Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lazy Sunday #142: Old Jews Telling Jokes

I blame Myron Cohen.


These days Myron Cohen is one of the answers to a trivia question about artists who shared the stage of "The Ed Sullivan Show" with "The Beatles". Meaning that as out of place as he may seem in such company, Mr. Cohen's act was once witnessed by more than 70 Million people one cold February evening in 1964.

70 Million people! That's like 15 seasons of "Being Erica".

But Myron was a star long before anybody had heard of "The Beatles". He'd started out as a garment salesman in New York. Nervous about meeting new people and hopeful of making a good impression, Myron used to tell jokes to warm up his customers. Eventually a few of them mentioned that his comedy was better than his garment samples and he might want to try show business. So he did.

I don't think anybody knows how many times Myron appeared with Ed. Like Topo Gigio and those guys who spun plates, he just seemed to be there more often than not. He worked "clean". He specialized in detailed anecdotes, sometimes only telling one joke during an appearance. And his humor could be appreciated by those from 9 to 90.

I know that for a fact, because I was around nine when I first saw him and a 90 year old relative sitting on the same couch laughed harder than I did.

I even remember the joke.

A Jewish grandma is walking her 2 year old grandson along the beach when a huge wave picks him up and washes him out to sea. The grandma screams and wails, begging God to return the boy. Sure enough, the next wave in deposits the little guy at her feet. Grandma picks him up and holds him close, then looks up to the sky and says, "He had a hat!".

Myron Cohen made me love Jewish comedy long before I even knew there were Jews.

That joke probably killed in the Catskills and left them weeping with laughter at The Friars Club, where other Jewish comics would nod knowingly and mutter a quiet, respectful, "Now, that's funny.".

There was an art back then to painting an entire picture to get to a punch line with a universal truth or an affectionate dig at somebody everybody knew or had in their own family.

These days, most successful comedians riff on situations and observations or gun down the audience with one-liners. The funny story told with a sly wink and a self-deprecating edge is still around but the practitioners are a dying breed.

To make sure their stories will never be forgotten, a guy named Sam Hoffman has created a website where contemporaries of Myron Cohen keep his art alive, telling jokes they've been telling all their lives.

Jokes that never get old and make them younger while telling them.

Enjoy your Sunday.

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