LAist Interview: Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman of Old Jews Telling Jokes

Sam Hoffman and Eric Spiegelman of the comedy website Old Jews Telling Jokes come to the Skirball Cultural Center this Wednesday as part of a tour to promote their newest book of the same name (out this month). Now entering their fourth season, they have enlisted their parents, parents' friends and fans of the site to showcase some of the best and most meshuge jokes in Jewish humor. In this interview, they talk about the book, some of the differences between the East and West Coast casts, and the possible surfacing of Eric baby pictures at the event.

Eric Spiegelman credit Ben Webster3.jpg
From Left: Eric Spiegelman (Photo Credit: Ben Webster) and Sam Hoffman (Photo Credit: Steve Fierberg)

LAist: What was the genesis of this project? Who came up with the idea for Old Jews Telling Jokes and how did it become so big?

Sam: Eric and his partner at Jetpack media, my old friend Tim Williams, asked me if I had any ideas for internet content and I pitched the concept of Old Jews Telling Jokes. I attribute its success to a number of factors. It's funny. We launched last year when the recession was nearly at its worst and I think people really liked having something fun to download. Also, it looks clean and beautiful and feels distinct from most of the clutter on the Internet. Another thing is that it celebrates older people with no irony, and I think that's a fairly unusual commodity in popular entertainment. It has a warm, family, nostalgic feeling without being treacly or didactic. Also, Eric has handled the internet elements of the project beautifully which has really helped it grow.

Eric: I actually really wanted to call the show "Old Jews Telling Treacly And Didactic Jokes" but Sam talked me down.

Talk about the upcoming book. How will it differ from the website?

Sam: I think of the videos of portraits of individuals. The book allowed me to create a portrait of a culture - with jokes.

Eric: We also grouped the jokes into themes, and these themes each reflect the Jewish experience in America. And Sam wrote these amazing funny intros to each chapter.

What can we expect from the Skirball event? Will there be comedian cameos?

Sam: The Skirball event will feature some new, never shown, videos and pointed witticisms from Eric and myself. I wouldn't rule out a funny old Jew or two.

Eric: My parents will be there. I'm sure that will result in baby pictures.

What is the difference between the LA and New Jersey casts? Which are funnier, and who got more laughs?

Sam: Actually our new season was filmed in NY. The prior season was made in Hollywood. We've now filmed in NJ, NY and LA. I wouldn't say one coast is funnier than the other but LA featured more tans, less buttons buttoned and demonstrably less cursing.

Eric: Sam's right about the tans.

Are you naturally funny? Could you go toe to toe with some of these comedians?

Sam: I think I'm fairly funny but I'm not someone, like my father, who knows a million jokes. Eric?

Eric: I've actually had to practice my joketelling skills to keep up with some of these joketellers. I now get asked to tell someone a joke about five times a week, and recently decided it was easier to actually learn to tell jokes than explain to everyone how I'm not good at it. Sam and I have spent so much time discussing this humor and examining the videos closely that it's been a real crash course in joketelling. This all culminated in me feeling comfortable to tell a masturbation joke during our NPR interview, but they cut it. :(
But joketelling is a real skill, and so many of the people on OJTJ have mastered it.

How do you find the new cast? Are these comedians all just friends of Eric's dad? Do you get headshots and resumes delivered, too? Are certain retirement homes farm teams for the funny?

Sam: For the LA shoot, we used a lot of Eric's father's friends, and also many people who contacted us because they were friends of the site. We also had recommendations from friends of friends. Max Rosenthal, who is the father of Phil Rosenthal, who created Everybody Loves Raymond, was recommended to Eric and I both from various sources. And he did not disappoint.

Eric: We have a mailing list and a facebook fan page, and whenever we schedule a shoot, we extend an invitation to all of these people.

Which joke has kept you laughing?

Sam: I love Jesse Cohen's joke "Stud Rooster" from the new season. He is over 90 and he still goes to work as a lawyer in Queens every day. Love him.

Eric: The masturbation joke I told on NPR -- which I stole from John Pleshette. He was on the LA show.

Some questions edited for clarity.