Jackie Mason – the former rabbi, Broadway star, actor, author, voice of Krusty the Clown's father and probably the funniest Jewish comic of all-time – died on Saturday. He was 93.
There could never be another Jackie Mason. He was one of the last comedians from the Borscht Belt, the upstate New York entertainment haven that launched the careers of many of the greatest comics ever, including Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, George Burns and Milton Berle.
But Jackie Mason, born Yacov Moshe Maza, was like no one else. With a lightning quick wit, halting speech and distinctively Jewish mannerisms, content and dead-pan delivery, he kept people laughing in a storied career that lasted over 70 years. His one-man Broadway show, The World According To Me, won him a Tony and is considered one of the funniest shows in Broadway history.
Much of his humor focused on making fun of Jews with shockingly outrageous commentary that only he could get away with – and audiences around the world couldn’t get enough of it.
A quick sampling:
“There’s no bigger schmuck in the world than a Jew with a boat.”
“It’s easy to tell the difference between Jews and Gentiles. After the show the Gentiles will say ‘Let’s have a drink’ while the Jews will say ‘Have you eaten yet? Want a piece of cake? Let’s have some cake!’”
“Did you ever see how a Jew walks into a restaurant? Like a partner!”
“Jews in the United States move into neighborhoods where there are no Jews allowed. There’s nothing but Jews there. Each one thinks he’s the only one.”
“Eighty percent of married men cheat in America. The rest cheat in Europe.”
Jackie Mason was my all-time favorite comic. And I had the privilege of telling him that two years ago. As luck would have it, my wife and I were in a small and empty Manhattan deli when I noticed that the only other people there were Jackie Mason and his wife, seated right next to us.
I almost jumped out of my skin and couldn’t stop myself from saying “Jackie, you’re the best comic ever,” whereupon he quickly turned to his wife and said “Did you hear that? That’s pretty good.”
He asked me if I had seen any shows while I was I town and I listed a few and said “But the best show of all time, Jackie, was yours.”
“Did you see it?” he asked.
“Well…not exactly,” I answered. “I watched it on YouTube.”
“Oh”, he quickly snapped. “So I lost money on you.”
Our banter went on throughout lunch and he couldn’t have been kinder. Finally, his wife handed him a phone and said “Jackie, I have the reporter from the Hollywood Reporter on the phone. It’s time for your interview.”
He took the phone, listened for a few moments, and then said “Why the f**k should a tell you a joke?”
He knew I was listening and cracking up, as was he. We kind of bonded and before I left he agreed to take a picture with me. As we shook hands goodbye he asked me what I do for a living. When I told him I was a lawyer – knowing he’d have a quick comeback – he smiled and said “Oy, just what we need!”
Jackie Mason lived life his way, always blunt and unafraid of speaking out on social issues, particularly in support of Jews and Israel. He once said that the three constants in life were “Death, taxes and antisemitism.”
He made us laugh and he made us think. Thank you for both, Jackie Mason.
Rest In Peace.