Remembering Rodney

Tuesday November 22nd, 2011 – Fox Lake, IL

Born on this date in 1921 was my absolute favorite standup comedian of all time, Jacob Cohen. Most people don’t know him by that name, as he later changed it to Jack Roy – his legal name at the time of his passing in 2004. His stage name was Rodney Dangerfield, an American icon and in my opinion the best comedy technician ever. Rodney was the king.

I never get sick of studying Rodney’s body of work. He had it all – a great look, rhythm, excellent jokes and one of if not the best hook lines of all time “I get no respect.” Rodney had style, and after many years of struggle it resonated loudly with the American public.

Rodney was a huge hit with my generation from his appearance in the film Caddyshack, and also from his many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He had a strong following in my circle of friends growing up, and I was as big a fan as any of them.

I remember buying his album titled ‘No Respect’ when I was in high school and playing it over and over, both for myself and my friends, and laughing each time. I’ll still pull out the CD version every once in a while and it still makes me laugh out loud. It’s a classic.

Rodney had a huge career, one of the biggest of the 20th century, but he sure did have to struggle to get there. He started early like I did, then quit for several years to sell siding so he could feed his family, and then got back into it and his star eventually rose. He plugged and slugged and hung in there for years, and I’m sure he had doubts as to if he’d ever hit.

When he did, he exploded. His appearance in Caddyshack was a home run, and people I know still quote his lines in it to this day. I was at a friend’s house a few months ago for a football game, and there were about ten guys there around my age. During a commercial he popped in Caddyshack, and we all giggled like school girls at Rodney all over again.

My career has paralleled Rodney’s in many ways, except for the pesky success part. My natural rhythm is similar to Rodney’s, but I didn’t consciously do it. Yes, I listened to his album as a kid, but I listened to every comedy album I could find and I’m nothing like the majority of those people. Rodney and I are from similar pedigree, just like musicians are.

Comedians have pedigree too, and I teach it in my classes. Robin Williams’ style is from Jonathan Winters. Jim Carrey’s style is from Jerry Lewis. Johnny Carson came from Jack Benny. They don’t do each other’s jokes, but their bloodlines intersect. I’m from Rodney.

When I first heard that, it made me cringe. I wasn’t trying to steal from Rodney, even if I was a huge fan. I wanted to be me, but people often pointed out that I reminded them of Rodney and they still do. I’ve now learned to embrace it, as it’s a fantastic compliment.

I popped in some DVDs of Rodney today and laughed all over again. He’s still the king in my opinion, and always will be. Getting to meet him was a major thrill in my life, and I should be so lucky as to have somebody still laughing at my jokes 90 years after my birth.


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