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Jackie Mason's The World According to Me! (12/22/1986 - 01/02/1988)


 

New York Daily News: "So Funny I Forgot to Laugh"

For at least the last decade and a half, America has been in the grip of '50s nostalgia. There has been a new appreciation of lava lamps and Cold War politics, revivals of Howdy Doody and "Leave It to Beaver." This, I guess, accounts for Jackie Mason's arrival on Broadway. His decidedly Borscht Belt humor is from the early '50s.

In the late '50s and early '60s, Jewish humor changed quite dramatically. With Shelley Berman and Mike Nichols and Elaine May it grew out of witty, stereotypical characters; with Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen it grew out of the comics' own neurotic persona. With them, comedy had a sharp tone of self-criticism, self-satire.

Mason's humor, on the other hand, has a kind of chip-on-the-shoulder smugness that grows out of a ghetto mentality, a perception of the world outside as full of enemies whose hostility can be temporarily neutralized through laughter.

Hence Mason tells ethnic jokes. One, for example, is about someone half-Jewish, half-Italian: "If he can't buy something wholesale, he steals it."

He lampoons Jews too, but in a cozy way. "Ever see a Jew join a rifle organization?" he asks. "Not unless they serve coffee and cake. For coffee and cake a Jew would join the Ku Klux Klan."

Mason does imitations, a very '50s kind of humor. He has a knack for characterizing such figures as Sylvester Stallone, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Ed Sullivan with a few body movements and uncannily accurate nonverbal grunts.

He has some funny, peculiarly Jewish slants on politics ("You know why the U.S. is losing money? Because they pay senators and congressmen a straight salary. Put 'em on commission.")

So why didn't I laugh as much as the people around me? Maybe because I had the feeling the self-satisfaction Mason demonstrates as soon as he opens his mouth (It's certainly a pleasure to see me in person") was all too sincere.

Maybe because the '50s style is deliberately impersonal. In a nightclub, where you can wash the jokes down with a Scotch, in a Catskills resort, where you digest them with blintzes, the style of the humor doesn't matter. In the theater, what you see on the stage should in some way mirror what you feel, who you are. If it's impersonal that doesn't happen. Nor, in this case, did I want it to.


New York Daily News
12/23/1986

New York Post: "Mason's "World" better off in Vegas"

He could be in the Catskills, he should be in Las Vegas, but he happens to be on Broadway - and surprisingly, he is not all that bad.

Not all that good, either. But if you are in the market for a Las Vegas-style ethnic comic without the gambling, the smoke or the drinks, not to mention the airfare and the air-conditioning, then this might be for you.

It is Jackie Mason's "The World According to Me!" a one-man show that opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theater last night.

Mason is a Jewish leprechaun with an attractive squashed-cabbage face, scrubby gingerish hair and a compacted body. He looks like a well-heeled rabbi on vacation, which is what he easily could have been and, indeed, once was.

What puts him in the top-flight category of his comic rather than rabbinical calling is certainly not his material but his phenomenal timing - he can tell a non-joke and make it almost hilarious - and his oddly winning, bantam-cock combative personality.

He likes to insult his audience, but very carefully so as not to give real offense. Lenny Bruce (even language apart) he isn't.

He seems very conceited, yet - and this is the charm of the man - he never takes himself or that conceit too seriously.

When he tells his audience with matter of fact certainty, "I happen to be a wonderful person," you feel that even if it happened to be true, which as it happens it almost certainly isn't, it could hardly have happened to a more modest guy.

His material is basically variations on one joke - the differing ways Jews and Gentiles respond to life, with the stereotypical responses always mildly yet subtly flattering to Jews. He has chosen his people.

You don't have to be Jewish to love Mason, but it sure doesn't hurt. If you can't be Jewish, at least live in New York or, if you are in a place like Los Angeles, wish you lived in New York.

His show makes very few concessions to theatricality. This, by no means, is a replay of Lily Tomlin-time.

He has a funny little globe of the world turning around at the beginning and end of the evening. At other times, he has a map of the world which he points at and a grand piano which he doesn't play.

He talks and talks and talks. The accent is so thick with ethnic pride that if you don't listen closely you could miss some of the jokes. His producer might consider taking a leaf out of New York City Opera's book and provide super titles at the top of the proscenium arch.

He saves his sharpest barbs for the Poles, the Puerto Ricans, the Italians (particularly the Italian army) and the Arabs.

But even those sharpest barbs are softened - in terms of satire, somewhat blunted - by his evident good nature and the simple pleasure he takes in himself. Self-satisfaction has rarely looked so satisfying.

Not quite everything is viewed through his ethnic filter. He is funny on the subject of Beverly Hills - about producers, for example, who only produce visiting cards - and he is very amusing riding the newly popular stalking horse of Ronald Reagan.

His targets are never anything less than obvious; his comic method is not to startle an audience into recognition but to massage their preconceptions with the familiar. He only dares where angels love to tread.

Apart from his immaculate comic timing, which of itself is worth watching and studying, his major claim to our attention is his odd, but effective imitations of famous voices and gestures.

They are most imaginatively abstract impressions, fundamentally without words, carried out in gibberish and aimed at catching vital skeletal speech patterns and recognizable accented sounds. This was wonderful. He does familiar voices like Jolson, Cagney or Ed Sullivan (there is a reference to a long-forgotten - except by Mason - controversy between Sullivan and himself) and catches the very image of the person, rather like a Hirschfeld caricature.

And he definitely seems to be very glad, almost too grateful, to be on Broadway.

Is he worth going to see? Yes and no. For you perhaps yes, for me perhaps no.

He lacks the originality of a few of the New Wave comedians - although at least he is not as stupidly facetious as someone like David Letterman - nor is he in the imaginative class of Robert Klein or Dick Shawn.

He has something of the qualities of a Freddie Roman or, at his best, a Buddy Hackett. Sure, I would be happy to see him at Atlantic City, Las Vegas or even Los Angeles. But here, there is so much to do in the evenings.

So I say render unto to Caesar's Palace what is Caesar's Palace, and leave the world of Broadway to turn on its own axis.


New York Post
12/23/1986

New York Times: "Jackie Mason"

Jackie Mason is a man who can move mountains. At least he has moved the mountains to Manhattan. The mountains in question are the old resort-riddled Catskills that were noted for clear streams, cold borsht and hot comics. In his one-man show, ''The World According to Me!,'' which opened last night at the Brooks Atkinson, Mr. Mason gives hilarious testimony to the art of the stand-up comic.

He is such a deft stand-up comic that he is no less funny when he sits down. One starts chuckling as soon as he enters to the regal strains of the ''Masterpiece Theater'' theme and suggests that the stage is bare because you have come to see him, not furniture. He segues through an astonishing quantity of themes. His style is not that of Henny Youngman, which both will be grateful for. No one-liners. No stories, either, a la Sam Levenson. No? What then? No jokes, no stories? From this he makes a living as a comic?

Mr. Mason is an essayist, a commentator, an observer of how people and society work. Maybe he is a verbal cartoonist. Maybe he's a glass of tea. No matter, he is very funny and anyone attempting to read meaning into what he is saying should be condemned to a siege of heartburn without benefit of seltzer.

His timing is flawless, and his material is clever. He delivers it in the resonant New York diction, roller-coastering over inflections that rise and fall with a tidal surge equal to that of the Bay of Fundy. He is delivering, on Broadway, the same sort of performance that has been his stock in trade all these years in nightclubs, in the mountains, on the prairies, on television. He even singles out people in the front row for mild insult, just as a comic does in a club, and he establishes an intimacy.

The show works because, unlike many other things that make it to Broadway, he has not succumbed to the temptation to be pretentious.

His range is limitless, within the bounds of a Jewish comic who brooks no pretention and even does a bit about the Jewish types who are afraid that he is too Jewish. He makes obeisance to nightclub ritual with the tired and familiar bits about timid Jewish and macho Italian husbands and aggressive Jewish and self-effacing Italian wives, the somewhat offensive but clubby ethnic shticks that are rooted in New York tribalism. Just as you are about to give up on him, Mr. Mason come up with a good double-take line designed to ward off the whammy of stereotyping and prejudice. Clever fellow.

He is positively hilarious when he flays television weather forecasters who are strong in the big outlook but when it comes to specifics give you an 80 percent chance of rain (''Did anyone ever buy 80 percent of an umbrella?'') or the airport temperature (''Who lives at an airport?'').

And then there is Iran and the President, ''God bless him.'' Mr. Mason does a job here. The President is unlike any other President we've had. Other Presidents looked worried when there were crises. Mr. Reagan jumps on a horse, eats jellybeans and says ha-ha. After everybody in the White House says they know nothing about the arms sales, the President promises co-operation.

''Just as we say we're cooperating, they start asking questions,'' Mr. Mason has the exasperated President saying.

The show, two hours overall, including intermission, is divided into several segments, each with a different backdrop that sparks a different theme. Mr. Mason's litany takes on sex, money, psychiatry, Beverly Hills, money, Israel, hookers, money, Einstein, gentiles, money, Jews, Broadway and money: ''I have enough money to last me for the rest of my life - if I don't buy anything.''

He also does very funny mimicry of James Cagney, Henry A. Kissinger, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, folk singers, pop singers. Mr. Mason does not do windows, but he does everything else, and you can save yourself the drive to Monticello. The mountains have come to Manhattan.


New York Times
12/23/1986

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