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In a techno twist, comedic viral videos go to paper
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In a techno twist, comedic viral videos go to paper

Sam Hoffman, left, and Eric Spiegelman are publishing a book based on their popular website, Old Jews Telling Jokes. Photo by James Hamilton
Sam Hoffman, left, and Eric Spiegelman are publishing a book based on their popular website, Old Jews Telling Jokes. Photo by James Hamilton

You saw the videos on the Internet, now read the book. In a technological reversal, Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman are bringing their surprise sensation from the computer screen to the printed page when Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs (Villard) hits the bookstores next month.

So which idea came first: a book of jokes selected and told by Jews “of a certain age” or the videos?

“The website is the chicken and the book is the egg,” Hoffman told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview. “The website was a success almost immediately after launch. We had some interest from publishers to see if we could translate it into a book.”

Hoffman, who grew up in Highland Park, understands that seeing the material performed might carry a different impact from reading it on the page, but he believes both mediums have something to offer.

“We have a very dedicated older audience on-line. I do hope that this book allows people who aren’t on-line to experience the product, but I think it’s a different experience and I would not want someone to have just one or the other.”

And it’s not just for the older crowd; Old Jews Telling Jokes — the website — has a broad audience, said Hoffman, a movie producer based in Manhattan. The OJTJ phenomenon continues to grow. Since its launch in mid-2009, the videos have had more than nine million views, according to Hoffman. The number of Facebook followers has passed 13,000, and there’s also a podcast edition.

“The website is great for watching performance and getting a sense of an individual person and how they tell a joke, how they sound and look, what their particular delivery is. But what the book allowed me to do was to make the scope a little broader and make it into a portrait of a culture. A book allows you to do a little more depth than the website.”

The 43-year-old Hoffman sees the print version as “sort of a folklore project.” The jokes that “stick around are a) funny, and b) usually had some level of meaning that makes them transcend just the punch line a little bit.”

The book is divided by categories, including “The Jewish Mother,” “Coming to America,” “Moving to the Suburbs,” and “Getting Old,” among others.

“The website lets you experience what’s really happening at the moment; the book allows you to categorize things and see what the trends are in a culture and what a culture is interested in.”

In this case, the culture seems to be interested in sex, which is funny enough to merit two separate chapters but manages to penetrate just about all the other themes as well. There’s something amusing (or jarring, depending on your point of view) in hearing or reading about a sweet, little old bubbe talking a blue streak.

“There are a lot of jokes about sex,” Hoffman admitted. “The people who tell the jokes have to be at least 60 years old and they’re clearly not finished thinking about it.”

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