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Jackie Mason: Freshly Squeezed

By New York City
Jackie Mason(Photo © Bill Milne)
Jackie Mason
(Photo © Bill Milne)
Jackie Mason gets a large charge out of himself. The second the curtain rises on Jackie Mason: Freshly Squeezed, he ambles onstage in a black blazer, black shirt and tie, and purple trousers, looking like a stack of dark dumplings. He begins telling jokes and badgering front-row patrons in his signature mumble, all the while amusing himself so much that he breaks into wide smiles and short guffaws. (It's a style that also made schoolteacher-turned-comic Sam Levenson a household name 50 years ago.)

The tic is well-nigh irresistible -- and why would anyone want to resist it? Mason lets you know within minutes that he's not going to put up with guff from anyone, including himself. "The show stunk," he says about his last Broadway outing, and he's absolutely right; it was a real clinker. Then he mentions that he's had it up to here with people who won't admit to doing unsuccessful stage work, and he gets big laughs mimicking their rationalizations. Nor does he leave it at that. In his bio, he includes this self-indictment: "His Broadway endeavor in 2003, Jackie Mason: Laughing Room Only, in which he appeared with five other performers and performed material other than his own, earned him the award of an early vacation to Florida and a renewed appreciation of the virtues of one-man shows on Broadway."

All right, that comment tends to direct responsibility away from himself and ignores the disturbing fact that one-person Broadway shows now take place in houses that otherwise would offer straight plays or small musicals. But it underlines Mason's determination not to shy away from reality as he rambles on about big- and small-scale foibles. Freshly Squeezed has a running time of two hours, including a 20-minute intermission, and Mason even has something to say about the intermission: It's longer than usual, he notes, because many of his fans have reached the age where bathroom visits are extended due to deteriorating body plumbing.

Sad but true -- and it's precisely such sad-but-true situations that Mason insists on facing up to. His targets aren't surprising; early on he does a hunk of material about cell phones. Because his observations are based in truth, however, he elicits non-stop giggles. He pokes verbal pins into pretense, as when he questions outrageous prices at luxury hotels and ends by suggesting that Pizza Hut could up its rates if deliveries were renamed room service. He gets to that quirky tip by way of convoluted thinking, but when he dribbles the punchline in laid-back fashion, the audience howls.

So it goes. Mason, whose political humor is on target, saves the heavier artillery for the second half. That's where he goes after George Bush and John Kerry. (Nobody ever said that Mason keeps up with the latest headlines.) He gets his Bush digs in after seeming to praise the President for his efforts. Mason is no dummy about running the risk of alienating anyone; his holding off on the Bush-Kerry japes is calculated, and he doesn't prolong the segment. Furthermore, he often precedes and follows touchy topics by insisting that he doesn't want to talk about these matters. His lengthy and hilarious discussion of enjoying prostate exams is delivered with just such a disclaimer.

Other subjects upon which Mason lingers -- as he steps lightly around the stage or occasionally breaks into a silly run or does quick impersonations of Arnold Schwarzenegger et al. -- include the popularity of the Atkins diet and its emphasis on low carbohydrate intake, single men badgered by married men, working women, and non-working women trying to divide a four-dollar restaurant bill eleven ways. (Mason will never be called a feminist.) Taking up these subjects may not be new, but the cute-as-a-button comedian manages to find something fresh in them or simply in the way that he applies his quick tongue and his body language. His impression of ladies denying that they had any of the cake at lunch is mightily amusing.

An important thing to remember about Mason is that he's an ordained rabbi, although he quit the rabbinate when he was 28 because, as is repeated in his bio, "somebody in the family had to make a living." But though you can take the rabbi out of the pulpit, you can't take the pulpit out of the rabbi. Though Mason cannily skirts sermonizing from the stage, he does lob a few attitudes at the congregation. In the first half of his ruminations, he announces that he's for same-sex marriage. He refuses to see why two men or two women marrying affects any traditional marriage between a man and a woman. He goes on to say that he wouldn't object to a man marrying a horse "unless it's my horse." Later, he has some words to offer on behalf of Martha Stewart and against the alleged crooks who are currently getting away with felonies worse than hers. His remarks on selling stocks when they're falling are an instance of obvious common sense being worthy of solid chuckles.

Mason, whom designer Paul Miller backs with strings of Milky-Way-like blue, gold, and white lights, has an indisputably Jewish sensibility. He may be one of the last stage clowns born and raised on Manhattan's Lower East Side. So that nobody misses the heritage, he drops Yiddish expressions into his compulsive, propulsive patter. "Oy, a klog," he says like every Jewish child's bubba, and meaning "woe is me." But his latest entry prompts no such exclamation; it's a mitzvah.


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