NEW YORK — Comedian Jackie Mason has been known to greet strangers on the streets of Manhattan, and that’s precisely what happened to this reporter when she spotted the legendary performer in New York City’s Theater District.
On Comedy Central’s list of 100 greatest stand-ups of all time, the man born as Yakov Moshe Maza is ranked #63. The self-described “Ultimate Jew,” followed the path of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and worked as a rabbi for three years before becoming one of the most well-known — and beloved — Jewish comedians.
His storied career has included frequent guest appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and a litany of subsequent credits, including The Jackie Mason Show (2005-2011), as well as Sleeper (1973), The Stoolie (1974), The Jerk (1979), History of the World, Part I (1981), Caddyshack II (1988), six television specials, a dozen recorded comedy collections, nine one-man shows — and the voice of Rabbi Hyman Krustofki in “The Simpsons.”
Now 85, he still performs before live audiences. And each week, he hosts a Sunday evening radio show broadcast on the Talk Radio Network website.
In an interview with The Times of Israel, he discusses his views on a wide range of topics, including the upcoming elections, his Jewish identity and what’s next for the octogenarian.
What surprises you most about the longevity and success of your career?
‘The truth is I’m not at all surprised of the longevity of my career’
The truth is I’m not at all surprised of the longevity of my career. In fact, I would be surprised if the opposite were true and if my career did not have this longevity because I can’t believe people would purposely deprive themselves of such hilarious meaningful entertainment at these prices. And no offense to [Bill] O’Reilly, but I happen to be better looking. I can’t help it. I also happen to be taller than O’Reilly in person.
What do you consider your greatest achievements to date and why?
I’ve had eight command performances in front of Queen Elizabeth, more than any other American entertainer. Who knew she would be such a huge fan? When I first met her, I was shocked. She sounded just like me! Now that’s an achievement!
Seriously, I couldn’t rate one achievement above another one. As a professional egomaniac, I think everything I achieve is great, like for instance, being able to walk away from a piece of cheesecake… well not necessarily the whole piece. What’s a few bites since I’m completely walking away from a piece of cake? But I am very proud of my career and that I’ve the health, thank God, to continue doing this for so long.
How does being Jewish impact your work?
I have a great identification with Judaism as a religion and as a culture, and all the values that created such a great history, and the Jewish contribution to the betterment of all humanity. Everything about my attitude and my thoughts were impacted greatly by being raised in this culture. My observations… of all of humanity express themselves in my comedy.
How would you describe the significance of Israel?
I would describe it as a matter of life and death because without Israel, Jews from all over the world would have no chance to survive. Israel is America’s strongest ally in the Middle East. It’s all that stands in the way of a hegemony of radical Islamic fundamentalists in the region. Christians in the Arab countries are being persecuted and their numbers are dwindling and moderate Muslims are losing their grip trying to bargain with the extremists. So a strong Israel benefits gentiles all around the world as well as world Jewry if there is any hope to stabilize the conflicts in the region.
What do you love about your heritage?
The food. I also love tumult of a Jewish crowd in a coffee shop.
What do you consider the most important issues in the upcoming US election? Which candidate do you support and why?
The most important issue is peace on earth and to protect America from terrorism and maintain a successful economy. I support Trump because of regardless what is wrong with him, I feel Hillary is a much greater threat to whatever it is that makes America great. Her programs of taxation and regulation would stifle the economy, would create a whole new recession and great degree of unemployment and stagnation of the economy.
How would you lead if you were president of the United States?
There is no way I would ever want to be president for a second. It’s much easier to make fun of them on the stage and get paid for it. With all the years of me lampooning the presidents in my act, I know I could never ever want that job.
What is your dream job?
Honestly, I am and have been pursuing my dream project since my career began. Being able to observe the world around me make a few jokes about it and make a crowd laugh is great. But to make a comfortable living off it, that’s a dream come true.
If you had fairy dust or a genie in a bottle, what would you want to change about the world and your place in it?
‘Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing our kid go off to some cockamamie village and come home hurt or in a box’
I try not to think about things like that, because I learned a long time ago that you can’t dwell on things that you have no control over. It will just make you a bitter person. My place in the world I would never want to change. I’m quite comfortable.
I guess if I could change anything in the world, I’d want all this killing of people to stop. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing our kid go off to some cockamamie village and come home hurt or in a box. The terrorists slaughtering innocents all over the world. Wishing for peace may be a cliché answer but that’s what I would stop. The fairy dust I may have another use for, but if I told you, I would need all your readers to send me an extra few dollars.
What do you consider your greatest joke?
I really do not have any favorites. I have many routines in my act that help me get loose and warm up an audience, but I can’t say I like any joke or routine more than any other. If it gets a laugh at the moment I say it, then it’s my favorite at that moment.
What’s next for Jackie Mason?
I took the summer off from public appearances because I had a lot of private dates, but I’m looking forward to continue my touring in the fall. This election season has giving me a whole bunch of new material. First, Red Bank, New Jersey at the Count Basie Theatre on October 9 and then Washington, D.C., at the Howard Theatre on October 22.