CHICAGO – A comedian scheduled to open for Jewish comic Jackie Mason was told hours before the show he couldn’t perform because he is Palestinian, Mason’s manager said.
Ray Hanania was supposed to open for Mason on Tuesday night at Zanie’s comedy club in Chicago, but the club phoned him a few hours before to tell him his act was canceled.
Mason has been an outspoken member of the Jewish community. His manager cited recent Israeli-Palestinian violence and delayed peace talks in explaining the decision.
“It’s not exactly like he’s just an Arab-American. This guy’s a Palestinian,” said Jyll Rosenfeld, Mason’s manager. “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.”
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.
“Nothing personal against this fellow,” Rosenfeld said. “Jackie doesn’t even know him.”
But members of Chicago’s Arab-American community did take it personally.
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.”
Rosenfeld said the issue is more about avoiding an uncomfortable situation.
“Don’t turn this into a racist issue, because it’s not,” Rosenfeld said. “We just felt this is not a good idea at this time.”
Hanania, 49, said he has been a comedian for less than a year and has about 20 performances under his belt. He started performing after Sept. 11 in an effort to lighten the situation and bring people together, he said.
“I’m upset because I deserve to be on stage and it was a big break for me,” Hanania said.
Zanie’s General Manager Linda Moses said Hanania’s inexperience contributed to the cancellation. She said Hanania was replaced by a comic who has opened for Mason several times in the past.
“It’s just the fact that he is an unknown,” Moses said. “(Mason) is just not comfortable with having an unknown act. It’s understandable.”
In cases like this, the club must defer to Mason’s wishes, Moses said.
Hanania, a Vietnam War veteran and former reporter, said he believes the decision should be based on how funny and entertaining he is. He said that if the decision was simply that he is a “lousy comedian,” then he would be satisfied.