The pudgy, bug-eyed comic became known for his nervous, twitchy ‘loser’ persona. As a self-professed ‘abandoned child,’ Dangerfield found that, like life, the road to comedy stardom could be very rocky.
Life before becoming Rodney Dangerfield wasn’t easy. Born Jacob Cohen and initially going by the stage name of Jack Roy, the 19-year old comedian ventured into the world of stand-up only to find disappointment. After nine years of going nowhere, he completely dropped out of showbiz and, to support his family, sold household aluminum siding. Twenty-five years later, at the age of 45, Rodney decided to give comedy another try, appearing in clubs at night while still selling siding during the day. He ultimately found success, due to luck, persistence and his enormous comedic talent.
In his autobiography, “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect,” Dangerfield remembers the jokes he told at his audition for the Sullivan show:
“I live in a tough neighborhood. When I plan my budget, I allow for holdup money.”
“I tell ‘ya, in my building, nothing but robberies. Every time I close a window,
I hit somebody’s hands.”
On March 5th 1967, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. Having seen what the show had done for other comics like Richard Pryor on The Ed Sullivan Show and Joan Rivers on The Ed Sullivan Show, Rodney knew that he was finally getting somewhere. Luckily for viewers, Dangerfield had twenty-five years worth of pent-up comedy when he finally “made it.” He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show a total of 17 times between 1967 and 1971. Audiences loved his stand-up routines and related to his famous catchphrase, “I don’t get no respect! No respect at all…” His self-deprecating style of comedy, ranging from childhood stories to shopping trip tales, to problems with his wife always resonated with middle America.
After he gained a huge fan base on The Ed Sullivan Show, Dangerfield continued to find popularity on other television programs like The Dean Martin Show and The Tonight Show. Finally internationally recognized, his success led to feature films “Caddyshack” (1980), “Easy Money,” (1983) and “Back to School” (1986). Though in 2004 the comedy world would lose one of its best, Rodney Dangerfield’s legacy continues to delight and entertain, in no small part due to the respect given to him by Ed Sullivan.