Comedy Legend: Rodney Dangerfield

Updated on October 28, 2019
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Rodney Dangerfield
Rodney Dangerfield

Rodney Dangerfield began performing stand-up comedy when he was a teenager. His stage name at this time was Jack Roy. Dangerfield loved doing stand-up comedy, but he quickly found out it was not a good way to pay the bills. During the 1950s, he worked as a home siding salesman to meet his financial obligations. In the early 1960s, he went back to performing stand-up comedy using the name Rodney Dangerfield. In the 1970s, he opened up Dangerfield's comedy club. During the 1980s, Dangerfield starred in a string of successful comedy movies as well as commercials and more.

Early Years

Rodney Dangerfield's birth name was Jacob Rodney Cohen. He was born on November 22, 1921, in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York in the town of Babylon. His parents were Jewish. His mother's name was Dorothy “Dotty” Teitelbaum. His father performed in vaudeville and was named Philip Cohen. His father's vaudeville stage name was Phil Roy. Cohen's father was not home very much when Dangerfield was growing up. It was common for him to only see his father twice a year. Dangerfield's father eventually abandoned him and his mother. This is when they moved in with his aunt in Kew Gardens in Queens. Dangerfield went to Richmond Hill School and graduated in 1939. During this time, he sold newspapers, delivered groceries and sold ice cream at the beach to help support his family. Later in his life, Dangerfield's father asked forgiveness for what he had done. Rodney Dangerfield easily forgave his father.

Rodney Dangerfield during the 1950s
Rodney Dangerfield during the 1950s

Start Of Comedy Career

When he was 15 years old, Rodney Dangerfield was writing jokes for stand-up comedians. During this time, he was also performing comedy at an Ellenville, New York resort. At the age of 19, Dangerfield legally changed his name to Jack Roy. This was a financially difficult time for him. Desperate to make money as a performer, Dangerfield even worked as a singing waiter. He was eventually fired. During the 1950s, he had a wife and children. He got a job selling aluminum siding. Dangerfield would talk about this time in his life and say he was so little known in show business, that he gave up show business, he was the only one who knew it.

Return To Comedy

The 1960s was a time when Dangerfield would go down a path to regenerate his comedy career. During the day, he would still work as an aluminum siding salesman. In his free time, Dangerfield would perform at as many Catskill Mountain hotels as would permit him. Unfortunately, he went into debt and then struggled to get booked.

Rodney Dangerfield performing
Rodney Dangerfield performing

Stage Persona

Dangerfield eventually realized he needed an image. He felt he should have an on-stage persona that is well-defined. It had to be one that an audience watching him could feel a connection. He initially was shunned by some of the best-known comedy venues. This is when he returned home determined to develop a character who struggles with everything. This is when he took the name, Rodney Dangerfield. This name had been used by Jack Benny on his radio program during the 1940s. It was a name that had also appeared on the TV program The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The character on the Jack Benny radio program also got no respect from the people around him. This inspired Rodney Dangerfield.

Rodney Dangerfield with Ed Sullivan
Rodney Dangerfield with Ed Sullivan

Big Break

It was Sunday, March 5, 1967, and The Ed Sullivan Show was struggling to find a replacement for another act. Rodney Dangerfield was put on and surprised everyone by being the hit of the show. After this, he started being the headline act in several venues in Las Vegas. During this time, he continued to make regular appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. He eventually became a regular act featured on The Dean Martin Show. Rodney Dangerfield was on The Tonight Show 35 times. His catchphrase “no respect” came to define him and became his identity.

Dangerfield's Comedy Club
Dangerfield's Comedy Club

Dangerfield's Comedy Club

Anthony Bavacqua was a longtime friend of Rodney Dangerfield. In 1969, the two of them joined together to create Dangerfield's comedy club. It is located in New York City. This comedy club provided a place where Rodney Dangerfield could regularly perform and develop his act without the need to constantly travel. Dangerfield's Comedy Club has been a tremendous success. It has been open for business continuously for over five decades. It is a place where several HBO shows were filmed. This comedy club is a place that helped man many young comedians with their careers. This includes such well-known comedians as Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne Barr, Tim Allen, Sam Kinison, Jeff Foxworthy, Andrew Dice Clay, Rita Rudner, and others.

Rappin' Rodney

In 1980, Rodney Dangerfield released a comedy album called No Respect. It won a Grammy Award. During one of his TV specials, he did a musical number called Rappin' Rodney. It was included in his 1983 follow-up comedy album called Rapin' Rodney. In 1983, the single Rappin' Rodney was listed as one of the first Hot 100 rap records. The music video associated with it was a huge hit on MTV.

Movie poster for Back to School
Movie poster for Back to School

Movies

During the early years of his comedy, Rodney Dangerfield acted in movies like The Projectionist. This was an obscure movie released in 1971. Dangerfield's movie career really took off during the 1980s. This is when many movies that featured him were comedy hits. Movie critics believed Dangerfield's most memorable performances were in movies like Caddyshack, Easy Money as well as Back to School, Meet Wally Sparks, and others.

Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Child
Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Child

Personal Life

Dangerfield twice-married Joyce Indig. The first time they got married was in 1949, and they then divorced in 1962. They remarried in 1963 and then got divorced again in 1970. During this time, the couple had two children. Their son is named Brian Roy and their daughter's name is Melanie Roy-Friedman. Dangerfield married Joan Child in 1993.

Health Problems

It was in November 2001 when Danger had a mild heart attack. He was backstage at the Tonight Show. During his time in the hospital, the staff was always upset with him as Dangerfield was always smoking marijuana in his room. A year later, on his 81st birthday, Dangerfield performed on the Tonight Show. In April 2003, Dangerfield had brain surgery to increase blood flow. This was done to prepare him for heart-valve replacement surgery in the future. In August 2004, the heart surgery was performed. In September of that year it was released he had been in a coma for weeks. Eventually, Dangerfield started breathing on his own. He also showed signs of awareness and then started being regularly visited by friends and family.

Rodney Dangerfield's grave marker
Rodney Dangerfield's grave marker

Death

On October 5, 2004, Rodney Dangerfield passed away at the UCLA Medical Center. He was within a month and a half of celebrating his 83rd birthday. His death was the result of complications from the heart surgery he had in August 2004. Dangerfield was interred in Los Angeles at the Village Memorial Park Cemetery. On his headstone is the saying "Rodney Dangerfield... There goes the neighborhood."

Kew Garden plaque honoring Rodney Dangerfield
Kew Garden plaque honoring Rodney Dangerfield

Legacy

Comedy Central's Legacy commemorated the life Rodney Dangerfield September 2006. It featured such comedians as Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Chris Rock, and others. A plaque honoring Rodney Dangerfield was placed in his old Queens neighborhood, Kew Gardens in August 2017. The Division of Neurosurgery at UCLA named a suite of operating rooms after Rodney Dangerfield. The Rodney Respect Award was created and has been awarded to such comedians as Tim Allen, Louie Anderson, Bob Saget, and others.

Some Favorite Rodney Dangerfield Jokes

With my wife, I don't get no respect. I made a toast to her on her birthday in a restaurant. I said, “To 'the best woman a man ever had.” The waiter joined me.

Last week I told my psychiatrist, "I keep thinking about suicide." He told me that from now on I have to pay in advance.

I tell ya, my wife was never nice. On our first date, I asked her if I could give her a goodnight kiss on the cheek - she bent over!

With my dog, I don't get no respect. He keeps barking at the front door. He doesn't want to go out. He wants me to leave.

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."

My mother never breastfed me. She told me that she only liked me as a friend.

When I played in the sandbox as a kid, the cat kept covering me up.

I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.

One year my parents wanted to make me poster boy... for birth control.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Readmikenow

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      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        12 days ago

        Marlene, thanks for sharing. I imagine that is a very special family memory. Sounds like a good time.

      • MarleneB profile image

        Marlene Bertrand 

        12 days ago from USA

        What a fascinating person Rodney Dangerfield was. He was one of my favorite comedians. My uncle, who is also a hoot, was invited onto the stage when Rodney Dangerfield was performing in Las Vegas one night. My uncle was heckling Rodney from the audience (in jest), so Rodney invited my uncle up on stage so they could heckle each other. I tell you, it was hilarious.

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        2 weeks ago

        Dora, thank you. I agree. He is an example of determination and hard work meeting opportunity.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        2 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        What a struggle to survive, but he finally did. He's an inspiration and he deserves some respect.

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR

        Readmikenow 

        2 weeks ago

        Pamela, thank you. I agree. He was a very funny comedian.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I remember Roger Dangerfield very well. He was so funy! This was a very interesting and well-written review of his life.

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