Jackie Mason on Jewish HusbandsWatch
Jackie Mason in CanadaWatch
Jackie Mason Classic Presidential ComedyWatch
|2003||Live At Ceasars Palace Atlantic City|
|2003||Much Ado About Everything|
|1997||Jackie Mason Live at the London Palladium|
|1997||Jackie Mason in Concert||Buy Amazon|
|1994||Politically Incorrect||Buy Amazon|
|1991||Brand New||Buy Amazon|
|1987||The World According to Me||Buy Amazon | iTunes|
|1964||Great Moments in Comedy with Jackie Mason|
Repackages parts of previous two albums.
|1963||I Want to Leave You with the Words of a Great Comedian|
|1962||I'm the Greatest Comedian in the World Only Nobody Knows It Yet||Buy Amazon|
|2010||Jackie Mason: Fearless and Unabashed|
|2008||Jackie Mason: the Ultimate Jew||Buy Amazon|
|2005||Jackie Mason: Freshly Squeezed||Buy Amazon|
|2002||Jackie Mason: A Night at the Opera||Buy Amazon|
|1997||Jackie Mason at the London Palladium|
|1996||Jackie Mason at the National Press Club||Buy Amazon|
|1996||Jackie Mason in Israel|
Included on the DVD "Jackie Mason Comedy Trilogy"
|1995||Jackie Mason: An Equal Opportunity Offender|
Collects early appearances, including infamous Ed Sullivan show spot. Included on the DVD "Jackie Mason Comedy Trilogy"
|1992||Jackie Mason on Campus|
Included on the DVD "Jackie Mason Comedy Trilogy"
|1990||An Audience with Jackie Mason|
|1988||Jackie Mason: The World According to Me||Buy Amazon|
Co-author: Raoul Felder
|Buy Amazon | iTunes|
|1991||How to Talk Jewish|
Co-Author: Ira Berkow
In December of 1986 Jackie Mason became one of the hottest comedians in America—the first to score a success on Broadway in a one-man show since Victor Borge twenty years earlier. It was a surprise to everyone, including Jackie Mason. Jackie’s controversial career had seen many highs and lows and he had recently been at his lowest.
The problem? Image. Mason was always a free thinker and a sharp satirist, but for years he couldn’t be comfortably classified. His uncompromising wit was closer to Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce than to the Jewish Catskill comics he sounded like. The hip crowd took him at face value and resisted him as a social satirist, Meanwhile middle class Jewish audiences resisted him as well, wishing he’d tell “nice” jokes like Myron Cohen instead of “troublemaker” material that, with his accent, seemed to them to promote a negative stereotype. When he first made a run at stand-up stardom in the early 60’s, he said it was Gentile television hosts (such as Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan) who were his big supporters and that standard venues (such as Vegas casinos) provided him with his steadiest employment.
Ironically a “mid-Westerner,” Jackie Mason was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. His father, Rabbi Eli Maza, emigrated there from Minsk. Eventually the rabbi was given a congregation in New York. There Jackie followed his father’s wishes and studied to become a rabbi, too.Sometimes Jackie rebelled. Sometimes Jackie got a good beating. Jackie majored in English at City College and graduated in 1953. While continuing his rabbincal studies he took jobs in the Catskils as a social director. He was also the lifeguard. He told the manager, “I can’t swim.” The manager said, “Don’t tell the guests.”
Jackie began doing stand-up comedy, telling his father it was only so he could earn enough money to continue his studies. During a 1958 radio appearance in New York, host Barry Gray fumbled over the pronunciation of “Maza.” Jackie instantly realized he needed a new name and joked with the host, insisting that “Jacob Maza” was really “Jackie Mason.”
Jackie was ordained a rabbi in 1958 but by then he was more experienced as a stand-up comic. He gave humorous sermons for congregations in Weldon, North Carolina and Latrobe, Pennsylvania, but after getting laughs staring at a pretty woman in the front row while expounding on “the ways of the flesh,” he decided to return to show business. “On my father’s terms,” Jackie recalled, “I was a worthless person who was living a worthless terrible life….it filled me with guilt.”
In nightclubs, Jackie’s humor on the subject of morality was very much in the style of new-wave comics like Lenny Bruce. Jackie in 1960: “There’s a double standard about sex. Our father or mother becomes our father or mother. Beautiful…but how the child was created and arrived is something that is cloaked in secrecy. They’re ashamed of it. They thought it was pretty clever when they did it…” And on politics, he wasn’t too far behind Mort Sahl: “Ask in any country, “Where’s the American Embassy?” They’ll tell you ‘Oh, it’s just a stone’s throw away.’” But Jackie didn’t seem cool like Lenny, or hip like Mort and critics weren’t listening. They couldn’t even hear the uniqueness of Jackie’s musical staccato delivery, a cadence every bit as fascinating as the jazzy, stream-of-conscious riffs of Lenny and Mort.
Meanwhile Jewish audiences who came to his shows thinking he was a part of the Catskill “schtick” tradition blanched over the satiric jokes and were utterly repelled by some of his straight gags that came too close to cliches they wished would go away. “Money is not important,” Jackie would tell them, “Love is important. Fortunately, I love money!”
Gentile audiences laughed at Jackie’s accent and his funny voice, but they didn’t get his sharper gags either. Some were offended by his “troublemaker” persona as much as Jews were, especially when he seemed unpatriotic: “President Kennedy rides around in a $12,000 car. How does he know I want to buy him such a fancy car? Special car made to order with an open top so he could stand up. If he wants to stand up he don’t need a car, let him take a bus!”
On October 18, 1964 Jackie was a guest on Ed Sullivan’s show, then the most important and influential variety series on the air. Things went well for a while. Then, off-camera, the stern host held up two fingers indicating Mason had only had two minutes left and should begin closing his set. Annoyed that the studio audience was distracted and no longer responding, Jackie told them, “Look at this, I’m telling jokes and he’s showing me fingers. Nobody came to watch fingers…I’m here with jokes because nobody cares about a person standing, moving around fingers…”
Jackie mimicked Ed’s fancy fingers. Sullivan was outraged. Already angry with Mason for ad-libbing, something comics didn’t do back then, blinded by both rage and Jackie’s quick movements, Sullivan thought that Mason had made an obscene gesture. When Jackie got off-stage Sullivan began cursing at him, ending the tirade with an ad-lib of his own: “you’ll never work again in this business!”
The Sullivan-Mason feud made headlines and did much to permanently attach a “troublemaker” label to the young comic. After Mason filed a lawsuit and tapes of the show proved his innocence, Jackie returned to Sullivan’s show on September 11, 1966. Even so, Mason’s reputation remained damaged. His reputation for being a wiseguy who always spoke his mind got him into more trouble. Jackie joked about Frank Sinatra, believing Frank had a “sickness” about having to conquer women. He joked that Sinatra couldn’t continue on that way—then added self-deprecatingly “but how long can I go on this way?” Mason’s gags were benign, mostly playing on his own jealousy of Sinatra’s good fortune.
One night Jackie was playing at a popular hotel that happened to have a special guest in residence: Sinatra. Sinatra came in to see the show and heckle. Since Sinatra had recently married Mia Farrow and was on his honeymoon, Jackie logically asked Frank, “What’s the matter, you’re not busy upstairs?”
On November 6, 1966, three bullets crashed into Jackie’s hotel room hitting the bed where he had been sitting. On February 13, 1967 a thug warned Jackie to stop the Sinatra jokes. Then he beat him up, breaking his nose.
Jackie remained an uncompromising, challenging comedian. He tried to bring a play to Broadway in 1969, “A Teaspoon Every Four Hours.” It was about a Jewish fellow who gets involved with a Gentile girlfriend. Black, in fact. The subject matter was controversial and critics tore the show apart, some tartly questioning how a common stand-up comic could be allowed in the theatre. That same year Mason was censored on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and sued CBS for $20 million.
Through the 70’s Mason worked and struggled to work, unable to find a niche, now having the tags of old-timer and has-been as well as “too Jewish” or “too controversial.” In 1981 he raised $450,000 to film “The Stoolie,” a film that actually won him good reviews. Though cheaply done, it’s portrayal of a sleazy small-time loser was handled with some moments of humor and touching pathos. The film had limited distribution and never found an audience. Mason’s next effort, “A Stroke of Genius” co-starring Karen Black collapsed during filming and in 1983 Jackie went bankrupt.
Jackie didn’t need the plays and movies. What he needed was an empty stage and himself. Having seen Dick Shawn win some success doing a one-man show in concert, Jackie decided to forget about nightclubs and assemble his act as a “one-man show.” The result, “The World According To Me,” was a hit in Los Angeles. When it came to Broadway in December of 1986, Richard Sheperd of The New York Times gave it a rave review. Mason was now a huge Broadway star.
Jackie hadn’t changed. Others had. Jackie was still being honest, ironic and uncompromising: “I never seen four black people walking in the street and saying, ‘Watch out, there’s a Jew over there.’ Let’s be honest, did you ever see anybody who was afraid to walk into a Jewish neiehgborhood because he might get killed by an accountant?” Jackie’s asking price for a show went from $5,000 to $50,000 a night. He made records, videos and films. A comically honest commercial for Honda (“why you need this—I don’t know”) won a Clio award.
Then the controversies started all over again. In the Spring of 1988 a Miami stripper and singing telegram performer put together a show called “Jackie Oh!” featuring her two year-old daughter—whom she claimed was fathered by Jackie. This didn’t deter ABC from starring him in “Chicken Soup,” a sitcom about a Jewish man and his Catholic girlfriend (Lynn Redgrave). It received good notices and the ratings were high. Meanwhile, Jackie got involved with the year’s mayoral race in New York, supporting white candidate Rudolph Giuliani over eventual winner David Dinkens, a man whom he thought looked “like a black model without a job.”
This was a rather mild quip, considering Dorothy Parker’s remark that supposedly toppled Thomas E. Dewey, “He looks like the little man on the wedding cake.” And only recently Jesse Jackson had merely raised eyebrows when he called the city a “Hymietown” of too many Jews. But in the midst of a bitter mayoral race in which racial violence was a key issue, Mason’s remark drew screaming headlines and the situation grew worse. Jackie, who had refused to play South Africa and had marched in Selma, Alabama, was called a racist for having used the term “schvartze” for black—though that is the word for black in Yiddish. Bob Herbert, a black columnist in the Daily News, called Jackie “powdery faced.” Editorials for and against Jackie raged in the newspapers. Woody Allen, a Dinkins supporter, took a moment to set the record straight: “I think that he’s in no way racially prejudiced…the press was extremely astringent with him.”
Mason withdrew from the Giuliani campaign but went on speaking his mind: “In this city, you say anything about a black person that might be suspect, then you’re picking on him because he’s black…so the white people are being made to feel so guilty if they even have a thought or a word that’s critical of anything a black person does.”
In November, “Chicken Soup” was canned by ABC. It had started out in 2nd place and was currently 23rd out of some 80 programs on the air, an enviable position. ABC insisted the show was doing poorly, and was not a good “lead-in” for the following show, “thirtysomething.” Another show flirting with Top 20 status would have been moved to a new time slot.
Mason didn’t complain. Instead he toured the country with his one-man show. When he played Washington, D.C. Art Buchwald was offended: “I hate him for being so good.” He was a hit in England as well, where in 1990 Oxford University established a Jackie Mason Visiting Fellowship for the study of Hebrew. He came back to Broadway with yet another hit show, “Brand New.”
To Jackie’s point of view, a Broadway show was at least easier than nightclub work: “It’s one fifth as hard to get a laugh in a theater as it is in a club. In a theater you have an audience waiting to hear what you say; in a club you have one waiting for you to finish. A nightclub is a place for a couple to get together and there’s a whole ritual going on about how he’s going to start this affair with her. He’s not paying $300 just to watch a Jew talk for nothing. The reason he’s spending all this money is that he’s trying to attack this girl. The better I am the worse he’s doing because if I’m really funny he can’t get out of there.”