When disgraced journalist Mike Barnicle begins punching up his irresistable working-class parables for The New York Daily News, there’s no doubt that his rivals at The New York Post will enjoy a rare field trip to the moral high ground and diss the Daily News for hiring a proven fabricator. Not so fast, Rupert Murdoch-owned Postpeople: for you, too, have a plagiarist on the premises.
If you’ve always suspected that comedian Joey Adams’s “Strictly For Laughs” column was ghost-written, you don’t know how right you are. Or at least you didn’t know, until a few weeks ago, when McSweeney’s busted open the exclusive story on how the 88 year-old Adams was helping himself to the late Henny Youngman’s one-liners, swiping two swank hotel jokes — one about room service having an unlisted number, the other, ironically, about the difficulty of fitting stolen, fluffy towels in a suitcase.
Now, as the conspiracy of silence around the purloined punchlines continues, and Adams, unconscionably, goes on stealing, we cannot help but wonder: who’s next on his shop-lifting list? Saget? Reiser? Jackie the Jokeman? Or are only conveniently dead comedians eligible for your thievery, Joey? For shame!
Remarkably, Joey Adams has been undeterred in his repossession of Youngman’s material, as he has “sampled” Henny at least twice since our initial exposé — even employing devious sources to attempt to throw us off the scent. The evidence, please:
Joey Adams, “Strictly For Laughs,” The New York Post, Tuesday, March 2, 1999:
“A man wrote me: ’I’m 80 and I just married a girl of 20. I’m afraid I won’t be able to satisfy her- Any suggestions?‘- ’Take in a boarder’’ I advised. Three months later, he wrote and told me my advice worked: His wife was having a baby. I asked, ‘What about the boarder?’ He said, ’She’s having a baby too!’ "
Henny Youngman’s Bar Jokes, Bar Bets, Bar Tricks (Gramercy Publishing, 1978), pages 66-67:
“A 70-year-old man married a girl of 20, and immediately was given advice by his friends. One of them said, ‘If you want a happy marriage, you must take in a boarder.’ This appealed to the old man, and a few months later he met his friend who wanted to know how things were coming along.
The old man said, ‘Things couldn’t be better, and I owe it all to your good advice.’
His friend said, ’I’m glad to hear it, and how’s your wife?’ The old guy said, ‘Oh, she’s pregnant.’
His friend said, ’That’s great, and the boarder?’ and the old man said, “Oh, she’s pregnant, too.’”
Adams, “Strictly For Laughs,” The New York Post, Wednesday, March 3, 1999:
“Myron said, ‘My wife and I were considering a divorce, but when we found out how much the lawyers would cost, we decided we’d be happier with a new car.”
Henny Youngman, 500 All-Time Greatest One-Liners (Pinnacle Books, 1981), page 68:
“My wife and I were considering a divorce, but when we found out how much the lawyers would cost, we decided we’d be better off with a new car instead.”
Adams, “Strictly For Laughs,” The New York Post, March 10, 1999:
“The young bride had waited patiently ‘til her wedding night, and as they finally got into bed, the nearby church bells began to ring. ’Let’s make love every time the bells ring’ she suggested. In the morning, the husband, tired and weary, walked to the church and told the bell-ringer, ‘Listen, I’ll give you $100 if you ring the bell once every two hours.’
‘Sorry, sir, can’t do that — some girl already paid me to ring every half-hour.’ "
Henny Youngman, 400 Traveling Salesmen’s Jokes (Gramercy, 1978), page 24:
“Sheila and George were spending the first night of their honeymoon in a quaint medieval town in France. Sheila suggested coyly that they make love every time the old night watchman rang his hourly bell. George smiled in delight at this prospect, but four rings later he pretended he had to go out for cigarettes and staggered off to the watchman’s tower.
‘Listen, old man,’ he wheezed, ‘do me a favor and for the rest of the night ring the bell at two hour intervals instead of hourly. Here. I’ll give you some money.’
‘I would be happy to oblige,’ said the watchman, ‘but I cannot. A beautiful young lady has already bribed me to ring the bell every half hour.’ "
Is that enough for you, citizen-reader? Yes, we suppose it is. Too much, perhaps. Now, what can be one’s defense for such theft? What indeed. We have taken the liberty of assuming:
PRE-EMPTIVE REFUTATIONS OF PROBABLE “DEFENSES”:
— Yes, the cover-line on Henny’s 500 Greatest book reads “Take my jokes. Please!” But this message, Mr. Adams, is directed to the lay-person, or even for the public speaker. Not to you, Mr. Adams. Not for thee, Joey, do these jokes about bells toll.
— Yes, jokes are often repeated, or forwarded via chain e-mail, without crediting the original source. Often, the original source cannot even be traced. But these jokes are not in the public domain. This is not “Why did the chicken cross the road?” (Or is that one of yours, too, Joey?)
- Yes, jokes often “work” better when told in the first person. But why, then, do you go to great lengths to print the names of other comedians you quote - like Bob Hope and Milton Berle — in bold-face type? Is it because they’re technically alive? One day, you even quoted Roseanne, Joan Rivers, and Phyllis Diller — all of whom have undergone plastic surgery. But we know what that’s about. You want to get in their pants.
— Yes, you were a friend of Henny Youngman. As Judas was a friend of Jesus, as Brutus was a friend of Caesar. Unless Henny bequeathed those jokes to you in his will, you should properly credit him (as Puff Daddy credited Sting, and MC Hammer credited Rick James before him). You could learn a lot from these music-masters, Joey. From Puff and Sting you could learn the meaning of a little word we call “friendship.”
This must stop. This lying, this deception, this thievery and skullduggery. How can our daily guffaws come at such a price? Joey, you purport to bring to a reader’s day a refreshing dose of humor and levity, and so we drink from your trough. But it is not refreshing, the contents of your trough. Not at all. It is ashes in our mouths. Nay, worse. You know what it tastes like? It tastes like hot, poisoned blood.
Joey, this must end.
But when you bring it to an end, don’t do it for us. Do it for the children.
For they are the future.