Daniel Okrent has a punch line ready when he’s asked how he discovered “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” the Web-video-series-turned-book that became a viral sensation in 2009. “I became an old Jew,” said the esteemed historian, inventor of the fantasy game Rotisserie League Baseball and first public editor of The New York Times.
Now, Okrent can add “playwright” to his résumé. With co-creator Peter Gethers, the 64-year-old writer has broadened the site’s premise into a full-blown off-Broadway production — and won backing from the heavyweight producers of shows like “Company,” “A Little Night Music” and “Sweeney Todd.” The stage version of “Old Jews Telling Jokes” opens May 20 at Manhattan’s Westside Theatre. After casting was completed, The Arty Semite caught up with Okrent at his Manhattan home.
Michael Kaminer: You were the first public editor of The New York Times, and your most recent book, “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” is an acclaimed history of Prohibition. “Old Jews Telling Jokes” sounds like a bit of a departure.