The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
IT WAS 20 years ago the first time the phone rang and that familiar voice bellowed forth.
"Hey!" the man was shouting. "Doctor gave a guy six months to live. Guy couldn't pay the bill; doctor gave him another six months!"
Good morning, Mr. Youngman, I said. It's a pleasure to talk to you.
"Hey! Guy walks into a psychiatrist's office, and the psychiatrist says, 'You're crazy.' Guys says he wants a second opinion. 'OK. You're ugly, too.'"
I've been a fan of yours for years, Mr. Youngman, and ...
"I ask my wife where she wants to go for our anniversary," Henny Youngman shouts. "She said, 'I want to go somewhere I've never been before.' I said, 'Try the kitchen!'"
Your early career as part of the Swanee Syncopators and on the Kate Smith show must have been valuable training for ...
"Say! My grandson, Larry, he's 21. He'll be 22 if I let him. That kid was so ugly when he was born, the doctor slapped his mother!"
I understand you first opened in Chicago in 1939 ...
"Chicago! What a town. You know there's less crime in Chicago -- nothing left to steal!"
That's very amusing, Mr. Youngman, but ...
"Two guys meet in Chicago. One says: 'You look bad. What happened to you?' The other says: 'I lost three wives in three months.'
"First one says: 'What happened?'
"Second one says: 'First wife died from eating poison mushrooms.'
"'How about the second wife?'
"'She died from eating poison mushrooms.'
"'What happened to the third wife?'
"'She wouldn't eat them.'"
Very, very funny, Mr. Youngman. Now I understand you've been married to your wife, Sadie, for 50 years and ...
"Take my wife -- please! First told that joke on Kate Smith, and for some reason, it caught on. Don't know why. Today, I'm working like crazy. Do 200 shows a year. Banquets, trade meetings, sales shows, conventions, outdoor fairs, concerts, colleges.
"They love me at colleges. They don't know it, but I'm a legend in my own mind! Busy as hell. Always adding jokes. Went to a doctor. Doctor says, 'Take your clothes off.' I say, 'Take me out a few more times first!'
"College kids treat me like a joke hero, I mean folk hero. Got an album doing sensational. Called 'Take My Album -- Please!' You've got to let people know you're in business constantly. Got to have publicity all the time."
When you first started, didn't you say that the places were so small that the band played "Tea for One"?
"I'll tell you something," he said. "It's harder than it looks. It's all in the timing. If you're blessed with it, you do it."
I was wondering ...
"Guy goes to a psychiatrist. Says, 'Gee, it's tough for me to make friends -- you big, fat slob!'"
How long can you keep this up, Mr. Youngman?
"As long as they want me," Henny Youngman said quietly. "As long as they still want me."
Henny Youngman died last week at the age of 91. They still wanted
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