Rodney Dangerfield (born Jacob Rodney Cohen; November 22, 1921 – October 5, 2004) was an American stand-up comedian and actor, known for his catchphrase “I don’t get no respect!” and his monologues on that theme.
Dangerfield was born in Babylon, New York to Hungarian-Jewish parents. In the early 1940s, he began performing standup under the name of “Jack Roy.” However, he wasn’t very successful and he ended up quitting. He later joked about this by saying “At the time I quit, I was the only one who knew I quit!"
Then, in 1967, when The Ed Sullivan Show needed a last minute replacement for another act, Jacob (now known at this point as Rodney Dangerfield) was the surprise hit.
Dangerfield’s career peak was in the 1970s and '80s. During this time, he made numerous appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Dean Martin Show, and starred in several successful films such as Caddyshack, Easy Money and Back to School. He also released a few successful comedy albums, such as “I Don’t Get No Respect”, “Rappin’ Rodney”, and “No Respect” the latter which won a Grammy Award. In 1969, he built a nightclub in New York City, which would be the venue for several HBO specials, and was a showcase for talents like Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Andrew "Dice" Clay, and Sam Kinison.
Dangerfield continued to perform both on stage and in movies through the 1990s and the early 2000s. He died on October 5, 2004 from complications of heart valve replacement surgery he had undergone the previous August, he was 82 years old. Behind him, Dangerfield left quite a legacy.
In 2004, Dangerfield finally got some respect when he was ranked seventh on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Standup Comedians.
- The Projectionist (1971) - Renaldi/The Bat
- Caddyshack (1980) - Al Czervik
- Easy Money (1983) (also writer) - Montgomery "Monty" Capuletti
- Back to School (1986) (also writer) - Thornton Melon
- Rover Dangerfield (1991) (also writer, producer and lyricist) - Rover Dangerfield
- Ladybugs (1992) - Chester Lee
- Natural Born Killers (1994) - Ed Wilson
- Meet Wally Sparks (1997) (also writer and producer) - Wally Sparks
- Casper: A Spirited Beginning (1997) - Mayor Johnny Hunt
- The Godson (1998) - The Rodfather
- My Five Wives (2000) (also writer and producer) - Monte Peterson
- Little Nicky (2000) - Grandpa (Lucifer)
- The 4th Tenor (2002) (also writer) - Lupo
- Back by Midnight (2004) (also writer) - Jake Puloski
- What’s in a Name?/The Loser (1966/1977)
- I Don’t Get No Respect (1980)
- No Respect (1980)
- Rappin’ Rodney (1983)
- La Contessa (1995)
- Romeo Rodney (2005)
Rodney Dangerfield gets respect in these tropes:
- Abusive Parents: One of his subjects, particularly his father.My father taught me to play a game, it was called Hide-and-Go-Fuck-Yourself.
- The Alcoholic: He depicts himself as a heavy drinker.I drink too much. The last time I gave a urine sample, it had an olive in it.
- Ambiguous Syntax: One of his most well-known jokes:Rodney: I tell you, my wife, she never went through. Now, the first time I called her up, she told me to come on over, there's nobody home. I went over, there was nobody home!
- Awful Wedded Life: One of his main subjects.The other day, I got back from a business trip. I got in a cab and said to the driver, "Hey! Take me to where the action is!" So ya know where he took me? He took me to my house!
- The Big Rotten Apple: Many of Rodney's jokes surround the violent, crime-ridden New York neighborhoods he's lived in.I live in New York on the west side. Rough neighborhood, rough. I'll tell ya, I live in the only neighborhood when I plan my budget, I allow for holdup money. Very rough neighborhood I tell ya; where I live, nobody has respect for the law! Last week on my block, they raffled off a police car... there were two cops still in it! Then the police station's right on my block. Even the cops are afraid; only police station I know, the front door has a peephole in it. I tell ya, there's one cop there that's really tough, though. I saw him the other night; this cop, he's tough. And this cop, he fired three warning shots... into the guy he was warning!
- Born Unlucky: "What sign am I? I was born under 'For Rent.'"
- "I don’t get no respect!"
- He opens each show with "I'll tell ya I'm all right now, but last week I was in rough shape, ya know...?", and proceeds to say why.
- "I tell you my trouble, I got the wrong doctor. You know my doctor, Dr. Vinnie Boombatz."
- "When I was a kid, I had it rough...", often before a story about a Hilariously Abusive Childhood
- Character Filibuster: "I haven't spoken to my wife in years; I didn't want to interrupt her."
- Corpsing: While Dangerfield didn't do this himself, he was famous for getting others to crack up. Johnny Carson was a frequent victim of this, as Dangerfield was a popular guest on The Tonight Show; in one instance, Carson had to call for a commercial break because he was laughing too hard at Rodney's jokes to continue the episode.
- Cover Version: Sings an entire cover version of "Twist And Shout" for a music video to promote the movie Back To School.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Based his career on this theme, and even adopted a variation of it as his personal motto.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: His first few albums had longer routines with liner themes that would go on for several minutes. One-liners wouldn't become his norm until the 80s.
- Electrified Bathtub: Rodney suspected from an early age that his parents didn't care much for him because they gave him a toaster and a radio to use as bath toys.
- Finger in the Mail: "I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof."
- Funny Character, Boring Actor: His wife was always somewhat annoyed that people assumed her husband was a wacky, boorish slob all the time. In real life, he was a shy, well-mannered gentleman.
- Grave Humor: His epitaph is "There goes the neighborhood."
- Hated by All: "I told my psychiatrist 'everyone hates me.' He said I was being ridiculous; everyone hasn't met me yet."
- Hidden Depths: His first showbiz job was as a singing waiter and he developed a decent singing voice as a result. His second wife, Joan Child, also claimed that he was Good with Numbers and could perform complex mathematical equations in his head at a rapid clip.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: A common topic of his jokes."I told my old man I'm sick and tired of running around in circles and he nailed down my other foot!"
- I Am Not Spock: It slightly annoyed him and his wife that people thought he was really like the boorish schlub he portrayed in his act. In reality Rodney was quiet, polite, and very sharp.
- Iconic Outfit:
- When performing stand up, he usually wore a suit with a white shirt and an always-too-tight red necktie, which he was always pulling at. One of those suits is now part of the Smithsonian Museum's permanent collection.
- Offstage, he was famous for wearing bathrobes—often with nothing underneath. Roseanne Barr once reminisced about her first encounter with Dangerfield in a Las Vegas resort, saying that he went down to the casino floor and gambled for a while in one of his trademark robes.
- Lethal Chef: He made numerous jokes about his wife's bad cooking.My wife, she can't cook either. In my house, we pray after we eat.
- Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: "I got no sex life. I tried to masturbate; I had a headache."
- The Mentor: Dangerfield knew full well the difficulties of breaking into the business, and so made it a point to offer help and support to younger comedians whenever he could. Among his students were Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Sam Kinison (who has a memorable role in Back to School), and Roseanne Barr. The latter is probably his best-known case—Roseanne had her big break playing Dangerfield's wife in one of his HBO comedy specials, and later wrote a touching eulogy for him when he died.
- N-Word Privileges: He had an entire routine about how bad Jewish men were at DIY housework."A Jewish man screws in a lightbulb, it's like he built a bridge!"
- The Picture Came with the Frame: Rodney claimed that he was so ugly as a kid that his father instead carried around the pictures that came with his wallet.
- Playing Against Type: His one and only dramatic role was as the abusive father in Natural Born Killers.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: He wasn't called "the king of the one-liner" for nothing!
- Rise of Zitboy: "I was an ugly kid, too. I had plenty of pimples; one day, I fell asleep in the library. When I woke up, a blind man was reading my face."
- Sad Clown: His childhood really was lousy and he struggled with depression all in his life, turning his genuine self-hatred into comedy.My whole life is pressure. This pressure is like a heaviness. Always on top of me, this heaviness, since I'm a kid. Other people wake up in the morning, "Ah, a new day! Up and at 'em!" I wake up, the heaviness is right there waiting for me nice. Sometimes I even talk to it. I say "Hi, heaviness!" and the heaviness looks back at me, "Today you're gonna get it good, you know. You'll be drinking early today."
- Self-Deprecation: He was the patron saint of this trope, he made a career off of the idea. Even the epitaph on his tombstone "There goes the neighborhood" plays off on this.
- The Stoner: A rather tragic example. As noted above, Dangerfield suffered from severe depression for most of his adult life. He used marijuana for self-medication and smoked every day for sixty years.
- Take That!: His acts were loaded with jokes that ran on this idea.
- Too Dumb to Live: "I tried marijuana once. Just once. I didn't know what I was doing...I was on cocaine."
- What Did I Do Last Night?: He mentions that his boozing has sometimes gotten him into trouble this way.Sometimes, I wanna take a few drinks; my wife, y'know, she hides the bottle. I admit I'm a bad drinker; I'm not nasty or nothing, but I'll tell ya, when I drink, the next day I gotta do two things: I gotta try and locate my car, and I gotta bring back the car I took.