EmptyWadsworth Theatre, West Los Angeles
Trumpeting characteristic mantras "I don't want to make an issue of it" and "I'm not opinionated," 71-year old Jackie Mason brings his new one-man show, "Jackie Mason: The Ultimate Jew -- The Farewell Performances," to Wadsworth Theatre before its New York opening March 18 at New World Stages.
A glittering opening-night audience -- which looked to skew considerably older than even that for classical music concerts -- arrived in expensive cars and greedily devoured most of what the legendary comedian, who made his name on national television in the 1960s as a nihilistic rogue, delivers with professional efficiency and split-second timing.
They snickered with delicious pleasure when he interacts good-naturedly with the first few rows, they laughed consistently at his moderately politically incorrect humor, and they became breathlessly hysterical when he takes off on occasional riffs on subjects ranging from iPods to the four hours of Cialis to the war in Iraq.
For a comic who's made his living off an obnoxious manner and at one time a highly controversial point of view, Mason's content seems relatively tame and his manner surprisingly charming. Not surprisingly, Mason's political remarks are eagerly awaited, and it's where he scores some heavy-duty points.
Mason points out that Barack Obama "looks like a Jew with a tan" and that John McCain doesn't need "any opposition to change his position." He relentlessly pillories Hillary Clinton for a lack of experience, which the audience enjoyed a little uncomfortably, and he criticizes President Bush for being various shades of stupid, which the audience ate up.
In the end, however, it is the nonpolitical material that serves Mason best; topics like unmarried daughters, opera ("two goyim onstage screaming, 3,000 Jews sleeping"), technology, overweight airline stewardesses, sex and marriage garner him the biggest laughs. By contrast, an incongruously serious sermon on prostitution has the audience stirring uneasily.
After signing off with impersonations of Ed Sullivan (pathetically keeping alive a 45-year-old feud, like a latter-day Lenny Bruce), Henry Kissinger, Alfred Hitchcock and Gov. Schwarzenegger, the hardworking Mason, who moves energetically around the stage with the herky-jerk motions of the Energizer Bunny, shuffles off the stage, no less reluctantly than in earlier days, clearly not ready for the graveyard of the elephants -- er, comedians.
Whatever else he is, Mason is a lesson in show business survival. He now embraces a comprehensive portfolio of the avenues and trappings of commercial success: He has a nationally syndicated radio show, continues to write books ("Schmucks 2" is due out in the spring), contributes a bimonthly column to various Web sites and blogs on JackieMason.com and YouTube.
Michael Newman opens for Mason with a short but expert routine that makes sure the audience is ready to go.
JACKIE MASON: THE ULTIMATE JEW -- THE FAREWELL PERFORMANCES
Presented by Broadway/LA-Nederlander Inc.
Writer-director-performer: Jackie Mason