Jackie Mason: Rabbi Turned Bold Comedian Dies at 93

Throughout his career, JACKIE MASON satirized controversial issues, which landed him in hot water.


Jackie Mason, the former rabbi from a family of rabbis whose Borscht Belt style and timely comedy made him popular and yet controversial performer, has died. He was 93.

Mason died Saturday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, His friend and lawyer Raoul Felder said he had trouble breathing and passed away in his sleep.

The World According to Me!

Mason’s one-man show, The World According to Me! was a hit on Broadway in the late 1980s, selling out the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for more than a year.  He was given special Tony Award for his efforts.

He also received an Emmy and a Grammy nomination after the show was adapted as Jackie Mason on Broadway.

On the big screen, Mason starred in the Caddyshack II (1988) after Rodney Dangerfield decided not to do the sequel.

He also appeared in Steve Martin’s The Jerk (1979) and Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part I (1981).

Mason had produced and starred as a New Jersey snitch who steals money from the cops and hightails it to Miami in The Stoolie (1971), firing young director John G. Avildsen during production.

He was the voice of Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky on 8 episodes of The Simpsons, the first time in 1991 and the last in 2016.

More recently, Mason made some video commentaries for Breitbart News in which he roasted Hollywood.

After a stand-up performance on The Ed Sullivan Show October 18, 1964, the host accused Mason of directing an obscene gesture at him after he had signaled the comic from offstage to abbreviate his routine (a foreign-policy address by President Johnson had cut into the program). Sullivan then banished him from his show.

“The gesture was in his mind,” Mason recalled in 1997. Sullivan “used four-letter words and dirty gestures as way of life, because he was a Broadway street guy. I was yeshiva student and rabbi. I didn’t know from dirty gestures.”

Mason sued for libel and slander, Sullivan admitted that he had made a mistake, and the comic was brought back for the show’s 1966 season premiere. However, Mason lamented that he had been tarnished for being crude and unpredictable.

“It basically destroyed my career for at least 15 years,” he said. “Because in those days, if you had an image of filthy person, you were wiped out. Today, if you have an image as filthy person, you become a sensation.”

Mason was involved in a lawsuit with CBS over the deletion of material from a 1969 appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  The cuts, which included criticism of President Nixon and U.S. policy in Vietnam, “tainted” him and perpetuated his image as “censored comedian.”

Chicken Soup

In 1989, Mason starred on his own ABC sitcom, Chicken Soup, in which he played Jewish pajamas salesman who has love affair with Irish Catholic social worker (Lynn Redgrave).

The comedy was given the Tuesday night time slot following the No. 1 Roseanne (both shows were produced by Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey), but Chicken Soup was canceled after 12 episodes.

Mason made inflammatory remarks about Jews and Blacks while he campaigned for Rudolph Giuliani, then running for New York mayor. Rick Moranis poked fun of the whole thing in an open to Saturday Night Live.

One of six kids, Mason was born Jacob Moshe Maza on June 9, 1928, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. His father, a rabbi just like his father and grandfather before him, had relocated after realizing that New York had too many rabbis.

The family returned to the Lower East Side when Jacob was still young, and eventually he and his three brothers became rabbis too. Meanwhile, he earned a bachelor of arts degree from City College of New York.

While leading his congregations in synagogues in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, Mason told jokes to the worshippers as he veered toward comedy, his true calling. “I realized that I was telling people to worship God while I was worshipping blondes,” he said.

With his career still in transition, Mason landed a summer job as a social director at a resort in the Catskill Mountains. “I was supposed to get 95-year-old Jews to play baseball,” he quipped to Newsweek. In 1959, he became a comedian, full-time.

Doing stand-up at an L.A. nightclub, Mason was spotted by Bill Dana and Jan Murray. They tipped off Steve Allen, who put Mason on his show, and he became a popular guest on programs hosted by Garry Moore, Perry Como and Jack Paar.

In Las Vegas in the ’60s, Mason headlined as many as 50 weeks a year at the Aladdin. He topped bills in Miami Beach and Atlantic City, was quite popular in the Catskills — getting a whopping $2,000 a performance — and made dozens of appearances on The Dean Martin Show.

In 1969, Mason produced and starred in his own Broadway play, A Teaspoon Every Four Hours, about a Jewish accountant who, after his wife dies, becomes involved with a Black woman. Its opening was delayed several times, played almost 100 times in previews — and then closed after one official performance.

He did not take kindly to the critics’ response to his play: “They had to preserve their semi-homosexual atmosphere of arrogant social elegance, the Noel Coward set walking and talking in their own language, living in an ivory tower of theater with all the pretentious nonsense it’s supposed to represent.”

Mason had more success with The World According to Me!, which began as  stand-up show that opened at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood in 1986. A mix of comedy and philosophy, it was crowd-pleaser, and Mason brought it to the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills before it catapulted to Broadway.

In the 1990s, Mason performed in other one-man productions, including Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect and Much Ado About Everything.

Typically, he ended his act with impassioned defenses of free speech.

He published his autobiography, Jackie, Oy!: Jackie Mason From Birth to Rebirth in 1988.

In 1991, he married Jyll Rosenfeld, who was co-writer on Stiffs, a comedy about a funeral home.