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”.


Judy Phillips said...

Love Dangerfield! I had never heard the history of his name. I love the Rappin' Rodney video! I hadn't seen that in ages.

Andrea said...

I thought he was so funny when I was younger. Later a couple of his movies had his character slightly annoying...but still respected him!

Diana Jillian said...

I always loved him. Thought he was awesome!!!


Tui Snider said...

Intriguing post! I had no idea that Rodney Dangerfield was a stage name.

Between a media bite laden news stream, Twitter, and people's short attention spans, it sure seems like the one-liner should be making a comeback, don't you think?

~Tui Snider~
@TuiSnider on Twitter
My blog: Tui Snider's Offbeat & Overlooked Travel
I am also part of the #StoryDam team, a friendly writing community!

Jemima Pett said...

I think stand-up is incredibly cutlure-specific, so not surprisingly I've neither heard of him nor find the lines you quote amusing - but then you probably wouldn't like the comedians I enjoy either. It's about seeing the absurdities in the everyday things - and those are often products of our respective cultures.
Does that work in a globally-connected world?
Blogging from Alpha to Zulu in April

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mary - this was just so interesting to read ...and such a good lesson in getting beyond one's early beginnings .. Good for him and you for highlighting him to us - cheers Hilary

Viola Fury said...


I laughed my way through his life story. Someone with that kind of humor and wit who just refuses to stay down is a real inspiration! I loved it when he said, "when I quit, I was the only one who KNEW I had quit!" Thanks, love, Mary xoxox

Viola Fury said...


Interesting you should say what you did about his movies changing his character. That initially held me back; I feel as you do. But, I loved him as a comic and figured I'd give him some respect. Thanks for stopping by! Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


I had forgotten how awesome and funny he was until I started researching this piece and then, I remembered! Thanks for stopping by! Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


So glad you stopped by! I've been a one-liner lookin' for a stage for a couple of years. The problem is, I'm not funny. I do have good comeback lines occasionally, though. It's possible with all of this short-attention span thing, the one-liners are thriving in comedy clubs.

Things are so "balkanized" and immediate now, that unless you are part of that venue, I believe it's easily missed. Some things that are one-liners, aka the news, shouldn't be, but oh, well. I am so glad you stopped by, Tui! Thanks! Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


Thanks for stopping by. I'm pretty eclectic when it comes to comedy. Sorry, this wasn't your cup of tea; some of it is culture specific and some of it is just absurd. I am easily amused in pretty much all venues and types of comedy. Some things are truly universal, like bad singing, or playing the violin.

I do not expect everyone to like or to be especially appreciative of the type of humour and humourists that I enjoy, although, I equally appreciated Benny Hill and Monty Python's Flying Circus, as well as Doc Marten. Mary

Viola Fury said...


Thanks for stopping by! Yes, he had a rough go at first, but made light of it and kept on going. I appreciate that spirit as well as the humour. Since I spend a lot of time in doctor's offices, I have had the opportunity to "hone my act" along his lines, with the one-liners, with varied results! Thanks again, Hillary! Mary xoxo

Andi-Roo TheWorldForRealz said...

I appreciate Rodney Dangerfield's one-liners now more as an adult than I used to. And yeah, I'd like the one-liner to make a comeback, as someone else pointed out in the comments! Speaking of which, I see that one person had never heard of Rodney Dangerfield, and that struck me as hilarious in and of itself! Don't mind me; it's after midnight in the middle of the week and I'm sill up and at it... here but not ALL here, if you know what I'm saying! ;p

Kristen Dyrr said...

Definitely one of the best! I have to admit that I sometimes had trouble actually watching him because he was so manic, but I love reading quotes from him. His jokes are top-notch!

Random Musings from the KristenHead — D is for 'Defiance' (and Dogs)