Jackie Mason isn't a comedian. He's a schmuck!
I can say that as a Palestinian because my wife is Jewish and also because at one time a few years back, I was on the vicious attack-end of Mason's grab for glory. But Mason seems to think that it is okay to slander, defame and attack anyone if it means getting some attention to his waning comedic career.
This week Mason found himself where his talent always tries to lead him, in a pile of news media headlines, reminding many that contrary to what they believed, he is still around. But just being "around" doesn't make you relevant. During one of his performances, Mason reportedly referred to President Barack Obama, America's first Black president as a "schvartze."
Where I came from, growing up in one of the nation's few Arab-Jewish neighborhoods, on Chicago's South Side in the 1960s, the term "schvartze" was never a compliment and was always said in the most derogatory and racist manner intended. In fact, "Schvartze" is the Yiddish "N-word."
Having grown up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Mason can pretend that it's defensible. But anyone who knows Mason knows he's an angry old curmudgeon who uses anger to get the kind of attention he only seems to attract.
In the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, after two decades of award winning journalism and having written one humor book about growing up Arab in America, I decided to get into comedy. The purpose wasn't to become Jerry Seinfeld (my favorite Arab comedian -- his mother is Syrian Jewish). It was to use humor to bring Arabs and Jews together and to help Americans see a different side of the Arab people.
It worked well. With no experience, a comedy club in Chicago, Zanies, heard of my open-mic act and invited me to their prestigious stage. I performed on their stage in Chicago and St. Charles 35 times as an opening act. And one day, was told I would get the big break to be the feature act in a full 9-performance week-long show. Weeks before my show, I was told that Mason wanted to come to the club to practice for a Broadway show he was planning and I was asked if I had a problem appearing on the same stage with a Jew. I said absolutely not. But make sure Mason had no problems, too.
On the night of the first show, hours before it was to start, with the audience filled with my friends, my relatives and my colleagues from the Chicago media, Mason declared he could not appear with me "because" I was "Palestinian." The club manager called me and began with "I've never had to do this before but you can't open for Mason." The controversy erupted from there. Imagine the news story? A Palestinian and a Jew can't even appear on the same comedy stage.
Zanies took Mason's side. Why wouldn't they? He was the big shot. I was the Arab.
Mason may be a big shot. But in my eyes, his a puny, unfunny bully. Hearing that he called President Obama such a terrible word doesn't surprise me at all. It's part of his career to offend and stir up anger. If he had any dignity, he'd apologize instead of being a nudge.
Today, I am proud to perform comedy with the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour (www.IPComedyTour.com) striving to bring people together across a divide of hatred that people like Mason help to create.
Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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