NEW YORK — Jackie Mason, a rabbi-turned-comedian whose fiery style of standup took him to Catskills nightclubs, West Coast talk shows, and Broadway stages, has passed away. He was 93 years old when he died.
Mason was noted for his biting humour and biting social satire, which frequently focused on being Jewish, men and women, and his personal weaknesses. His usual demeanour was amused anger.
“In America, eighty per cent of married guys cheat. He jokingly remarked, “The rest of Europe cheats.” “Politics doesn’t produce odd bedfellows; marriage does,” Mason said. “I was so self-conscious every time football players got into a huddle; I believed they were talking about me,” he once remarked of himself.
Mason’s passing was widely lamented, with everyone from fellow comedian Gilbert Gottfried calling him “one of the best” to Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel praising him as “irreverent, iconoclastic, hilarious, brilliant, and a wonderful American patriot.” “Now you get to make heaven laugh,” Henry Winkler tweeted.
Mason’s father was a rabbi, and he was born Jacob Maza. His three brothers all went on to become rabbis. Mason, who had churches in Pennsylvania and North Carolina at one point, felt the same way. Comedy proved to be a more relentless calling than God in the end.
“To become a comic, one must feel emotionally barren, empty, or frustrated,” he told The Associated Press in 1987. “I don’t believe individuals who are happy or comfortable are inspired to become comedians. You’re looking for something, and you’re ready to pay a lot of money to acquire it.”
Mason got his start in show business as a social director at a Catskills resort. He was the one who got everyone up to play Simon Says, shuffleboard, or quiz games. He was also a jokester. After a season, he was performing for greater money at clubs all across the Catskills.
“No one else knew who I was, but I was a hit in the mountains,” Mason remembered.
The pint-sized comedian received his big break in 1961 when he appeared on Steve Allen’s weekly television variety programme. His popularity landed him on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other shows.
Mason’s performance took him to Broadway, where he performed a number of one-man shows, including “Freshly Squeezed” in 2005, “Love Thy Neighbor” in 1996, and “The World According to Me” in 1988, for which he won a Tony Award.
On Tony night, Mason remarked, “I feel like Ronald Reagan today.” “He spent his whole life as an actor, knew nothing about politics, and yet he became the President of the United States. I’m an ex-rabbi who has no acting experience, and I’m nominated for a Tony Award.”
Mason described himself as an observer who observed and learnt from others. He stated he derived his jokes from such observations and then tested them on his buddies. He told the Associated Press, “I’d rather make a fool of myself in front of two people for nothing than a thousand people who paid for a ticket.”
From computers and fancy coffee to then-Sen. John Kerry, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Donald Trump could make you laugh. He was able to express the common man’s fury, making life’s indignities appear amusing and, perhaps, just a little bit more bearable.
“I don’t write anything down very often. He explained, “I simply think a lot about life and attempt to put it into sentences that would generate a joke.” “I never tell a joke about anything I don’t believe in. The message and the joke are the same to me.”
Mason was a consistent presence on television, appearing in cameos on series like “30 Rock” and “The Simpsons” or as a regular guest on late-night talk shows. In 2012, he performed in front of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and his performance “Fearless” was staged in London’s West End.
In 1989, he played a Jewish ex-pyjama salesman in love with an Irish-Catholic widow played by Lynn Redgrave in the series “Chicken Soup,” but it was short-lived. Mason was engaged as a weekly commentator by the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Scottish service during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He starred in the infamous flop “Caddyshack II.”
Mason’s wit occasionally went too far, like when he sparked a ruckus in New York while campaigning for Republican Rudolph Giuliani against Democrat David Dinkins, a Black candidate. Mason had to apologise after claiming that Jews would vote for Dinkins out of guilt, among other things.
Mason had a Talmudic view on life, according to Felder, a longtime friend: “That whatever you would say to him, he would start an argument with you.”
His daughter, Sheba, and his wife, producer Jyll Rosenfeld, survive him.