Never before heard rare CD features 66 of Henny's best insults. Use them on your wife, friends, or enemies.

Henny Youngman

(Henry Youngman) Jan. 12, 1906 - Feb. 24, 1998

"Take my wife -- please!"

The ultimate dumb "wife joke" of the standard stand-up comedian, "Take my wife -- please!" ended up the "so corny it's hip" catch-phrase for a journeyman comic named Henny Youngman, a man who endured over fifty years to become a legend, the "King of the One-Liners." Like Bob Hope, another impersonal performer who dispensed gags like a candy machine drops gumballs, Youngman became an institution to the bafflement of his contemporaries.

Born in England (his parents were en-route to Brooklyn), Youngman learned enough at the Manual Training High School and the Brooklyn Vocational School to earn a living printing business cards. He formed a musical group "The Syncopaters" and did fairly well playing the Coney Island and Catskill resorts of the late 20's. It was at the Swan Lake Inn in 1932 that he worked as a master of ceremonies and ultimately switched to comedy. Soon all that remained of his musical career were the few snatches of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" he'd play between jokes on his violin.

Youngman struggled for several years as a comedian. It was the Depression and finding work was depressing: "all those nights I'd wake up, gasping for breath, strangling because I had no money...I couldn't breathe! So many disappointments! So many!" Millions first heard Henny in 1936 when he guested on "The Kate Smith Show."

For subsequent radio and TV guest spots, Youngmen spent the next fifty years telling practically the same fifty jokes. While he drew criticism for this through the 40's and 50's, his hard-headed determination to rotate only a portion of his jokes seemed to pay off. He made his one-liners "classics." While his contemporaries fretted to come up with new material, Youngman was booked by anyone wanting a "surfire" comedian -- especially if the audience was so young or so forgetfully old that the jokes seemed new.

While a few others used old gags and wheezes from joke books, they didn't have the appeal of Youngman, who not only told "classic" one-liners but made many "classic" through his delivery. Tall, granite-faced and somewhat bleary-eyed he looked like everybody's salesman uncle. His delivery was the verbal equivalent to sticking a foot in the door: he wore down resistance with constant patter. With an amiably light voice, a hopeful half-smile and the humility that comes from peddling second-hand merchandise, Henny would keep offering joke after joke until his audience gave up and gave in. Henny simply told another joke until one broke the ice.

Into the 60's and 70's, when a door-to-door salesman giving a spiel would have been considered an amusing novelty by the average housewife, Youngman was considered a camp novelty by audiences. It was hilarious to see Henny stand up and tell the same jokes, making the same deliberate mistakes, using the same deliberate cadence. Sometimes the audience would join in on a punch line. On Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In" a catch-phrase for any old joke was "Oh, that Henny Youngman!"

An amused and grateful Youngman simply kept going, putting out joke books and record albums duplicating earlier joke books and record albums, and appearing at any banquet, bar mitzvah, comedy club or convention that would book him. He was in the phone book, ready to arrange a show.

Though not a legend like George Burns, or a beloved piece of Americana like Bob Hope, Youngman moved into his 6th decade of comedy with many admirers respecting both his longevity and his unique personality. As Steve Allen put it, "I don't see why a man should be criticized for memorizing thousands of jokes...to me it seems a tremendous feat. I wish I could do it." Among the classics Youngman used for most every show:

"I just had a physical. I said, 'Doc, how do I stand?' He said, 'That's what puzzles me."

"I told my mother-in-law my house is your house. So she sold it."

"I miss my wife's cooking. As often as I can."

"What good is happiness? It can't buy you money."

In 1990 Youngman sold a mail order album "Henny Youngman In Person," played a cameo role in "GoodFellas" and began working on a new autobiography. He even celebrated the 50th Anniversary of his "Take My Wife, Please" joke:

"I used that line for the first time 50 years ago on the Kate Smith show. It was a half-hour until the show started, my wife was backstage. I asked one of the ushers, 'Take my wife, please.' I meant to get a seat, but that was the beginning."

Youngman's "Take My Wife, Please" gag even outlived his wife, who died in 1987 after 58 years of marriage.

Youngman never stopped telling the oldies and people never stopped laughing. As he always insisted, "an old joke is new if you've never heard it before." In comedy, Youngman proved something else. An old joke can get a laugh even if it's been heard a thousand times.

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