Jackie Mason, whose staccato, arm-waving delivery and thick Yiddish accent kept the borscht belt style of comedy alive long after the Catskills resorts had shut their doors, and whose career reached new heights in the 1980s with a series of one-man shows on Broadway, died on Saturday in Manhattan.
Mr. Mason’s death, at a hospital, was confirmed by his longtime friend, the lawyer Raoul Felder, who said the comedian was 93.
Mr. Mason regarded the world around him as a nonstop assault on common sense and an affront to his personal sense of dignity. Gesturing frantically, his forefinger jabbing the air, he would invite the audience to share his sense of disbelief and inhabit, if only for an hour, his very thin skin.
“I used to be so self-conscious,” he once said, “that when I attended a football game, every time the players went into a huddle, I thought they were talking about me.” Recalling his early struggles as a comic, he said, “I had to sell furniture to make a living — my own.”
The idea of music in elevators sent him into a tirade: “I live on the first floor; how much music can I hear by the time I get there? The guy on the 28th floor, let him pay for it.”
The humor was punchy, down-to-earth and emphatically Jewish: His last one-man show in New York, in 2008, was called “The Ultimate Jew.” A former rabbi from a long line of rabbis, Mr. Mason made comic capital as a Jew feeling his way — sometimes nervously, sometimes pugnaciously — through a perplexing gentile world.
“Every time I see a contradiction or hypocrisy in somebody’s behavior,” he once told The Wall Street Journal, “I think of the Talmud and build the joke from there.”
Describing his comic style to The New York Times in 1988, he said: “My humor — it’s a man in a conversation, pointing things out to you.”