Revered Borscht Belt Comedian (and LES-Educated Rabbi) Jackie Mason Dies at 93

Posted on: July 26th, 2021 at 5:05 am by

Jackie Mason in “The Jerk”

Jackie Mason, one of the greatest comedic voices whose borscht belt schtick inspired generations, passed away on Saturday in Manhattan. The Catskills kvetcher was 93.

According to TMZ, Mason had been hospitalized for more than 3 weeks … admitted with inflammation of the lungs. Obituaries aplenty.

Jackie Mason was born Yacov Moshe Maza in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on June 9, 1928, to immigrants from Belarus. His was a family of rabbis. His grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfathers had all been rabbis; his three older brothers became rabbis, and his two younger sisters married rabbis. Maza’s path was therefore pre-determined.

At age 5, his father, Eli, an Orthodox rabbi, relocated the family to the Lower East Side. It was here the future comedian would later be ordained as rabbi in the family’s tradition. While published obituaries indicate his studies were through Yeshiva University, this 1956 letter to the Beth Israel Congregation of Latrobe, Pennsylvania indicates his ordainment at the Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem Yeshiva on East Broadway.

As comedian, though, his big break came in 1960, after an appearance on “The Steve Allen Show” and killed. That gig eventually led to various club bookings and TV appearances, including “The Ed Sullivan Show” where he appeared a dozen times. But his career took a major nosedive during a Sullivan show in 1964, when the live show was partially preempted by a speech by then-President Lyndon Johnson. When regular programming resumed, Sullivan began counting him down with his finger “1 minute to go” while the comedian was mid-routine. Mason responded in kind by looking at the audience, and saying “Here’s a finger for you, here’s a finger for you.”

His biggest success came decades later – in 1986 – with his one-man show on Broadway, The World According to Me! It ran for two years and earned him a Tony, plus an Emmy for the version that ran on HBO.

He is also remembered as the voice of Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky, Krusty the Clown’s dad, on The Simpsons.

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