As Isabel Masland tells it, she faced two very different choices.
“It was either tell jokes or be in a nursing home,” said the nonagenarian, who has suffered three heart attacks and near blindness. “So, I’m telling jokes.”
And that’s how she founded the Jokesters, a troupe of amateur stand-up comics who tour the local circuit of nursing homes, senior centers and class reunions.
“Before we changed our name to ‘The Jokesters,’ we were ‘The Badass Grandmothers.’ Then there were objections,” Masland said, waving them away with her hand. “But my four grandkids still call me that.”
The Jokesters is just one of the many service projects under Altrusa, an international community service organization with a local chapter in south-central Pennsylvania. Since 1955, the women of Altrusa have actively served the community through leadership, education and literacy programs, as well as lent support to established charities and nursing homes.
The local Altrusa club is one of 330 worldwide with more than 8,136 active members. In addition to literacy projects, special events and scholarships, Altrusans share in leadership, driven by a common desire to help and to serve others.
“[The Jokesters is] my way of contributing,” Masland said. “People really appreciate it.”
Masland recruited three other Jokester friends from her Altrusa club: Mary Lou Adams, Ann Tyndall and Brenda Gabel.
Adams, a former director of services for the Area Agency on Aging, has a natural connection with local nursing homes, which has proven useful when networking with different performance venues.
In 2014, she introduced Tyndall to Altrusa, where Tyndall currently serves as club president, leading with good humor and a dash of southern sass. In so doing, she has kept a promise to herself that she wouldn’t be a couch potato in retirement after moving to the area from North Carolina.
“This mission touched my heart,” she said. “There’s no more satisfying activity than to hear laughter. Life is more productive when you’re helping others.”
And there’s another, more personal reason.
“I’ve always been half ham—maybe a dozen hams,” she said with a flip of her hair. “I enjoy being the center of the spotlight. Call it a character flaw, but I say a sense of humor keeps you going when other things can’t.”
The one person who keeps this club going—literally—is Brenda Gabel.
Gabel serves as the Jokesters’ chauffeur, GPS and emcee. Having joined Altrusa in 1987, she promised to help Masland when she started the Jokesters. With Masland’s blindness and Tyndall’s lack of familiarity with the area, Gabel’s transportation serves the troupe well.
“I like meeting all the different people we become involved with,” Gabel said. “People enjoy it.”
She makes it clear that she is not a performing Jokester.
“I don’t tell jokes,” she deadpans. “I just drive.”
Every comedy troupe needs a straight man, right?
In all seriousness, Gabel uses her skills and her sincerity to serve the Jokesters as a ground wire among the other live wires on the team, driving the ladies to their venues safely and on time. Then she introduces the Jokesters when it’s show time.
The Jokesters’ brochure invites everyone to join in the fun by telling their favorite jokes.
“I’d like this to be a good program and to keep it going,” said Masland. “We’re happy to share our jokes with anyone else willing to tell them for their own comedy show, as long as they adjust the jokes for mixed company.”
Tydall then put in a plug.
“By the way, we’re always looking for new members,” she said, raising her brows and lowering her head. “Hint, hint.”
For more information on Altrusa, visit www.altrusa.org.