note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Susan Daniels
First published in the Quincy Patriot Ledger
Jackie Mason is like the energizer bunny. He just keeps going and going and going and going . . . And at 74, the comedian hasn’t slowed down one bit, using everything and everyone as fair game.
The master of his domain, Mason was in fine form for his howling fans at Saturday night’s sold-out show at Boston’s Berklee Performance Center. Oh, but those hapless souls in the front row. Didn’t they know they would be peppered with personalized put-downs throughout the two-hour performance?
With his Broadway show, “Jackie Mason Freshly Squeezed: Just one Jew talking,” the laught-out-loud material hit mostly bull’s eyes, while intermingling a barrage of gutter language that is as much the comic’s trademark as a sailor’s - including the F-word, repeatedly. Described as “America’s Equal Opportunity Offender,” Mason’s schticks cover a range of human peccadilloes. No sacred cows with this comedy-meister.
From politics to polygamy (“Fourteen women in love with one man? How he convinced them, I don’t know.”), gay and heterosexual marriage (“The biggest fraud in the world and source of worst misery. Go in a restaurant and look at the single couples and then the married couples.”), Mason skewers topics like a one-man weapon of mass destruction, which, incidentally, also happens to be in his arsenal of humor. Email and cell phones (“No one cares about the phone. Now, everyone’s a photographer.”), Mexican laborers, the French, Nantucket’s activities vs. the Catskills’ (“In Nantucket, all you do is walk up and down the same street for a month with an ice cream cone.”), the double standards of feminism as well as Clinton, Hillary, and Bush (“He’s doing a fantastic job. Unfortunately, not in this country.”) are more of the two dozen subjects this quick-witted, silver-tongued comedian covers.
Like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, Mason’s delivery is rapid fire, punctuated with his inimitable body language that suits his short, stocky frame: funny, little jerky thrusts of his arms, legs, and pelvis move forward or sideward in sharp, stacatto movements. Somehow, these spasdic-looking gestures accentuate his material, sort of like a motor mouth of comic mayhem physically zig-zagging from one punchline to the next.
Despite the streaks of politically incorrect material, the two-time Tony Award winner manages to stoke his humor with wry observations, using wit and wisdom as a buffer for his intermittent barbs of nastiness.
So what’s a few insults and swears compared to entertaining audiences around the globe, including the Queen of England, who, the comedic legend assures us, loves him? With his litany of laughter embraced by Elizabeth and Jews as well as those from a variety of religious and political stripes, Mason, a cantor and rabbi until the age of 25, may be just one Jew talking, but he speaks a language understood by anyone with an open mind.
Nasty shmasty . . . he’s one heck of a funny guy. “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” Rain Pryor’s autobiographical show about growing up in Beverly Hills during the 1970s and 1980s with her famous black father and Jewish mother, is a tribute to both parents and both cultures.
Created, written and co-produced by the daughter of the late Richard Pryor, perhaps America’s most famous comic revolutionary, and Shelley Bonus, a Jewish go-go dancer, the one-woman show is told through song, a little dance, and a variety of characters, including Pryor’s two disparate grandmothers, who share the common bond of liberally loving her and dispensing advice that, at times, is both humorous and poignant. Performed with style and finesse by Pryor this past weekend at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, the 36-year-old versatile singer, mimic, comedienne, dancer and story teller takes us through at 75-minute journey of hate, racism, fear, loss and love, with twists and turns filled with comedy and humanity.
Whether Pryor is spouting the “N” word, like her father before her, a litany of swears as colorful as her cast of characters, or a primer of Jewish words that would make any Bubbe proud, Pryor moves smoothly between her two worlds, capturing the stereotypes as well as nuances of both her people. She is in her element.
Diving into her search for heritage and meaning, Pryor becomes her Grandma Bernice, an affably fussy yenta; her other grandmother, Mamma, a wise ex-madam; and inhabits a host of other characters that surrounded her life from a hair stylist to various family members, including spot-on deliveries of both parents. Punctuated by comic songs and bittersweet ballads, “Fried Chicken and Latkes” stresses that living an authentic life is not about “Where do I stand?” Instead, it’s about “Here, I stand.”
A performer all her life, beginning in her parent’s respective living rooms - they divorced when she was an infant - Pryor, at age 18, made her television debut in 1989 as series regular T.J. on the hit ABC show “Head of the Class.” She also starred for several years opposite Lynn Redgrave and Sherilyn Fenn as Jackie, the lipstick lesbian drug addict on the Showtime series “Rude Awakening.” Guest appearances on various TV shows, numerous independent features, along with roles in the films “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and Melvin Van Peebles movie, “Panther,” have accounted for a good portion of her professional credits.
But it’s “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” the show that opens with Pryor greeting the audience with, “Shalom, my brothers,” that identifies this Jewish soul sister as a true artist. With shticks like raising her fist to the sky while simultaneously declaring, “I’m proud and yet I feel guilty; informing us that the only color in Beverly Hills was the cars; or asking us to imagine her father sitting at the head of Passover table, Pryor, who, as a child, was lulled to sleep by Miles Davis playing his horn while babysitting her, lands the laughs as well as the drama of living a life straddling two different worlds.
Rain Pryor’s biracial identity may have presented her with a host of problems growing up, but it sure make for entertaining material. May her rainbow revolution continue.
“Jackie Mason Freshly Squeezed: Just one Jew talking” May 20; The Berklee Performance Center, Boston.