How Jacob Cohen Became Rodney Dangerfield and Got Himself Some Respect


Rodney Dangerfield got no respect. When he was born, the doctor told his mother, “I did all I could, but he pulled through anyway.” Just listen to the guy: When he was a kid, too—no respect. His parents got divorced. They had a custody fight over him. No one showed up.

Dangerfield was a master of the one-liner, a big-eyed comedic genius, tugging at his collar, squirming in his suit, his mind racing.

A breakaway hit from his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in March, 1967, Dangerfield’s impact was enormous, and films like Caddyshack cemented his place as a legend.

But what a lot of people don’t know is that Rodney Dangerfield was born Jacob Cohen, the Jewish son of Hungarian immigrants.

Cohen grew up with an absentee father—the vaudevillian comedian Phil Roy—though he managed to follow in his father’s footsteps anyway. In his late teens, Cohen, who went by Jack Roy, sold ice cream, delivered groceries, worked a soda fountain—all to support his dream of being a comic.

Audiences weren’t kind to Cohen. One night, he asked a club owner to introduce him as something other than Jack Roy, perhaps to deter jeers—and the owner called him Rodney Dangerfield, after a Jack Benny character. It stuck.

Dangerfield died in 2004. He’s buried in Los Angeles, where his gravestone reads: “There goes the neighborhood.”

Recommended from JTA