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June 9: Jackie Mason

June 8, 2016

imageComedian Jackie Mason (Yacov Moshe Maza) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on this date in 1931. Ordained a rabbi at age 25, he left the bimah three years later to do stand-up (“Somebody in the family had to make a living,” he said). Mason had a somewhat spotty start on the Borscht Belt circuit and with a failed comic play on Broadway (and a ban by Ed Sullivan for allegedly giving his host the finger), until his 1986 Broadway show, The World According to Me, became the first of a series of hit one-man shows. He is an imaginative jokester with a talent for mimicry and a surrealistic streak, but a good part of Mason’s stock-in-trade is rightwing id-talk with a big dose of ethnic and racial stereotyping, as in: “I’ve got a friend who is half-Jewish and half-Italian. If he can’t buy it wholesale, he steals it!” Or, “I have a friend who is half-Polish and half-Jewish. He’s a janitor, but he owns the building.” Within the context of the generally liberal (and Jewish assimilationist) world of show biz, Mason became a bit of a Darth Vader because of his Republican politics (he’s now a defender of Donald Trump), his uncritical devotion to Israel and scorn for its enemies, and his careful granting of “permission” to American Jews to abandon their liberal alliances and move right. To see him talking about Jewish identity in America, look below. To see his spoof of Edward Kennedy and Henry Kissinger, look further below.

“I’m crazy about the fact that the Jewish people should survive because they have so much to contribute and so many values to contribute to the world. It would be a much better world, a much more peaceful and non-violent world if we lived by Jewish values.” —Jackie Mason