by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - March 24, 2008) Jackie Mason, caught at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles prior to his return to Broadway, is an equal-opportunity muckraker. No sooner has he trashed the Republicans than he starts to flagellate the Democrats. Once he has ridiculed Hillary and Obama, McCain and Giuliani, he goes after sacred cows like Al Gore.
He pillories Hillary for adopting more false identities than Lon Chaney: Tough, vulnerable, commanding, humorous, sentimental, vindictive -- a Woman of a Thousand Faces. He derides her claims for having absorbed practical foreign policy experience while serving as First Lady. ("If a guy is a pilot and suddenly he's not there to make the dangerous landing, of course everybody says right away: "Quick, where's the wife?") He laces into Obama for parroting the watchword "change" and asks maniacally: "Change what? -- Change the sheets? Change the furniture? Change the underpants?" -- and then goes off on one of his Tourette Syndrome rants, the point of which is that "change" without specificity is simply an empty mantra.
Mike Huckabee comes in for a pitiful trouncing as does the state in which he claims to have acquired his executive experience. In endless repetitions of the name "Arkansas" (which makes it sound as unreal as Oz), Mason reminds us that to govern a state as withered and socially decrepit as Arkansas and to claim this as governmental experience is like proclaiming oneself the Czar of Coney Island or the Ayatollah of Timbuktu. Gubernatorial experience in such a place is not something to brandish, but to conceal. If Huckabee had not already relinquished his presidential bid, Mason's vendetta against him would be enough to have swept him from national politics once and for all. It is one thing displaying one's levity in a sketch on Saturday Night Live, but quite another stepping onto the Red Carpet wearing The Emperor's New Clothes.
With great courage, Mason then takes on Al Gore suggesting ("accusing" would be the more appropriate verb) that Gore surrounds himself with global warming experts, all of whom have different ideas on the subject. Mason sees Gore as the drumbeater for a large group of instrumentalists, each of whom is basically playing his own tune with Gore as the leader of a kind of revivified Spike Jones band. Probably very unfair to Gore and the entire subject of global warming, but highly risible nevertheless.
There is a long section -- very telling and full of some of Mason's best aperçus -- about the difference between singles and married couples -- pointing out that invariably, one finds a married couple looking to consort with other married couples in order to avoid the grueling monotony of being on their own. Unmarried men and women are constantly whipped towards matrimony, Mason suggests, because they appear to be happily independent leading contented lives, and married couples want to drag the celibate into the same sulfurous pit they themselves inhabit. An acrid view of marriage that happens to coincide with the behavior of most married couples I know. Behind this vituperative anti-connubial diatribe, there are many moments where recognition triggers affirmative laughter and we realize that we are in the presence of a seer, a critic, and a marriage counselor in the persona of an aging stand-up.
It is almost essential that members of Mason's audience understand Yiddish because, in parentheses and flip ad libs, Yiddish is constantly being interpolated. A gentile in the midst of such a congregation would feel like a black stumbled into a Ku Klux Klan rally. The audience, of course, is largely octo- or nonagenarian and often it feels like we are watching a visiting performer entertaining a large huddle of geriatrics in a vast nursing home. (An impression fortified by the fact that the Wadsworth Theatre stands on a large strip of Veterans Administration land.) One doesn't have to be Jewish born-and-bred to understand Jackie Mason, but it helps inordinately if you are both.
Towards the close, there is an interesting digression about prostitutes who, in Mason's eyes are "the most honorable people in the world" because they make no bones about the fact they are selling sex whereas "decent people" close their eyes to the fact that they are pandering every time a man takes a woman out to dinner or buys her a piece of jewelry. One of the greatest outbursts of cheering and applause (mainly male dominated) was triggered by Mason's proclamation that any wife who refuses to fornicate with her duly married husband should be sent to prison. Mason examines the contemporary games played by courting men and women, as well as husbands and wives, and shears away the hypocrisy that envelops them. We know that the sex drive must be sublimated but, Mason points out, it must also be satisfied. Hence his heartfelt tribute to "the members of the Oldest Profession" -- who make no bones about the fact that they are openly selling what everyone else is clandestinely "negotiating."
Like any great comic (Lenny Bruce and George Carlin immediately leap to mind), Mason's humor is rooted in the duplicity that we constantly employ in order to achieve the libidinous ends our super-egos refuse to acknowledge. In this he is maintaining the traditional role of the outspoken Jewish comic that began life in the shtetls; the tummler-rogue who expresses what is in everyone's mind but never spoken.
Towards the end of his act, Mason draws a bead on the hypocrisy of the drug companies, particularly those that promote the enhancing powers of items such as Cialis and Viagra. In the face of the much advertised four-hour erection, the comedian points out, one should not call a doctor, "but three other women!" The ludicrousness of these faux naïf commercials dealing with erectile dysfunction are torpedoed out of the water. We all know how snide and transparent they are, but Mason's demolition of them makes it impossible for us ever to watch them again without snickering out loud or pelting popcorn at the television set.
The sight of this comedian working the crowd is, in itself, fascinating. Jackie Mason has a short stocky body on which someone has placed a pumpkin-like head that is out of all proportion to the rest of him. He doesn't meander like Chris Rock or wander like George Carlin; clutching his mike, he moves stiffly from one side of the stage to the other with occasional spasmodic pelvic-jerks or upward shoulder-heaves. In an unexpected mimetic flash, he can suggest both sexual intercourse or spasms of total perplexity. The perplexity is almost a running gag. It reveals total mystification at the absurdity of life -- and is the leitmotif that runs beneath all of his comedy. One could never call him "kinetic" as almost all of his movements consist of shrugs, twirls, or bumps-and-grinds. When he does indulge in energetic or hurried movements, his audience fairly gasps. They never dreamt that solid oak was capable of transforming into a carousel. However, the general stiffness of Mason's posture seems to belie the unbridled free association of his soaring comic intelligence.
In short, Mason is a precious American commodity and although he is promoting this as a Farewell Tour, one gets the feeling it may well resemble Sarah Bernhardt's "farewell tours" that went on for almost a decade. So long as hypocrisy reigns in America, there can be no "farewell" to comedians like Jackie Mason. It would be like a tribe relinquishing the miraculous remedial powers of a revered witch doctor.
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