So a Tuesday night finds me and my oldest friend in the bar of the royal circle of the Wyndham’s. After two nerve calming vodka and tonics (me) and two small merlots (him) we were ready for the 8pm start, anyone would think we were sitting on the front row of the stalls, which must be the worst seats in the house for a Jackie Mason show.
International treasure and former rabbi Mason has been peddling his Jew vs gentile shtick for the best part of half a century and is now bowing out with this run of shows in the West End. If this will be the same adieu as Cher’s, whose farewell outing ran for three years from 2002 to 2005, subsequently followed by several Vegas residencies and endless comeback tours, only time will tell.
We were promised topical material and we did get some commentary on the Olympics, Obama, Cameron and a particularly funny two minutes on the Millibands, but really it was the greatest hits the audience were after and the 75 year old Yiddish curmudgeon did not disappoint. George Bush, the Clintons, henpecked husbands, domineering wives, bargain hungry Jews, simple gentiles all felt the lash of Mason’s tongue and the men on the front row got ribbed mercilessly. However his endless rant on fancy restaurants and nouvelle cuisine must have first made his act around 1981 and has not weathered well. Assuming it’s still acceptable for Jews to tell jokes about other Jews in much the same way as Chris Rock tells endless n*gger stories and everyone else is fair game, it sometimes felt as if we were in a hotel lounge in the Catskills in 1961. I almost ordered a vodka martini and sparked up a Lucky Strike before remembering that I stopped smoking five years ago.
Uncomfortable and unfunny riffing on Palestine, Iran, Afghanistan and Shakespeare, combined with his constant need for prompting from the wings made for awkward silences and only served to highlight his advancing years and lack of appreciation of the sophistication of his audience. For me the best parts of the night were probably the routines he could do in his sleep, unreconstructed and self-deprecating at the expense of Mason and his beloved fellow Jews, showing the old spark may have diminished, but it’s still flickering somewhere beneath the layers of Borscht Belt fodder. However, he finished with toe curling impressions of Churchill, JFK, Kissinger and finally Alfred Hitchcock, who was the last of that bunch to pass away 32 years ago, I think you might get my drift.
Time has moved on since Mason’s heyday and, given his age, some of his gags are, understandably, tired and occasionally embarrassing. I’m glad I got the chance to see him, he is undoubtedly a legend and one of a dying breed, but I think he has chosen the right time to call it a day. Having said that, it would take a brave man to bet against a comeback sometime before his hair finally turns grey.
Booking until 17 March 2012, age has slightly withered him - Jackie Mason - Fearless