Judge Gordon Sullivan owns the stage; he bought it at the theater's yard sale.
The Ultimate Farewell Performance From the Man Who Has Seen It All.
Jackie Mason has been making people laugh regularly for most of his seventy-three years. From his time on The Ed Sullivan Show to his one-man Broadway appearances through the years, Mason is a master of the comic monologue, pointing out trenchant cultural differences with both self-confidence and self-deprecation. Jackie Mason: The Ultimate Jew Live on Broadway is a DVD of what Mason promises will be his last one-man appearance on Broadway (and his eighth, which is an impressive run). Mason is still a master monologist, but his material seems even more intended to inspire division than ever before.
The best thing about Ultimate Jew is that Jackie Mason owns that stage. Even when his bits fall a little flat, he's still engaging as a performer. His delivery and pacing are top notch, and his persona is amusing even when he's not telling a "joke." When he suggests that Rudy Guiliani should have been president, he gets some boos. He cuts the hecklers down with a quick expletive and tells them if they don't like his thoughts to get out. He's not mean about it, but he seems deadly serious: the stage is his, and if the audience doesn't like, he doesn't care. His confidence is amazing, and that keeps his show more engaging when the material flags.
His delivery smoothes over some of the more tired material. Mason has long made a point of showing the foibles of Jews and Gentiles, and, unsurprisingly, Ultimate Jew is no exception. A few of his observations are amusing, but on the whole it's the same old "Jews are tight with their money," and "Gentiles don't understand Jews." It's occasionally funny, like when he points out that even though Israel has an atomic bomb, it's so expensive that they wouldn't waste it on Arabs. It's the same old Jewish joke, but the new context makes it work. These are the jokes that Mason's delivery can make or break. He's so comfortable with this humor that even if I wasn't laughing I was still into his routine.
The jokes Mason's delivery can't overcome are his political potshots. Most of these are either tired, or just sad. Making fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent in 2008 is both. He makes some interesting remarks about Obama (like the fact that the media all but ignores his non-African American heritage to portray him as the "black president"), but he runs that tiny bit into the ground. His comments on Hillary Clinton spend a lot of time referring to her relationship with her husband, which gives him an excuse to drag out material that was relevant sometime in 1998.
The big problem with Mason's jokes, however, is that they're just un-PC enough to be offensive to people, but without ever getting into enlightening territory like Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, or George Carlin (who stayed angry and enlightening as ever, even in his seventies). He sometimes comes off as the obnoxious uncle at Thanksgiving who insists on calling all the women "bunny" and still talks about "coloreds" and things like that.
The rest of his material is observational humor on everything from diets to gambling, and these tend to be bland but amusing. Here it's easy to see the roots of comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen, and shows that Mason has an intimate knowledge of the craft of joke telling.
As a DVD package, Jackie Mason: The Ultimate Jew is slight but sturdy. The video transfer appears to be from a digital video source, so it's a little soft but for a one-man show it's easily watchable. The audio is crisp and clear, with Mason's material easy to hear. For extras we get a behind-the-scenes featurette that runs about 12 minutes, showing Mason joking in his dressing room, and a bonus audio version of the show on CD.
With a sold-out run on Broadway, Jackie Mason must be doing something right, and fans who have been following him for years will surely find something to enjoy in his final Broadway performance. For those who've heard about Jackie for years but haven't experienced his show yet, it's probably a better idea to start with one of his earlier recordings. Casual fans of standup will find something to enjoy in Mason's performance, but be aware that he is unrepentantly un-PC, so be prepared for offensive material.
Jackie Mason might say that I should find him guilty, because being a Jew he's going to feel that way no matter what I say.
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