Until her 100th birthday, Dorothy Carchman had no experience in show business.
But when she hit the century mark on April 9, she celebrated the moment by treading the boards with the cast of the hit Off-Broadway show Old Jews Telling Jokes.
“We looked you up. We Googled you,” said actor Told Susman as Carchman climbed gingerly onto the stage at the Westside Theater after that night’s performance by a few old Jews — though not as old as Carchman — and a couple of young ones, who fire classic zingers and sing comic ditties nonstop over the course of the show’s 90 minutes.
“I always wanted to be Googled,” she replied, and the audience laughed.
Then, with impeccable timing, Carchman delivered the punchline to a joke begun by cast member Lenny Wolpe.
“Becky, who was 90 years old, and her best friend, Dorothy, are driving down the road in Florida,” he said.
“Dorothy, that’s the third car you almost hit in five minutes,” shrieked actress Marilyn Sokol.
“I’m driving?” asked Carchman with mock disbelief as actors and audience roared with laughter. Then pianist Donald Corren segued into a rendition of “Happy Birthday, dear Dorothy.”
“What stage presence you have, Dorothy,” said a well-wisher in the audience. “Are you in the theater?”
“No,” she said, giggling.
But Carchman, who lived for many years in West Orange, denied feeling nervous onstage. “I’ve been on platforms before for Hadassah and the National Jewish Women’s League,” she told NJ Jewish News as she came offstage.
The jokes continued as she stood in an aisle posing for photographs with cast members.
Another of her newfound fans asked when she was last in Israel.
“About eight years ago,” she said.
“It was a lot longer ago than that,” said a family member. “When you were there it was still called Palestine.”
“There really is no secret to living for 100 years — just living,” she told NJJN.
Carchman has fit a lot into her lifetime. She was born in New York and remembers as a 10-year-old delivering a speech in school about the man who was then president, Warren G. Harding.
“Then I married a Jersey guy named Abraham Carchman” — in 1941 — “and spent most of my life in West Orange,” she said. She was a local Hadassah leader, served on the national board of the organization, and was active in its New York and Pompano Beach, Fla., chapters.
The Carchmans raised twins — Philip, who is now an appellate court judge in Princeton, and Marion Jacobson, who still resides in West Orange. Marion’s late husband, Hirsch Jacobson, was a former head of the Solomon Schechter School of Essex and Union, now Golda Och Academy. Abraham Carchman died in 1993.
(The show itself has Jersey roots; it was inspired by a website begun by Sam Hoffman, who uploaded videos of the original “Old Jews Telling Jokes” — his parents and their friends — shot in his hometown of Highland Park.)
Dorothy’s son and daughter were in the audience — Marion with her husband, Stan Schwartz, and Philip with his wife, Joann.
In addition, the centenarian has six granddaughters and 13 great-grandchildren.
She now lives in a retirement home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where she resists modern technology.
“The world has changed tremendously, and those of us in my generation saw some of the biggest changes. My kids gave me a cell phone and I use it as a paperweight. And I don’t have a computer,” she said adamantly. “I don’t want one.”
As far as her family is concerned, Philip said, “we are still trying to get our heads around having a 100-year-old mother.”
As probably the oldest living Jew telling jokes, Carchman said her appearance onstage was “the biggest birthday party I ever had.”
Click here to see a video of Dorothy Carchman’s stage debut.