Sunday, September 18, 2011
              Caricature ©2011 Jim McDermott

Here's my 2004 interview with Rodney Dangerfield, which was for Publishers Weekly. I'm not sure, but I think this was his last interview before his death.

Rodney Dangerfield Interview

Did you find writing this book, It's Not Easy Bein' Me, a different experience than writing your comedy routines and screenplays?

Rodney Dangerfield: Completely. It was something that I fell into accidentally, you know what I mean? I was interviewed by someone one day, and I mentioned the depressed years. After that I get a couple of thousand answers on my e-mail, all commenting, "I'm depressed, too, Rodney." I thought to myself, that's a good idea for a book, maybe. Take a hundred people with depressed letters, how to cure themselves, this and that—and sell it. So I took it around to one company. I was writing, and I started to throw in stuff about myself, when I was a kid. After I did that for a while, and they read that, they told me to forget all about the letters with the depression, you know what I mean? Just write about yourself. It took me three years. That's not consistently. I did other things, too, but the book took three years to put together. [Laughs.] I'm new at this business. I don't know about books, but it's exciting to write something, and everyone seems to think it will be a winner.

You did write some joke books in the past, I Don't Get No Respect (1982) and No Respect (1995).

RD: Yeah, one was ridiculous, and the other one was also ridiculous. Just jokes, it didn't mean anything.

In Roger Ebert's review of Back to School [1986], which you coscripted and starred in, he compared you to Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields: "There was the sense that they were getting even for hurts so deep that all they could do was laugh about them. It's the same with Dangerfield." Do you agree?

RD: I can't say. I don't agree with him, so I agree with him.

You write that television killed nightclubs. What happened?

RD: Well, New York area—New Jersey, Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan—they had about 300 nightclubs going. These 300 nightclubs all employed acts, all kinds of acts: dancers, fire-eaters, you know what I mean? Then television came, and people wanted to stay at home. The box, that's it. All of a sudden, the nightclubs all started dying. No business. People stayed home and just watched TV. It got stronger and stronger, and there was no more sense in having nightclubs, it just killed them all—which is okay, what do I care? My father experienced the same thing in vaudeville. He did a vaudeville act for years, and then when talking pictures came in, that was the end of vaudeville. They wanted to go to the movies. So I experienced the same thing my old man did.

Of the many specialty acts that played those clubs, which was the strangest you recall?

RD: There were plenty of acts, going back 40 years here. The strangest one? I did a show when I was a kid up in Boston. There was a vaudeville house there, and in the show, one of the acts was the Shooting Mansfields. The act consisted of the mother, the father and their two kids shooting things from the stage. Before the show, they'd be in the basement rehearsing, shooting their guns. Another act I worked with was named Martha and Her Cello; she played the cello. These are the kind of acts I worked with. I worked with plenty of—not just singers—animal acts, too.

Is life the biggest joke of them all?

RD: I think it is. I once said to my old man, "You've done everything. So tell me, what's life all about?" He twirled his cigar and said, "It's all bullshit." That's what it is, Charlie, I'm telling you.

Listen to Drew Friedman on The Leonard Lopate Show (September 16, 2011).

Above is Stewie Stone on the cover of Friedman's Even More Jewish Comedians, published this month by Fantagraphics. The third and final volume in the series includes Mae Questel, Jean Carroll, Gertrude Berg, Richard Belzer, Gabe Kaplan, Professor Irwin Corey, Mel Blanc, Marty Ingels, Fyvush Finkel, Gary Morton, Sam Levenson, Bobby Remsen, Max Patkin, Marvin Kaplan, Norm Crosby, Sammy Shore, Joey Adams, Lou Jacobi and Sid James. Introduction by Jeffrey Ross.

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