It was with sadness that I read of Jackie Mason’s death at the weekend.

Still, he had a good innings. He was 93 years old.

The Daily Mail had an excellent obituary of one of the world’s most consistently funny comics. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Life before comedy

I did not know that he was born in Wisconsin:

Mason was born in 1928 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, as Yacov Moshe Maza to immigrant parents from Belarus.

In the early 1930s, the family moved to New York’s Lower East Side. All the male relatives were rabbis and young Yacov was expected to follow in their footsteps:

‘It was unheard-of to think of anything else,’ Mason said. ‘But I knew, from the time I’m 12, I had to plot to get out of this, because this is not my calling.’

However, there was no way out for many years. Mason earned a degree in English and Sociology at City College of New York then completed rabbinical studies at Yeshiva University, after which he became a practising rabbi. 

He served several congregations, including those in Weldon, North Carolina, and Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Sometime in the 1950s, he began working summers in the Catskills, a mountain range in New York State, known for its resorts which attracted Jewish clientele. It is known as the Borscht Belt.

He wrote his own material, put comedy sets together and accustomed himself to being on stage.

Comedy career

It was only in 1959, after his father died, that the rabbi pursued a stand-up career full time and changed his name to Jackie Mason.

However, he did not leave his theological training behind. In 1988, he described his style of comedy to the New York Times:

‘My humor — it’s a man in a conversation, pointing things out to you,’ 

‘He’s not better than you, he’s just another guy,’ he added. ‘I see life with loveI’m your brother up there — but if I see you make a fool out of yourself, I owe it to you to point that out to you.’      

From the Catskills, he branched out into the big time, playing clubs in Miami and New York in 1960 after two television appearances on the iconic Steve Allen Show.

I am old enough to remember that Jackie Mason was on television a lot in the early 1960s.

In 1964, he appeared on another iconic programme, The Ed Sullivan Show, which aired on Sunday nights. I remember my mother got very worked up about what happened in one of his appearances, as she was a huge Ed Sullivan fan. We never missed a show. After this appearance she turned against Jackie Mason:

after a terrible misunderstanding in 1964 between Sullivan and Mason involving a perceived obscene middle finger gesture, Jackie’s career hit a major slump.

Sullivan canceled Mason’s six-show contract, refusing to pay him for the performance

Mason eventually filed a lawsuit, and won.

Mason’s career did not recover until the late 1970s:

… it would take him many years to find his momentum once again, with his comeback punctuated by well-received performances in 1979’s Steve Martin film The Jerk, and Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part I two years later.

People started to think I was some kind of sick maniac,’ Mr. Mason told Look. ‘It took 20 years to overcome what happened in that one minute.’

My mother would definitely have agreed with the ‘sick maniac’ description, unfounded though it was.

He hired a new manager Jyll Rosenfeld, whom he later married. She convinced him that there was an appetite for Borscht Belt humour beyond the Catskills. He launched a long-running show on Broadway in 1986:

Mason decided to bring his one-man comic shows The World According to Me!, to the Broadway stage in 1986.

The hit show ran for two years, and earned him a special Tony Award in 1987, followed by an Emmy for writing when HBO aired a version of the show.

From there, the legendary comedian put close to a dozen other one-man shows on Broadway, with the last being The Ultimate Jew in 2008.

Here is one of his performances from 1986:

Mason also enjoyed an on-screen appearance in Caddyshack II in 1988 and a voice-over as Rabbi Krustofsky in an early episode of The Simpsons in 1992, for which he won a second Primetime Emmy Award, for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.

In the aforementioned New York Times interview from 1988, he was philosophical in the way only a rabbi can be:

‘I’ve been doing this for a hundred thousand years, but it’s like I was born last Thursday,’ Mr. Mason told The New York Times in 1988. 

They see me as today’s comedian. Thank God I stunk for such a long time and was invisible, so I could be discovered.’

London appearances

For several years, Jackie Mason used to come to London once a year for a stand-up show that was often televised.

I was in stitches.

Guido Fawkes tweeted Mason’s 2002 appearance, which was or was close to being his last over here:

Here’s the video, which is just over 90 minutes long:

The next video is his 1999 performance at the London Palladium. It is just under 40 minutes long:

However, in 1992, Mason did a half-hour set at Oxford University, where he ribbed the students for their total lack of sartorial elegance and fondness of political correctness. He also made fun of the Jewish lifestyle which encompasses self-denial of Jewishness as well as certain material aspirations. The University asked him to do the set for free, something at which he also cavilled, in a humorous way:

This is his description of the video:

This is a clip from a lecture I gave at Oxford University back in 1992. They gave me an award and a fellowship in the Oxford Union Society. The first American comedian to receive such an honor. That’s how they got me to work for nothing. Enjoy!

Here’s the second part, which was a Q&A session:

He talked about his years as a rabbi where people didn’t want the sermon and hoped for a few jokes. He said that Oxford students were very polite and he hadn’t heard one four-letter word yet: ‘I’m waiting, I’m waiting’.

Near the end, he said that England is the most polite society in the Western world with all the ubiquitous apologies one hears. The only exception, he noted, is in Parliament, where the raucous tone reminded him of a ‘sanitarium’.

Politics and talk radio

In 1998, Mason’s biography was published and he began a career in talk radio:

he published an autobiography, ‘Jackie, Oy!’ (written with Ken Gross), and discovered a new venture as an opinionated political commentator on talk radio.

Twenty years later, he issued a series of vlogs against then-candidate Barack Obama. I watched most of them. This one discusses the first presidential debate in September 2008:

His description of the Obama v McCain debate reads as follows:

Here are my thoughts on the first presidential debate. Although neither candidate had a clear victory Friday night, the media is saying Obama won because he didn’t lose. He looked poised and presidential. Well he did look poised as he made no sense! And if looking Presidential is telling bold lies, the Hail to the Chief!

In 2016, Mason was an unabashed Trump supporter:

He was among the few well-known entertainers to support former President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

In October 2016, he appeared on Aaron Klein Investigative Radio, which airs in New York City and Philadelphia. Mason contrasted Trump’s words about women to Bill Clinton’s actual violence against his victims.

Breitbart had the story, reporting that Mason said:

What Trump ever did to women is that he called them a name because she gained too much weight so he said she got too fat and he called her a pig. Imagine if the worst thing Bill Clinton ever did was call a girl a name. He called them names after he raped them.

When he got through with them, Juanita Broaddrick wound up with a cut lip. And he had advised her to please go see a doctor. He was very compassionate about sending them to doctors. But he wasn’t too concerned about beating them up in the first place. He was so busy punching them around that nobody knows if he made love to them or he just wanted to beat them up a little bit.

As for Hillary, he said:

He was really a violent, insane character. Now his wife, she had a job. Her job was to make sure that these women were never heard about it. Every time somebody threatened to talk about it she immediately went to work on destroying them. First he punched them around. Then it was her job to wipe them out altogether.

And she’s calling Trump a person who can’t be trusted because of the way he treats women? This is like somebody who crossed a red light being compared to a murderer.

After Trump’s election, Mason turned his attention towards the RINOs, especially the then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan:

In March 2017, Breitbart reported:

In this week’s exclusive clip for Breitbart News, Jackie weighs in on the GOP’s failed healthcare bill, explaining that Republicans in Washington were focused on “repealing and replacing” the wrong thing.

“When they were talking about ‘repeal and replace,’ they were stupid,” Jackie says. “They were talking about healthcare, they should have been talking about [House Speaker Paul] Ryan. If Ryan was repealed and replaced we would have had no problem today.”

Jackie — who was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in Ryan’s home state — says he finds it odd that a Speaker of the House who is supposed to be some kind of “genius” can’t count correctly.

“You know what Ryan should do if he wanted to save this whole country? Get another job,” he says. “Find out something that you actually know. If there’s nothing like that, sit in the House and don’t bother anybody. Mind your own business, you’ll save the country.”

My deepest sympathies go to his widow and former manager Jyll Rosenfeld and his daughter Sheba Mason, from a former union with Ginger Reiter in the 1970s and 1980s.

For more Jackie Mason shows and interviews, visit TheUltimateJew channel on YouTube.