Comedy: JACKIE MASON

Houses of Parliament
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The Independent Culture
Stand-ups have played some odd places before - during the Festival, Arthur Smith used to roam the streets of Edinburgh at 4am followed by a perambulating audience - but surely nowhere as odd as the Houses of Parliament. This was the venue for a State of the Union Address given on Thursday night by the American comedian Jackie Mason, with a little help from his friend, the lawyer Raoul Felder.

There have been scenes of high comedy at Westminster in the past, but nothing quite like this. As I rolled up at St Stephen's Gate, Mason was outside, smiling long-sufferingly for the paparazzi. In his slightly too tight, dark, double-breasted suit and immaculately pressed white shirt, he looked for all the world like a minister who had just been caught in an infidelity, but whose wife and Prime Minister were standing by him. Today.

Entering Westminster Hall with its majestic wooden-vaulted ceiling, we wandered past a distracted-seeming Donald Dewar, statues of lions and deer holding up coats of arms, and the spot where the death sentence was pronounced on Charles I. Finally we reached the subterranean chamber where Mason would get all presidential on us. A TV screen at one end of the room told us what was going on in the House: "Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1995". Frankly, I was glad to be watching Mason rather than that.

Under an imposing painting of The Spirit of Chivalry, Mason used Felder as his straight man. The neat lawyer - a dead ringer for a bearded Nigel Hawthorne - set up patsies whom Mason proceeded to knock down. With his rat-tat-tat Noo Yoik delivery, Mason sounded like Taxi Driver's Travis Buckle - with political nous.

Adopting his customary curmudgeonly persona, he scattergunned at political targets on both sides of the Atlantic. Even his audience was in the firing- line: "A few fell asleep, one passed away, but otherwise it's a lively group." He started by excoriating British politicians: "Here it's news when an MP doesn't go to jail. I'm gonna hire me a detective to find an honest MP." (In the specially invited audience, MPs Greville Janner, Sir Ivan Lawrence and David Sumberg appeared to chortle.) When a Division Bell sounded, Mason quipped: "They just caught another MP stealing something."

But Americans weren't safe from the world's most vitriolic ex-rabbi either. He reflected with a twinkle on OJ Simpson: "It could be that he's innocent [pause for effect]. It could also be that this building is in Mississippi." Even as a political commentator, he can't resist his favourite topic: the difference between Jews and Gentiles. He was amazed by Hillary Clinton's tolerance of her husband's alleged adulteries. "Only a Gentile would put up with this. She says, `It wasn't really a girl, it was a horse.' If she was Jewish, by now he'd be in a homeless shelter in the Bronx." As I exited through St Stephen's Gate, I passed John Prescott yawning vigorously. He wouldn't have been if he'd just seen Jackie Mason.

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