Revered Borscht Belt Comedian (and LES-Educated Rabbi) Jackie Mason Dies at 93

Posted on: July 26th, 2021 at 5:05 am by

Jackie Mason in “The Jerk”

Jackie Mason, one of the greatest comedic voices whose borscht belt schtick inspired generations, passed away on Saturday in Manhattan. The Catskills kvetcher was 93.

According to TMZ, Mason had been hospitalized for more than 3 weeks … admitted with inflammation of the lungs. Obituaries aplenty.

Jackie Mason was born Yacov Moshe Maza in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on June 9, 1928, to immigrants from Belarus. His was a family of rabbis. His grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfathers had all been rabbis; his three older brothers became rabbis, and his two younger sisters married rabbis. Maza’s path was therefore pre-determined.

At age 5, his father, Eli, an Orthodox rabbi, relocated the family to the Lower East Side. It was here the future comedian would later be ordained as rabbi in the family’s tradition. While published obituaries indicate his studies were through Yeshiva University, this 1956 letter to the Beth Israel Congregation of Latrobe, Pennsylvania indicates his ordainment at the Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem Yeshiva on East Broadway.

As comedian, though, his big break came in 1960, after an appearance on “The Steve Allen Show” and killed. That gig eventually led to various club bookings and TV appearances, including “The Ed Sullivan Show” where he appeared a dozen times. But his career took a major nosedive during a Sullivan show in 1964, when the live show was partially preempted by a speech by then-President Lyndon Johnson. When regular programming resumed, Sullivan began counting him down with his finger “1 minute to go” while the comedian was mid-routine. Mason responded in kind by looking at the audience, and saying “Here’s a finger for you, here’s a finger for you.”

His biggest success came decades later – in 1986 – with his one-man show on Broadway, The World According to Me! It ran for two years and earned him a Tony, plus an Emmy for the version that ran on HBO.

He is also remembered as the voice of Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky, Krusty the Clown’s dad, on The Simpsons.

Recent Stories

The Push to Save New York Eye and Ear Infirmary Building, as LPC Stalls

With plans to close the 165-year-old New York Eye and Ear Infirmary building on Second Avenue, demolition is likely the next step. Preservation-minded groups have been lobbying the city to save the building from possible destruction. Led by Village Preservation, the organization sent a Request for Evaluation letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on April […]

Excavation Underway on Affordable Grand Street Guild Towers

Work is officially underway on two new towers adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge. On-site excavation has been ongoing for several weeks at Broome and Clinton Streets, yielding plenty of dust and noise for neighbors. Earlier this year, demolition crews razed the two-story parking garage and Little Star early childhood center in the shadow of the […]

Mr. Fong’s Owner Plans All Day Cafe on Hester Street

Another day, another principal of Mr. Fong’s starting a new Lower East Side venture. Aisa Shelley – who co-founded the Chinatown hotspot with Lucas Moran, Noah Shelley, Daniel Eric Gold and Adam Moonves – is headed to 61 Hester Street. The long-inactive storefront previously occupied by L’estudio. There, Shelley will impart an “all day cafe” […]

Truck Hits ‘OhK Dog’ Dining Shed on Ludlow Street

Ludlow Street neighbors began Saturday with the sound of a large crash. It was the sound of the OhK Dog dining shed collapsing to the ground. From what we gather, a truck driver headed southbound on Ludlow struck the popular restaurant’s outdoor annex. No one was hurt in the incident. This was apparently the second […]

New 21-Story Tower Begins Ascent on Market Street

A former Lower East Side parking lot is meeting its skyscraping destiny. Another tower. The through-block parcel on Henry Street, just west of Market, is already on its upward ascent. The new mixed-use development at 59 Henry will ultimately rise 21 stories (227 feet), with 57,395 square-feet of residential floor area and 40,305 square-feet for […]