Although the title “Freshly Squeezed” and the tagline “No Pulp!” would indicate all new material for the latest solo effort from comedian Jackie Mason, it’s still standard kvetch-up time for the boy from Sheboygan. That should bode well for his fan base, which may have been unnerved by his last Broadway outing, the disastrous “Laughing Room Only,” which was a Mason rerun expanded with cheesy variety show filler.
Although the punchlines may be new for his return to solo work, many of the subjects in this show have been tirelessly and tiresomely tapped by Mason — as well as others. Still, the old pro with impeccable timing and Catskiller instincts manages to deliver a palatable smoothie. While the net effect is a show that will please many, it’s unlikely to build much beyond the tried-and-true believers of the world according to Mason.
That world is filled with irritating things big and small — television commercials about erectile dysfunction, social injustice, greedy wives, lack of moral values, prostate woes — and he is just trying to figure it all out in his cranky way.
With his syncopated patter, stiff carriage and rambling manner, he is still the know-it-all, self-important, sometimes bitter, boorish yet delightful uncle who can make you cringe one moment with an embarrassing stereotype and then say something pretty wise the next. (Mason skips across the stage impersonating a gay interior decorator and then comes out in favor of same-sex marriage with a rationale that left his audience in stunned silence.)
Once again, those he doesn’t like are all “Nazi bastards.” The folks in the front rows are still subjected to his gentle insults. New Jersey remains an easy gag; the marriage lines, easier still. (“Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. The other 50% just hate each other.”) And the jokes about Gentiles and Jews have the whiff of millennia.
This time out, several new subjects are given Mason’s contempt and support: Enron, Hillary Clinton, Cristo’s the Gates, among the former; George Bush, Howard Stern, Martha Stewart in the latter.
But the majority of the two-hour-plus evening is filled with safe and uncontroversial topics: technology, dating rituals, marriage angst, hospital bureaucracy, fad diets, the Oscar ceremony and room service. Substitute his old exasperation with answering machines with his new exasperation with cell phones; update the Viagra jokes with ones about Cialis; scratch “The Vagina Monologues” for “Spamalot.”
Since 1986’s “The World According to Me,” the Broadway niche market that Mason seemed to own has become crowded with standups such as Rob Becker, Dame Edna and Mario Cantone putting their own spin on the genre. Bill Maher took Mason’s “Politically Incorrect” title and became the comedian synonymous with bold political satire. Billy Crystal, whose autobiographical hit “700 Sundays” plays across the street from Mason, has shown that an ethnically rooted standup show can be complex, moving and taken seriously.
That this old-school 73-year-old comedian has stayed the same over the years is both a weakness and a strength. There may not be craft of construction, depth of emotion or innovative satire, but Mason is familiar comic comfort food and, after two decades, even a theatergoing tradition. With “Freshly Squeezed” he is back on track.