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February 24: Take My Wife... Please

February 24, 2016

Henny_YoungmanBritish-born comedian Henny Youngman, who specialized in delivering rapid-fire jokes with a violin tucked under his arm, died three weeks shy of his 92nd birthday on this date in 1998. He “could tell six, seven, sometimes even eight or more jokes a minute, 50 or more jokes in an eight-minute routine,” said the New York Times in his obituary. “Rarely if ever did a joke last more than 24 seconds.” Youngman moved from London to Brooklyn as a child (“I was so ugly when I was born,” he said, “the doctor slapped my mother”), and began his comedy career writing one-line gag cards for a print shop, which were discovered by Milton Berle, who became a close friend and a promoted his career. Youngman worked primarily as a stage performer throughout his life, getting paid in cash, logging hundreds of thousands of travel miles, and supposedly not taking a single vacation for seventy years. When the New York Telephone Company created a Dial-a-Joke service in 1974, he was the first comedian featured, and logged 3,331,638 phone calls in just one month for his 30-second recording. Youngman’s wife, Sadie Cohen, was the butt of many of his jokes; they were married for more than 60 years until her death in 1987. His best-known line, “Take my wife... please,” originated in a misinterpretation: He was asking a stagehand to escort Sadie to a seat, but his request was heard as a double-entendre and became a staple of his routine. To hear him and Milton Berle razzing each other, look below.

“I’ve been in love with the same woman for 38 years. If my wife finds out, she’ll kill me.... You take my wife... please.... She went to the beauty parlor, got a mudpack, and for two days she looked beautiful. Then the mud fell off.” —Henny Youngman