Groucho Marx once said that there's no such thing as an old joke if you've never heard it before. And maybe two young Jewish filmmakers heard that maxim and decided they'd find fresh material for their 45-minute documentary, "Jumor: A Journey Through Jewish Humor." Laguna Beach local Aaron Krinsky, with co-director and his Yale University pal Scott Kirschenbaum, explored their Jewish humor heritage by interviewing more than 30 Jewish elderly residents at 14 Jewish nursing homes, including Heritage Pointe in Mission Viejo. On Sunday, Sept. 5, the Jewish Community Center 532-seat theater will showcase the Krinsky-Kirschenbaum saga, a 18,000-mile, six-week summer trip before their junior year.
"'Jumor' is a look into our own culture through our elderly community," Krinsky said. "The more homes we visited, the more we realized we were interested in the stories itself, not the comics who told them."
The directors, inspired by the humor of other great 20th century comedians, delved further into the gift of laughter in their own culture. They found through reflections by the film's subjects that life in a shtetl, faith and use of Yiddish serve as a basis for Jewish humor.
"Years ago, Jewish young men and women did not have the same opportunity as non-Jews to create their own [opportunity]," said Lillian from Miami. "When they met each other they did not say, 'Oy vey, this is going on and that is going on,' they said humorous stories. They had to learn how to laugh at themselves otherwise they would be crying all the time."
Film subjects included a 106-year-old woman from Los Angeles and a vibrant 102-year-old, Sylvia Harmatz., who appears to have a great memory for a good joke. "The residents were thrilled to have the two young men come to perform and speak with them about the topic of Jewish humor," said Rena Loveless, director of Mission Viejo's assisted-living facility Heritage Pointe. "There was a warm reception to the film when it was shown at the facility. The residents were happy to be apart of this project."
The duo's filmmaking technique is unorthodox. To establish rapport with their subjects, Kirschenbaum performs a stand-up act based on the stories and jokes of their generation of comedians, while Krinsky is in the sidelines filming the reaction of the crowd. After the show, each home's directors select a handful of the most articulate residents to deliver their own wisecracks.
speaking on similar subjects creates momentum for the topics and shows the stories coming directly from the people who lived them.
"We used the editing process to create a sense of fabric, of knowledge coming directly from the people's mouths to establish an attitude and tone in the film," Krinsky said. "This film is about more than Jewish humor, it is a generation talking and telling a story." Along their voyage, the filmmakers start sensing parallels between their own impressions of Jewish culture and those of their elderly subjects. Each day was a new exploration of both the subject and the subject's cultural history, and how a sense of humor binds Jews together.
"It is not just about our culture and 'Jumor,'" Krinsky said. "This movie slowly became more about them [the elderly residents] and us [filmmakers], where you do not laugh at the participants, but with them."
Join one of the filmmakers for the 45-minute viewing of "Jumor," followed by a talk on the documentary in the JCC theater, 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5, One Federation Way, Irvine. Requested donation $5 (general), $3 (seniors, children). For information, call (949) 435-3400.
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