Comedian Jackie Mason—Who Turns 82 Sunday—Is Still Really, Really Funny
But in an in-depth interview with Tablet Magazine, he also gets serious about Israel, anti-Semitism, and why Italians love him
How long were you there?
So, you had a tremendous impact.
I would say if it were not for me, they would have lost the war! They were about to lose until I showed up. The whole general staff kept asking me every single day, “What do you think we should do about these missiles? Do you have any suggestions to protect us?” I said, “I’ll tell you what. Next time a missile comes down, give me a call.”
My Italian doctor and my best Italian friends tell me you are their favorite comedian. Why do the Italians love you so much? You told me that Italian audiences are the best.
Because the Italians are not stuck with the pretentiousness and the status-symbol sicknesses that the Jews have. A good percentage of the Jews like to feel that when they’re watching an entertainer that they’re elevating themselves. That’s why they go to an opera they don’t understand. A ballet. You don’t see Italians doing that. Italians go to a show they enjoy. They’re not self-conscious about what appeals to them the most. A certain percentage of Jews are proud to enjoy Jackie Mason, and there’s a certain percentage that like to say that he’s good but not as good as something else. But if he’s that great, then he’s a neighborhood guy who talks like us and that’s all I got and that’s all I know and that’s all I appreciate. It limits them to feel like they’re too Jewish themselves and that’s all they appreciate is a reflection of themselves and that this guy sounds like Brooklyn and I’m from Brooklyn and I’m trying to get out of there and I don’t want to identify myself with him as the main source of entertainment. If you enjoy him too much you’re just like him and it’s embarrassing.
An Italian does not have any of these complexes. An Italian is not sitting there trying to imagine that while he’s working for a living the whole thing is a mistake because he really owns the company. He doesn’t have to pretend that he runs the world from a chair here and he’s really someplace in the hierarchy of running our government. Whatever he has, that’s it. So, the Italians enjoy themselves and they enjoy what they are. They don’t have any complexes about me. I’m an extension of themselves and they’re proud of it. As a matter of fact they get a kick out of it, that here’s a guy who sounds just like me, who’s just a Jewish version of me. When you’re out on stage in front of a Jewish audience, the first five minutes they’re evaluating my age and how much money I’m making and they’re evaluating everything except the jokes. They got no time for the jokes for the first 32 minutes. They’re thinking about a million problems; competitive problems, age problems, whatever it is, they relate it to me and I become the thing they have to answer for. Through me they have to answer for everything in their own life. Is he older than me, is he as old as me, is he too old for me? Italians are not competing with me. As soon as there’s a question period, every Jew asks a certain question that no Italian, I think, ever asked me: “How old are you?” Now, why is my age their business and how does it affect them? They came to hear a joke. All their complexes come out as soon as the questioning starts.
Are you referring to a specific segment of the Jews?
Even the Jews who are normal are not exactly normal. The truth of the matter is that there’s no such thing as a normal Jew. It’s no accident that the Jews get further in life than almost any other denomination. Because they’re always competing and trying to prove themselves, that they’ve gotten further and bigger and higher than anybody else. So, if you have such intensity about being someone important, the only way you could become that important is to accomplish something. So, they’re always accomplishing something more than the next person.
At the same time, because they’re so competitive, which is a beautiful thing to get ahead in life. But it’s also the reason they’re so jealous and bitter and a little obnoxious. Because they can’t say hello without telling me how they look better than me and they want my autograph but it’s not for themselves. Every time they give you a compliment they have to take it back. I have a classic thing that happened to me. A woman sits next to me and tells me how good I look. I said, “Do I really look that good?” She said, “You look very good.” I said “No kidding? I didn’t know I looked that good.” She said, “I didn’t say you looked that good.”
Even beyond the Italians, overall you seem to be more popular with the Gentiles than with the Jews.
What is true about the Italians is true about the goyim in general. Goyim in general live with their situation a lot more comfortably than the Jews do. Jews are never comfortable no matter who they are, no matter what their house is, they should have a bigger house. They have a $35 million house, somebody has a$ 40 million house. Always competing and comparing; they never admit to themselves this is the best thing they got. Jackie Mason is not a status symbol for the Jews, like Clark Gable. Except the Hasidic Jews. They love me, a secular Jew, unconditionally. Because they’re not involved with these complexes. They’re great audiences.
How would you define a self-hating Jew?
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