As a recent press release explained, Bucks County-based voice actor Joel Gibbs is starring as Sol Krupnick in “Meet Sol Krupnick,” “an on-stage, theatrical, one-man-show” about a “Jewish kibitzer of undetermined (old) age who shares fun stories about his crazy family, tells classic jokes and offers ‘unique’ observations about the world around him.”
Or, in other words, the 70-year-old Jewish grandfather is performing a one-man show as himself.
“I am indeed Sol Krupnick,” he said.
Gibbs, a longtime congregant at Shir Ami in Newtown who still attends events at the synagogue, opened his show with a recent performance at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia. About 200 friends and family members came to show their support. But really, they came to laugh. As Gibbs said of the night, “I portrayed the character; I told the stories and jokes; the audience laughed a lot.”
“What else could you possibly want in a show?” he added.
Gibbs also organized a three-camera shoot of the performance to create and distribute marketing materials about it. That will set up the “next phase” and “let the rest of the world know about Sol.” The experienced voice actor, who has appeared in TV and radio ads for “every retail and service category,” according to his press release, hopes to take his one-man-show on the road to local theaters like The Kimmel Center and The Metropolitan Opera House. He is posting videos to Krupnick’s YouTube channel, “Sol Stories,” to promote the character.
Gibbs calls himself the “Man of a Thousand Voices.” He does more than 100 celebrity impressions and has worked on more than 40,000 projects worldwide, according to his press release. He partnered with Billy Crystal, Julie Andrews and other celebrities on the “Love the Arts in Philadelphia” campaign to promote the city’s cultural institutions.
Krupnick, though, is the culmination of his life’s work, he says.
“Sol is the embodiment of my voices, my acting, my love of storytelling, all put together in one package,” Gibbs explained.
It also may be the most natural assignment he’s ever taken on. Gibbs has a 6-year-old grandson and a 3-year-old granddaughter. He often calls his grandkids on FaceTime and launches into a routine featuring the characters from “Sesame Street.” He uses puppets, dummies and silly voices or, as he puts it, “all the nonsense.”
“We have a great time,” Gibbs said. “They’ve got a 24/7 perennial performer as their grandfather, and I think they are digging it, too.”
Except this is not just grandfather shtick. It’s the kind of routine Gibbs performs for friends and family members, too, just like he did at KleinLife. The old kibitzer tells stories and jokes; he does impressions; he shares “unique” opinions about the world around him.
As a child, Gibbs enjoyed watching Jewish comedians on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” At 5, he discovered the work of the famous ventriloquist Paul Winchell, who hosted a primetime show on NBC in the early 1950s. In his press release about Sol Krupnick, Gibbs described discovering Winchell as a life-changing experience. Despite his young age, he assigned “vocal characterizations” to his “many dummies, puppets and marionettes.”
Ever since then, he’s been entertaining. He said that friends, colleagues and audiences alike seem to enjoy his performances. Gibbs has portrayed versions of the Krupnick character for 50 years. But now, at 70, and as an experienced grandpa and kibitzer, he has decided to make him the show’s focal point.
“And overall the small percentage of the world that’s come to know him seems to like him a lot,” Gibbs said.
The performer described the KleinLife show as “a success on every level I could have hoped for.” After it ended, people texted, called and commented on Facebook to tell Gibbs that Krupnick was their favorite Jewish grandfather.
When Gibbs was up there portraying Krupnick, he made people laugh and smile. And he said that’s what performing is all about. He called it “an exceptional feeling” to get that type of reaction from the audience. Not because they were approving of him, but because they were having a good time. The goal, he said, is “to let people spend an evening with Sol, with this character, with this guy, and to just let all our troubles go away.”
“I just enjoy at a very basic level making people laugh and making people happy. It’s joyous for me. It’s joyous for the audience,” Gibbs explained. “Funny is funny, and this is funny. This is making me laugh. This is making me feel good.” JE