Comedian Jackie Mason dies at 93

Jackie Mason spoke often about the differences between Jews and gentiles, and his own inadequacies.
Jackie Mason spoke often about the differences between Jews and gentiles, and his own inadequacies.

Jackie Mason, a US rabbi-turned-comedian whose feisty brand of stand-up comedy led him to Catskills nightclubs, talk shows and Broadway stages, has died aged 93.

Mason died on Saturday at Mt Sinai Hospital in Manhattan after being hospitalided for more than two weeks, the celebrity lawyer Raul Felder told the Associated Press.

The irascible Mason was known for his sharp wit and piercing social commentary, often about the differences between Jews and gentiles, men and women and his own inadequacies. His typical style was amused outrage.

"Eighty per cent of married men cheat in America. The rest cheat in Europe," he once joked. Another Mason line was: "Politics doesn't make strange bedfellows, marriage does."

About himself, he once said: "I was so self-conscious. Every time football players went into a huddle, I thought they were talking about me."

Mason was born Jacob Maza, the son of a rabbi. His three brothers became rabbis. So did Mason, who at one time had congregations in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Comedy eventually proved to be a more persistent calling than God.

"A person has to feel emotionally barren or empty or frustrated in order to become a comedian," he told the AP in 1987. "I don't think people who feel comfortable or happy are motivated to become comedians. You're searching for something and you're willing to pay a high price to get that attention."

Mason started in show business as a social director at a resort in the Catskills. He was the guy who got everybody up to play Simon Says, quiz games or shuffleboard. He told jokes, too. After one season, he was playing clubs throughout the Catskills for better money.

In 1961, the pint-sized comic had a big break, an appearance on Steve Allen's weekly television variety show. His success brought him to The Ed Sullivan Show and other programs.

He was banned for two years from the Sullivan show when he allegedly gave the host the finger when Sullivan signalled to him to wrap up his act during an appearance in 1964.

Mason's act even carried him to Broadway, where he put on several one-man shows, including Freshly Squeezed in 2005, Love Thy Neighbor in 1996 and The World According to Me in 1988, for which he received a special Tony Award.

On TV, Mason was a reliable presence, usually with a cameo on such shows as 30 Rock or The Simpsons or as a reliable guest on late night chat shows. He performed in front of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and his show Fearless played London's West End in 2012.

Felder, his longtime friend, told the AP that Mason had a Talmudic outlook on life: "That whatever you would say to him, he would start an argument with you."

He is survived by his wife, producer Jyll Rosenfeld, and a daughter, Sheba.

Australian Associated Press