R.I.P., Myron Cohen

R.I.P., Myron Cohen 

By Patrick F. Cannon

Myron Cohen (1902-1986) was a well known comedian from the 1950s until his death. He was best known for his dialect jokes, primarily done in a Yiddish accent, but with a sprinkling in Italian and Irish dialects too. They were done affectionately, and were really short stories rather than the typical one-liners of the time. Before becoming a full time entertainer, he had sold fabrics to the New York garment industry, and said his story telling set him apart from his competitors. (Only Billy Crystal today reminds me of him.)

He appeared fairly regularly on Ed Sullivan’s variety show, and later on both Jack Paar’s and Johnny Carson’s Tonight shows. I remember three of his short stories in particular, and I’ll try to do them justice here, but of course his delivery and accents added much to them. (By the way, I don’t recall that he thought his sex life was so fascinating that anyone would want to spend an hour listening to its gory details. Why this has become the norm with comedians today escapes me.)

Stage Delicatessen

Sam was a waiter at New York’s legendary Stage Delicatessen. His boss, the manager (maître de is perhaps too fancy a word for that place), was named Max. They had both been there for some 25 years, and had never said a kind word to each other. Their feuds were legendary, and indeed the customers thought their constant bickering was part of the delicatessen’s essential ambiance.

Then one day at closing, Max took Sam aside and said: “Sam, I know we haven’t always gotten along {a massive understatement}, but I know you’re a hard worker with loyal customers, so effective immediately, I’m giving you a raise.” To say that Sam was thunderstruck would be an understatement. He was actually almost struck dumb and could only reply with a very weak “thank you.”

When he got home and told his wife, she was amazed and said maybe Max wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Anyway, Sam had a spring in his step the next morning when he arrived at work. He went to the back room to put on his white jacket and apron. Max entered, walked over to him and said “Sam, you’re fired!” “Fired,” the stunned Sam replied, “yesterday you praised me and gave me a raise. How can you fire me?”

Max smilingly replied: “You should lose a better job!”

Watch Out!

O’Hara was a motorman on New York streetcars when such things still existed. He had been assigned to a route in Queens for many years, but then got transferred to a route in lower Manhattan. Being a bachelor, he decided to move to an apartment in the lower east side, so he could be within walking distance of the street car barn.

One day, he noticed his watch seemed to be losing a couple of minutes a day. Since an accurate watch was important in his job, and he had a day off, he decided to have it fixed. As it happened, he had noticed a shop down the street with a large watch in the window. Assuming it was a watch repair shop, he entered and went up to the counter. Behind it was an elderly man with a beard.

“My watch is losing time,” says O’Hara, “and I wonder if you could adjust it?”

“I don’t fix watches, I’m a mohel,” replies the bearded one.

“What’s a mohel, for God’s sake?”

“I circumcise little Jewish boys.”

“But why do you have that big watch in the window if you don’t fix watches?

“So, what do you want me to have in the window?”

Goldberg and the Pope

We’re back at the Stage Delicatessen. One table has for many years been set aside for a group of garment industry men who gather every week day for lunch. Not everyone comes every day; but on a typical day seven or eight show up. Two of them, Goldberg and Pearlstein, show up most days. They are both competitors and old friends. Over the years, Goldberg had become known as a name dropper. If you mentioned Frank Sinatra, for example, he would claim that he helped Frank get his first job singing in a club in Hoboken.  In fact, almost every time a lunch mate mentioned a famous person, it turned out that Goldberg knew him or her from somewhere.

So one day his pal Pearlstein says to him that he knows someone he can’t possibly know. “I bet you don’t know the Pope!” Now, at the time, John XXIII was pope. Without batting an eyelash, Goldberg replies “Of course, I know the Pope. We’re pals from a long time ago.” A hush came over the table. After a pause, Perlstein challenges his old friend: “I’ll tell you what. Let’s take the wives to Rome on vacation. If you can prove you know the Pope, I’ll spring for the whole trip, but if you don’t, you pay!”

To everyone’s amazement, Goldberg agrees. Two weeks later, the couples are in Rome, seeing the sites and eating lots of pasta. Goldberg tells his friend that in two days the Pope will appear on his balcony in St. Peters Square to bless the multitude. “I’ll give you a pair of binoculars and when he appears, you’ll see me come out behind him.”

On the given day, Pearlstein joins the huge crowd waiting for the Pope to appear. He trains his binoculars on the balcony. The double doors open and the portly Pope steps out. Then, just behind him, who should appear but Goldberg. Pearlstein’s jaw drops in disbelief. He is transfixed, but he feels someone pulling on his sleeve. Next to him is an elderly man, who says to him: “I can’t see too well anymore. Could you please tell me who is that man standing on the balcony with Goldberg?”


Copyright (sort of) 2017, Patrick F. Cannon




2 thoughts on “R.I.P., Myron Cohen

  1. Classic jokes, Pat. But it wasn’t always so with our friend Goldberg!

    On an earlier visit to Rome, Goldberg had made special arrangements to be part of a general audience with the pope, at that time Pius XII, the better to claim bragging rights among his name dropping pals back in New York.

    In the audience hall Goldberg places himself at the front of the group to ensure a personal meeting. While waiting for the pope to enter the room, he notices an unshaven, disheveled man wearing dirty, shabby clothes standing alone in the back of the room.

    Finally the pope enters. His Holiness gives a general blessing to the crowd, ignores Goldberg and goes over to the apparently homeless fellow at the back. The pope places his hands on the poor man’s shoulders, whispers gently in his ear, and then leaves.

    Goldberg is perplexed. Maybe he should have worn his best suit, as his wife had told him. So the next day he returns to the Vatican, this time in his best suit, enters the audience hall and assumes his strategic position at the front of the group. “He can’t miss me now,” he thinks, but notices the ragged, unshaven man again standing alone at the back.

    After a few minutes the pope enters, blesses the gathering, walks right past Goldberg and as before leaves the room, but not before placing his hands on the homeless man’s shoulders and whispering in his ear. Goldberg is dumbfounded.

    Suddenly a light goes on in Goldberg’s head. “Now I get it. Of course! The pope is naturally drawn to the poor and downtrodden.” So he changes tactics. He offers to exchange clothes with the man, a deal readily accepted, and gives him $100 for his trouble. The next day Goldberg returns to the Vatican, this time in rags, and stands alone at the back of the audience hall.

    As if on cue, the pope enters, blesses the crowd, and walks directly to Goldberg. He places his hands on Goldberg and whispers in his ear, “For the last time, you bum, didn’t I tell you to get the hell out of here?!”


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