BBC4, 28 November at 10pm
If you like jokes and you like old Jews then this could be the show for you. In fact even if you are the most humourless anti-Semitic gentile this side of a pork chop; this still could be the show for you.
This is the second series shown by the BBC to be inspired by the American web series Old Jews Telling Jokes. And is without doubt the simplest televisual format since…well…probably ever.
It is literally what it says. A clean, white backdrop against which a plethora of 50 plus geezers and dames tell a joke and that is it. No presenter, no voice over or introduction, just a smattering of theme music to help set the tone.
The Jewish joke tellers in question are just normal people; when I say normal people I really mean they are not professional comedians. We have Ettie who worked in toys, Ed the attorney and Dennis the antiques dealer (whose opening joke had me in stitches) and many, many more. Just regular folks, who know how to spin a line.
Do not be put off if you think you won’t understand the references etc. As, despite drawing from what is known as the rich Jewish comic tradition, people are still people and this is reflected in the comedy.
Besides, if you’re really that concerned, not all the gags are Jewish and many would be recognisable to those among us who aren’t familiar with the culture.
Much of the humour is delivered by way of a snappy one liner, whereas other jokes are longer and story based. All manner of subjects are dealt with, from death and the afterlife, to food and familial relationships but really most of them are about sex. And oddly, two incidences relating to bestiality, is this a common trope in Jewish humour? The familiar reaction of the small film crew (the only audience) implied that yes, yes it is. Meshugganah.
Even if the quality of the varied quips and wheezes are not all of the same standard. There is something in the rhythm of the accent that captures the outrage and exasperation of everyday life which lends itself brilliantly to a comedic turn. This helps to make every one of these amateur comics a winner.
From just one episode I have become a big fan of ‘Old Jews Tell Jokes’. It’ simplicity is a master stroke, with that and the charm of the guests it could run for years.
My only gripe (and it is a very small one), is that the very strength of the simple idea does mean that I don’t think I could watch more than one episode in a row. After all, I don’t want to spend all night talking to someone who just knocks out the gags. I would get bored, phase out and start looking for a new companion
Then again I don’t think it was made for this in mind. Once a week I will definitely tune in, meet these wonderful characters and piss myself with laughter.