THE HEALING POWER OF LAUGHTER
Rodney Dangerfield was an American stand-up comedian, actor, producer, author, and screenwriter. He was known for his self-deprecating humor, and his motto was, “I don’t get no respect!”
He was born Jacob Rodney Cohen in Long Island, New York, on November 22, 1921. He had Hungarian-Jewish roots. His father was in vaudeville and was usually home only twice a year.
Rodney’s mother moved to Queens after his father abandoned the family. Rodney helped to support the family by selling newspapers and ice cream at the beach and delivering groceries.
When he was fifteen, Rodney began writing for stand-up comedians. Before he was twenty, he performed under the stage name of Jack Roy. He also worked during the day as a singing waiter and performed as an acrobatic diver. He performed at many of the hotels in the Catskills. In his autobiography, It’s Not Easy Being Me, Rodney explained a lot of the challenges he had to face in life.
He felt he needed an image, so he took on the name of a fake cowboy when he was on Jack Benny’s radio show. The cowboy was named Rodney Dangerfield, and this became his moniker as a stand-up comedian as well.
His big break came on March 5, 1967, when he appeared as Rodney Dangerfield on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” This caused his career to catch on, and it really took off when he made the usually stone-faced Ed Sullivan laugh.
Thereafter he became a regular on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” He appeared on this program at least thirty-five times—a record for that show. He also frequently appeared on “The Dean Martin Show.”
His image or persona was that of a lovable but disgruntled every man type. He became the headliner for several shows in Las Vegas and became a great hit in many nightclubs. His fame and success continued to grow.
He had a minor supporting part in the movie, “The Projectionist,” (1971) and in “Natural Born Killers,” a movie in which he wrote all his own lines. He also appeared in a series of popular commercials for Miller Light.
Eventually he grew tired of touring and in 1969 he set up his own comedy club, which was called “Dangerfield’s Comedy Club.” He did so in partnership with his longtime friend, Anthony Bevacqua. The club was situated in New York City and it is still there and open today. It was always fun to go to his comedy club. Dangerfield helped many struggling comedians there, and his fans were numerous, including people from all backgrounds and cultures. I was one of those fans and went to the club several times.
As time went on, Rodney’s image was cemented in the minds of millions. He constantly tugged at his red tie and always proclaimed, “I can’t get no respect.” He was eventually recognized by the Smithsonian Institution, which put one of his trademark white shirts and red ties on display.
Another big break for him was his frequent appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” which began in 1975. His appearance in the movie “Caddyshack” in 1980 was quite a hit as well. Also, in 1980 Rodney’s popular comedy album, “No Respect,” won a Grammy Award.
In 1983, “Rappin’ Rodney,” a single rap record became one of the first top-100 records in that genre. “Rappin’ Rodney” earned Dangerfield a Grammy for the best comedy album.
The movie “Back to School” came out in 1986. This comedy became his biggest film and one of the first movies to gross over 100 million dollars! His part in the Oliver Stone film “Natural Born Killers” (1994) was critically acclaimed. It was Rodney’s first dramatic role.
In 1995, Dangerfield entered the world of cyberspace by becoming the first entertainer to have a website on the World Wide Web.
He appeared in several other movies as well: “Meet Wally Sparks” (1997), “Little Nicky” (2000), “The Godson” (1998), and “My Five Wives” (2000).
In 1997, he admitted to a lifelong bout with depression, and on his eightieth birthday, he experienced a mild heart attack. Through the late eighties and early nineties he appeared on many television shows, such as “The Simpsons,” “In Living Color,” “Professional Therapist,” “Home Improvement,” and “Suddenly Susan.”
In 1993, he married Joan Child, a Mormon woman who was thirty years younger than him. She was his second wife. His first was Joyce Indig. He married Joyce in 1949, divorced her in 1962, remarried her in 1963, and they divorced again in 1970. He and Joyce had two children.
Rodney died on October 5, 2004, at the age of eighty-two, after falling into a coma following heart-valve surgery. He is buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles. His headstone reads: “Rodney Dangerfield—There Goes the Neighborhood.”
His wife held a memorial event for Rodney in which the word “respect” was emblazoned in the sky, and each guest was given a live Monarch butterfly. Farrah Fawcett led the guests in a butterfly-release ceremony. Rodney’s legacy included multiple awards and the lasting impact he had on the lives of so many. His death left a great void in people’s hearts, and his many memorable quotes constantly remind us that laughter is the essence of life.
Let’s keep his memory alive by reflecting on some of his many well-known and very funny quotes:
“I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her!”
“Once somebody stole our car. I asked my wife if she saw who it was. She said, ‘No, but I did get the license number!’”
“My wife took her driver’s test the other day. She got 8 out of 10. The other two guys jumped clear!”
“I went to see my doctor. ‘Doctor, every morning when I get up and look in the mirror, I feel like throwing up. What’s wrong with me?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, but your eyesight is perfect!’”
“I found there was only one way to look thin, and that’s to hang out with fat people!”
“My old man. . . I told him I’m tired of running around in circles, so he nailed my other foot to the floor!”
“Last year my birthday cake looked like a prairie fire!”
“I was so depressed that I decided to jump from the tenth floor. They sent up a priest. He said, ‘On your mark. . . .’”
“I met the Surgeon General, and he offered me a cigarette!”
“My wife has to be the worst cook ever. Her specialty is indigestion!”
“My wife made me join a bridge club. I jump off next Tuesday!”
“You wanna have laughs? Do what I do. When I go through a toll booth, I keep going. I tell the guy, ‘The car behind me is paying for two!’”
“I never got any respect when I was a baby either. My mother breast-fed me through a straw!”
“What a childhood I had! When I took my first step, my old man tripped me!”
“Last week I told my psychiatrist, ‘I keep thinking about suicide.’ He told me from now on I have to pay in advance!”
“When I was a kid, all I knew was rejection. Even my yo-yo never even came back!”
“When I was a kid I got no respect. The time when I was kidnapped, the kidnappers sent my parents a note. They said, ‘We want $5,000 or you’ll see your kid again!’”
“Even with my dog I don’t get no respect. He keeps barking at the front door, but he doesn’t want to go out. He wants me to leave!”
“What a dog I have! His favorite bone is my arm!”
“My wife and I were happy for twenty years, then we met!”
“I asked my old man if I could go ice-skating on the lake. He told me, ‘Wait till it gets warmer!’”
“My doctor told me to watch my drinking, so I started drinking in front of a mirror! I drink too much, way too much. When my doctor drew my blood, he began running a tab!”
“When I was born, the doctor came out to the waiting room and said to my father, ‘I’m very sorry. We did everything we could, but he pulled through!’”
“I came from a family of stupid people. During the Civil War my great-uncle fought for the West!”
“This morning when I put on my underwear, I could hear the Fruit of the Loom guys laughing at me!”
“It’s tough to stay married. My wife kisses the dog on the lips, but she won’t drink from my glass!”
“When I played in the sandbox, the cat kept covering me up!”
“I could tell that my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio!”
“One year they wanted to make me the poster boy for . . . birth control!”
“I remember the time when I was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof!”
“My uncle’s dying wish was to have me sitting on his lap. He was in the electric chair!”
“Once when I was lost at a picnic, I saw a policeman. I asked him to help me find my parents. I said, ‘Do you think we’ll ever find them?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, kid. There are so many places where they can hide!’”
“I told my dentist that my teeth are turning yellow. He told me to wear a brown necktie!”
“My psychiatrist told me that I am going crazy! I told him, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like a second opinion.’ He said, ‘All right. You’re ugly too!’”
“Last Halloween a kid tried to rip my face off. He thought it was a mask. Now it’s different. When I open the door the kids hand me candy!”
“I had a lot of pimples as a kid. One day I fell asleep in the library. When I woke up a blind man was trying to read my face!”