We are all very sad to have to report that comedian Jackie Mason died Sunday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan at 93, with his wife Jyll and a few friends by his side.
Before becoming one of America’s greatest and most distinctive comic voices, Mason was a rabbi. Friends say his concern for people stayed with him all his life; and wherever he went, whether on the street or trying to eat dinner, he would always stop to talk to strangers who approached him and listen to their problems.
Mason was one of the last practitioners of the classic Borscht Belt style of very Jewish comedy, which went out of favor with the rise of comics who did social commentary or talked about their personal lives. But with his unique delivery and sharp wit, he continued to make people fall down laughing decades after most of the Catskills resorts had closed.
His career had its ups and downs (a couple of the downs were his feud with Frank Sinatra – he believed a beating by a mob thug was done at Frank’s behest – and a banning from the Ed Sullivan show when Sullivan mistakenly thought he’d made a one-finger gesture.) But in the 1980s, he combined the best of his well-honed one-liners with his commentary on current events into the one-man Broadway show, “The World According to Me,” which was a smash hit. It won him Tony and Emmy Awards and set the template for several more such shows to follow.
One of those one-liners from the 1960s is still remarkably topical: questioning why rioters would burn down their own neighborhoods, he said, “With Jews, every fire shows a profit!”
In his later years, he became increasingly more outspoken about his conservative political views, which of course led liberal critics to pan him as having lost his sense of humor (laughing at themselves was never their strong suit.) It is true that he became more likely to express serious outrage at what was happening in the US and to Israel, but then, who can blame him?
If you’d like to hear some of the best of Jackie Mason, stream the CD of “The World According to Me” on Amazon Prime and check out some of his TV appearances on YouTube, like this...
Or be like me and hunt through thrift stores and garage sales for the 1962 LP, “I’m the Greatest Comedian in the World, Only Nobody Knows It Yet.”
And be sure to check out this interview he gave to the Governor on “Huckabee” in 2019.