"Yeah, I know I'm ugly...I said to a bartender, 'Make me a zombie.' He said 'God beat me to it.'"
Dangerfield was born Jacob Cohen to a Jewish family in Babylon, L.I., New York. His father, who played in vaudeville, left the family early. Dangerfield described his mother as abusive and overbearing. He suffered from lifelong bouts with depression.
"I tell you, I don't get no respect. My mother stopped breast-feeding me as a kid. She told me she liked me like a friend."
"When I was born, the doctor said to my father, "I'm sorry, we did everything we could but he still pulled through."
Although he didn't address Judaism directly in his jokes, his comic style falls well within the classic mold of Jewish humor--self-deprecating, neurotic, what Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of "Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews," calls the "distressed optimist." If there is one hallmark of Jewish humor, says Rabbi Telushkin, it is the absurd ability to keep us "laughing in order not to cry."
"I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest."
"My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you're ugly too."
Dangerfield mined some themes of the Jewish experience-being the outsider, sexual repressiveness, family pressures to succeed, and verbal defensiveness against aggression-to comic effect.
"I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous--everyone hasn't met me yet.."
In the classic film comedy "Caddyshack," Dangerfield portrayed Al, a boorish nouveau-riche Jew trying to buy a Wasp country club. About to enter the club with an Asian friend, Al says: "I hear this place is restricted, Wang, so don't tell 'em you're Jewish, OK?"
Dangerfield appeared in two movies with religious themes. He played God in "Angels with Angles" (originally titled "Everything's George," featuring George Burns' first after-life performance as an angel trying to earn his wings). He wrote and starred in "My Five Wives," a comedy about a Mormon polygamist. Dangerfield's second wife, Joan, is Mormon. "I was inspired to write the story because my wife is a Mormon and I became fascinated with the whole polygamy thing. I thought, what a great idea for a film."
"One of the advantages of having five wives is they can't all have a headache at the same time."
"Brigham Young was said to have 27 wives. I used to have this joke, I don't care how you bring 'em, just bring 'em young."
His signature line, "I don't get no respect," struck a chord with Christian writers. It was the subject of at least one sermon ("The Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome") by a Seventh-Day Adventist minister. And a review of the book "Christian America" noted, "Like Rodney Dangerfield, evangelicals don't get much respect, and 'remain one of the last social groups in the United States that people can speak disparagingly about in public and get away with it.'"