THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Jackie Mason: Ready to Rumble
"All these are jokes, Mister", quipped the veteran comedian Jackie Mason to one of his more unresponsive audience members. Such comic brio sums up this no-nonsense Brooklynite. He's been a successful stand-up since the mid-1950s when he switched from being a Rabbi because "someone in my family had to make a living". Three brothers, his father and grandfather were all Rabbis. Jackie's synagogue performances started drawing too many gentiles, there for the gags, so it was time for a re-think.
Always much loved in London, where he is a regular visitor, this outing 'Ready to Rumble' was trailed as his farewell visit. Nobody believes that for a second although at 84, his shows no longer have the kinetic energy which kept audiences rapt and in stitches, such as on his Tony-winning run with 'The World According to Me' on Broadway in 1986. The gait may be a bit more studied, the hearing more difficult, but the mind is as fast as ever and this audience, which impressively spanned all ages, were forgiving.
He may be as Jewish as matzo balls and he's at his best with exploring the differences between Jews and Gentiles, but the show is like a visit to a grumpier grandpa on the day he got his pills messed up. You need to leave your politically correct sensitivities at the door, which is where he'd want you to leave them.
The targets are predictable but a common theme is the social unease of the upwardly mobile Jew. Whether it is taking holidays in boring-as-hell obscure Caribbean Islands with nothing going on, or eating nouvelle cuisine in snooty French restaurants or pretending to enjoy dull visitor attractions such as Niagara or the Grand Canyon, or happily losing their shirts in casinos or enduring sushi, Jackie pokes fun at their pretensions. His ideal man is sort of regular Irving, as opposed to regular Joe–it's a common staple for British comedians such as John Bishop too. Add to it frustration with the modern world of texting and tweeting and '50 Shades of Grey' and you leave well and truly kvetched.
Mason's on less solid ground with politics and demolishes Obama as well as Churchill and JFK for equal measure. He gingerly raises the EU referendum and after a 50:50 straw poll among the audience he proceeds to then give us his take on the evils of Europe. It is populist shtick but when he delivers some of his old routines you cannot deny he's funny; for example his timeless imitation of Henry Kissinger. It is very healthy scepticism about those in power, and all the better for it.
He's at it his most sublime when discussing the travails of old Jews, be it struggling at the urinals in the intermission or calculating exactly how much money he is making that night or dwelling on their endless aches and pains.
He leaves us with his timeless routine about his battle with a psychiatrist who once told him he had to find "the real me". It's a delicious riff of absurdism worthy of Beckett.