An evening of Jackie Mason comedy is like watching a jazz master tackle standards. You know the tunes by heart, but if you’re lucky, he’ll offer you some interesting riffs along the way. “Prune Danish,” the latest goody served up from the seemingly bottomless Mason jar of anecdotes, finds the King of Curmudgeons in a pleasantly sunny mood, and that makes this outing one of his more successful ones.
The last Mason solo evening, “Much Ado About Everything,” was marked by a decidedly sour tone and an overabundance of Clinton-Lewinsky jokes that eventually tipped the balance into bad taste. This time around — perhaps as a reaction to 9/11 — he’s drifted into cozier country, keeping his seemingly endless reflections on the differences between Jews and Gentiles in a lighter vein.
Last time, a typical joke ran: “Do you know why there are no Jewish stuntmen? Leap from a bridge, that’s for goyim. Take in $9 million and show a loss, that’s for Jews.” Now they tend toward: “Gentiles always have to do something on their holidays. A Jew finds a chair, and it’s a successful vacation.”
As is typical in these evenings, Mason serves everything up in his plain style. There are no lighting effects, no set, no props. Just Jackie in a double-breasted black suit with a hangdog look that makes him seem like a basset hound about to do a guest shot on “Six Feet Under.”
His energy remains prodigious, and this 70-year-old veteran puts out a full evening’s entertainment, sometimes adding up to an extra half-hour of material if the audience is really with him.
Everyone knows and can imitate Mason’s Gatling gun delivery of jokes, but what continuously surprises is his physical plasticity. It’s a marvel to watch him as he swivels his hips nonstop as a Puerto Rican cable TV host, or mimics the contortions required to get into a Lamborghini.
One of Mason’s claims to fame has always been his ability to work topical material into his act, and it was interesting to see how he treated the current political climate. His presence in Canada added an extra level to his usual attacks on President Bush (“Your prime minister speaks as bad as our president … but in two languages!”).
He even manages to find some chilling observations in the war on terrorism: (“Why do we bomb Afghanistan? We’re just making more caves, and that’s where those people live. We’re giving them new apartments.”
The Toronto audience — largely over 50 and Jewish — loved Jackie and his material. He probably could take this manifestation of the Mason-a-thon on a lengthy tour and eventually wind up once again on Broadway.
His show offers the same attraction as the title pastry: It may be relentlessly archaic, but when the craving strikes, nothing else will satisfy. In a Krispy Kreme world, Jackie Mason remains an unrepentant kosher holdout.