Our review of Jackie Mason’s new one-man show Prune Danish should simply read, “He’s still funny.” But if that were all we said, we wouldn’t get paid. However, if that’s all you wanted to know, get your tickets now. If you want to know why he’s funny and how he’s funny and then buy your tickets, read on.
The comedy starts when you arrive at the Royale Theatre and open your Playbill. The biggest credit after “Written and Directed by Jackie Mason” is an unprecedented major billing for his “Legal Counsel” (with the emphasis on “billing?”). Turning the page, you discover that if you didn’t have a show to watch, you could continue reading all night; the length of Mason’s bio, at four columns covering two full pages, might be a record.
While you’re still reading, the lights go down, Mason enters, and then you laugh pretty consistently for the next two hours and 15 minutes — sometimes so uncontrollably that you can’t breathe. Rare is the long stretch without an effective zinger. Well, the intermission isn’t too funny. (Wait! We take that back: Mason teases the audience at the end of Act I when he guesses aloud that one of the subjects in the ladies room line during the break will be his age. Sure enough, on that line, Barbara overheard someone call out, “So, how old do you think he really is?” (He’s 68).
Mason has several effective comedy formulas for getting into a comic rhythm, gauging his audiences, and making segues from one shtick to the next. He razzes the audience in the first few rows, kidding them about their intelligence, lack of good looks, ethnicity, etc. It seems that, no matter how often he does this, his little comic jabs elicit laughter. They aren’t all that funny in and of themselves; the humor derives mostly from the combination of his unique, staccato delivery and the attitude with which he slices and dices his subject matter. There are, in fact, very few comedians who could deliver these lines and get laughs (unless they happen to be doing a Jackie Mason impression).
Mason directs himself to occasionally move from one side of the stage to the other. A Tony Award for directing is not in his future. On the other hand, as a writer, he constructs his material with comic cunning. He hilariously exposes differences between Jews and gentiles by taking a simple task that his audience knows well — ticket buying, for instance — and then spinning it to an extreme. Jews, he says, have to know exactly where they’re sitting; it has to be a good seat and they’ll consider every option before they make up their minds. For gentiles, it’s good enough if the seats are in the building.
Mason moves readily and easily from little issues like theater seating to bigger issues like the Middle East. His approach to important matters is to use the same logic he uses on the little stuff to make his comic points. As if to convince us that people are genuinely different, he relates that he recently did his act in Israel and “it was a tremendous hit.” Then he took that very same act and did it in Egypt: “Nothing. Not a laugh.” He’s proud of his point. We’re on the floor.
Prune Danish is Mason’s sixth one-man show on Broadway; he’s been doing this king of thing with great success for 18 years now. The material is often politically incorrect, sometimes offensive, and almost always funny. The title actually explains the show in that Jackie Mason is like a prune Danish: He’s not to everyone’s taste, but chances are you already know if you like him.