Whether you know him from “The Jerk,” his one-man Broadway hit, “The World According to Me,” or from more than five decades of patrolling a stand-up stage, Jackie Mason is one of the most recognizable comedians around. Fans and fellow comedians adore him, and he was even voted as one of the top comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders last year.
Mason began his career working at New York’s Fieldston Hotel in 1955, but his style of ridiculing the audience was off-settling and he was quickly out of a job. He made several memorable appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” during the ’60s, and saw his career really start to take off.
Over the years, he’s had numerous one-man shows, appeared in movies and TV, and has managed to stay relevant decade after decade.
“For me, my favorite place to be is on a stage holding a microphone and telling jokes. I did it 50 years ago and I do it now,” he said. “So as long as I keep my act current, I never felt like I transitioned into the 21st century, I just did my thing along with it. However, I have used the Internet to express some ideas and to promote my shows, something I would have never dreamt of doing 16 years ago.”
In his opinion, comedy hasn’t changed much over the years, except for maybe being a bit crasser. It’s still a business where you “tell jokes and get laughs.”
“One big change is the diversity in the business—now there are comics of all races, sexes and ethnicity and I’m very glad to see that,” Mason said. “Second, I like that comedians have more access to media that I didn’t have when I started out. I had the stage, three networks, and the very controlled movie business. Today we have YouTube, independent movies, cable and streaming outlets that give more opportunities for comedians.”
On Oct. 22, Mason will be bringing his act to the Howard Theatre for an afternoon show.
“If it’s in the news, then it’s in my show and this year I have more things to talk about than any year of my career,” Mason said. “The show is too good for these prices. So everybody ought to send me a few extra dollars.”
Expect lots of talk of the upcoming election, as the comedian shared that both Clinton and Trump are very easy targets for laughs.
“And I think this town dabbles a bit in politics doesn’t it? But the show won’t just be about the election or politics but everything that people talk about when they are sitting around at a restaurant,” he said.
Speaking of restaurants, Mason said that while in the area, he’s sure to visit his favorite D.C. restaurant—Joe’s Stone Crab, a place he frequents whenever he’s in town.
“I’ve played D.C. quite a number of times in my career,” he said. “I’ve met presidents and visited the White House on some occasions. I was especially fond of visiting with George H.W. Bush and his lovely wife Barbara. I felt like I could sit down with them at a coffee shop and share a piece a cake.”
To prepare for his shows, Mason reads at least half a dozen newspapers everyday, cover to cover, and has a 24-hour news station on his television all the time so he can stay current and write new material.
“When I’m not doing that, I’m talking with all sorts of people in my neighborhood and just observing life, which also gives me material,” he said. “Observations of the world we live in, keeps me interested. The fact I can make a comfortable living at it is even better. As long as I can still stand and talk, I’ll tell jokes.”
His secret to success is easy to pinpoint—“obviously, it’s my sex appeal,” he said. “I just can’t help it that I’m this attractive of a person. I don’t have a secret. I do a lot of research to give me ideas and I try out my material at small clubs to work it out. Then I take it on the road or to big theatres and make crowds laugh. That’s been my system for years and the reason for my success.”
At the age of 85, Mason isn’t looking for any regular movie or TV gigs, and is just enjoying performing his stand-up and continuing one of his favorite roles of his career.
“I’m very happy that I’ll be back on ‘The Simpsons’ this season, reprising my character of Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky. I can’t believe I’ve been doing that show for 25 years,” he said. “Besides that, I find that film and TV is a lot of work. I also don’t find it as enjoyable as performing on stage before a live audience. Maybe if the right project comes along I might reconsider, but I have too much fun performing live.”