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Rodney Dangerfield Gets Some Respect

Getty Images / Hulton Archive / George Rose

Rodney Dangerfield Gets Some Respect

Despite his oft-stated complaint-catchphrase, comedian Rodney Dangerfield got a lot of respect. The funny man, who died 10 years ago this week at age 82, used his bulging eyes and paunchy body to comedic effect and could tick off one-liner after one-liner with an ease that belies the true challenge of the art form. Not that he looked at ease – with his fidgeting and tie-loosening and head shaking and sweating – but that, too, was part of his gift. In 2006, when Comedy Central developed a list of the 100 best comedians of all time, Dangerfield ranked seventh.

Legacy.com remembers Dangerfield by presenting some of his best lines interspersed with insights from "comediologist" Eddie Tafoya, whose books include The Legacy of the Wisecrack: Stand-up Comedy as the Great American Literary Form and the novel Finding the Buddha: The Story of the Greatest Stand-up Comedian You've Never Heard Of, which is scheduled for publication in 2015. Tafoya is a professor at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he teaches a class on stand-up as literature.

"Oh, I tell ya, she was old. Well, when she was born the Dead Sea wasn't even sick."

Dangerfield stand-up line

"Immigrant humor had been very much in style in the United States up until around 1940. But then came World War II, and everyone was feeling very patriotic and jingoistic. By the 1960s, 'outsider humor' began to come back in fashion. Dangerfield comes on the scene – and I love that he takes the name 'Dangerfield' at a time when comedy was becoming dangerous again – with this beaten-down, 'I get no respect' attitude. He's clearly Jewish and his catchphrase is a catchphrase that can be said of Jews around the world, especially in the wake of the war. In that way, his influence is enormous. Look what happens over the next 30 years. By 1970, 80 percent of stand-up comedians are Jewish. … This may very well be because stand-up comedy is a lot like Talmudic studies. In each of these, the job is to take one issue and look at it from many different points of view."

"My wife and I were happy for 20 years. And then we met."

"My wife was afraid of the dark. … Then she saw me naked and now she's afraid of the light."

"One day as I came home early from work, I saw a guy jogging naked. I said to the guy, 'Hey, buddy. Why are you doing that for?' He said, 'Because you came home early.'"

Three of Dangerfield's stand-up lines as a sad-sack husband

"Dangerfield is very middle class and he's got middle-class problems. One-liners are infinitely harder to come up with than longer jokes. Every joke has a setup, a connector and a punch line, and to do that in a few words is extremely difficult. Dangerfield was brilliant at it. He took a whole story – with a conflict, rising action and a climax – and condensed it into one or two sentences."

"When I was born, I got no respect. The doctor told my mother, 'I did all I could, but he pulled through anyway.'"

"I tell ya, my old man, he was never nice. I asked him if I can go ice skating on the lake. He told me to wait until it gets warmer."

"I told my mother, 'I'm going to run away from home.' She said, 'On your mark …'"

Three Dangerfield lines related to growing up and his family

"Look at the history of fools, all the way back to ancient Egypt, and there was always something freakish about court jesters. The physical deformity was essential to what they were doing. Dangerfield brought to the stage a comic formula that goes back to ancient times."

"Let's go while we're young."

Dangerfield to Ted Knight in the 1980 film Caddyshack, when Knight's character takes a long time setting up a shot during a golf game.

"It's funny: In my class, when I mention George Carlin, half the class hasn't heard of him. They haven't heard of Paul Newman or Tony Curtis. But they've heard of Rodney Dangerfield because they've seen Caddyshack and heard his voice on The Simpsons."

"Today's been a terrible day. I got up this morning, picked up my shirt and a button fell off. I picked up my briefcase and the handle fell off. I'm afraid to go the bathroom."

from Dangerfield's Grammy-winning comedy album, 1980s No Respect.

"Dangerfield had this wonderful command of the audience and bringing up the energy. … You can feel the energy of the joke go up. That's the way it is with true craftsmen. People say Jack Benny or Henny Youngman are the kings of the one-liners. But look at the lengths of their careers and then look at the length of Dangerfield's, who had one-liner after one-liner after one-liner, and he did it for decades and reached many generations. His influence is right up there" with Jack Benny's.

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."