From 1989
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

Jackie Mason passed away on July 24, 2021, at the age of 93 after more than 70 years of making us laugh.

This column was inspired by a sandwich. That’s right, a sandwich. But not just any sandwich. This one has a backstory. It is really an ode to a person who some consider one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Jewish comedians in American history: Jackie Mason.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

Jackie Mason passed away on July 24, 2021, at the age of 93 after more than 70 years of making us laugh. The son of a rabbi, he was born Yacov Moshe Maza in Sheboygan, Wis. Mason also became an ordained rabbi, but he turned to comedy in his 20s.  

Like Mel Brooks, George Burns, Lenny Bruce, Milton Berle and many other famous Jewish comedians, Mason first worked the Borscht Belt in upstate New York. He was at times ribald and irreverent, often using Yiddish in his act, and he was funny.  

From 1967
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Mason was always hilarious but not without controversy. The JN editorial “Jackie Mason: Shhh!” on Oct. 13, 1989, noted how Mason apologized and said he “learned his lesson” over racially insensitive remarks about then-New York mayoral candidate David Dinkins. 

In his latter years, Mason switched his support from the Democratic to the Republican party. He once stated that there were three things one could count on in life: “Death, taxes and antisemitism.”

A search for Jackie Mason in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History revealed 242 pages from 1950s to the present that mention his name. There are also several feature stories about and interviews with Mason. In short, he had a large presence in the JN and in Jewish Detroit.

From 1987
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Many pages hold advertisements for his appearances in the Catskills, such as the Stevensville Hotel in Swan Lake and Grossinger’s, and for his performances in Detroit at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Pine Knob Music Theatre, the Roostertail and Andiamo’s. Mason also performed at local benefits for Young Israel in 1962 and Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in 1960, to name two. He had no fear of defending Jews and Israel. 

There are many articles in the JN that cite Mason. In some, contemporary comedians speak about his influence upon their careers. Mason was even quoted by Rabbi Craig Allen in a Torah portion (Dec. 20, 1996, JN): “Timing is everything.” Of course, Mason was mentioned in several Danny Raskin columns.

Now, for my favorite Mason story and the sandwich that inspired this column. In May 1989, shortly after the Palace of Auburn Hills opened, Mason was a headliner at the new arena. In his honor, the JN and the Plaza Deli sponsored a contest to create a “Jackie Mason Sandwich.” 

From 2007
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

There were tons of entries, but Ida Olsen of Oak Park created the winner. Olsen personally presented the sandwich to Mason at the Palace on May 24. Judges for contest were Danny Raskin (who else?), chefs Peter Loren and Remy Berdy, and deli food wholesaler Larry Snider.   

The Jackie Mason? Rye and pumpernickel with lettuce, corned beef and a scrambled egg with black olives, then more corned beef and lettuce with pickled tongue and tomato. Wow!   

In a JN interview before he opened his one-man show on Broadway, Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect,  he said, “I want to offend people. I want to offend the sick people who are preposterous in their beliefs” (May 6, 1994). Mason was, indeed, politically un-correct at times, but he also made us think and laugh like few others. He left quite a legacy. 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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