THE LATE-NIGHT CROWD was still drifting out of the club as the proprietor finally loosened his tie for the last time. The jokes had all hit home tonight, and many of the midnight revelers could still be heard chuckling quietly to themselves, repeating the lines which had made them lie prostrate in the aisles just 20 minutes before:
"Ha ha--no respect...!"
"Ha ha--no respect at all...!"
"Ha ha--so fat he didn't have belt loops--he had TIME ZONES!"
"Ha ha--my mother-in-law is on a low-cholesterol diet!"
As he sat sipping a modest martini, Rodney Dangerfield mused over his tumultuous climb to the pinnacle of comic prowess.
"First Buchwald, then Plimpton--now me!! You know, there really was a time in my life when I didn't get any respect. Ed Sullivan used to bring me on as the warm up act for Topo Gigio. When Parade magazine printed "My Favorite Jokes," they ran them in the Obituaries column. My mother-in-law is so fat that..."
The gathering silence was shattered suddenly by a gaggle of screaming groupies who had rushed past the heavy guard at the cabaret door in order to get a glimpse of the Man Who Gets No Respect, perhaps to steal a furtive kiss, a lock of hair.
"We don't respect you, Rodney!! Honest we don't!!"
"Care for a Lite Beer, girls? Your combined age is still low enough to make me guilty of statutory rape in 14 states just by looking at you...Just my-luck. When I was a kid. we didn't have girls--my family was too poor. My mother-in-law..."
I LOOKED AT HIM more closely. A little old, maybe, but that spark of wit was all that counted. The baggy, slightly rumpled suit, the black lace-ups, the slight paunch (was it all just a hologram?) could not conceal the powerful, massive frame which lay beneath it all. It was a stage veneer, nothing more; surely, this was a man who deserved Respect. I pumped his hand earnestly.
"Er, uh, Mr. Dangerfield, I've, uh, always been one of your biggest fans, ever since you winked your first bloodshot eye in the general direction of a network camera. When I found out that you had been named Harvard's 1978 Class Day Speaker, I felt it was my solemn duty to immediately make the pilgrimage down to New York to your prestigious East Side night club so I could catch your act in person and offer my personal congratulations."
"Nice to meet you, good to meet you," he replied, beckoning to a nearby security guard to escort the young admirers to the exit. "You know, from an early age, I didn't get no respect--no respect at all. Not from my parents, not from my dog; the mailman bit me; the teacher wouldn't put me in the corner, only because she kept me away from sharp objects; my mother-in-law is so..."
His voice began trailing off, and then he rallied. "You know, it's not as though something like this rolls along every day. I realize that Sammy Davis Jr., Shecky Greene, and David Berkowitz were all higher than me on the list, but here I am and there they are...These college kids, ya know, they aren't so bad after all, what with your hippies and all, with the flowers and the hair and the Watusi. My parents told me they wanted me to go into plastics so they wrapped me up in a Glad Bag.."
He was off and running on another of his almost deceptively puerile and sophomoric comic monologues, interspersing comments about Respect among the nifty one-liners and comic shticks.
THE SUN WAS POPPING over the top of the Brooklyn Bridge as Dangerfield finally finished his supplementary performance.
"...is so ugly that the Internal Revenue Service..."
By now, the bartender and the security guards had long since passed out, leaving me along with the Master as he extracted a creased sheet of yellow paper from his rumpled suit pocket.
"Youngman's got the violin--great for pacing. Frye does imitations--classy. Me? I say pathetic things about myself for a living. All I've got going for me is the pathos. Did you know that Art Carney turned down an invitation to speak at Harvard Class Day Exercises in 1957 because he felt he couldn't miss a single taping of the Honeymooners? You know I write all my own material? Nobody else wanted to. I don't get no respect. The mailman bites my dog. My mother-in-law bites the mailman. My wife is so dumb that she thinks cataracts are just the General Motors version of Lincoln Continentals."
I asked him if he had any idea of what he would say at Harvard to usher 1600 graduating seniors into the community of educated men and women.
"I'm actually doing a little research, since I really can't rely too much on the Social Security jokes up there--I understand some people in the audience may be under 65. Did you like the hippie stuff? My daughter is so spoiled that when I wouldn't buy her a moped she bit the mailman. Buncha college kids up there at Harvard, you know? Smart. Think they got all the answers. When I went to college, the neighborhood was so rough that nobody graduated summs. Lemme read you my speech. See how much respect you lack for it. It's called "No Respect #19," and it's based on a routine which put me through college, although it didn't garner me much Respect, especially in light of the neighborhood and all. Stole the hubcaps off my mother-in-law, who was so old that she thought the mailman was just the Ford version of the Sedan de Ville..."
JUST THEN, a woman carrying a rolling pin walked into the room. Obviously distraught, she began pummelling the hapless comic with the kitchen implement, and screaming printable obscenities.
"You dirty no good so-and-so! Staying out until this late! What are my mother and I supposed to do? Steal the hubcaps off moving cataracts? No wonder you don't get no Respect! You don't deserve Respect!! And if you ever get Respect, we're getting a divorce, since your not getting Respect is apparently the only thing that keeps the bucks rolling in. If I were you, I'd feel lower than you felt when Mobil hired you to play a tankful of gas in that high-budget ad of theirs."
"But honey, honey...You haven't heard the good news. We're going to Harvard in a few weeks. It seems they want me so speak at their Commencement this year."
"Ha! Do they know that none of your socks match? Do they know that I'm so fat that I think hubcaps are my mother-in-law?"
"You don't understand, honey. They're giving me something I've never had before, and that's Respect. It'll be the largest crowd I've ever played for without an Italian mouse waiting in the wings. This could be my big break. Imagine--a whole new persona. I can see it now: I get Respect! Rodney Dangerfield--the nebbish with the Harvard education! The Boston Globe offered to do a story on me, but they said something about not wanting to put me "In This Corner" because I'm supposed to stay away from sharp objects."
"That's it, lunkhead! We're getting a divorce! And I get custody of the pathos! You can have the oriental rugs, the mopeds, my mother, our daughter, our hippie, our hubcaps, but not one bit of the pathos!"
"Respect is an important thing, honey. Harvard is giving me respect."
"Give me the keys to the moped and my mother!"
AT THIS POINT, suffice it to say that a simple sense of propriety dictated that I leave. As I exited the lounge, one of Rodney's minions handed me an advance text of the Dangerfield's prepared remarks.
They are reprinted here in their entirety.
No Respect Number 19
As many of you graduating seniors may know, I don't get no Respect. No Respect at all. Thank you. Thank you very much. Enough. Thanks. To give you first of several examples, when my wife asked me for a trial separation, I didn't realize that she meant my shoulder. No Respect. Thanks. But today, you are all graduating, and therefore, Respect becomes an important thing. You know, my mother-in-law is so dumb that she thinks Harvard is a liberal arts college in the Northeast... This reminds me of the time I was walking down the street just over there in Harvard Square recently and I got run over by a car... The car was moving so fast that despite the neighborhood that I come from, I couldn't steal the hubcaps off it. Fortunately, my mother-in-law was driving it. My parents tried to send my to a prep school but I'm too old.
BUT IN THE LONG RUN, I have learned, as you yourselves will soon learn, that No Respect can be just as important as Respect--in terms of making sane career choices, for instance. While Respect can translate instantly into guest slots on the Hollywood Squares and Match Game '78, No Respect can make you a shoe salesman, or me. You had George Plimpton doing this up here last year. He gets Respect. He went to Harvard just like you. He plays a lot of golf. I don't play golf. I caddie for my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law the one who thinks a caddie is something you get your eyes operated on for, before you trade it in for a Lincoln Continental.
My wife was a psychology major. She still thinks a Freudian slip is something you wear under a transparent dress... All these college students are running around these days, you know with the hair and everything, listening to the Beatles and everything--it's getting so you can't tell the boys from the girls...And now my daughter starts telling me about this "pre-marital sex" business. The neighborhood where I grew up was so rough that my wife doesn't even believe in post-marital sex...No Respect...And that's another thing...Kids today are so spoiled...In my old neighborhood, the only kids who were spoiled were the ones who grew up in jars of old mayonnaise...