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Jackie Mason

MASON, JACKIE (1931– ), U.S. comedian. Born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Mason (Jacob Maza) was ordained a rabbi, in a family of rabbis, before he became a comedian. His three brothers were rabbis and their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were rabbis, too. In the early 1960s, Mason was one of the country's hottest comics, appearing frequently in nightclubs and on television. He delivered his bold monologues in a Yiddish-inflected New York voice, and became instantly recognized for his sharp and funny comments on Jewish and American life. He became a regular on the nation's leading variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show, only to fall into disfavor in 1962 during a live telecast when Sullivan interpreted a finger gesture Mason made as a lewd insult. Mason was ousted from the show and although he sued Sullivan for libel and won, he did not appear on the show again for 18 months. The incident cast a pall over Mason's career for more than a decade. But in 1984, Mason opened in Los Angeles in a one-man show, The World According to Me!, and convulsed audience after audience. He moved the show to Broadway in 1986, and it had a run of more than two years. Mason won a Tony Award and other honors, and the show toured the United States and Europe for two years. Mason returned to Broadway with the oneman shows Jackie Mason: Brand New (1990), Jackie Mason:Politically Incorrect (1994), Love Thy Neighbor (1996), Much Ado About Everything (1999), and Prune Danish (2002). He also had a variety of small film roles and his distinctive "Jewish" voice appeared in voice-overs and in animated cartoons. Mason, who had strong conservative political views, had several radio and television interview programs, often teaming with the divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, with whom he published The Jackie Mason, Raoul Felder Survival Guide to New York (1997) and Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder's Guide to New York and Los Angeles Restaurants (1996). Mason's offhand and tasteless comments sometimes got him into trouble. In 1991, when David Dinkins, an African-American Democrat, was campaigning for mayor of New York City, Mason called him "a fancy shvartze with a mustache." After protests from groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mason apologized.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.