Friday, April 4, 2014



Rodney Dangerfield, American stand-up comedian, born Jacob Rodney Cohen, born November 22, 1921, died October 5, 2004.

I approached Dangerfield with some trepidation for a few reasons. The first being, that not everyone cares for stand-up comedy, and the second being that Dangerfield built his whole career around being the guy who gets no respect. Then, I read about his early life and thought, “This is perfect. This guy had a sense of humor about himself from the day he was born. Game on!” So, let me summarize his early life per Wikipedia.

"I tell ya, when I was a kid, all I knew was rejection. My yo-yo, it never came back!

Rodney was the son of Jewish parents, born in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. His father, Phil Roy, was a vaudevillian performer and his ancestors hailed from Hungary. His father was never home and Rodney would see him only once or twice a year.

After their father abandoned the family, his mother moved him and his sister to Kew Gardens, Queens and he attended and graduated from Richmond High School in 1939. To support himself and his family he took jobs selling newspapers, for which he would receive a dollar; he was also delivering groceries and selling ice cream at the beach.

"I worked in a pet store and people kept asking how big I'd get."

When he was 15, he began to write for stand-up comedians and began to perform himself under the name of Jack Roy at the age of 20. He struggled for several years, at one point, performing as a singing waiter, until he was fired. He also worked as an acrobatic performing diver (all that's missing is the juggling – my words) before giving up show business to take a job selling aluminum siding to support his wife and family. He later said that he was so little known then, that “at the time I quit, I was the only one who knew I had quit!”

I could not keep a straight face while I wrote this; it's just too damned funny! Apparently, he understood the more ironic side of the biz and kept on going. He spoke of one night club that he worked in that was so far out in the sticks or the boondocks, that his act was reviewed in the magazine, “Field and Stream”. But along the way, he was deftly working his persona of the “guy who gets no respect” and coming up with brilliant one-liners.

"I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War, my great uncle fought for the west."

Along the way, he came up with the name Rodney Dangerfield which is also an amazing story. The name had originally been used as a name of a fake cowboy by none other than Jack Benny, another hilarious comedian (who played the violin!) on his radio program in 1941 and then was later used as a pseudonym by Ricky Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett. The Benny character also received little, or no respect on Benny's show, thus served as a great inspiration to Dangerfield in building his own character. Jack Benny himself, visited Dangerfield backstage after one of his performances and commended him on developing such a wonderful comedic style and character. Dangerfield, however, kept his legal name, Jack Roy. He did however, once, during a question-and-answer session during his No Respect tour, joke that his real name was Percy Sweetwater.

After working in relative obscurity for several years, Dangerfield was asked to step in as a last-minute replacement on March 5, 1967 on the Ed Sullivan show and he stole the show. Dangerfield went from there to headlining shows in Las Vegas and appearing regularly on the Dean Martin Show, as well as the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, where he appeared a total of 35 times. In 1969, Dangerfield went into business with longtime friend Anthoney Bevacqua to build Dangerfield's comedy club, which then became a showcase and jumping off point for hot, young talent. Dangerfield now also had a venue to perform in without having to travel and was able to help younger talent get a start.

For a guy who “got no respect” he was well-liked and admired. His comedy album, No Respect, won a Grammy. One of his TV specials featured a musical number titled “Rappin' Rodney”.

A seeming anachronism, as the one-liner seems to be pretty much passé, I found several of his jokes to be screamingly funny, as I researched this article. I think that truly funny material withstands time and culture and place, as I hope you'll see by some of the examples. There are entire websites devoted to his one-liners and jokes. I hope you'll find time to read them and “give him some respect”.

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