Twenty years ago, comedian Jackie Mason got in trouble when he referred to David Dinkins, then a candidate for New York City mayor, as a "fancy shvartze with a mustache" while campaigning for Rudy Giuliani. Last week, Mason used the Yiddish term again, this time to describe the president, reports TMZ.com:
Comedian Jackie Mason used what some say is a racial epithet in describing President Barack Obama during his act Thursday night, infuriating at least several people in the crowd.
During a performance at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in NYC, Mason referred to Obama as a "schwartza" — some say it’s equivalent to the "N" word — others say it’s just part of the Yiddish culture and a literal translation of the word "Black."
We’re told one person walked out fuming, "He’s more offensive to the Jews than Madoff tonight."
We spoke with Mason by phone a few minutes ago, and he was outraged at the criticism, saying, "I’m not going to defend myself. Chris Rock has told a lot more jokes about whites than I have against Blacks. What about the demeaning words Blacks say about Jews?"
Mason added, "If it’s a racist society, the white people are the ones being persecuted because they have to defend themselves." Mason called people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson "professional racists."
Mason added, "I’m an old Jew. I was raised in a Jewish family where ‘schwartza’ was used. It’s not a demeaning word and I’m not going to defend myself."
And here’s a TMZ video of Mason responding to the original TMZ report, in which he says he’s called other ethnic groups "a lot worse" and once again brings up Chris Rock, who he confuses with the singer "Kid Rock." (The best part of the video is probably when the woman he’s with gives him the smart advice to get in the car, but he just keeps talking.)
Of course, while not to make excuses for Mason, there is a significant difference between the 1989 incident and this one. The Dinkins remarks came at a campaign appearance, while his use of the term "shvartze" to refer to Obama was in a comedy show — and much of Jackie Mason’s act for decades has involved making fun of various ethnic groups.
Jackie’s last foray into politics, this fall, was his response to Sarah Silverman’s famous video for "The Great Schlep," in which he objected to Silverman’s implication that Jews were not voting for Obama because of his race.