During the height of the pandemic, a group of 16 senior citizens found a way to keep laughing.
The elders were two classes into a comedy workshop led by comedian Jo Firestone at NYC’s Greenwich House when COVID-19 shut the world down. So they took their weekly sessions to Zoom.
“This was a terrible time,” Firestone, 33, told The Post. “These people were in their homes and dedicated to finding jokes. They wanted to find light in the darkness.”
In June 2021, they finally met again to resume in-person sessions. The goal: to prepare for a stand-up performance only days later. The workshops and the ensuing showcases are the subject of the delightful new special, “Good Timing With Jo Firestone.”
Streaming Oct. 15 on Peacock, “Good Timing” brings us into the lives and quirky minds of the Big Apple seniors whose advanced age has done little to dim their love of laughter.
Ranging in age from their mid 60s to late 80s, most are comedy novices, while a handful have performance backgrounds. Among the cast of characters is Elaine Witt, 71, a retired teacher who sold a few jokes to Joan Rivers; 71-year-old bar-joke aficionado Barbara Bova; Teresa Hommel, 76, who wears three masks the entire show; and Zygy Susser, 71, a former claims representative for social security fulfilling his dream of being “professionally funny.” There are also two married couples in the group.
Firestone said she realized early on that she wasn’t actually going to teach them stand-up comedy. “I am trying to make them feel comfortable enough with their own weird thoughts and what they think is the honest truth in this world.
“I wouldn’t say any of them has the same sense of humor but they all have more life experiences than me, so it’s interesting to hear their stories,” said Firestone, who has written for and appeared in sketches for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
But they all have one thing in common:
“It’s a pretty blue group, and we meet at 10 a.m. on Mondays. By 10:10, there’s at least one diarrhea or penis joke,” said Firestone.
That irreverence is on display when Firestone leads them through a series of exercises and questions. She tasks them with finding alternative phrases for dog feces. Lynne Fetch, a 71-year-old with an encyclopedic knowledge for jokes, quips, “poodle noodle.”
When Firestone asks what’s the worst thing one can have on a T-shirt, journalist and class member Tequila Minsky said she saw a shirt that read, “Eat p-ssy, it’s organic.” But since hearing isn’t the demo’s strong suit, Minsky, 73, is forced to repeat it as giggles fill the room.
The day of the performance, the group takes a party bus to the venue and they pump each other up. Onstage, they are the good, the bad and the accident-prone. Bibi Elvers, 88, takes a spill. Like a trooper, she continues her set from the ground.
Bill Burke, 68, surprises everyone when he emerges in front of the microphone in a Speedo and pasties. “My wife left me recently,” he says, deadpan, as she embarrassedly looks on from the audience.
“We did not know that was going to happen,” said Firestone. “But at the end it was very sweet. When we stopped rolling, Bill gave me my own pair of pasties. I use them as bookmarks.”
And while the seniors — who still meet weekly — are sharpening their writing and joke-telling skills with Firestone’s help, it’s the teacher who insists she’s learning more. She said her older pupils have given her a renewed, refreshed look at her own craft.
“If you do comedy for a long time, there’s a bitterness around you and you start to feel it and there’s all this competition and weird industry stuff and you start to feel dead inside,” she said.
“To be around people who really love to make jokes and make each other laugh and come up with new ideas each time — it’s so invigorating and energizing and it makes me want to write more ideas and keep up with them.”