Jackie Mason: King of Jewish Comedy
An exclusive Jewlarious interview with a comedian who is truly Jewlarious.
Jackie Mason passed away at the age of 93, Saturday, July 24, 2021. May his memory be a blessing.
"It is easy to tell the difference between Jews and Gentiles. After the show, all the gentiles are saying ‘Have a drink? Want a drink? Let's have a drink!' While all the Jews are saying ‘Have you eaten yet? Want a piece of cake? Let's have some cake!'"
This is one of those signature routines that has made Jackie Mason famous. His observations about Jews and Gentiles, whether politically correct or not, have set him apart from his comedic colleagues, and as some would argue, have led to Mason being crowned the Jewish king of Comedy.
Granted, there are plenty of other Jewish comedians who have had remarkable success, but Mason is different. His style and material demonstrate that he is not simply a comedian who happens to be Jewish, but a Jewish comedian.
Jackie Mason is not simply a comedian who happens to be Jewish, he is a Jewish comedian.
Mason began his career performing in the Borscht Belt in the 1950s and gained prominence through a series of appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. He soon moved on with one man shows of his own, namely, "The World According to Me," "Brand New," "Politically Incorrect," "Love Thy Neighbor," "Much Ado about Everything," "Prune Danish," and most recently, "Freshly Squeezed."
As successful as he had become, some started to think of Mason as an older style comedian, only appealing to a specific audience. That changed in 1991, when he brought his humor to a new generation when he made his Emmy award winning performance as the voice of Rabbi Hayim Krustofski on Fox's hit animation "The Simpsons." In the episode, Bart and Lisa try to reunite Krusty the Clown with his long-estranged father. Rabbi Krustofski was strongly opposed to young Krusty's wish of becoming a clown, insisting that the boy to go to the traditional Jewish place of learning instead -- a yeshiva. In contravention of his father's orders, Krusty had been performing slapstick comedy behind his back. When Rabbi Krustofski found out, he disowned his son, and it had been 25 years since they had spoken until Bart and Lisa finally forced a reconciliation.
The role for Mason may have been more fact than fiction as he too was raised into an esteemed rabbinic family. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great, great-grandfather were all rabbis, as are his three brothers. It was no surprise then that at the age of 25, Jackie Mason was also ordained a rabbi. But three years later, he quit his job in the synagogue to become a comedian because, as he says, "Somebody in the family had to make a living."
In an exclusive interview with Jewlarious.com, Mason admitted that during the transition from the rabbinate to the comedy club, there was indeed a pretty stiff learning curve. "I knew nothing about professional comedians when I became a comedian," Mason confided. "I was a rabbi. So I had no professional comedians to learn from. I used to hear on the radio people like Jack Benny or Bob Hope, but, I never had any interest in their type of humor. I thought that I could do something more substantially meaningful with significant, thoughtful analytical reflections on real life situations."
Mason's Jewish background allowed him to find his own comedic voice. "I was raised in a religious family where we were taught to think a lot and write a lot and read a lot. These are part of the most endemic basic part of my upbringing. So I have always found myself trying to study and analyze the world around me – not just taking everything for granted and following whatever is popular."
As most comics, Mason is not all jokes - he has a serious side too. It is evident in his political writings penned with his friend and collaborator Raoul Felder. What should come as no surprise is that the State of Israel, about which he doesn't hide his passionate support, is among his favorite topics. He is also a co-founder of the One Jerusalem Foundation whose expressed purpose is to keep the capital of the Jewish people undivided. As Mason fervently argues, "Everybody knows we're entitled to one Jerusalem because it's our historic land and anybody who denies it is also denying reality. History reveals very simply that this is our land from the days of the Bible. The question of Jerusalem shouldn't even be a question. It's like saying that somebody [other than the United States] is entitled to Pittsburgh."
"Everybody knows we're entitled to one Jerusalem. History reveals very simply that this is our land from the days of the Bible."
Mason is angered by what he sees as a media bias against the Jewish state that among other things, accuses it of unfair treatment of the Palestinians. "I've never heard of an Israeli going out as a suicide bombers to kill Palestinians. I never saw anybody offer more peace to the Palestinians. Palestinians, many of them that are our enemies, we still invite them to live in our own country, endangering our own lives to give them equal pay on equal jobs and health care benefits and all kinds of benefits. When an Arab is hurt, even trying to kill us, we give them the best hospitals, the best medical care. We make them partners in our own Parliament, and we're persecuting them? This is such a sick perversion. It's like saying the Jews persecuted Hitler."
It's not just the Jewish State which Mason supports, but Jewish values as well. "I'm crazy about the fact that the Jewish people should survive because they have so much to contribute and so many values to contribute to the world. It would be a much better world, a much more peaceful and non-violent world if we lived by Jewish values." Even though he holds strong opinions on politics and the state of the Jewish world, at the end of the day Jackie Mason knows in his heart that he is a comedian. "If you wanted to hear politics, you'd go to Henry Kissinger, you wouldn't go to hear Jackie Mason. The reason I speak about politics is because I know I can get a laugh out of it. As soon as I tell a line without a laugh, I don't tell it anymore – whether it serves the purpose of Israel or not, because I don't think Israel's survival depends on Jackie Mason."
Fair enough, so let Jackie Mason do what he does best and tell one final Jewish joke. "Did you know that the Jews invented sushi?" Mason asks rhetorically. "That's right - two Jews bought a restaurant with no kitchen."