Tuesday, July 27, 2021

What made Jackie Mason great — and controversial 

Jackie Mason, who died here Saturday at 93, was one of the last survivors of the Borscht Belt comedy circuit.

Mason, born Yacov Moshe Maza to Orthodox immigrant parents and raised mostly on the Lower East side, offered a window into the American Jewish psyche for non-Jews. For Jews, he reflected their complicated relationship with their Americanness.

Before becoming a regular in the Catskills, clubs and on TV variety shows, he earned a degree from City College and was ordained a rabbi at Yeshiva University.

In a career that waxed and waned, his biggest triumph was "The World According to Me!," a one-man Broadway comeback that opened in 1986 and ran for two years. It earned him a Tony and an Emmy, a vast new audience, and a recurring role — as Krusty the Clown's father, a rabbi — on "The Simpsons."

Not every one got the joke. His act played on ethnic and gender stereotypes that ultimately went out of favor, as he complained. Campaigning for Rudy Giuliani in 1989, he referred to David N. Dinkins, the Black mayoral candidate, with a Yiddish word considered to be a racial slur. Giuliani fired him.

Fair enough: "A comic genius and a pain in the ass. This man could get a laugh reading the weather. His rhythms and delivery were master classes in comedy. Farewell, Jackie. Farewell." — Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein
The last laugh: "The only persecution that I ever suffered from in my career was from Jews that are embarrassed that I am so Jewish," he said in one routine.


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