Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Delanceyplace.com 5/13/08-Rodney Dangerfield

In today's excerpt--the comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004), who was born Jacob Cohen, then changed his name to Jack Roy when starting as a stand-up comic at the age of 19, and later changed it to Rodney Dangerfield, a name taken from a Jack Benny routine. He even resorted on occasion to the name Percival Sweetwater:

"Ruling the roost [at the New York Improv Club in 1966] was a former aluminum siding salesman who had started out doing stand-up under the name Jack Roy, left the business to raise a family, and was making an unlikely comeback calling himself Rodney Dangerfield. When Dangerfield first walked into the club, after a well-reviewed engagement at the Living Room, [club owner Budd] Friedman says he 'expected to see a guy right out of Princeton, and this middle-aged drunk showed up. He didn't want to get up onstage. I told him, I'll buy you a bottle of wine. He always told the story that I bought him for a bottle of wine.' Dangerfield soon became the club's regular emcee.

"Dangerfield was a larger-than-life character, a man of manic energy, dark depressions, and consuming appetites. Friedman recalls a Thanksgiving dinner at Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara's house when Dangerfield had too many martinis and fell asleep over the turkey. After dinner he woke up, went into the kitchen, and began attacking the carcass so ravenously that the caterer ran out to complain. Dangerfield drank lavishly, drove a car like a maniac, and smoked pot before most of the pot generation was born. But when it came to comedy, he was a disciplined pro. Weeks before he had a guest spot on The Ed Sullivan Show or The Tonight Show, he would gather new jokes--jotting them down on the shirt cardboard from his dry cleaner, testing them onstage night after night, crafting a surefire five minutes. And though he was a classic 'necklace' comic--stringing disconnected one-liners together--he was hip to the new wave too."

Richard Zoglin, Comedy at the Edge, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008 by Richard Zoglin, pp. 75.


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