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 in 1986. 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 Chrystal 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 mention 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 turns out that Goldberg knows 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, 2022, Patrick F. Cannon

3 thoughts on “R.I.P., Myron Cohen

  1. Myron was one of the great old time Jewish comedians who continued the vaudeville tradition of ethnic immigrant groups in New York and elsewhere. Jill’s father was Jewish, and his brothers and cousins would entertain family gatherings with stories like Myron’s and shameless puns. I remember one Jill’s dad made up, and apologies if I’ve already told it to you.

    In Eastern Europe during the days of the Cold War and Iron Curtain, two intelligence operatives from opposite sides, John and Natasha we’ll call them, fell in love. They knew their affair could compromise them but after several months of dissimulation, Natasha told John what they were doing was too dangerous and had to end. John reluctantly agreed but insisted on one last rendezvous in a small town near the Russian border called Fueblik which had a railroad station. There they would at night have one last kiss and go their separate ways. And so they did. But as the train approached to take Natasha back to her homeland and they said their last goodbyes, the secret police who had been watching them, came and arrested them.

    We may never know the ultimate fate of our doomed lovers, but in their story there’s a lesson to be learned, for spies and all ill fated lovers: Never part in Fueblik.

    Liked by 1 person

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