Youngman, Henny

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YOUNGMAN, HENNY (1906–1998), U.S. comedian. Youngman was born in England to Russian-Jewish parents Jacob Youngman (né Yonkel Jungman) and Olga Chetkin. His parents were naturalized American citizens when they met on New York's Lower East Side. They married in 1904 and went to England on their honeymoon, returning to the United States when Youngman was six months old. The family lived in Brooklyn, and Youngman attended school at ps2, where he was a notoriously difficult student. His first taste of comedy came during high school, when he was hired to fill in for Jewish comedians who refused to work on Yom Kippur. However, Youngman was dragged off stage halfway through his routine at the request of his father, who wanted him back in synagogue. Later expelled from Manual Trades High School, Youngman finished his studies at Brooklyn Vocational Trade School. Youngman started out as a bandleader for the Swanee Syncopators and worked the Borscht Belt hotels; between sets he walked the hotels as a tummler. One night at the Nut Club in Pinedale, New Jersey, the club manager asked Youngman to fill in for a headliner who had not shown up. Youngman's comedy act was a hit and he was hired on as the club's comic for two weeks. He continued performing stand-up in New York at bar mitzvahs and nightclubs, and spent his after-hours hobnobbing with celebrities and journalists, including Walter *Winchell, who gave Youngman the moniker "King of the One-Liners." Youngman's delivery was rapid-fire as he often dished out a dozen one-liners in less than a minute. By the 1940s, he was performing six-minute routines on the radio for The Kate Smith Show. One evening Youngman was desperately trying to learn his lines shortly before a live broadcast when his wife and her friends came backstage. He took his wife by the elbow, led her to an usher and uttered for the first time his most famous line, "Take my wife … please." In 1973, Youngman published his first autobiography, Take My Wife … Please! My Life and Laughs, followed by Take My Life, Please! (1991). He also penned a variety of joke books, including Henny Youngman's Greatest One-Liner s (1970), Insults for Everyone (1979), Take My Jokes, Please! (1983) and Take my Wife, Please!: Henny Youngman's Giant Book of Jokes (1998). Although he made numerous television appearances as a regular guest on such shows as Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and Hollywood Squares, he spent most of his career touring the world, even performing for Britain's Queen Elizabeth. Youngman was working a twice-nightly show in late 1997, when he contracted a flu which eventually developed into pneumonia, from which he succumbed several months later.

[Adam Wills (2nd ed.)]