Jackie Mason is a tough customer. The rabbi-turned–Borsht Belt comic jokingly gave Ed Sullivan the finger on live TV in 1964, which gained him pariah status in Hollywood for years.
Since then the irascible Mason has become as famous for his uber-right-wing politics as he has for his Jewish shtick, irking Democrats, for example, by quipping that President Barack Obama is an “arbiter of change — he changes his story every five minutes.”
He feels entitled to use the word “shvartze” because, as he’s said, “I’m an old Jew. I was raised in a Jewish family where ‘shvartze’ was used. It’s not a demeaning word and I’m not going to defend myself.”
And he staunchly refuses to turn down his bile — where all things liberal are concerned — either in his video blog, “The Ultimate Jew,” or in his one-man stage show, “Jackie Mason: No Holds Barred,” which recently played in Los Angeles.
In advance of that show, the 73-year-old comedian refused a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, but he did agree to answer e-mailed questions. Some of the questions and Mason’s responses follow.
Q: Twenty years ago you called New York City mayoral candidate David Dinkins “a fancy shvartze with a moustache,” and last March you referred to President Obama as the s-word. What’s your response to Jews who take offense at your use of the word? Why do you keep using the word if it so offends people? And will you riff on the above at all in ‘No Holds Barred?’
A: I’m not dignifying those questions with an answer!
Q: Because you’re so closely tied to Jews and Judaism in the popular culture, do you ever worry that it could reflect badly on all Jews when you use terms like “shvartze” or call for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel? (Sample: One commentator on the JTA Web site wrote: “He’s my guy [meaning you’re a recognizable Jew] and I don’t want his rancid, bigoted Ashkenazic ass besmirching my religion anymore. Mason has been giving Jews a black eye for 45 years, and it’s time he converted to Catholicism, Shinto or something. Anything.”)
A: I’m not dignifying that either with an answer.
Q: How do you try to communicate your views to left-wing or Democratic Jewish friends (or fellow comics) to vary their opinions, or have you given up on them, since almost 80 percent of Jews voted for Obama?
A: The only person I’m giving up on is you since these are the stupidest questions I ever heard!
Q: Why do you think such a high percentage of Jews voted for Obama?
A: Because they’re stupid and now look at what we’ve got.
Q: Do you feel any hope for peace in the Middle East?
A: Unfortunately, no.
Q: Have audience members become testy at some of your statements about the president or other political views, and how do you handle this on stage?
A: Very seldom does anyone get upset with what I say and they know I say it in the spirit of love and brotherhood without any animosity. People generally know when they come to see me what they are in for, and I always deliver the laughs. I feel it’s my obligation to make sure that everybody gets as many laughs as possible. That’s what they pay for and that’s what they get. I am a comedian after all. Now you on the other hand, from these questions, may not like my show, but I generally get a more intelligent class of people.
Q: Are there times that you go beyond your true political beliefs to make it a better show? Have you ever said things onstage you don’t truly believe (about the president or other issues, for example) and if so, can you give a specific example?
A: No. I feel that comedy comes from truth, and right now this president is the gift that keeps giving, and so is the Congress and so is the Senate.
Q: Do you consider yourself part of an endangered species of Jewish comedians? What are your thoughts about the new generation of Jewish comics, such as Andy Samberg and Sarah Silverman?
A: I have respect for all young comics. I think there is a tremendous amount of talent out there. I have the highest respect for anyone that goes into this business, because there is nothing harder than being a comedian. When a singer stinks, the audience may like the song, they still applaud, but when a comic stinks, there are no laughs, so you can’t kid yourself that you were funny.
Q: What so incensed you about Silverman’s “The Great Schlep” video [which urged young people to ask their parents and grandparents to vote for Obama] and compelled you to call her a “sick yenta”?
A: If you want an answer to that question, go to my YouTube blog (www.youtube.com/theultimatejew), where I already answered this ages ago.
Q: Is Osama bin Laden really dead?
A: Well, I haven’t heard from him since last Passover.
Q: You were once a rabbi. Since you were (and are) ordained, do you still consider yourself one and how does that affect your comedy?
A: You are always a rabbi, but I’m just not a practicing one. My comedy is rooted in truth and the human condition. In fact, when I became a rabbi, I was such a hit in the congregation that more gentiles than Jews started coming to temple, which is a true story. Everyone heard there was such a funny rabbi, that it became so crowded that the Jews couldn’t get in after a few months. One of the congregants said, “Rabbi, you should become a comedian!” So I did.