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Jackie Mason: Remembering Him Makes Me Smile

Jackie Mason: Remembering Him Makes Me Smile
Jackie Mason in the 1980s. (AP)

Micah Halpern By Friday, 30 July 2021 08:23 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

“O’ how the mighty have fallen” proclaimed the prophet Samuel. And that is the thought that floated into my head when I heard that on Saturday, July 24th, at the age of 93, Jackie Mason had passed away. With his death, came the end of an era.

Jackie was more than the sum of his parts. He was, for many, an icon.

He was a stand-up comedian with a heavy Yiddish accent. He was an actor. He was, before falling under the lure of the mic and the magic of the stage, an ordained rabbi.

At his birth, on June 9th, 1928 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, his parents named him Yacob Maza; Jackie Mason was his stage name. When he was 5 years old the family moved to New York.

This stand-up comedian was ordained as a rabbi before turning to show-business in the 1950s. He was well known for his social commentary, talk show appearances and one-man shows on Broadway.

His father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather had all been rabbis, and after college he followed in their footsteps, was ordained and began leading congregations in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. It was not until the 1950s that Mason turned to show business and turned his Jewishness into his shtick, his comedic device.

His routines were part social commentary and part Jewish self-deprecation. To quote Jackie Mason, himself, he was “one Jew talking and that’s it.” And that Jew was “as Jewish as a matzo ball or a kosher salami.”

His voice became the voice of Krusty the Clown’s father on The Simpsons television show, and for that, Jackie Mason won an Tony Award, one of the many awards he accrued over his lifetime.

Jackie Mason was a product of the Borscht Belt. For younger readers that term requires a bit of an explanation. As far back as the 1890s, the areas around the Catskill Mountains in upstate NY — Monticello, Liberty, South Fallsburg, and many other villages and townships — were home to numerous hotels and lodges that catered to Jewish clientele from the NYC area fleeing the summer heat.

If you’re a fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, you visited along with her in the second season of the show.

Some of the larger hotels were truly grand, like Grossinger’s and the Concord, both now shuttered. Others were more family oriented.

Entertainment, activities and sumptuous meals were provided throughout the day, But it was at night that the Borscht Belt truly came alive.

At night the feature performers, comedians and singers, came out and plied their trade. And it was there, in front of their rapt Borscht Belt audiences, that they honed their craft. Careers were made in the Borscht Belt.

Borscht is a deep red soup made from beets. It was a favorite soup in many Jewish households. It came in two varieties, a dairy version topped with a dollop of sour cream or a meat version made with flanken (known today as short ribs) and meat bones.

Because it was such a favorite of Jewish households, the area Jews populated was nicknamed the Borscht Belt. And the name stuck.

The area was familiar and comforting for its summer inhabitants. The topography — the lakes, the mountains, the forests and woods, were similar to the eastern European holiday destinations that these Jews and their parents frequented before fleeing Europe and coming to the “goldena medina,” the golden land of the United States.

The fresh mountain air and the open space was an attractive to people living in and around New York City. But the big pull, the main attraction, was the entertainment. And almost all the comedians were Jewish.

What started as niche entertainment for Jews evolved into a historic phenomenon. Comedy as a legitimate form of entertainment, including political comedy, evolved out of the Borscht Belt.

Jackie Mason, among others, was able to develop his signature comedic style in the Borscht Belt. His Borscht Belt comic colleagues included some of the greats. Sid Caesar. Mel Brooks. Jerry Lewis. Phyllis Diller. Buddy Hackett. Rodney Dangerfield. Jerry Stiller. Henny Youngman. Joan Rivers. The list goes on.

In the Borsch Belt, comedians told jokes about themselves, their wives, their mothers, their lives and politics, political leaders and international affairs and, of course, anti-Semitism.

There was an abundance of Jews and Gentiles jokes. Jackie Mason perfected that routine years later in his one-man show on Broadway called The World According To Me. The show ran for 570 performances.

The audience was composed of both Gentiles and Jews. One of the major differences between the two groups, he would say as part of his routine is that when they leave the theater, the Gentiles would still be laughing and the Jews will be saying to each other “too Jewish, too Jewish.”

Jackie Mason was a comedic genius. His political commentary was insightful and hilarious at the same time. He was also self-deprecating.

As a guest on an evening talk show he bemoaned the fact that he was self-conscious. So self-conscious, he explained, that he went to a football game and the team went into a huddle, he thought they were talking about him. Now that’s funny.

Everyone who knew him has their favorite Jackie Mason line. Mine was his introduction of me on his radio program where, on several occasions, I was invited to be a guest.

He would introduce me by saying Micah, Micha, Mika, Mica, Mica-Mocha, Mocha-Mica, Micha-Mocah I never know how to pronounce his name, but I know he’s smart, so listen to him.

They don’t come like Jackie Mason any more. Yehei Zichro Baruch. May his memory be a blessing.

Remembering him makes me smile.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.

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"O' how the mighty have fallen" proclaimed the prophet Samuel. And that is the thought that floated into my head when I heard that on Saturday, July 24th, at the age of 93, Jackie Mason had passed away. With his death, came the end of an era.
jackie mason
Friday, 30 July 2021 08:23 AM
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