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Biofile: Henny Youngman Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Legendary comedian and violinist famous for one-liners and short, simple jokes. Best known one-liner is: “Take my wife, please!” His autobiography was titled: ‘Take My Life – Please!”

DOB: March 16, 1906 In: Liverpool, England


Passed Away: February 24, 1998 in New York City

Childhood Heroes: “Sandy Koufax. Phil Rizzuto. Milton Berle. Rocky Marciano – I used to write jokes for him when he did luncheons. I rehearsed him. Lew Tendler. Benny Leonard – he used to talk to his opponents, talk them out of it. Rocky Graziano – he was my partner at ABC (co-hosted ‘The Henny and Rocky Show’). If a fight didn’t last long enough, we’d fill in.”

Childhood Ambition: “Poor kid, poor family…what ambition? They’d ask me to leave high school, I’d clown all the time. They’d put me in detention. I’d go to Prospect Theater – picked up a lot of jokes there. The Nut Club in Westfield, N.J. One night the dance guy didn’t show up. The boss said, Go on. I became a comic over night.”

Hobbies/Interests: “Looking for jokes. I’m always looking for jokes. Always looking for something that will pay off. I usually start off with, A hooker came up to me and said, I’ll do anything you ask for $50. I said, Paint my house. I visualize ‘em, see how they’ll work. I’m a fan of boxing.”

Favorite Boxers: “George Foreman. I think he can get licked though. Evander Holyfield. I introduced him at a dinner honoring him last night. Nowhere but in America can a guy come from shining shoes and look for a dream. And finally that dream is come true. Where today he’s one of the best loved men in the entire nation [pause]…but enough about me. And he laughed out loud, he enjoyed it. Ray Robinson. Beau Jack. Jimmy Thunder – he’s coming along pretty good.”

Favorite Meal: “Anything…pasta or chopped liver, my wife’s potato pancakes. Or Chinese food. With seltzer water.”

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “Oatmeal with honey.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Strawberry.”

Favorite Movies: “My own. Mel Brooks Silent Movie. History Of The World Part 1, Goodfellas. It Happened One Night. Damn Yankees.”

Musical Tastes: “Jazz, opera. I go to the opera whenever I need to sleep a lot. Viennese music.”

First Job: “Printer at Kresge’s 5 & 10. That’s where I met my wife (of 58 years, Sadie). She was across the counter selling cosmetics.”

Nicknames: “Henny. Ted Collins, the manager of ‘The Kate Smith Show’ wanted me to change my name because he said it sounds too Jewish. I looked up at the marquee that said, ‘Mae West in Go West Young Man.’ I said, That doesn’t sound too Jewish.”

Favorite Performers: “Red Buttons. Milton Berle. Red Skelton. They all do their own things but they’re successful. I don’t like when they get dirty. I don’t like the young comedians. Dirtyness doesn’t help a joke. I’m against all those guys who do that. I don’t like to hear dirty jokes in front of the ladies. Some of these new guys come out and say, Hey, where you from? That’s their opening line. Then they get dirty and that’s their act. I don’t understand performers who work that way. But the audiences seem to take it. What are you going to do?”

Greatest Career Moment: “Kate Smith (radio show), 1937. I did a benefit one night. They heard me. I was on the next night. Put me right on the next night, immediately. I murdered them for six minutes. Done 16 (Ed) Sullivan shows. Done The Milton Berle Show. Done Jackie Gleason’s Show. Did Johnny Carson 15 times.”

Most Painful Moment: “Never had such a thing.”


Interesting Facts: “I have no enemies. I outlived them all. I get along with everybody. I have no problems, don’t hate anybody. A few friends of mine are sick. One, they buried him yesterday, Mirabelli. That’s what I fear the most – my friends being sick. I belong to The Friar’s Club. Go every day for lunch. Meet friends. Like I did today. Then I come home and look at my mail.”

Favorite Vacation Spot: “No. I used to work those places. The Swan Lake Inn in the Catskills. Las Vegas. Atlantic City.”

People Most Admired: “Red Skelton. Red Buttons. Milton Berle. Their fortitude, how they work. What they do. How they do it. Milton Berle was my favorite. He let me follow him all those years. Way back when I was a kid he encouraged me. I sold insults on printed cards in front of the penny arcade. That’s where I met Milton Berle.”

Future Ambitions: “What I do now. Stay in business. Do weddings. Bar Mitzvahs. Anywhere they need a comic. Conventions. Dinners. Luncheons. Take a plane, go do it. Pick up the money and run. I haven’t got a price anymore. I said I wanted $5,000. The guy agreed. The next day he called and said he could only pay $2,500. I took it.”

(Note: This Biofile interview was done in 1995 in New York City at Mr. Youngman’s residence after meeting him at a Playboy Magazine party which I was invited to by LeRoy Neiman. Also met Gilbert Gottfried that night! -SM)

Henny Youngman on Ed Sullivan Show

Copyright: Scoop Malinowski

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