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Jackie Mason: Prune Danish

Presented by Jyll Rosenfeld and Jon Stoll at the Royale Theatre, 242 W. 45 St., NYC, Oct. 22-Dec. 1.

Jackie Mason's "Prune Danish" routine comes off as a flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, stream-of-consciousness spiel: The guy's presentation is so artful that it's impossible to know how much he's deviating from his script.

Mason will single out a loyal fan from the front three rows, pegging the victim as a dolt, a latent homosexual, or an out-of-place Gentile. But he never picks on any one sucker for long. And he doesn't pull people onto the stage. Everyone feels safe, more or less.

Mason's first Broadway outing since 9/11/01 doesn't ignore New Yorkers' trauma during the past 13 months, but the comedian seems to tiptoe around the topic, sticking with jokes about heightened airport security and the possibility that Osama Bin Laden has disguised himself as a Philadelphia rabbi. It's mostly mild stuff: "Saturday Night Live" and cartoonists from The New Yorker were veering toward riskier material a year ago.

More pointed are Mason's musings about the Bush administration's color-coded terrorist-alert gradations ("If you're alert, is this gonna help you?...If it's green, you can go a block and a half.") Mason also vents on Bush's Iraq strategies and the Middle East turmoil. His delivery is smooth, and it's easy to look past the fact that some punchlines may be recycled from ancient jokes of the "wife and mother-in-law/priest-rabbi-minister" variety. He claims, for instance, that Ariel Sharon would like to grant Palestinians their homeland, but can't. The property is in his wife's name.

Mason interweaves the political material with gags about cell phones, Niagara Falls, and the absurdity of neckties. And whenever the comedy threatens to grow edgier, he'll make a disclaimer: "It's bad taste to make fun" or "I don't like to criticize. It's not my nature." These asides, repeated with mock-seriousness, themselves become a fine running joke.

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