The Diary: At least on a tour you may find a bathroom

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The Independent Online
THREE monumental events occurred last week: US Senator John Glenn returned to earth, President Clinton kept his pants up for seven whole days, and I returned to London's Playhouse Theatre. Let's be honest: John Glenn's feat was the most patriotic, Clinton's the most remarkable, but mine involved the most talent.

So I landed here, thinking I'd left sex scandals behind. But the minute I pick up a newspaper, I see the front page covered in sex stories of every kind. One politician is going into a park, another is coming out of a closet, the third is going into the Cabinet; this one is nearly gay, the other used to be gay, the third can't remember if he's gay or not. By the time I leave I may be the only openly heterosexual person left in the place. Still, if America is anything to go by, a sex scandal can't do you any harm. Take Clinton: a degenerate and a lowlife if I ever saw one. I say that with the highest respect. When he fooled around with the first girl, his popularity was 53 per cent; he fools around with another and it goes up to 67 per cent; the third - 71 per cent; the fourth - 86 per cent. If he looks at one more, they'll make him Emperor of Japan.

I AM overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty of the great city of London, where I happen to be performing (did I mention that?). But you can't eat anything. Every time I come, there's a food scare. First it was eggs, then cheese, then salmonella, then smoked salmonella, now beef. It's not about finding a food that's safe, it's a question of picking a sickness you like. It's the opposite in New York. Over there, you stuff yourself with pastrami and pickles and then after the meal is over, you start packing. When the British believe the meal is over they go home. New Yorkers don't just go home, they start packing. Everyone says the same thing at the end of dinner: "Do me a favour, sweetheart, if you don't mind, put this in a bag." And they start packing and it takes longer than the meal. Everything they see goes into the bag: "What's on the other table? They've finished, they don't need it. Put it in a bag. Got anything left over in the kitchen? Put it in a bag. How about this chair? Put it in a bag." New Yorkers don't look like they went eating. They look like they went shopping.

EVEN IF you can't eat here, no one could fail to be impressed by the age and the tradition and the history of this country. England is so rich in history that sometimes you can barely stand it. Everywhere you look is another monument to some medieval hero with a name like William the Clam of Welkshire who fought the Knuckleheads in 1371. I went on a Historic Tour of London which left me just wanting to go lie down on one of the historic London benches until it was time to fly home. But I didn't, because to be honest, I was having the Experience of a Lifetime, and also I knew that if I left the tour, I'd have been giving up my last chance, however remote, of locating a bathroom. And by the way, whilst we're on the subject, I would say to any American that British bathrooms can themselves be a culturally rewarding experience because many of them, I think, were built during the Middle Ages. I'm thinking of buying one and taking it back to my apartment in New York.

WHICH brings me to another fantastic reason to visit Britain this Fall, namely that the dollar is strong. Or maybe it's weak. To be honest, it makes no difference how the dollar's doing, because you'll never figure out what anything costs anyway. I'm told this country is now part of something called the European Economic Community, the purpose of which, as stated in the charter, is "to get US tourists so phenomenally disoriented that they are capable of spending the equivalent of the welfare budget of Pittsburgh on a bowl of soup". Look around any restaurant with Americans attempting to eat in it. I guarantee you they'll be frowning intensely at the menu for a few minutes, attempting to convert the prices ("OK, you get the whole meal for, let's see, $1.75. Or is it $400?"). A major recreation activity for US visitors is attempting to mentally convert everything to US money despite the fact that we possess - study after study has shown this - the mathematical aptitude of chopped liver.

But despite all this, I love it here. My show, which I may have mentioned earlier, is such a hit, and the critics think I'm such a sensation, that it's been extended to four weeks, and I'll be sorry to leave. Which raises the issue of travel. In light of the current developments in the Middle East, some people may be nervous about flying on US planes. You will be relieved to learn that the US State Department has announced there is nothing to worry about, and is urging Americans and Brits to fly on US aircraft, thereby creating more room on foreign airlines for the officials of the US State Department, who can be easily identified because they will be conspicuously carrying copies of the Koran.

Jackie Mason is appearing until 6 December at The Playhouse Theatre, London WC2. Box office: 0171 839 4401.

Reviewed, Culture, page 7