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Prune Danish (10/22/2002 - 12/01/2002)


New York Daily News: "Jackie! Again with the Jewish jokes!"

My hunch is that if you wake Jackie Mason in the middle of the night, he talks quite normally. I wouldn't even be surprised to learn the name on his passport is Reginald Smythe. These thoughts occurred to me between laughs at his latest show, "Prune Danish."

I became convinced that "Jackie Mason" is as much a creation of Smythe or whoever he is as "Dame Edna Everage" is of Barry Humphries. There is, after all, something outrageous about the character he brings to the stage - the thick accent, the comically belligerent personality. It's an echo of the Jewish stereotypes that were considered antediluvian even in the '20s, the era of "Abie's Irish Rose."

That Mason brought Borscht Belt humor to Broadway in the '80s, when presumably it was extinct, is of some sociological interest. It can be interpreted as a sign of how secure Jews felt in America that they could accept this throwback image and a style of humor preoccupied with stereotypes of Jews and Gentiles without embarrassment. Fifteen years later, such humor is still at the heart of his act. Some of his best material comes at the beginning, when he talks about the popularity of sushi and reveals it was invented by "two Jews who wanted to start a restaurant but didn't want to pay for a kitchen."

These days he also includes a lot of political humor. One of his funniest lines is mock horror that Bill Clinton should have been disbarred from arguing cases before the Supreme Court because of his perjury. "Imagine, being too big a liar to be a lawyer," Mason says. Not everything is quite this incisive. But ultimately, the actual humor is less important than the stage personality - the flashy suit, the bemused grin, the odd strut that sometimes accompanies his quips, his masterly use of his resonant voice to imitate famous figures. (His rendition of Simon Peres using nonsense syllables is uncannily on target.) When the humor works, you laugh effortlessly. But even when the content is not pointed, you find yourself grinning and chuckling. It's the character. It's like being a child and finally meeting some distant relative the family considers eccentric. What he says or does doesn't matter: A spell has been cast.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "'Prune' Plum Role For Jackie Mason"

Jackie Mason returned to Broadway last night with a program called, for some inexplicable reason, "Prune Danish."

In this wonderfully garrulous and sweetly entertaining new show, he lives up to his reputation as one of the funniest men on earth.

One is tempted to leave it at that. Since it's not fair to steal a man's jokes, let's center on the style and manner of the man telling them.

Fundamentally, there are two kinds of comedians: the Jack Bennys who are funny in themselves, and the Bob Hopes who simply crack wise.

Mason is a rare mixture of the two. With his scrunched-up shoulders, airy command, cocksure combativeness and observations of mankind and its ethnic foibles, he seems a comic in the Benny mold.

But unlike Benny, he offers specific jokes, almost in the fast patter manner of Hope. And never far away is the concept of the old Catskill resort master of ceremonies figure, the Borscht Belt tummler.

Mason really is wickedly acute about attitudinal differences between WASPs and Jews, which, as half of each, I can doubly identify with.

Just listen to his demonstration of how a Jew measures the size of room, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, while the WASP simply takes out a tape measure.

Mason's whole take on the frequent lemming-like craziness of human behavior is a joy to recognize, but many of his lighthearted insults land on the patrons in the front row.

Yet even if you find yourself the brunt of his barbs, you'd have to be pretty thin-skinned to be offended.

For unlike most insult-comedians, there's a sweet compassion about him that takes the edge off his most outrageous roast-like remarks.

He's smart-assed, rude, incisive - and ultimately lovable. Go figure!

And how refreshing it is to find a Broadway show that lists as many legal counsels as producers.

New York Post

New York Times: "Comedy and Commentary, With Hyperbolic Jewishness"

''People are stupid, and I say that with the greatest respect.'' Such is the sentiment -- mean-spiritedness delivered as a winking joke -- that generally dominates the humor of Jackie Mason. Indeed, that precise line and others like it are reiterated often in ''Prune Danish,'' Mr. Mason's sixth and newest display of chutzpah to appear on Broadway.

Fueled by a runaway ego (bolstered, no doubt, by Mr. Mason's indisputable success), it is a show that features not just Mr. Mason's comedy but also his often dubious social criticism. And it is this colossal self-regard that finally makes it impossible to distinguish Mr. Mason's literal hypocrisy from his laugh lines.

''People are stupid, and I say that with the greatest respect.'' Such is the sentiment -- mean-spiritedness delivered as a winking joke -- that generally dominates the humor of Jackie Mason. Indeed, that precise line and others like it are reiterated often in ''Prune Danish,'' Mr. Mason's sixth and newest display of chutzpah to appear on Broadway.

Fueled by a runaway ego (bolstered, no doubt, by Mr. Mason's indisputable success), it is a show that features not just Mr. Mason's comedy but also his often dubious social criticism. And it is this colossal self-regard that finally makes it impossible to distinguish Mr. Mason's literal hypocrisy from his laugh lines.

''Prune Danish,'' which opened at the Royale Theater last night, offers the familiar mix of political caricature and commentary, racial and ethnic characterizations that can be amusing or abhorrent, audience insult and self-congratulation that has garnered Mr. Mason a large following. And it's all delivered in the speedy, heavily accented English that is unmistakably his own, and with the finely honed and hyperbolically Jewish sensibility that remains his most potent comic weapon.

Indeed, Mr. Mason's comic style remains priceless and unique. With a shoulder shrug, a Frankenstein walk, a spritzing sound effect or a precisely calibrated inflection, he can make people laugh even when he is not saying anything original or even comprehensible.

Unfortunately, this is one of the main revelations of sitting in the audience for ''Prune Danish.'' The show includes about 30 minutes of worthwhile material over nearly two and a half hours. (If that seems inflated, you should see his bio in the Playbill. ''Once in a generation,'' it begins, ''a performer emerges who is so extraordinary, so brilliant, that everyone else in the field is measured against him.'' Then, like Mr. Mason himself, it goes on forever.)

His best bits include back-to-back imitations of Ariel Sharon, with his rough-hewn demeanor, and the more refined Shimon Peres; an imaginative and very sensible query into the function of a necktie; a shrewdly expressed bit of outrage that our justice system sends petty crooks to jail but can't seem to mount the evidence to put the Enron swindlers away; and a routine about the continued and evidently unshakable Jewish support for former President Bill Clinton: ''This man could stab someone in the heart, and every Jew in this building would say, 'No one lives forever.' ''

But far too much of the material Mr. Mason relies on here is retirable. Some is simply worn out, like the ridicule of President Clinton's sexual escapades, or the long exegesis of how impossible it is to sort out the confusion involved in healthy eating. (Diet advice is often contradictory! Can you imagine?) Some is lazy, like his reworking of the irritations of airport security or his imitation of President Bush, which recalls him not at all. Some, like his comparison of Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, is empty; both men are popular, he declares, but Mr. Giuliani always seemed busy and Mr. Bloomberg doesn't. Some is simply virulent and graceless, like his gratuitous reference to Enron executives as ''Nazi bastards.''

And some are idiotically, hypocritically reactionary.

In a truly doltish routine, for example, he objects to some current plays because he deems their titles vulgar: ''Urinetown,'' ''The Vagina Monologues'' and ''Puppetry of the Penis.'' Yet he has no problem calling anyone who would defend such things by a filthy name. In fact, Mr. Mason seems more comfortable with scatological and sexual obscenities than ever before, which might lead you to think he believed wholeheartedly in the First Amendment if he didn't so vehemently advocate a new amendment to ban flag burning.

I'm not sure when Mr. Mason's stage act picked up this strain of conservative soapbox language, but it doesn't suit him. For one thing, it robs him of some of the credibility he claims as a representative of Jews, particularly New York Jews. (But then, there are all sorts of indications that Mr. Mason has lost touch with the contemporary world; he thinks -- or says he does -- that men still excuse themselves to go to the restroom by saying they have to see a man about a horse.)

For another, the jingoism it tiptoes toward is just another signal of the intolerance that Mr. Mason has often been accused of and has just as often denied. In a quasi apology at the end of his show, he declares himself to be ''an equal opportunity offender'' and makes the usual excuses about jokes being jokes and people who take them too seriously being, well, too serious.

But though Mr. Mason may believe it doesn't matter what other people think on this score, that is his hubris. What really doesn't matter is what he thinks. There is a difference between Mr. Mason's making a beautifully mimicked distinction between the way Jews and Gentiles measure the dimensions of a house, and his predicting that all the Gentiles in the audience will be drunk within an hour of leaving the show. One is a shrewd observation of culturally influenced behavior; the other is an ad hominem insult and the perpetuation of a disparaging stereotype (not to mention comic material from the Eisenhower administration).

And there is a difference between his making fun of Jews for never being satisfied with a night's sleep and his declaring, on the basis, he says, of his own experience: ''I hope you never get an Indian doctor. Cab driver? Perfect.'' One is fond and judgment-free; the other is nasty and diminishing.

To not understand these distinctions is ignorance; to understand and not acknowledge them is hypocrisy. Either way it isn't funny.

New York Times

Variety: "Jackie Mason: Prune Danish"

In an increasingly uncertain world, in which change is not necessarily for the good, it's natural to turn for comfort to things that give evidence of life's consistency. Maybe this is why Jackie Mason has named his new show after a mere pastry. What could give better proof of the bedrock continuity of human affairs than the existence of something as mundane as prune danish?

Mason, like prune danish, may be an acquired taste, a treat for a particular audience. But like the pastry, he's not going anywhere. Al-Qaeda or no, plummeting stock market notwithstanding, Mason sticks around, and remains perennially annoyed at the foibles of gentile and Jew, and the follies of civic life. So here he is again on Broadway, maybe even in the same suit, serving up familiar befuddled shtick with the same understated ease, in that inimitable voice that suggests frequent intimacy with an ear-nose-and-throat doctor. His forays into offensiveness are relatively mild this time, and even they are somehow soothing in their dependability.

The new show mixes some evergreen (aka old) material with the expected derisive forays into the latest thicket of headlines. After some throat-clearing Jew vs. gentile jokes ("Gentiles go crazy for Niagara Falls. It's water falling down -- they can't get over it."), he starts with the lifestyle pages, poking delicious fun at the bewilderingly contradictory diet crazes. This one says fat's no good, that one says it's carbohydrates. "The next one says you can eat anything you want as long as you eat half a grapefruit once a month." The conclusion: "It's not a question of staying healthy but of picking the illness you like."

A startling announcement -- "I was invited to perform in Palestine" -- introduces the first op-ed section of the evening (punchline: "They offered me half a million, plus funeral expenses."). President Bush provides plenty of material. Mason is naturally incensed at the silliness of the color-coded alert system. Airport security is a natural, too: "The only people who've still got tweezers are Puerto Rican girls who work at the airport." For nostalgia fans, Mason provides some good old Clinton jokes, too. "He was a great president, especially for a guy who was never involved in politics."

From the advice column, Mason comes up with some fine if overlong material about the kindness of telling white lies. "Who tells a bride, 'White is not your color'?" Turning to the business pages, he works up quite a head of steam on the subject of Enron -- one of the few occasions in the show when actual ire seems to infect his usually laid-back approach. "Steal $5 and they lock you up. Steal $900 million, what's your punishment? A congressman calls you a few names."

There's no particular logic or narrative progression to an evening with Mason. After leaving politics to conclude act one -- after a couple of false endings -- with a riff on answering machines, Mason opens the second act with a few jabs at Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proves so innocuous a target that the next thing you know Mason's gone back to Rudolph Giuliani jokes. Then it's back to technology, and the pretensions of cell-phone users, and from there to the stupidity of gambling ("Ask a gambler how he's done -- he's always about even; but the last time he won was in 1938.").

The evening, as usual, is a full 2½ hours, and midway through act two Mason falters with a sour and silly diatribe against the "filth" and "vulgarity" he finds invading Broadway. Mason apparently is unaware that clinical terms like "vagina," "penis" and "urine," however odd they may look on a marquee, are considered rather more acceptable in polite conversation than the slang terms for same, not to mention the four-letter epithet he uses at least a half-dozen times in the show. (He is also apparently unaware that neither "Puppetry of the Penis" nor "The Vagina Monologues" is actually on Broadway.)

But Mason's loyal audiences don't cherish him for factual accuracy, but for the accuracy of his comic insights into a shared culture. Judging from the laughter at the Royale, he's still hitting mostly bull's-eyes.


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