a Side of Kitsch: Old Jews Telling Jokes @ Chicago’s Royal George Theatre

The backdrop portrays a much larger than life piece of matzo. The program evokes a deli menu — a parking lot jammed with many words (and few design elements) detailing the establishment’s daunting array of offerings.

Old Jews Telling Jokes

Old Jews Telling Jokes

Thankfully, the menu-programs are clean, rather than greasy, but the performance of Old Jews Telling Jokes (through Feb. 16 at the Royal George) comes with a heavy side of schmaltz.

Many of the jokes in the performance won’t be new to viewers, but some are evergreen and will still draw laughs. Several are more appropriate for old Jewish audience members than very young ones, so perhaps the play should come with a warning label: Old Jews Telling Jokes to Old-Enough Jews.

Sitting in the balcony and peering over the railing trying to catch what was happening below on stage — which felt like experiencing services from the women’s section in synagogue — it was hard not to be struck by the question what advantages, if any, experiencing this performance in a theater had over hearing stand up at a comedy club, or watching the comedians tell their jokes in an online clip.

There might not be all that many differences for many viewers, particularly given the minimalism of the set design (generally a screen projecting some basic images and a few props). But one unintended (one assumes) interaction might have made it all worth it.

One of the performers mentioned a certain street in Miami Beach — the Mecca for Jews of a certain age — and an audience member loudly voiced her identification with just that neighborhood. Startled by the most likely well-intentioned heckler, the actress didn’t quite know what to say. But the other actors on stage couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Life, as it is rumored to do, can imitate art.

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