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You had to ask?
Jackie Masonís Prune Danish
BY LIZA WEISSTUCH

When it comes to tireless forces in show business, Jackie Mason ranks right up there with Ozzy Osbourne and Madonna. Okay, so the comedian doesnít rely on publicity stunts or perpetual image readjustment to propel his success. But with his trademark scrunched-up shoulders, New York chutzpah, and inflated Jewish sensibility, heís been on cruise control as far as performing and touring go since long before he brought his first one-man show, The World According to Me, to Broadway in 1986. And now the endearing egomaniac is schlepping fresh material and his familiar shtick to Boston with his sixth show, Prune Danish, which will be served up at Berklee Performance Center beginning next Thursday.

Mason, who is as frequently referred to as a Borsch Belt "tummler" (after those masters of ceremony at Catskill resorts) as he is an "equal-opportunity offender," is easily fascinated by differences. When I first catch up with the former rabbi on the phone from his New York headquarters, heís kvetching and ranting about everything from celebritiesí ruthless self-obsessions to the way the public is "so mixed up about how to fight Bush." But once he launches into the seemingly whimsical topic of human individuality, the warhorse goes soft. After all, itís part of the secret of his success.

"I find the landscape of the world just as fascinating as I did when I was 12," he says in rapid-fire staccato with Lower East Side Yiddish-ite inflections. "Cities keep changing, atmospheres keep changing. The lifestyles in different parts of the United States are just as different as they are from New York to New Zealand or Turkey. Itís fascinating to hear how differently people talk and act and relate and live. When you talk to a redneck in the South compared to a Jew in New York, itís two totally different worlds.

"Among gentiles Iím a much bigger hit than among Jews. A Jew doesnít find me such a novelty. His brother-in-law talks just like me. But to a guy in Kentucky, Iím a whole new experience. You might find it hard to believe, but Iím a bigger hit in London than I ever was in America. They think the way I talk is so different from them, so strange to them, they celebrate it, they get the biggest kick out of it. Itís the same way that white people enjoy black comics on television."

In his new show, Mason takes shots at all the figures that have occupied headlines in the past year, from Saddam Hussein to Enron executives to Ariel Sharon. But though the subjects are of-the-moment, the title reflects something of a dedication to old-fashioned, unsullied insult humor. The "vulgarity" thatís sprung up in theaters in recent years is just another issue that revs his motor mouth.

"The new shows on Broadway are growing more pornographic every year. And theyíre trying to sell tickets on prurient titles and subjects. Itís just like the vulgarity of movies. People call the shows Ďdistinct,í they have Ďsocial significance.í Whatís the social significance of two guys playing with themselves for two hours? I wish somebody could explain to me how Puppetry of the Penis is going to change the universe. Itís a hypocritical, fraudulent way to sell tickets. And itís a filthy way to rationalize it, because you call it an Ďart form,í which makes the performers of these Ďart formsí and the producers total liars and degenerates and hypocrites, but nobody sees them as that because theyíre on Broadway. Now itís art." And commentary like that is exactly what Masonís own artistic license allows.

Jackie Mason performs Prune Danish at Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, May 15 through 18. Tickets are $45.50 to $53; call (617) 931-2000, or visit www.ticketmaster.com.


Issue Date: May 9 - 15, 2003
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