Tell an Italian his wife looks like a prostitute and he’ll punch you in the nose. Tell a Jewish woman she looks a prostitute and she’ll think it’s a compliment. She’ll say, “Really?!”
Jackie Mason, the greatest comedian and performer of my lifetime and yours, passed away Sunday at the age of 93.
Jackie Mason‘s career could never have happened today, for two reasons.
First, his observational humor primarily focused on the differences among ethnic and religious groups.
In many ways, America really has turned out to be the melting pot we learned about in high school civics class.
As a result, the clearly defined differences among groups have faded, removing the primary source of Mason’s comedy.
The second reason why Jackie Mason’s career could not happen today is because, as a society, we have completely lost our sense of humor.
We are not allowed to laugh at ourselves, or anyone else.
Comedy is not comedy any longer. Instead, it’s perceived as a series of micro-aggressions, and aggrieved people are much more interested in canceling anyone who dares say something remotely funny, rather than recognizing that we ourselves are the butt of every joke.
Men are dishonest. They take women out to dinner not because they want to have dinner with them but because they want to sleep with them. Me? I’m honest. I stand outside the restaurant, and when a woman comes out, I say, “Did you eat yet?”
Jackie Mason came from a respected rabbinical family and was ordained as a rabbi primarily to please his father.
Mason says that when he first had a congregation, he did so many jokes that more Gentiles than Jews were showing up. So he put in a cover and a two drink minimum.
And then he went on to perform in clubs.
In the 1960s, Mason made it to the pinnacle of the entertainment world, the Ed Sullivan Show, a TV program that all of America watched.
Sullivan was signaling to Mason to wrap up his routine, and Mason’s returned hand gesture looked to Sullivan like he was giving the host the finger.
It wasn’t true, but Mason’s bookings dried up overnight.
He went from comedy star to pariah.
He never gave up, and worked the same obscure clubs where he had started years earlier.
And then someone had the brilliant idea of putting him on Broadway in a one-man show.
Mason’s blend of ethnic, religious, and political humor caught fire with 1980s’ audiences, and he never looked back.
Mason toured the world, a star once more, in a performing career that lasted more than 60 years.
It’s easy to tell the difference between Jews and Gentiles. After the show, all the Gentiles are saying ‘Have a drink? Want a drink? Let’s have a drink!’ While all the Jews are saying ‘Did you eat yet? Want a piece of cake? Let’s have some cake!’
If you’ve never seen him perform, Google Jackie Mason The World According To Me or any of his subsequent shows.
His material, his delivery, his timing…all impeccable.
There was no one like him.
Today, however, no comedian could talk about the differences between religious or ethnic groups.
The chorus of naysayers, with their absolute lack of a sense of humor, on social media and in traditional media, would be howling for his head.
No one would dare laugh at his jokes, because laughter would be deemed as complicity.
The great comic Steve Allen once wrote that “The jester serves at the pleasure of the king.”
Today the king is the online mob.
The online mob has no tolerance for the admission of or exploration of differences.
You better not laugh.
So I’m grateful to have grown up in a world where comics had the permission, and yes, the audacity, to explore the differences between us, because when Jackie passed on Sunday, that whole world passed with him.