Henny Youngman

Active - 1944 - 1990  |   Born - Jan 12, 1906   |   Died - Feb 23, 1998   |   Genres - Comedy, Crime

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Although the patented machine-gun patter of comedian Henny Youngman bears unmistakable traces of the Lower East Side, Youngman was actually born in the Jewish ghetto of Liverpool, England. While he was still a toddler, Youngman and his family moved to Brooklyn, where he grew up. Encouraged by his family to study the violin, Youngman entered showbiz as an orchestra musician, eventually leading his own band, a jazz aggregation called the Swanee Syncopators. Always quick with a quip, he eventually decided to try his luck as a comedian, beginning the long upward climb on the Borscht Belt circuit. By the mid-'30s, with several years' worth of vaudeville and nightclub experience under his belt, Youngman was a featured comedian on Kate Smith's radio program. Then as now, Youngman's act consisted of standing stock-still before the audience, violin tucked under his arm, rapidly spewing forth such wheezy but sure-fire one-line gags as "Take my wife, please." Somewhere along the line, Youngman would begin scratching out "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" on his violin, pausing periodically to knock 'em dead with still more one-liners. An infrequent visitor to films, he co-wrote and co-starred in a few obscure B-pictures of the 1940s, then later showed up in such comic cameos as the "fly-in-soup man" in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie (1976). A peripatetic TV guest star, Youngman settled down long enough to co-star with Rocky Graziano in the erratically scheduled 1955 variety series The Henny and Rocky Show, and was a regular on the Joey and Ray Heatherton summer-replacement weekly Joey and Dad (1975). An indefatigable joke machine, Henny Youngman is the author of ten books, the first of which was titled -- you guessed it -- Take My Wife, Please.

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