Sheba Mason is a comedian with a famous father from whom she’s been estranged nearly all her life, but that hasn’t stopped her from following in his shuffling footsteps. One of her go-to lines is: “Jackie Mason is a great comedian, but I wish I was the child of a better looking comedian — like Woody Allen … or Rosie O’Donnell.”
For years, the elder Mason refused to acknowledge publicly that he was Sheba’s father. Once a court-ordered paternity test determined it more than 99% certain that the Borscht Belt icon was the father, his attempts to avoid paying child support were scuttled. But the stance was always untenable for the simple fact that Sheba resembles her famous father quite a bit, not least in the halting delivery that aids her comedy.
Though Jackie Mason has never been mistaken for the world’s sexiest man, women were drawn to him. Sheba’s mother, Ginger Reiter, recounted to the Chicago Tribune in 2017 that during their relationship, Mason would leave suits and ties in her closet, but unbeknownst to her, there were women all over Miami Beach who had Mason’s suits and ties in their closets.
Instead of getting mad, Reiter distilled the material from her nearly decade-long relationship with the Tony-winner and turned it into a musical comedy, which her daughter would reprise years later as “Both Sides of a Famous Love Affair: The Jackie Mason Musical,” a show that brought Sheba Mason a successful three-year off-Broadway run and jump-started her burgeoning stand-up career.
But the underlying story of Sheba Mason’s relationship to her father and to comedy is anything but by-the-numbers.
On one hand, there’s a father who disavowed her for much of her life and compelled her mother to sue him for unpaid child support; on the other, there’s a father who was one of the most beloved Jewish comics of his era. One might think that a tricky emotional dilemma to navigate.
“Actually, it’s not really tricky. I’m his daughter, you know?” said Sheba, 34. “It’s my heritage. So I feel absolutely comfortable using his name. I mean, why not? If I play a synagogue, I say, ‘They couldn’t afford Jackie Mason, so they hired me.’”
Born in Miami, Florida, and raised in Boca Raton, Sheba inherited a lot of her father’s comedic tics.
“His syntax and stuff is so funny. I don’t know if it’s a Jewish thing, but people have told me that I kind of have a little bit of that,” she said.
Sheba found a love of stand-up after moving to New York to be an actress.
“I said to myself, ‘Why am I working so hard trying to get cast as an actress when I can be onstage every night on my own?’” she recalled. “I just fell in love with the whole scene of comedy, comedians and their attitudes about everything. And I loved being alone onstage and not having to rely on anyone else — it was my writing and my personality.”
As for her mother, who started the onstage tradition of talking about Jackie Mason, Reiter went on to marry a South Florida cantor.
Sheba joked, “She likes Jews, what can I tell you?” JN