Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Birthday: In a word- funny.

Henry Yungman (1906-1998)
Author, sometime comedian

I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother.

Two dumb guys go bear hunting. They see a sign saying, ''Bear Left,'' so they went home.

I don't know what makes you so stupid, but it really works.

Can you really afford to give anybody a piece of your mind?

His first audience was a Brooklyn talent show. It was Yom Kippur and his father the hatmaker found out. He showed up with a cop and threw his own offstage.

“You’re sixteen years old,” Papa Yungman scolded. “You’ll soon be seventeen- if I let you.”

Yungman senior decided his son would be a violinist in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. Henry worked in  a printers show, making up one line gag cards.

He got a gig with some friends as a boardwalk act. The Swanee Syncopators played jazz,and between numbers Yungman told a joke or two. When the comedy act didn’t show up one night at a club, he got the job.

He worked anywhere and everywhere. "I get on the plane,” he explained. “ I go and do the job, grab the money and I come home and I keep it clean. Those are my rules. Sinatra does the same thing, only he has a helicopter waiting. That's the difference."

Yungman was discovered by another up-and-comer, Milton Berle, who opened some doors for the kid. When he succeeded, Berle said, “The only thing funnier than his jokes is his violin playing.”

Another comic said, “Music’s loss was comedy’s loss.”

Henny Youngman, he became. His break came in 1937. He got a six-minute gigon Kate Smith’s radio show. He won ten minutes, and a contract as a regular.

He played the violin less and less. It took up space for jokes. Henny never told one longer than 24 seconds. In an eight-minute set he could do fifty.

“King of the One Liners,” Walter Winchell called him.

When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.

I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up - they have no holidays.

I told the doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.

The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.

If you're going to do something tonight that you'll be sorry for tomorrow morning, sleep late.

My grandmother is over eighty and still doesn't need glasses. Drinks right out of the bottle.

If at first you don't succeed... so much for skydiving.

I take my wife everywhere, but she keeps finding her way back.

I've got all the money I'll ever need, if I die by four o'clock.

She's been married so many times she has rice marks on her face.

In 1928 he met a Kresge’s clerk called Sadie. She was with him backstage one night. About to go on, Henny asked a stage hand to get her to her seat. When the hand did not respond, Henny yelled, “Take my wife- please!” In 1988 the joke went into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Sadie was the heart of Henny’s act. “I take my wife everywhere,” he said, “but she always finds her way home.” They were married 59 years. When she got sick he built an ICU in their home so she could die there.

Henny tried Hollywood over and over from the 1940s on. He never got past cameos. He did guest shots on TV. In 1958 he was half of a baked idea: The Henny and Rocky Show. he and boxer Rocky Marciano goofed off after the TV fight show ended. It could be five minutes or it could be thirty and after a little while it was off the air.

He was a nightclub guy. His brother Lester did the bookings. When Lester died in 1979, Henny did them himself. Here’s what The New York Times wrote:
He would take his fiddle and go to some hotel that had banquet rooms. He'd consult the daily directory in the lobby and find a party—usually a Bar Mitzvah reception—and he would go up to the room and ask to speak to whoever was paying for the affair. "I'm Henny Youngman," he would tell that person. "I was playing a date in another banquet room here and one of the waiters suggested you might want to have me do my act for your gathering here." He would negotiate whatever price he could get—$200, $500, preferably in cash—and he would do his act for them.
Roger Ebert described a similar episode in a 2011 film review:
I once observed Henny Youngman taping a TV show in the old NBC studios at the Merchandise Mart. We got into an elevator together. It stopped at the second floor, a private club. A wedding was under way. Youngman got off the elevator, asked to meet the father of the bride and said, "I'm Henny Youngman. I'll do 10 minutes for $100." 
Mr. Youngman was always eager for employment. His phone number was listed in the Manhattan directory; when the phone rang, he was likely to say, ''Answer it! It could be a job!'' When the William Morris theatrical agency moved into an office building across from his apartment, he put a sign in his living room window: ''Book thy neighbor.''
When he was 85, Youngman stopped an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. “Have I got any calls? I always leave the number where I’m going. Somebody might call.” Gross asked the engineer, “Does Mr Youngman have any calls?” “Yes,” came the bemused reply. “Put it through!” Youngman demanded.

When the New York Telephone Company started its Dial-a-Joke line in 1974, over 3,331,638 people called in one month to hear 30 seconds of Youngman's material—the most ever for a comedian.

Youngman worked all the time, almost forever. He logged half a million miles a year, doing a hundred shows, not including the ones he got off the lobby boards. In his last movie role, Eyes Beyond Seeing (1995) he played a mental patient who thought he was Henny Youngman.

Youngman broke his hip at 89. Released from the hospital, he said, “Take my wheelchair- please!” Christmas week, 1997 he was doing two shows a night in San Francisco; he got a cold on the way home that turned into pneumonia. Aside from the week he took off after Sadie died, his last hospital stay was his first break in seventy years.

The author of dozens of joke books, he also published an autobiography, Take My Life, Please!

Your presence makes me long for your absence.

Some people bring happiness wherever they go. You bring happiness whenever you go.

I'd like to help you out. Which way did you come in?

He willed his body to science. Science is contesting the will.

#LiteraryBirthdays #HennyYoungman #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte

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