Jackie Mason, a rabbi-turned-comedian whose lively stand-up comedy took him to Catskills nightclubs, west coast talk shows, and Broadway stages, has died. He was 93.
Mason died at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday after being hospitalized for over two weeks, prominent attorney Raoul Felder told The Associated Press.
The irascible Freemason was known for his sharp wit and penetrating social comments, often about the fact that he was Jewish, men and women, and his own shortcomings. His typical style was amused outrage.
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“Eighty percent of married men cheat in America. The rest are cheating in Europe, ”he once joked. Another Masonic quote read: “Politics doesn’t make strange bedfellows, marriage does.” About himself he once said: “I was so confident every time football players got into a mess; I thought they were talking about me. “
His death has been mourned far and wide, from fellow comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who called him “one of the best,” to Sean Hannity, the Fox News Channel personality whom Mason described as “disrespectful, iconoclastic, funny, smart and one great American patriots “. ”
Mason was born Jacob Maza, the son of a rabbi. His three brothers became rabbis. So did Mason, who once had meetings in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Comedy eventually turned out to be a more persistent calling than God.
“A person has to feel emotionally sterile, empty, or frustrated to become a comedian,” he told The Associated Press in 1987. “I don’t think people who are comfortable or happy are motivated to be comedians. They are looking for something and are willing to pay a heavy price to get that attention. “
Mason started out in show business as a social director at a resort in the Catskills. He was the guy who got everyone to play Simon Says, quizzes, or shuffleboard. He also told jokes. After a season he played in the Catskills clubs for better money.
“Nobody else knew me, but I was a hit in the mountains,” recalls Mason.
In 1961, the pint-sized comic got a big break, an appearance on Steve Allen’s weekly television variety show. His success led him to “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other programs.
He was banned from the “Sullivan” show for two years after allegedly shaking the host’s finger when Sullivan signaled him during an appearance on October 18, 1964 to stop his act.
Mason’s appearance even took him to Broadway, where he put on several one-man shows, including “Freshly Squeezed” in 2005, “Love Thy Neighbor” in 1996, and “The World After Me” in 1988, for which he a special received a Tony Award.
“I feel like Ronald Reagan tonight,” Mason joked on Tony Night. “He was an actor all his life, knew nothing about politics, and became President of the United States. I’m an ex-rabbi who had no idea about acting and I’m getting a Tony Award. “
Mason referred to himself as an observer who observed and learned people. From these observations, he said he got his jokes and then tried them on friends. “I’d rather make a fool of myself in front of two people than a thousand people who have paid for a ticket,” he told the AP.
His humor could jump from computers and designer coffee to sen John Kerry, Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Donald Trump. He was able to articulate the anger of the average Joe, which made life’s humiliations seem funny and perhaps a bit more bearable.
“I very seldom write anything down. I just think a lot about life and try to put it into sentences that make a joke, ”he said. “I never make a joke that has a meaning that I don’t believe in. To me, the message and the joke are the same.”
On television, Mason was a reliable presence, mostly with a cameo on shows like “30 Rock” or “The Simpsons” or as a reliable guest on late night chat shows. He performed in front of the British Queen Elizabeth II and his show “Fearless” played in 2012 in London’s West End.
He portrayed an ex-Jewish pajama seller who was in love with an Irish Catholic widow portrayed by Lynn Redgrave in a series called “Chicken Soup” in 1989, but it didn’t last. During the murder trial of OJ Simpson, the Scottish Service of British Broadcasting Corp. Mason as the weekly commentator.
Mason’s humor sometimes went too far when it sparked controversy in New York when he fought for GOP mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani against Democrat David Dinkins, who was black. Mason had to apologize after saying, among other things, that guilty Jews would vote for Dinkins.
Felder, his longtime friend, told the AP that Mason had a Talmudic outlook on life: “That whatever you told him he would start an argument with you.”
He leaves behind his wife, producer Jyll Rosenfeld, and a daughter, Sheba.