the schmooze
HENNY YOUNGMAN (1906 - 1998)

*The Yiddish word for comedienne is "komiker"

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

Henny Youngman was originally named Henry, and was born of American citizens in Liverpool, England, on 1/12/1906. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and had the nickname, "the King of One-Liners."

Shown below is a Yiddish guide to one of the greatest comedians of our "dor" (generation).

"bitl" (contempt)
Youngman said [about living in his mother-in-law's house], "Let me tell you, this kind of overfamiliarity will most definitely breed a strain of contempt."

"dar" (not fat/skinny)
Youngman made fun of Frank Sinatra in his routine. He said, "Wait till you see the skinny kid with the Dorsey outfit." "He used to have the [Tommy] Dorsey outfit." "He used to have a job modeling for the ham in bus-stop sandwich ads." "Last night he climbed the drainpipe to his girl's room--on the inside."

"dershtekhn" (to stab)
Youngman said, "This club, the Lido Venice, [located in downtown Paterson, NJ] was so tough, that the boss used to stab me good night."

"ekstre mezumen" (extra cash)
As a "yung" adult, Youngman picked up extra cash by working as a summons server. He took pride ("kvelled") in serving warrants on hard-to-find characters. Once he spent weeks trying to serve a summons on a man, only to succeed after noticing that the man had a telephone in a room located near a "fentster" window). On a "heys" (hot) day, when the windows were open--before "luftkilung" (air conditioning)--Mr. Youngman called the man from a nearby pay phone and told him, "I've got some money for you. Can you hold a minute?" The character held, Mr. Youngman walked across the street, reached in the open window, and put the summons in the man's vest pocket.

"fidl" (violin)
On Kate Smith's radio show, Youngman started playing the violin between jokes. Since then, the violin was part of his in- person act as well.

"fliplats" (airport)
"I just got back from a pleasure trip. I drove my mother-in-law to the airport." Youngman joke

"ganvenen" (to steal)
Youngman has stolen jokes from Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, George Burns, and Jackie Gleason.

"gelt" (money)
Youngman's favorite subjects: "gelt," "gelt," and more "gelt."

"heym" (home)
Hennie and Sadie lived at 735 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn.

"hoykh" (tall)
Youngman picked up his cup of "kave" (coffee) and lifted his "moyl" (mouth), but instead he hit the bottom of his nose. "Oops," he cried. "I thought I was taller."

"kelner" (waiter)
For about 50 years, Youngman walked into the Friars Club and said the same thing: "I want a table near a waiter."

"khasene gehat" (married)
"Every man should be happily married whether he likes it or not." Note: Youngman was married to Sadie [Cohen] in Booklyn in 1928.

Youngman joke

"kinder" (children)
Hennie and Sadie had 2 children: Marilyn and Gary.

"komish" (funny)
When Henny showed his mother his first paycheck for telling jokes, she said, "Since when were you funny?"

"kokosnus" (coconut)
"My wife is on a diet of coconuts and bananas. She hasn't lost any weight, but she can climb a tree." Youngman joke

"meshuge" (crazy)
This segment appeared in one of Youngman's performances: "...People are crazy these days! I saw a man lying in the street. I said, 'Can I help you?' He said, 'No, I just found a parking space and sent my wife to buy a car.'"

"meynung" (opinion)
Milton Berle said of Youngman, "Henny is one of the great comedians of our generation. This is not only my opinion-- it's Henny's."

"mies" (ugly)
"Youngman said his doctor just told him he was dying. Henny asked for a second ("tsveyter") opinion. Okay said his sawbones--You're ugly too."

"moykhl zayn" (to forgive)
Youngman said that his mother-in-law ("shviger") never did forgive him for being neither Yehudi Menuhin nor Albert Einstein.

She figured her daughter ("tokhter") deserved a husband who was both ("beyde") Yehudi Menuhin and Albert Einstein.

"operatsye" (operation)
Youngman said he had a very fine doctor. "If you can't afford the operation, he'll touch up the Xrays."

"otemen" (to breathe)
Youngman was at a booksigning and he was asked, "To what do you attribute your longevity?" He said, "Breathing."

"pakhdn" (coward)
"For twenty-five years I wouldn't fly. On account of my religion. I'm a devout coward." Youngman joke

"pirsum" (publicity)
Youngman wrote about Walter Winchell's column: "There was no better publicity, no better imprimatur of success than making Winchell."

"plastik" (plastic)
There was once a little plastic gizmo in the shape of Youngman's nose. When you pushed the plastic nose ("shnoz"/"noz"), the battery-powered device uttered one of Henny's one-liners.

"pomidor zup" (tomato soup)
Whatever time Hennie came home from a job, Sadie would make him a bowl of tomato soup and some "laks" (salmon).

"psikhiatrye" (psychiatry)
A man goes to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist says to the man, "What do you do for a living?" The patient says, "I'm an automobile mechanic ("mekhaniker")." The psychiatrist says, "Get under the couch.'" Youngman joke

"shadchen" (matchmaker)
Youngman was a "shadchen." He preferred Shalom Aleichem's definition: a "dealer in livestock."

"shatsn" (to estimate)
"My wife was at the beauty shop ("sheynkayt-salon") for two hours, and that was just for the estimate." Youngman joke

"shaytl" (wig)
Youngman said that his mama was quite a clown. She's always on. She's got jokes like:

"Two elderly women meet, and the first says, 'What did you do to your hair? It looks like a wig?' The second old lady says, 'It is a wig.' So the first says, 'You know, you could never tell.'"

"shukh" (shoe)
Youngman said, "Imedla Marcos was so happy to have been acquitted that she immediately flew to Israel to plant a shoe tree." Youngman joke

"shvebele" (match--for lighting)
Jackie Vernon once attacked Henny Youngman's lack of formal education. He said, "Henny's not too smart. The only book he ever finished was a book of matches."

"tsikhtik" (neat)
Youngman says his wife, Sadie, is unbelievably neat. In "der mitn" (the middle) of the night last week he went to "di kikh" (the kitchen) for a drink of water. When he got back, his bed was made. Youngman joke

"tsoredik" (miserable)
"My wife has an even disposition. Miserable all the time." Youngman joke

"vits" (joke)
Youngman was the original Dial-a-Joke comic. The New York Telephone Co. offered, for the price of one message ("yedie") unit, one minute of taped one-liners.


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
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yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

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