I was doing better as a comedian the second time around. I was older and wiser, yeah, but I was funnier, too. I was really working hard on my jokes, and polishing all that material I’d stored in that duffel bag for twelve years. My timing was better, my jokes were better, and my name was better. Yeah, I was no longer Jack Roy.
One of the biggest changes I’d made in my act was my name.
Early in my comeback, I visited a club I’d worked at years before, hoping I could get booked there because I’d been one of their favorite comics. I hadn’t worked there in quite a while, though, and the club had new owners, but they knew of me from the people who’d been coming in there for years. I talked to them, and they finally booked me.
At that time, if you were working in a club, they’d put your name in Friday’s edition of a newspaper called The Mirror. There were hundreds of nightclubs at the time, and the Friday Mirror had the names of all the acts and where they were working.
I said to the owner, “Do me a favor, will ya? I haven’t worked in a long time, and I don’t know how I’ll do, so put a different name in The Mirror. Any name at all. Just don’t put in Jack Roy, okay?”
He said, “Okay.”
So he makes up a name and runs it in the paper.
Despite my attempt to perform “anonymously,” word got around the neighborhood that I was appearing there, and plenty of people who’d dug me years ago showed up, which led to some confusion. When it was time for me to go on, the emcee said: “Here’s Rodney Dangerfield.”
I walked out on that stage and it felt weird. I saw all the same faces, only now they were twelve years older. And they looked at me, then looked at one another, and said, “Rodney Dangerfield?”
I said, “Hey — if you’re gonna change your name, change it!”
My show went fine, despite my nervousness, and afterward I asked the owner, “Where’d you get that name?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I made it up, just like that.”
All my friends said it was a funny name, so I decided to keep it. My wife told me, “With a name like Rodney Dangerfield, if you don’t hit, you’re an idiot.” — Rodney Dangerfield, in his book It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs (read for free)