Dmitri Kasterine has photographed numerous cultural figures of the 20th century from Edward Albee to Johnny Cash, Roald Dahl (1976) to Mick Jagger, David Hockney (1974) to Rudolph Nureyev. His work was on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London during the winter 2010/11. The Smithsonian has recently acquired five of his portraits. | Photo: Dmitri Kasterine http://www.kasterine.com
I always have mixed feelings on Yacov Moshe Maza, better known of course as the world-famous comedian, quintessential, outspoken New Yorker, Jackie Mason, now 75. On one hand, he's a legend, a late night comedic powerhouse, synonymous with helping to shape and realize the modern day comedian as we know it. He's completely uninhibited, unafraid to voice his views no matter how offensive to whoever: ruthlessly honest and hands-on about issues other comics won't even come within miles of.
At the same time, I have to be frank. Politically, I don't think there are many people on this planet I could disagree with on more issues, particularly ones I care deeply about. A true ultra-conservative at heart, Jackie Mason represents, a very polarizing worldview - One filled with pure evil bad guys, and the bold, beautifully angelic good guys. Mason's world is one of absolutes. Black and white. Right and wrong. No exceptions. This is consistent be it in conversation with him, interviews, his comedic material, stand-up, movies, or TV. Mr. Mason has made up his mind on issues and could give a damn what you think, no matter what new information you have to offer.
Part of that mentality can be admirable in people - Someone who stands by their beliefs no matter what. However, to me the rational human is the pragmatic one. No issue, idea, or concept is absolute. When you take and dissect a person's beliefs, situation, or actions, it doesn't take much to be able to understand where they're coming from. When you have that ability it becomes very difficult to cling on to long-term anger, resentment, and hatred.
Now, to me, and of course I can't get inside anyone's head, but I think it's safe to say Jackie Mason is an angry guy. I don't think he'd probably disagree, his new movie is titled "One Angry Man" after all, but I don't want to put words in his mouth - he might disagree, but actually I suspect the disagreement would entail intense personal insults, sort of solidifying my very point. Let's just say, I don't suspect Mr. Mason is into yoga.
However, to those that agree with his opinions, he's a shining of light of relative reason, giving you an absolute view of the universe without any apologies, free of any deviations from his standpoint, and no room for bull. I give him credit where credit is due. Unlike so many politicians, comedians, entertainers, and public figures who will flip and flop to appease, Jackie Mason is no appeaser. He does not sellout or shoot for popularity points, and indeed has won praise and many enemies throughout his long and seasoned comedic career because of it.
To me, Jackie Mason is the George Carlin or Don Rickles without the wink. The guy who'll tear into you, but not actually walk off stage, smile and let you in on the joke. If the joke is being aimed at you, duck, because with his words you are genuinely in the crosshairs. There is not a stage persona and a real Jackie Mason. There is just Jackie Mason, all there, out in the open, and unabashedly real. But, for all of my critiques, he was nice enough of to take the time to talk to me, and give us all a little glimpse into the mind that is, Jackie Mason, the self-dubbed "Ultimate Jew."
SKY: Jackie, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. So you've got a couple new movies, Jackie Goldberg: Private Dick, and "One Angry Man." I saw the clips, found them very funny, particularly the jury one. What inspired these movie ideas?
MASON: I always wanted to do a take off of 12 Angry Men. It was one of my favorite movies. As for Goldberg, I liked the script.
SKY: You're known now for doing a great deal of unapologetic political videos, podcasts, radio shows. My understanding is that you're not too happy with Obama. What's your biggest beef, and is what are you hoping for in 2012? Any candidates you're particularly excited about as of right now?
MASON: There is not enough room on this computer to put down all my beefs with Obama, however I'm not at all surprised that he is so bad. I made a vlog 2 1/2 years ago when he was running that he would be a disaster. In 2012 I'm hoping for some sanity to get this country back on track. As for a favorite candidate I'm still looking at the field.
SKY: You have a legendary history of doing a variety of great observational humor, ethnic jokes, and political satire. What do you
|To me, Jackie Mason is the George Carlin or Don Rickles without the wink.|
think of some of the new comics gaining popularity: The Dane Cooks, and Louis CKs, Zach Galafianakises? Was comedy better, or is it getting better, or the same?
MASON: I think that there are a lot of good young comics today. As for comedy, I don't think it ever changes. What changes are the people that tell the jokes.
SKY: What frustrates you most these days? Open question, just what in general?
MASON: Answering questions like this.
SKY: You call your web show "The Ultimate Jew" - I'm half Jewish, from my father's side. Would I qualify to be considered an "Ultimate Jew?"
MASON: As far as Jewish law is concerned, only if your mother converted. It goes by the mother's bloodline. I call myself Ultimate Jew because I take enormous pride in my Judaism.
SKY: What's your opinion on this 9/11 anniversary, the Park51 community center in the vicinity of Ground Zero, and is it worth all the uproar? Seems like last year people were talking about it a lot, but not so much on this tenth anniversary.
MASON: 911 must never be forgotten. We must always be vigil about terrorism and remember that it could happen again anytime. As for the mosque, I think it's a disgrace and hope it never gets built. I don't think that during the tenth anniversary of 911 we should get side tracked with the mosque issue though. That time should be to remember and honor those that were lost from a senseless terrorist act.
SKY: What new projects can we expect to see? Are you thinking of running for office at some point?
MASON: Not running for office, I'm too busy and too honest. I'm starting a new one man show in 2012 in London which I will bring back to the states after my run there.
So there you have it folks, quick, but to the point. Definitely the style that has put him in the history books as one of the most known, loved, despised, and imitated in the field of comedy. I suspect his US tour and current direction will lead him to be particularly popular among many Tea Party members, which is an interesting concept because really the Tea Party is kind of a serious bunch for a group that dresses up in old-timey 1700s hats and rings bells in the streets. Not a lot of Tea Party sympathetic comics out there. Countless libertarian comics, but not Tea Party, really. Maybe Glenn Beck, however I don't think he officially considers himself a comic, or does he now?
It's an interesting comparison, the differences in comedians, so I wanted to ask him the same question about 9/11, and the Park51 "Ground Zero Mosque" issue, that I asked Dean Obedeillah. Be sure to read that interview as well.
What you have is tour led by a young, increasingly popular, Muslim comic touring the nation to try and create bridges of understanding, and the always consistent, always divisive Jackie Mason finding new ones to possibly burn down, or at least steer clear of. What a surreal setup it would be to have them on the same show.