Many of Jackie Mason’s gags are so politically incorrect, they no longer bear printing. But the former rabbi from New York’s Bronx district, who has died aged 93, would scoff at such delicacy.
As he might say, he’s dead now — what does it matter if he gets cancelled, too?
He delivered his catchphrases in a Yiddish accent thicker than borscht soup. He constantly harangued his audiences: ‘Wasser matter, I have to explain to you? Did you pass away?’
The ruder his insults, the harder people laughed — because in the end, the butt of his jokes was always himself, his own foibles and the Jewish fondness for self-mockery.
CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Many of Jackie Mason’s gags are so politically incorrect, they no longer bear printing. But the former rabbi from New York’s Bronx district, who has died aged 93, would scoff at such delicacy
He was never modest. His first LP in 1962 was called I’m The Greatest Comedian In The World, Only Nobody Knows It Yet. He regularly opened shows with: ‘Thank you very much, this is an amazing opportunity for you to see me, you must be thrilled.’
Mason liked to claim he was ‘the Queen Mother’s favourite comedian’. She certainly admired him, telling friends that he was ‘very smart and very opinionated’.
Yet after one comedy show, he ruffled feathers by refusing to wait in line and bow to her with the rest of the performers.
Mason, born Yacov Moshe Maza in 1928, stormed to fame on the Ed Sullivan Show in the U.S. during the Kennedy era in the early 1960s. And he didn’t care who he insulted.
Everyone was fair game, including the notoriously touchy Ed Sullivan himself.
When the TV host once tried to cut his act short, to announce some breaking news, Mason took umbrage and started copying the host’s hand signals.
Sullivan held up two fingers; Mason gave him two back. Sullivan showed one finger, meaning one minute. Mason showed one finger, meaning something completely different.
Mason (pictured alongside Joan Rivers) liked to claim he was ‘the Queen Mother’s favourite comedian’
Later, when Sullivan accused him of obscene behaviour, Mason launched a $3 million libel suit. And he still got invited back on the show.
His refusal to flatter anyone nearly got him killed after he snubbed Frank Sinatra. The crooner was so irked at Mason’s lack of respect in Las Vegas during the 1980s that he and a bunch of cronies crashed his show, heckling and yelling abuse at the stand-up.
Mason flared back: ‘If you need attention so much, you should be seeing a doctor, not my show.’
Sinatra walked out. Some time later, a gunman opened fire on the comedian’s hotel room. The Vegas police, said Mason, weren’t interested.
Here’s a few of his funniest lines. If you’re offended… sue Jackie Mason!
ON THE ENGLISH
‘If an Englishman gets run down by a truck, he apologises to the truck.’
‘England is the only country in the world where the food is more dangerous than the sex.’
‘I’m a sick man, I just came from the hospital. Do you know this, all doctors are crooks.
In America, with insurance, they’re open about being crooks. In England, with the National Health, it’s harder but they are all crooks in their hearts and they know it. Why do you think they wear masks when they operate? And let’s be very honest, why do they wear gloves? Fingerprints!’
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF MONEY
‘Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money.’
‘People don’t know how to be happy. That’s why there’s so many books on the subject. Every time you pick up a book, it tells you how to be happy. I saw a book last week, titled How To Be Happy Without Money. This book cost $15.’
‘I don’t need to be in showbusiness. You think I need this? I got enough money to last me the rest of my life. Unless I buy something.’
ON GROWING UP
‘My grandfather always said, “Don’t watch your money; watch your health.” So one day while I was watching my health, someone stole my money. It was my grandfather.’
‘I was so self-conscious, every time football players went into a huddle, I thought they were talking about me.’
‘Eighty per cent of married men cheat in America. The rest cheat in Europe.’
‘Why is it that they have Bibles in every motel room? Why should a man want to read the Bible when he’s with a woman alone in a motel room? Why would he be interested? Whatever he’s praying for, he’s already got!’
‘You can’t please everyone. Take my girlfriend. I think she’s the most remarkable woman in the world. That’s me, but to my wife . . .!
‘I always thought music was more important than sex — then I thought that if I don’t hear a concert for a year-and-a-half it doesn’t bother me.’
‘It’s very hard to stay healthy these days because everything you eat and drink is bad for you. It’s not a question of staying healthy any more, it’s a question of picking out a sickness that you like.’
‘There was a time some things were good for you but now, it’s all bad. They found out coffee has carcinogens — that’s right, it causes cancer. And it has caffeine in it too . . . so not only are you dying, you lie awake and watch yourself go.’
‘Now they found out sugar in your coffee causes diabetes. So you have saccharine, but that gives you cancer. So you just have it with milk, but milk is liquid cholesterol. You’ve got three ways to die and you didn’t even eat yet.’
‘I happen to be a vegetarian — other than the pastrami, brisket and salami. Also, I walk three miles a day. I lift weights three times a week and I do 300 sit-ups a day. Yes, you heard right — 300. And if I don’t personally have time for all that, I get my assistant to do it for me.’
‘Every corner in America now has a health food store. And if you look at the people in health food stores, they all have one thing in common. They look sick.’
Mason, born Yacov Moshe Maza in 1928, stormed to fame on the Ed Sullivan Show in the U.S. during the Kennedy era in the early 1960s
ON BEING JEWISH
‘I’ve been filming, making a picture — Lawrence Of Arabia. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. There was a whole argument between the producer and the Arabs.
You see, the producer wanted to shoot the picture in the desert, and the Arabs wanted to shoot me before we got to the desert.’
‘Did you know that the Jews invented sushi? That’s right — two Jews bought a restaurant with no kitchen.’
‘I was a professional boxer. People find it hard to believe because they never saw a tough Jew. No one ever walked into a Jewish neighbourhood by mistake and was scared because they thought they were gonna get killed by an accountant.
But I was tough because I came from the Lower East Side. I remember my first fight. I came into the ring and men cheered, women screamed. Yeah, I forgot to put my shorts on.’
ON THE HEADLINES
‘I was in Israel during the Gulf War in 1991, I went because of the missiles. Everybody was running for the shelters the whole time. Nobody paid the check [bill] in a restaurant for nine weeks. We were all sitting with the check in our hands, waiting — “You hear the siren? Quick, run!”’
‘Everyone wants the Israeli Prime Minister to give the West Bank back to the Palestinians. He wants to give it back but he can’t, it’s in his wife’s name.’
‘I’m still suffering from shock from World War II. I was almost drafted! Luckily I was wounded while taking the physical.
When I reached the psychiatrist, I said, “Give me a gun. I’ll wipe out the whole German army in five minutes.” He said: “You’re crazy!” I said: “Write it down.”’