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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
JACKIE MASON, FEARLESS
at Wyndham's Theatre

OLD ROAD FADING
By JOHN NATHAN


At 75 Jackie Mason resembles a tortoise. He moves across the stage at a similar unhurried pace to that of the reptile, but the patter is as fast as ever. Before he says a word during this, his farewell show to British audiences, he surveys his fans with a heavy-lidded seen-it-all-before stare. It's the kind of silent pause that is indicative of only the master stand-ups. George Burns used to do it. Burns would sedately walk onto the stage and into a spotlight and just stand there. Before he said a single word people would be laughing. The British comedian Tommy Cooper had that same talent – to elicit laughter while saying and doing nothing. And then, when the laughter eventually died down, Cooper would say, “What?” which would send everyone into convulsions again. Mason too has this ability, only it's tinged with contempt. “I don't care if you don't laugh,” he says in that thick Brooklyn brogue of his. “This is my last show. What are you going to do – not come back?”

It may be Mason's last show in Britain, but other than that gag, the former Rabbi gives his public exactly what he has always given them – a world view that defines the planet's population by their Jewishness or non-Jewishness. A gentile could sleep on a sidewalk. A Jew could be in a $7 million condominium and still have a restless night. Upon this foundation block that reveals the way the world is – or the way he thinks about it – Mason builds themes about those for whom social status is attained not by how much they achieve but by how much they spend. Some do it in fancy restaurants. Others buy fancy clothes. The display of designer labels is apparently a particularly Jewish trait. “You meet a Jew and you're reading for an hour.” This is hilarious stuff but only for as long as the target of his withering attacks are Jews, and by extension himself.

Where Mason is much less clever – and for my money, always has been – is knowing where the funny line is when talking about other minorities. Much of it works. I'll always remember fondly the no-doubt offensive line to some (heard at a previous show) about street crime in New York and how Mason likes to visit Puerto Rico to visit his hubcaps. Yet old-school jokes about the Irish being stupid, such as the one wheeled out here, are steeped in the kind of attitudes that long ago ceased to be funny. Imagine an Irish comedian riffing about miserly Jews.

There is with Mason the sense of a man who is naturally extremely funny but who has little idea about what it is at that makes people laugh. I hesitate to give advice on humour to one who is so unlikely to ask for it, much less a king of comedy and a master of the form, but take the joke about Jewish parents whose list of unsuitable suitors for their daughter gets shorter as their daughter gets older. After she's 30, it doesn't matter if he's not Jewish, past 40. It's very funny until it ends with, “So what if he's black?” And the reason it's not funny is because the objection over a man's colour is presented as being nothing more than a forgivable prejudice in a traditional Jewish home. It's not. My parents, for instance, had not the slightest concern about me marrying a black girl – as long as she was Jewish. Anything less would have been odiously racist.

It would be unfair to characterise the whole two hours in this way. The timing is still exquisite and much of the left-field observation on such dog-eared stand-up subjects as marriage is still surprisingly potent. But the world has moved on since much of Mason's view of it was formed, and I'm not sure I would have rushed back for the next show even if Mason gave me the chance. 

 


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