Let us celebrate a milestone that’s not just impressive for a web series, but any show: Old Jews Telling Jokes, which launched in January 2009, today debuted its 200th episode, featuring a two-time cancer survivor telling a joke about “the cure for horniness.”
Directed by Sam Hoffman (whose father has appeared in three seasons of the show) and produced by Jetpack Media, the digital arm of Greenestreet Films, Old Jews‘s 200th episode is also the third episode of Season 4, timed to coincide with yesterday’s release of Old Jews Telling Jokes the book. Pre-sales for the book, published by Random House and blurbed by Mel Brooks, jumped from #40,000 to #25 in the Amazon sales rankings this Sunday, thanks to an interview with NPR.
Distributed by Blip.tv (co-founder Dina Kaplan considers it a favorite), Old Jews owes its longevity, according to producer Eric Spiegelman, in part to its production style. Each season is shot in one day, with joke-tellers brought in by open casting calls to their mailing list and Facebook followers, as well as friends of Hoffman and Spiegelman’s fathers.
“We don’t audition, because if someone’s brave enough to stand up in front of the camera and tell jokes, that’s pretty self-selective,” Spiegelman said. They might not post every joke filmed — there are about a dozen during each shoot that fall flat — but anyone who comes in to be filmed will eventually get featured.
They managed to film 160 episodes during the one-day Season 4 shoot, with 40 subjects telling on average four jokes each, which kept the costs down significantly. “We break even on each season,” Spiegelman said, “But we keep doing it because our audience keeps growing and our production costs stay around the same.”
About two-thirds of the show’s viewers are over the age of 35, according to Blip.tv and Facebook stats (YouTube skews slightly older), with the younger third because it reminds them of family. “It’s like comfort food,” Spiegelman said. “It’s something that everyone gets.”
The other key to the show’s success is its concept: Spiegelman feels strongly that the show wouldn’t have been as immediately popular if it’d been less specific, like Old Folks Telling Jokes. “Jews have a very particular connection with comedy, and that gave the idea focus, made it much more specific,” he said. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, that seems to be paying off. L’shana tova!
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