You know who Yaakov Moshe Maza is, but you don’t realize it. In the 1940’s, when Maza was a young, struggling comedian, people regularly asked him how to spell his name. “Is that with an ‘e,’ or a ‘w’? What?” he recalls being asked repeatedly.
“Mason is simple. I don’t have to explain myself,” says Jackie Mason, whose birth name is Yaakov Moshe Maza.
Born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on June 9, 1928 to an Orthodox Jewish family with a long lineage of rabbis, Mason was the youngest of the Mazas’ four sons. Their father, he explains, wanted all four boys to become rabbis, which they did. “We all became rabbis, but I am the renegade,” Mason admits in a telephone interview. While his three brothers are “strictly Orthodox,” Mason is not. “I work Friday nights,” he says.
Despite becoming a rabbi and even serving a pulpit, Mason says he was never enthralled with the profession. However, he recalls that when he gave sermons, he used humor to reinforce his message. “People who heard my sermons told me I should be a comedian since I could always highlight a point with humor,” he says.
Eventually, people’s repeated urgings persuaded Mason to seek the spotlight of the comedy stage and give up his pulpit. He became a hotel social director in the Catskills Mountains and started performing. Says Mason, “I became an immediate hit.”
That gig quickly led to others in the heavily Jewish resort and soon, Mason was performing at The Concord, which he describes as the “flagship” hotel in the Catskills. His star quickly rose, leading to gigs on Steve Allen’s show and then Ed Sullivan’s. However, says Mason, his career’s meteoric rise came to a screeching halt after a 1969 performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It seems Mason’s bit was running over, so Sullivan gestured to him to wrap it up. Mason responded with a hand gesture of his own that Sullivan misinterpreted as crude and utterly unacceptable. Mason was banished from the show and his career suffered immeasurably. “
After he banished me, my reputation took a hit. It took me twenty years to regain major stardom” says Mason.
Interestingly, according to Mason, Sullivan eventually watched a recording of the incident and saw for himself that Mason had not, in fact, made a crude gesture toward the host. “He made up with me two years later but no one seems to remember that.”
Today, Mason’s career reveals no tell-tale signs of that incident. He is preparing to star in his eighth one-man Broadway show, set to open in December, 2007. He hosts a nationally syndicated show, transmitted from New York City on Sunday nights from 7 – 9 EST on www.talkradionetwork.com.
In addition to his prowess as a performer, Mason has won both Tony and Emmy Awards; he’s also a successful author.
His latest creation, the recently released Schmucks! Our Favorite Fakes, Frauds, Lowlifes, Liars, the Armed and Dangerous, and Good Guys Gone Bad, which he penned with close friend, lawyer Raoul Felder, is a brave, astute, and humorous analysis of who Mason and Felder perceive as, well, schmucks.
Amazingly, I found myself agreeing with their comments and opinions time and time again. That happened so many times that it felt like Mason had actually recorded and transcribed my thoughts.
For example, one of the most apropos people the writers labeled as a schmuck is Al Sharpton, whose two page chapter is subtitled, “Praise the lard!”
According to Mason, it took the longtime friends less than three months to write the book. The idea behind the book, he says, “mostly came from discussions with Raoul on people’s behaviors.”
Selecting the material to feature in Schmucks wasn’t too difficult, Mason says. “We included whoever we thought was offensive or stupid enough. It didn’t take that much research to decide. We also only picked people who are prominent in the news,” he says, adding, “There were enough people.” Enough, in fact, that Mason and Felder are already collaborating on a sequel.
He says he’s not concerned about ever running out of people to include in this work de Schmucks. “It wouldn’t be hard to write twelve books like this. There are plenty of people in the world who are doing obnoxious things and at least 50% are politicians!” he says.
Get yourself Mason’s Schmucks. You’ll laugh your tuchus off.