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A CurtainUp Review
Jackie Mason-Much Ado About Everything
By Elyse Sommer
An apt alternative title would be Much Ado About Everything I've Done Before--and My Fans Won't Care. . .
In The World According to Me, (1986) Jackie Mason convinced audiences that his standup act and "too Jewish" accent were not only funny but good enough for a Broadway theater. It was hard not to laugh at this ex-rabbi turned serpent-toothed comic pundit making much of the difference between "Me" (Mason and all Jews) and everyone else (Gentiles and all other ethnic groups). His exaggerated cultural stereotypes were often outrageous but on the mark. There were also his unique caricatures, a rogues gallery drawn with just a few grimaces, head and shoulder twitches and often indecipherable "woids" that never really sounded like anyone but Mason.
That first show also convinced Mason that what worked once would work again. And so he parlayed what most people thought of as a phenomenon into four more reprises, each more or less a clone of hit # 1: Jackie Mason: Brand New, Politically Incorrect, Love Thy Neighbor and now, Much Ado About Everything.
In between Broadway gigs of these variations on the by now familiar Borsht Belt insult comedy spiced with cantorial wisdom, Mason has done several command performances for the Queen Mum and Queen Elizabeth II and collected an honorary degree from Oxford University. If he saw any irony in Oxford's bestowing him with an honor not given to one of the Jewish greats of the just ending millennium, Albert Einstein, he makes no mention of it in the current show. The funny little man who delighted in being the David who bested the Goliath who almost scuttled his career forever (Ed Sullivan), has become somewhat too puffed up and self-satisfied with his success to take the time to incorporate this or other really fresh and interesting reflections into his script. Consequently, the saucy impertinence that tickled the funny bone of the most buttoned-up audiences the first and second time around lacks much of its original spontaneity. And despite repeated disclaimers of "I'm not one to pick on anyone" and "I say this with highest respect" some of the routines, like his revisit with Indian cab drivers who "smell" and strand fancy Manhattanites like Mason in Astoria, sounds more like narrowness than good-humored kibbitzing.
So much of the Much Ado About Everything material shows little or no evidence of updating that the advance hype about it being "all-new" could easily fit into Mason's diatribe about lying. The continuing kvetch about bottled water is so carelessly researched that he blames the sins of Perrier on Evian. But then I'm probably making much ado about nothing since he also throws in a number of new consumer idiosyncrasies like paying top dollar for mousse which is deconstructed as "pudding with air." The promised "brilliant satiric insights" on politicians are fairly standard issue stuff -- like George Busch fumbling about his cocaine use -- and, alas, a resurrection of the presidential scandal that left most people exhausted and sick of it all. Mayor Guiliani, whom Mason seems to admire, fares a lot better than the other would-be senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The skewering of "areas never covered before -- like computers, Bill Gates and the Internet" consists of a rather lame bit about e-mail (I think also a repeat) and a joke about how to Jews, Gates' billions merely mean that "he got lucky" and that all his billions aren't such a lot of money "for today."
While Mason's patter has lost its hot off the griddle sizzle, he remains a master of making what he does seem easy and a one-of-a-kind caricaturist. Additions to his well-known take on his erstwhile arch enemy, Ed Sullivan, include, among others, Barney Frank, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and the Ink Spots. These inspired bits of Masonic portraiture, plus the bouncy song and dance finale with which he demonstrates his ability to compete with the more populated shows nearby kept me from feeling like a lone curmudgeon surrounded by people obviously having the time of their lives.
Many Mason enthusiasts seem to actually prefer the familiar and obvious and, in fact, tend to miss the sharper lines: Donald Trump's "I only drive Limos" when asked about the Sudan fell flat as a latke. On the other hand, the suggestion that President Trump would put up a Trump Tower sign on the White House got a huge laugh.
And so -- new, schmoo, sharp-edged or blunted by overuse -- many who packed the house on the night I attended obviously consider each Mason show a command performance, like attending Shul on Yom Kippur (A man sitting in back of me had obviously seen enough of the comedian to keep his companion in stitches throughout the intermission with his imitation of the "too Jewish" nasal twang.). If you count yourself among the devotees, and there are many, you'll of course ignore any of my less than ecstatic remarks or attribute them to my having gotten out of the wrong side of the bed.