Have you heard the one about….?
Chances are you probably have, although that didn’t cut down on the laughter at the first ever Joke-athon held at The Cooperman JCC in West Orange on Oct. 15.
Would-be comedians from JCC MetroWest’s William Margulies Senior Center took their turns with the microphones, up front or at their seats, entertaining one another and guests with their own jokes or others provided by Parsippany resident Fred Schnitzer.
The performers included Mo Resner, 84, a former stand-up comic from Edison, who was as natty and on-the-ball as he was when he and Ginger Rogers were an item. He told some favorites from his old pal Henny Youngman, but he got the biggest reaction when he claimed to be losing his teeth and spat out a mouthful of Tic Tacs.
The shtick was just as sharp from Phyllis Model, 90, who used to teach third-graders in a remedial program. After an audience that tough, she said, she’s at ease in any room. “I get up every morning and I kick ass!” she said.
“She could have made it in the Catskills,” Schnitzer declared, as she strode confidently across the room with her mike.
A writer and theater director with a background in all aspects of theater, Schnitzer — who grew up in the Bronx — created his organization, Still Laughing After All These Years: Sit-down Comedy Powered by Seniors, to combine his love of entertainment with a desire to be of service. It runs joke-telling workshops at Jewish and non-Jewish venues across the region, including synagogues, senior centers, and JCCs.
“The West Orange JCC was the first place to give me a shot,” he recalled.
For the past year, he has done bimonthly programs for the Margulies Center. About 25 people come to the regular sessions; there were around 60 at the big event, ranging in age from their 70s to their 90s.
“These are vibrant people who don’t sit around moping,” Schnitzer said. “They aren’t interested in just sitting back and withering away. Even for people who were the life of the party, the world shrinks as you get older, but it doesn’t need to.” He added, “Laugher is the best medicine, and I’ve seen the fruit. We’ve seen how people brighten up and look years younger.”
Schnitzer came armed with a slew of jokes himself, but also had bound volumes of rib-ticklers for others to read out loud if they didn’t have a joke to tell. But for the most part, people came up with their own material. They ranged from the one about the priest, the minister, and the rabbi to whom God offers the commandments (The first two aren’t too excited by the offer, but the rabbi, when he hears they’re free, says, “I’ll take 10!”) to the one about the old guy who is so impressed with the way the bathroom light goes on and off by itself. His daughter is less impressed: “Now I know who’s been peeing in the refrigerator,” she says.
“I’m not Fred the stand-up comedian today,” Schnitzer said. “I’m Fred helping you make each other laugh.” And they did, even when it meant heaving oneself up on a walker to take the microphone.
Schnitzer has worked with Margulies Center president Harry Hollander — a “master of puns,” according to Hollander’s partner, Zilla Geltman, who teaches the weekly life story writing class at the center. “He makes them up in the moment,” she said.
“Oops, I double-crossed myself,” Hollander said, responding to yet another joke about a priest.
Accompanying Schnitzer was an old friend, Libby Pigg, vice president with Chicago-based Edelman Digital, a communications and marketing company. The company made a donation to Still Laughing After All These Years after Pigg won a company contest with the most impressive description of a social service program. It also gave her a week’s vacation. “I do have people to visit in this area, but it was great to be here for this event,” she said. “I was so happy to support it.”