Take Henny...No, Please Don't

by Doug Graham
Man, it's a tough world out there! I searched InfoSeek for information on the late Henny Youngman (using just his name as the keywords), and the most I came up with was 336 pages, most of which just have a credit on him. Didn't anybody ever hear of Henny? Geez, even a search of Jack Benny (1450), Groucho Marx (2445) and Milton Berle (1073) turned up more pages.

OK, you have to be close to 40 or over (and notice I'm saying close to 40) to fully remember the "King of the One-Liners." Although I shared a bill with him one weekend, I never listed him in my stage introduction unless it was an older audience or else I faced my opening moments with a crowd distracted by asking each other who Henny Youngman was.

Henny Youngman's Coat of Arms
Henny's "Business Card"
about three times
the size of a
normal business card
with his name and address
printed on the back.

I knew who he was since I was a kid and dreamed of being a stand up comedian. I have to admit he wasn't one of the strongest influences in my early comedy development; my act has more influences of Benny, Marx, Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield.

But in 1990 Youngman became a strong influence on me when I worked with him for a week at Mr. C's Comedy Club in the Sheraton Station Square in Pittsburgh. He was a living legend, then just a week before his 84th birthday.

He was great to watch on stage. His advance age had left him very frail, and he turned in only about 30-minute performance for each show. Yet after every show he'd sit just outside the main entrance, loosen up his tuxedo, and just talk with people until no one was left or someone with some sanity hustled him back to his room.

And he signed autographs, plenty of autographs, for everyone, always with a joke or two while he painstakingly made his mark. A fanatical anti-autograph hound, I still couldn't resist going out to buy his newly released book, 10,000 One-Liners, and asking him to sign it.

Henny Youngman's note to Doug Graham He did more than sign it, he gave me some advice. "Hello Doug," he wrote, "Learn some of these jokes." Of course, as a neophyte in the industry you knew that the "can't do" rule would never allow you to do material out of a book. Even with the author's permission.

There was always people around him, from the moment he stepped out of the elevator until he got back on to go back to his room. The last night of his engagement, he burst out of his circle and headed straight for me.

"I got on a talking scale and it said, 'One at a time,''' he said, then added, "You should do that line." I chuckled at the old line and thanked him. Given the "can't do rule," again, even with the author's permission, I summarily dismissed his suggestion.

The weekend of five shows went way too fast. Every night I learned more from watching him for a half-hour on stage and then watching him interact with the audience than I could have in decades in the business.

A few months later, I thought of the scale joke and Henny's advice and thought to myself, to hell with the rule, who am I not to take what he had said? I still do the scale line almost every show. And it gets a laugh every time. Of course I changed it a little. On the punch-line I say, "one at a time...please!" My small tribute to a great man.

The deaths of the truly great legends of comedy are always a sad moment for those who wish to emulate them. Take Henny Youngman...no please don't!

Tribute to Henny Main Page

Henny's Best 20 Jokes and Insults
and other notes
The Henny Youngman I Met

TO Comedycity HOME PAGE

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