Jackie Mason: I Just Write the Jokes

Jewish comic Jackie Mason denied Wednesday that he ordered a comedian scheduled to open for him off the schedule because he is of Palestinian descent.

Mason's comment, at a news conference in Chicago Wednesday, contradicts statements made Tuesday by his manager, who also happens to be his wife.

A spokesperson for Zanie's comedy club in Chicago said Wednesday that it canceled fledgling comic Ray Hanania's gig as Mason's opening act after receiving several calls of protest - some of a threatening nature - about a Jew and Arab-American sharing the stage. A day earlier, however, a spokesperson for the club said that Mason was uncomfortable having Hanania perform before him because he is an unknown.

Hanania was supposed to open for Mason on Tuesday night, but said the club phoned him a few hours before to tell him his act was canceled. Hanania said it was his impression he was not allowed to open for Mason because he is Arab-American.

"It makes no difference to me if he was a Jew or a Palestinian," Mason said Wednesday. "They don't involve me in these types of decisions. I sit in my room and write jokes, that's all I do."

That stands in sharp contrast to what his manager and wife, Jyll Rosenfeld, said on Tuesday.

"Jackie does not feel comfortable having a Palestinian open for him. Right now it's a very sensitive thing, it's just not a good idea," said Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld cited recent Israeli-Palestinian violence and delayed peace talks in explaining the decision.

Mason, who has appeared on Broadway and in films such as "Caddyshack II" and "The Jerk," is an ardent supporter of Israel and has received at least one award from the Israeli government.

Mason says he had nothing to do with replacing Hanania, but he adds that he was "furious" after learning that Hanania had been promoting the appearance with Mason and playing up the two comics' different backgrounds.

Zanie's also said Hanania's promotion of the show contributed to its decision to remove him.

Members of Chicago's Arab-American community objected to Hanania's removal from Tuesday's lineup.

As the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches, Americans should be doing more to unite, said Ali Alarabi, president of the United Arab American League.

"I'm outraged," Alarabi said. "It is an act of hate and racism against Palestinians, and we demand an apology."

Hanania, 49, who was born in Chicago, said he has been a comedian for less than a year. He said he started performing after Sept. 11 in an effort to lighten the situation and bring people together.

Hanania acknowledged he had attempted to hype his appearance with Mason and was glad for the publicity.

He said Wednesday he didn't believe he was discriminated against, but called his removal a "knee-jerk" reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He said he wished people in the Middle East "rather than throwing rocks and bullets at each other, threw jokes."

By Joe Biesk