On a recent Friday night, Sheba Mason had nearly wrapped up her stand-up routine at the New York Comedy Club on East 24th Street, and the time had come to let the crowd know about her father: Borscht Belt comic–turned–Broadway kvetcher in chief Jackie Mason.
“A lot of people ask, like, ‘What’s it like to be the daughter of a celebrity?’” Ms. Mason, who is 23, told the 20-person audience. “And I tell them, ‘It’s really great. It’s wonderful. It’s so cool.’” She paused for dramatic effect. “If I knew him, it would be even better.”
Most of the time, the joke gets laughs. On this occasion, it prompted some sympathetic “awwwws.” Ms. Mason told the crowd not to feel badly; she was in a support group for illegitimate children: “B.A.—Bastards Anonymous.” Anyway, she added, their relationship was getting a lot better. “Last week, I saw him on the street, and he actually recognized me! Pretty good. And I know he recognized me because the minute he saw me”—here she adopted a quavery voice she often uses for tragicomic effect—“he ran the other way.”
But seriously, folks: Ms. Mason said she’s only met her father a few times, once a chance encounter on the street after one of his Broadway shows, shortly after Ms. Mason moved to New York to pursue her comedy career. He’s been out of the picture since she was a baby and his 10-year relationship with her mother, playwright Ginger Reiter, ended. The fallout was messy and widely covered in the press. Ms. Reiter, who lived in Florida, slapped Mr. Mason with a paternity suit and penned a musical theater production, Oh Jackie Oh!, based on their relationship. Mr. Mason retaliated with a libel suit over the play, which was dismissed. Ms. Reiter won child support and continued with the production.
Knowing all this, it’s a little startling to hear Ms. Mason, who plays well-known comedy clubs in New York but has yet to break out, blithely name her father as one of her all-time-favorite comics. Professionally, if not personally, she considers him a role model. “If you’re going to have an absentee father, he’s a good one to have,” she told The Observer. “I’m happy to have his gene pool, because I think he’s a genius.” (Mr. Mason did not respond to requests for comment left with his agent, or to emails sent through his official Web site).
Ms. Mason’s inheritance is not just cerebral; she also bears a certain physical resemblance to her father, with a similarly large, round head, slightly squashed face and elongated ears—a fact she addresses in her act. “I just wish a better-looking comedian was my father,” she jokes. “Like Woody Allen. Or Rosie O’Donnell.”
BEFORE HER PERFORMANCE, her second at the club in a week, Ms. Mason let The Observer buy her a drink a few blocks away. She had entered the bar dramatically, in black stacked-heel boots—she’s 5-foot-1 and has been wearing high heels since she was 11—and a white calf-length fake-fur coat. Her hair was teased into a half updo and her lips generously coated in magenta lipstick. She was sipping a very sweet riesling and reflecting on the constant hustle required in her line of work. Her name helps, for sure, she said, but so far, it hasn’t been a golden ticket.