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Jackie Mason For President

About a year or so ago, I got a call from my mother, which is not uncommon, but this call was particularly memorable. She wanted to know if I knew who Jackie Mason was. Uh, yeah Mom, I think I … Read More

By / April 19, 2007

About a year or so ago, I got a call from my mother, which is not uncommon, but this call was particularly memorable. She wanted to know if I knew who Jackie Mason was. Uh, yeah Mom, I think I may have heard of him. 

 I asked her why.   

Her response: “All I’m gonna say, is that if Jackie Mason ran for president, I would vote for him, and I’m not kidding! Have you heard him speak?” 

It turned out that I had actually just watched him perform, for the first time in my life, about a month before my mother called me from California. Apparently she had heard him on some radio show, talking politics, and somehow he emerged, for her, as a big contender in the future race for the presidential slot. 

“Does he travel to California? I want to go hear him speak. Can you find out on the internet?” 

Actually, Mom, you don’t go to hear him speak, you go to watch him perform—he’s a comedian, not a political theorist or something; there’s a difference. How did she not know this? The conversation ended with me promising to look online for information about Jackie Mason. I also now, finally, had a great idea for her birthday gift: a Jackie Mason DVD box-set. 

When it comes to Jackie Mason, seeing is believing. I laughed way more than I’m comfortable with admitting. But then there were a few parts of the act where I panicked, internally, because I’m so programmed to beware of racist, sexist, or just downright offensive talk. During those moments, I would look around to see what other people were doing. After a while, I began laughing at things that I thought were just terrible because everyone else was laughing, which meant that it must be okay, that it must be funny, that I was being overly sensitive. I remember frantically scanning the crowd for anyone who appeared to be Indian during one of Mason’s impressions of an Indian man.

 There’s an article in The Jewish Week that talks about the post-Imus plight of Jewish comedians, including Jackie Mason. 

Public debate over Imus has heightened public sensitivity over what may be considered out-of-line attacks on individuals or groups, Mason said. But he said he senses a backlash of support for Imus. Mason said he doesn’t plan to change his Broadway act, which often draws criticism for stereotyped depictions of many groups, especially Jews. “I won’t even consider it for a second,” he told The Jewish Week. Though the most recent Imus controversy was not at first glance a Jewish issue, the shock jock has made a number of anti-Jewish comments over his long career, like calling a Washington Post reporter a “boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jewboy” and referring to the publisher Simon & Schuster as “thieving Jews.” William F. Buckley observed on National Review Online that “one of his specialties . . . was cracks aimed at Jews.” It has long been the case that a disproportionate number of Jews are prominent arbiters of humor, adding to the perception of Jewish influence in the entertainment industry. The page in the Sunday Times’ Week in Review section that carried a pair of stories about the Imus controversy featured the photographs of three people—Howard Stern, Sarah Silverman and Sacha Baron Cohen—who are clearly Jewish.

Sounds like the ethics of humor is the new big topic, and, while I’m all about discussions of the ethical in all contexts, I fear that censoring comedians or trying to legislate what is acceptable and unacceptable humor is a slope more slippery than we’ve seen in a while.

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