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Jackie Mason

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By Esther Lynn

Jackie Mason, the irascible monologist has earned a Tony, an Emmy and an international following in a career spanning over five decades.

The one-man comedy concert the irreverent humorist will bring to Las Vegas is called, Jackie Mason: Freshly Squeezed, Direct From Broadway. The show, covering a wide range of topics including same-sex marriage, stock market fraud, diet fads and politics, has earned critical and popular acclaim in Canada, Great Britain and in cities around the country.

Mason's current tour de force is the latest in a series of celebrated concerts that began in 1984 with The World According To Me. The show moved to Broadway, where it ran for two and half years, earning both a Tony Award and Critics Circle Award.

Since then, Mason has returned to Broadway four times, each time with an entirely new show fashioned from his seemingly limitless storehouse of comedy material. The live performances inspired an HBO special that enabled Mason to add an Emmy to his trophy case.

Prior to his breakthrough as an international concert hall artist, Mason thrived as a standup comic and impressionist in nightclubs. His hilarious mimicry of Ed Sullivan caught the attention of the famed TV host, who made him a regular on his popular Sunday night show.

Mason has authored several best-selling books on comedy and has hosted a nationally-syndicated radio show. Two albums based on his Broadway shows have earned Grammy nominations.

Born Jacob Maza in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the man who would become better known as Jackie Mason was raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great, great-grandfather were all rabbis, as are his three brothers. No surprise that at age 25, Jackie Mason was ordained a rabbi. Three years later, he quit his job in a synagogue to become a comedian because, as he says, "Somebody in the family had to make a living."

From humble comic beginnings in New York, the Borscht Belt, and comedy clubs
around the country, Jackie Mason rose to be one the hottest comics in America in the early 1960s. He became a regular performer on "The Ed Sullivan Show," only to fall into Sullivan's disfavor over the interpretation of a now legendary hand gesture during a live performance in 1962. That incident cast a shadow over Mason's career for more than a decade.

Mason first emerged from that shadow in Los Angeles, where his one-man show, "The World According to Me" originated in 1984 to wide acclaim. Yet the great triumph was his return to New York and his extraordinary success as a one-man show on the Great White Way.

"The World According to Me" began its unprecedented two and a half year run on Broadway began in December 1986 winning triumphant reviews and reestablishing Mason as one of the nation's premier comics. The show earned Jackie Mason numerous awards including a Tony, Outer Critics Circle Award, an Ace and an Emmy, and a Grammy nomination. The show toured successfully in America and Europe for two years.

Mason returned to Broadway in 1990 with "Jackie Mason: Brand New"; in 1994 with "Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect"; in 1996 with "Love Thy Neighbor"; in 1999 with "Much Ado about Everything"; and in 2002 with "Prune Danish." With each production a critical and commercial success, Jackie Mason made history in the theater industry and collected an impressive array of nominations and awards from the Outer Critics Circle, the Grammy's, the Ace Awards and others. An HBO special, "Jackie Mason on Broadway", earned him both an Emmy and an Ace Award.

Over the years, Jackie Mason has appeared on many television shows including the 1989 sitcom "Chicken Soup," where he costarred with Lynn Redgrave; "Howie," starring Howie Mandel; "On Stage America," and "Saturday Night With Connie Chung." He also has some movie roles to his credit, among them Woody Allen's "Sleeper," "The Jerk" starring Steve Martin, "The Stoolie," "Mel Brooks, History of the World: Part 1," and most notably "Caddyshack II" which won him a new, younger, hipper urban following.

Politics has long been a passion for Mason, and he is well known for his tough and outspoken position on a variety of issues. Mason hosted a nationally syndicated radio talk show and together with his friend and collaborator, the divorce attorney Raoul Lionel Felder, he hosted both the weekly PBS talk television series "Crossing The Line" and BBC radio show "The Mason-Felder Report" three times each week.

In October 1996, Jackie was invited back to England for an unprecedented third Command Performance - this time for Prince Charles. While in England, Mason was presented with an honorary degree from the Oxford University Debating Society. It is an honor bestowed on only three individuals throughout history: Ghandi, John F. Kennedy and former President Jimmy Carter. During the Persian Gulf crisis, he closed his Broadway show to fly to Israel as a show of support for the troops and people of Israel. Then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu honored him with an award for "Bravery, Commitment and Valor to the State of Israel."

Now in his 70s, Mason says that at his age "It's no longer a question of staying healthy. It's a question of finding a sickness you like." He loves performing and states he doesn't do it just for the money. "I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something," he says with a grin.

So recognizable is his voice, that Mason has been a cartoon guest on "The Simpsons." He was even featured in a battery-operated hand-held "talking" gizmo (circa 1991) called Jackie Mason's Final Word. Instead of having to come up with your own "put downs," with this gadget you could convey your feelings to "nudges" (naggers), "kvetchers" (complainers, "meshugenas" (nutty folks), "mavens" (know-it-alls), and other annoying people, without opening your mouth. Thanks, Jackie!

Mason's first Las Vegas appearance was more than 30 years ago when he opened for Andy Williams at the Desert Inn (now Wynn Las Vegas). There have been numerous engagements since, with the most recent being at the MGM Grand two years ago. The 900-seat Stardust showroom should provide a comfortable setting for both Mason and his legion of longtime fans. Like with pastrami on rye, matzo ball soup or bagels and lox, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Jackie Mason. So go! Have some fun. Have some laughs!! Enjoy!!!

December 2005

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