I was very saddened to hear of the recent passing of the great Jackie Mason at the age of 93.
I was lucky enough to see him live onstage once, at a theatre in the west end of London around 2002 or so.
He was already 74 years old at that point, but he still did a solid hour and a half and an encore – no break. It was relentless and hysterical. I was exhausted afterwards, and I was only watching! How he did it – night after night of that particular run – I’ll never know.
Mason was unique. He took his time onstage. He was comfortable there. Silent gaps between bits did not bother him. His timing and delivery was infectious and distinct. And after a live 90 min show it was even more so. I couldn’t stop talking like him for days afterwards. He had actually imprinted on my psyche. The looks I got; this goyim shiksa kvetching like di alte kakersn….*
What, I should stop? (Shoulder shrug, hands upturned…)
Jackie’s work ethic was astounding. Like the great George Burns, he loved what he did. He never rested on his laurels, never phoned it in. He was one of the greats.
He also had a style and professionalism that harkened back to a bygone era. He was always dressed impeccably and ready to work. But if you went to a Jackie Mason show you wouldn’t hear him tell jokes you’d heard him tell a thousand times before. You didn’t get an old show. Never got the rolodex of tried and tested bits served up like lukewarm left-overs. It was always fresh and relevant. Some jokes might overlap, (why waste a good joke?) but he didn’t keep them in the act too long.
He was a true comic in the sense that he never stopped evolving, never stopped thinking, never stopped writing. He had an interest in life, in people, in the world, that was never satiated.
What continued to make him relevant, aside from his commitment and dedication, was his sharp mind and timely material. He wasn’t always politically correct. In fact, I didn’t agree with a lot of things he had to say, but so what? With Mason it was never an argument. It felt more like conversation.
And although he was opinionated, he followed every point he made with solid jokes. JOKES. One after the other. It was always the gag that drove the bit – not self-indulgence.
Mason was never condescending. Sarcastic, maybe. Scathing, often. But funny, always. He didn’t have anything to prove. He spoke to the audience as friends. He didn’t see them as a challenge, but as a group of compatriots he could nosh with at the deli. He never missed a thing. The man was a comedic workhorse.
Some comedy doesn’t hold up after awhile, and neither do some comics.
But Jackie Mason was a pro.
Real funny has no age. Funny does not die.
* Yiddish speakers, please feel free to send me a message with any grammatical or spelling correction I might need to make…