42 years ago, Rodney Dangerfield wasn’t joking.
He was selling aluminum siding in New Jersey, a would-be comedian who had left the business a decade earlier and said tellingly “I was the only one who knew I quit.” He was a 40-year-old man with a bad marriage, a bad job, and almost no hope of a good career.
And suddenly, life’s tough hand became the joke. When he put an exaggerated version of his own misfortune on the rough stages of New York’s nightclubs, something struck a chord.
In the mid-60s, talent spotters from The Ed Sullivan Show saw his act— then "The Tonight Show," Merv Griffin, and Joey Bishop. His catchphrase rang out across the nation.
No, not “No respect”—but “Nothing goes right for me.”
“No respect” came after Dangerfield had made it big. He said it came to him as he watched the word “respect” flow like a river through the movie “The Godfather” in 1972. It was a godsend.
By the mid-‘70s, he was a cult hero. He was big enough financially to own his own comedy club in New York, big enough inside to open that club to those who were what he had once been- struggling comedians.
From Louis Anderson to Sam Kinision, Jerry Seinfeld to Roseanne Barr, Bob Saget to Jim Carrey, Dangerfield gave them a stage. Later, there was also an annual special on HBO devoted to just young comics. He was a star.
And then came the movie, which, at 58, would make him the definition of the ironic use of the term "overnight success": "Caddyshack." Something about this silly cartoon of a film turned Rodney Dangerfield, originally Jacob Cohen, from a fast-talking, punch-line-spewing comedian, into a beloved icon.
The man turned "no respect" into a cottage industry: Rodney the doll, the book, the tie, the board game, the Miller Light pitchman, and oh yeah...rappin’ Rodney!
Something about his later role as Thornton Melon, the brash millionaire who goes back to college-who reminds you that the best way to look thin is to hang around with a bunch of fat people, but can barely screw up the courage to ask for a date-resonated with the audience.
Though he fought demons and ill-health, the scars of failure and the equally deep scars of the climb to the top, Rodney Dangerfield ultimately got what he wanted.
No, not respect. Love.