For a man who’s toured the world and been a smash on Broadway and in Las Vegas, you might think playing the Keswick Theatre in Glenside is sort of like a future Hall of Famer being sent to the minor leagues. But Jackie Mason doesn’t see it that way.
Before he goes off to climb Mount Everest — assuming he finds “the right outfit” — 84-year-old Jackie Mason still has jokes to tell, politicians to zing and audiences to entertain and infuriate.
That’s always been his shtick, going back more than a half-century when he was discovered by Ed Sullivan, then appeared on Jack Paar’s early version of The Tonight Show.
So, why change now? As long as you can relate to your audience, Jew or gentile, black or white, man or woman, that’s all that matters.
“My comedy evolves as the world keeps changing, and I always stay relevant,” Mason wrote in an email interview in anticipation of his May 19 appearance at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside. “When I first started out, I only played to Jewish audiences.
“Now I play to primarily gentile audiences. I don’t have to adjust based on the audience’s religion, but every audience has its own reaction to what is funny, so I change based on that.”
For a man who’s toured the world and been a smash on Broadway and in Las Vegas, you might think playing the Keswick is sort of like a future Hall of Famer being sent to the minor leagues. But Mason doesn’t see it that way.
“No, a crowd is a crowd,” wrote Mason, who only does email interviews, mocking the questions and the questioner with some of his responses. “It doesn’t make a difference if it’s 500 or 5,000.
“When I do workshops for 100 people, I do the same thing … I tell jokes. Comedy is comedy. A joke is a joke. My comedy is relevant regardless of the size of the venue.”
But not just any comedian would have the chutzpah to be as critical of the Jewish Democrat running for president as Mason, who ripped Bernie Sanders for his views on Israel during a recent radio show.
“If a non-Jew was saying it, people would call him an anti-Semite because he is an anti-Semite,” Mason said during a segment on Aaron Klein Investigative Radio. “Just because he’s a Jew doesn’t mean he can’t hate being Jewish, because he obviously is a viciously self-hating Jew.
“He’s like a man determined not just to criticize Israel, but who’s determined to prove not only that he dislikes Jews and Judaism, but he hates it and he hates Israel. You would never know he was a Jew fighting a Jewish country. This man is violently sick.”
According to Mason, the public response to his attack on Sanders has been favorable.
“People are thanking me for speaking out because nobody has the guts to speak the truth,” Mason wrote. “It’s Jews like Bernie Sanders that give rise to real anti-Semitic speech.”
Of course, politics and politicians have always been fair game for comedians, which is not to say Mason doesn’t “appreciate” them.
“There is nothing funnier than politics,” Mason wrote. “In fact, I don’t want this political season to end. I think I owe Trump and Hillary a few dollars.”
His political views aside, Mason takes offense when it’s suggested that, as a Jewish comedian, he’s one of a dying breed. While there’s no longer a “Borscht Belt” for rising comedians to learn the ropes, there are enough other options to make a name for yourself.
Besides, if you’re funny, you’re funny — and people will find out.
“My advice to a Jewish comedian is the same I’d give a gentile one,” he wrote. “You better learn a lot of good jokes and, by trial and error, learn what works and you’ll get noticed.
“There are many Jewish comedians. There are more Jews than ever. It’s only because there are so many other gentile comedians and comedians of all other races and creeds that it seems like there are fewer Jewish comedians.”
“Everybody does comedy that reflects his own culture. I have a uniquely Jewish flavor because I was raised in a Jewish household.”
Mason grew up with three brothers who became rabbis. He started off as a cantor, then was ordained as a rabbi — imagine him on the bimah — before he had a different calling.
“Someone in the family had to make a living,” he’s reported to have said about the transition to comedy, where he’s renowned for his one-liners both then and now.
Take this recent question-and-answer exchange — please (with apologies to Henny Youngman).
Why have you survived?
“To get even with the anti-Semites of the world.”
You’re 84 (turning 85 on June 9). What keeps you going?
“Stupid questions like this.”
What would you like your legacy to be?
“I don’t think of my legacy because I don’t think I’m going to pass away.”
Is there something you’d still like to accomplish you haven’t done yet?
“Climbing Mount Everest, but I haven’t found the right outfit yet.”
What surprises people about you?
“That I’m 5 feet 11 inches.” (He’s actually 5 feet 5 inches.)
That’s what you’re in store for when Jackie Mason comes to the Keswick May 19. Glenside may never be the same again.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729