Jackie Mason, whose style of comedy was unmistakably and uniquely his own, has died at the age of 93.
The borscht belt comedian passed away Saturday at a Manhattan, New York City hospital, as confirmed by his longtime friend, lawyer Raoul Felder, to the New York Times.
In the tradition of Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield, Mason’s biting and acerbic brand of comedy was also undeniably Jewish, helping him to establish himself as a cultural touchstone for those that would follow, including Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.
RIP: Jackie Mason, whose style of comedy was unmistakably and uniquely his own, has died at the age of 93; seen here in 2005
During a 1998 interview with The New York Times, Mason described his comedic style by saying: ‘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 love — I’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.’
Mason was born in 1928 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, as Yacov Moshe Maza to immigrant parents from Belarus.
In the early 1930s, Jackie’s family moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which at the time was a thriving neighborhood for Jewish transplants from Europe.
The comedian’s father, along with practically every other male relative to come before him, had been ordained as a rabbi, and Jackie was destined 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.’
Seen here recording his album I Want To Leave You With The Words Of A Great Comedian in 1963: Mason’s acerbic brand of comedy was undeniably Jewish, helping to establish him as a cultural touchstone
A grand tradition: Mason was a forbearer of the brand of self-effacing Jewish comedy which later inspired other comic legends like Jerry Seinfeld; the pair seen here in 2008
And sure enough, despite his personal preferences, Mason ended up completing his rabbinical studies at Yeshiva University further uptown in New York, ffter earning a degree from City College, and was then ordained as a rabbi himself – mostly to please his father.
Unhappy in his profession, but not wanting to disappoint his father, Mason tended to congregations in Weldon, North Caroline., and Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
After leading various synagogue congregations to the best of his abilities, he started working summers at resorts in the Catskills, which were favored by Jews from the city (and served as inspiration for the setting of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing).
As he began to get his feel for writing comic sets and being on stage, Jackie found his footing and decided to pursue a standup career in full force once his father passed away in 1959.
A comedy great and a comedy greater: Larry David and Mason seen here in 2008 at Mason’s last Broadway one-man show, The Ultimate Jew
As he began to get his feel for writing comic sets and being on stage: Jackie found his footing and decided to pursue a standup career in full force in 1959; seen here on TV in 1978
Under his new moniker Jackie Mason, he tried as best he could to branch out from the Catskills to the nightclub scene in both Miami and New York, which proved to be a struggle at first.
But after a fateful performance at a Los Angeles nightclub in 1960, Mason managed to catch the attention of his fellow comedian Jan Murray, who recommended him to Steve Allen.
Mason eventually booked two appearances in two weeks on ‘The Steve Allen Show,’ which led to bookings at the Copacabana and the Blue Angel in New York.
From there, he went from triumph to triumph, recording two comedy albums and writing a book, also wracking up appearances on top TV variety shows including the legendary Ed Sullivan Show.
With James Earl Jones in 1987: Jackie hit his stride in 1986, bringing his first of many one-man comic shows The World According to Me! to the Broadway stage
Then, 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.
However, 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.’
After his new manager, Jyll Rosenfeld, convinced Mason that his old borscht belt comics were ripe for a comeback, Mason decided to bring his one-man comic shows The World According to Me!, to the Broadway stage in 1986.
Film appearances: Jackie’s comeback was punctuated by well-received performances in films like 1979’s Steve Martin film The Jerk, and 1988’s Caddyshack II with Chevy Chase (pictured)
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.
He also clinched a second Primetime Emmy Award, for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance, for playing Rabbi Krustofsky in an early episode of The Simpsons in 1992.
Seen here in 2016: The legendary comedian put close to a dozen one-man shows on Broadway, with the last being The Ultimate Jew in 2008
With another legend: Jackie was considered a top comic, hobnobbing with other greats like Joan Rivers; the pair seen here in 2011
Mason is survived by his wife of 30 years – and onetime manager – Jyll Rosenfeld; the longtime couple seen here in 2017
‘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.’
In 1998, he published an autobiography, ‘Jackie, Oy!’ (written with Ken Gross), and discovered a new venture as an opinionated political commentator on talk radio.
He was among the few well-known entertainers to support former President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Mason is survived by his wife of 30 years – and onetime manager – Jyll Rosenfeld, along with a daughter, Sheba Mason, from a previous relationship with Ginger Reiter in the 1970s and 1980s.