Octogenarian keeps em laughing at S.F. Jewish Home

Even by his standards, that last joke was a real clunker, Irving Kruger thought to himself. The audience was giving him nothing. Zip. No knowing looks, no chuckles, not even a halfhearted grin.

It had been like that throughout the performance so far — the kind of knuckle-clenching, sweat-inducing outing that most comics dread. But Irving Kruger, the figurative progeny of Borscht Belt legends such as Henny Youngman, Milton Berle and Red Buttons, was not a man to easily fold when the chips were down.

For one thing, Kruger brought his blue-collar work ethic with him like a lunch box, even when he told jokes. Did Kruger, a former paper-cutter with hands like giant ham hocks, forearms cut from granite and a V-shaped physique (even to this day!) quit when he got a hangnail?

You better believe he didn't. So maybe there was a slight flaw in his delivery, or his timing was a bit off, or the subject matter was eluding the audience. Whatever the case, Kruger was going to keep on coming, baby, dropping those one-liners just like DiMaggio used to lay down line drives back in the day.

But first he thought he might request several of the audience members to turn up their hearing aids.

"I'm so old that when I was born the Dead Sea was just sick," quipped the 85-year-old to about a dozen elderly residents of San Francisco's Jewish Home.

That got 'em. Jokes about doctors and sickness always worked with this crowd, Kruger later explained.

But there was still a slight problem. Daisy Sachnoff, the 97-year-old Ed McMahon to Kruger's Johnny Carson, wasn't laughing. Even worse, she looked like she might be sleeping.

"Daisy, did you hear that joke?" Kruger said in his New York baritone, making sure to speak to her good ear.

Daisy shook her head "no."

"Well I got others," Kruger said, and started to launch into a joke about a priest, a rabbi and a bishop, when Daisy suddenly perked up.

"You told that one before."

So it goes when you do sit-down ("At my age, I don't stand up, and neither does my audience") comedy at the Jewish Home, as Kruger has been doing monthly for the past three years. He has a regular gig at the Jewish Home the last Thursday of every month, at noon.

He is also a regular at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco's Montefiore Senior Center, where he's performed with the Montefiore Follies.

"Any response I get is great because I'm connecting with people here," said the San Francisco resident. "It makes me feel good to entertain here because I'm helping to keep their minds sharp and adding a little humor to their lives."

According to Marnie St. Clair, one of the Jewish Home's recreation coordinators, Kruger can take it as well as dish it out.

"It's true that folks come to get a big laugh and to get some distraction from everyday troubles, but they also love to tell Irving their own jokes, so there's a lot of reciprocity, too."

If Kruger's jokes aren't hitting their marks, he can always fall back on his crooning skills, which he often employs to remake popular standards into Yiddish "camp."

Take, for example, the "My Fair Lady classic "Wouldn't It be Loverly."

All I vant is ah man somevere

E should dense like Fred Ahstaire

Good teeth and lots of hair

Oy, vouldn't it be loverly…

After the residents have finished singing along with the tune, Kruger immediately attempts another one-liner, only to be stymied by Lily — his biggest fan, critic and not coincidentally, his wife.

"It seems like only yesterday," Irving began.

"Yeah, but what a lousy day yesterday was," Lily chimed in, to the collective titters of the room.

"You know that's the problem with being married to people for so long," said Kruger, who recently celebrated both his birthday and his 60th wedding anniversary.

"They steal all of your best jokes."