(JTA) – Jackie Mason, who died on Saturday at the age of 93, didn’t always want to become an actor. In fact, it wasn’t until he was 30 that he left the Orthodox rabbinate for irreverent open mic parties.
Mason, born Yacov Moshe Maza of Orthodox parents, was one of the last survivors of the Borscht Belt comedy circuit that propelled a host of Jewish comedians, including Jerry Stiller and Rodney Dangerfield, from the Catskills resorts that welcomed Jewish vacationers to the popular American. imagination.
His comedy, delivered in a distinctive cadence tinged with the Yiddish of his childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, offered a window into the American Jewish psyche for non-Jews and, for Jews, held a mirror that reflected their complicated relationship with their Americanity.
“The only persecution I have ever suffered in my career was from Jews who are embarrassed to be so Jewish,” he said in a routine in which he lamented American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish but also change their name and nose to hide their Jewishness.
Mason was a complicated character. Many of his jokes treated women cruelly, and he characterized himself as a womanizer; he refused to recognize a child born from one of his acquaintances. He has also spoken derogatoryly several times over the years about black politicians, including using a Yiddish epithet to describe President Barack Obama in 2009. “I am an old Jew. I was brought up in a Jewish family ”where this epithet was used, he said in his defense at the time. For many years, he supported Meir Kahane, who, as the founder of the Jewish Defense League, organized violent efforts to combat anti-Semitism and lobbied to expel Arabs from Israel.
Mason also supported Donald Trump during his first presidential race.
Here are four videos that show Mason’s mind turned against his own people.
Making fun of American Jews in front of an Israeli audience
In this clip of a performance in Israel, Mason mocks American Jews who he says are desperate to assimilate despite proclaiming pride in their heritage. “In the United States, Jews are settling in neighborhoods where there are no Jews allowed,” he jokes. “There are only Jews there. Everyone thinks he is the only one.
Jews in restaurant
The joke about Jewish diners complaining about food and portion sizes wasn’t Mason’s, but it might as well have been. In this skit, he characterizes Jewish diners as domineering and picky, contrasting them with non-Jews who he said accepted the seats and food given to them.
“Jackie Mason: The World According to Me” (1988)
One of Mason’s most memorable acts was a stand-up routine based on his own life called “The World According to Me”. In the first minute, he refers to his Jewishness in the context of the performance being a one-man show. “It bothers a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of people say, who is a Jew to make a living so comfortably?”
Rabbi Krustofski on “The Simpsons”
Mason was a regular at The Simpsons as the voice of Rabbi Krustofski, the father of Krusty the Klown. In this scene, he expresses the character by telling his son that acting is an inappropriate career for someone in a practicing Jewish community who comes from a distinguished line of rabbis – someone like Mason himself.