It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon around 6 years ago and I decided to go into the city and enjoy some time walking in and around Central Park. Towards the later part in the afternoon I sat down in an area near 58th street to do some people watching. Looking around I suddenly noticed the man himself, Jackie Mason. This was the second time I had seen him relatively up close, the previous time being a few years back in an all-night deli on 7th Avenue when I walked up and said hello the way a fan does when they encounter a celebrity. So this time, seeing him nearby and on his cell phone, I made eye contact with him and nodded my head in respect. He proceeded to walk in my direction, stood about 6 feet from me and finished his phone call. After putting his phone in his pocket, he walked towards me and the following dialogue ensued.
Jackie Mason: “ Do I know you?”
Me: “No, but I met you once about a year and a half ago in a deli around the corner.”
Jackie Mason: “You think I should remember you?”
Me: “No, but I’m a big fan.”
Jackie Mason: “Did you ever see me on Broadway?”
Me: “No, sorry. I never did.”
Jackie Mason: “So now I know 2 things about you. Number 1, you’re an egomaniac. You think I should remember you from a year and a half ago. Number 2, you’re a f..ing liar. You say you’re such a big fan but you couldn’t spend $20 to see me on Broadway.”
After he grinned and I laughed, the conversation went on and got a little more serious. I told him who I was, a little about my history and of course, about my book Jew Face. I asked him if there was anything he might be able to do to help me get my book out there. He in turn took my phone number, said he might know some people and said he would be in touch.
And so began my friendship with Jackie Mason.
I am not sure if it was the next day or 2 days later when I received a call from him inviting me to sit and meet with him and a few others in a café in Manhattan. While it turned out that neither the people I met with that night nor any other night when joining him in the future would be able to do much to help my writing career, it soon did not matter to me. I was hanging out with Jackie Mason and it was fun.
While I can only speak to the part of his lifestyle to which I was exposed, it was very specific and very consistent. He would go out to dinner with one group of people, and the later in the evening go out for desert and a drink, be it coffee or soda in a café or diner with a second group of people. While I was part of a group he himself selected, it nevertheless was a group, and it appeared that he would decide who it was he wanted to hang with on any given evening and they would be called and asked to join him. In the beginning I was invited to the after dinner get-togethers, and while I don’t remember all the places I was invited to, I specifically remember the Applejack Diner, located on 55th street and 7th Avenue, Juniors, famous for its cheesecake, and the iconic Sardis, located in the heart of Broadway. To sit at a table in Sardis with someone who had his cartoon picture hanging up in Sardis, was beyond cool for me. And naturally, when walking the streets of Manhattan with a celebrity of Jackie Mason’s caliber, many people would stop and greet him, and very often ask for a picture with him. And if the person rubbed him the right way, they would get one.
Eventually I would be invited to some of the dinners with him as well. One time being in a French restaurant on the Upper East Side when one of the people joining us was his friend and high profile lawyer Raoul Felder. While I am by no means shy and I have the confidence to feel comfortable in the company of just about anyone, I also knew these people lived in a very different world than I did, so I was almost never the biggest talker at the table. I often spoke about my book and my parents’ story when being introduced by Jackie to someone new which more than likely was why he had a nickname for me. To Jackie Mason I would be known as the “Holocaust guy”.
The man loved politics. I always wondered if part of it was so that he would have enough material to make fun of at least some of it, but when he sat down and discussed his views he did so with a passion. While his interest in politics was strong, he never struck me as being partisan. Without getting into specifics, I still remember him equally hating different high profile politicians on 2 opposite sides of the aisle. His love for politics was so strong that if there was a major political event taking place, he was more interested in following the programming than he was the people he might have been with at the time.
He told a story of how Rodney Dangerfield once walked into a restaurant and started yelling at him, claiming that he had stolen his part in Caddyshack 2. It didn’t seem to bother him much and he seemed to actually see it as a funny story, especially since according to him Dangerfield had actually turned down the part.
There were 2 moments I remember clearly from my time with Jackie Mason. The first was crossing the street with him one late night, seeing him take his good old time not crossing at an intersection, and practically bear hugging him to pull him out of the way of an oncoming car. While he was fine with me doing what I did, very possibly saving his life, it wasn’t such a big deal to him because he wasn’t concerned. It helped me realize that part of what made Jackie Mason special was his lack of fear. Lack of fear of what anyone thought of what he had to say, and lack of fear of an oncoming car. Frankly, as someone who cared, I am relieved and happy he ended up passing away of natural causes.
The second moment was being invited up to his apartment. It was just once and just to meet him before we went to meet people at a café, but it still felt like an honor to be given that degree of trust and access to someone of his stature.
I remember him liking his favorite tables where he went, not eating anything with a face, and starting so many conversations with, Hello Hello.
One evening we were sitting outdoors at Applejack Diner and a man came over and engaged him in conversation. Apparently the man had seen Jackie at the Catskills in the past and knew some of the same people. When the man asked him if still ever performed in the Catskills, in that classic Jackie Mason form he replied, “No. I passed away.”
And now he has indeed passed away. While my time being part of his circle ended over 4 years ago, I remember the man fondly. That being said, I know that to many he a controversial figure. His humor wasn’t for everyone, he never held back his opinions, and he chose to live his life the way he wanted, regardless of whether or not fan, friend or family approved. I can honestly say that if I had to judge the man I would be lost. Since that was not my role nor place in his life I never tried and never will. I do know that there were 2 things about him that I loved. He was proud to be a Jew and he was funny. So very proud and so very funny.
May he rest in peace.
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