Rodney Dangerfield: Funny Man, Sad Story
One Saturday night in 1986, I was performing at Dangerfield’s Comedy Club in Manhattan. I had just finished my show and the emcee was making his final announcements when I noticed someone approaching the stage. No introduction was necessary.
Rodney Dangerfield was at the pinnacle of his career and everyone knew who he was. Wearing his trademark white shirt and red tie, the star stepped into the spotlight to a thunderous round of applause. He bowed and waved to the standing and cheering fans who were by then chanting his name. It was deafening in that room.
I was in total awe at the energy this guy radiated. He told a few jokes, thanked the audience for supporting comedy and stepped off the stage. People were begging him for his autograph. Some simply wanted to touch him and thank him. Then everyone started chanting that he was number one. I said to myself, “So that’s what it’s like to be a star.”
Later that night when the crowd was gone and the staff was cleaning up, I sat at the bar with Rodney. I asked him how it felt to be at the top.
He downed a double scotch and said, “It sucks.”
I laughed and waited for a punch line.
Then it became obvious that he was serious. He proceeded to go on a verbal rampage on how he was cheated in life and that the entertainment business never gave him the respect he deserved, an eerie echo of the catchphrase that made him famous to begin with.
“Look at me!” he said angrily. “They waited until my later years before they decided I was a star! I should have made it twenty or thirty years ago when I was young and I could have enjoyed it!”
I was dumbfounded.
This was when Rodney’s iconic performance in Back to School was currently showing in theaters, which Rodney starred in and co-wrote.
I searched for the right words and finally said, “But you’re at the top of your career. You’re a household name. Everyone knows who you are. Didn’t you hear that crowd? They love you and know your jokes by heart. You have a blockbuster movie that’s getting great reviews. Leonard Maltin gave you a nine!”
He downed another drink and said, “It should have been a ten! All those years of busting my ass and taking shit from people who have no idea what talent is! I gave up everything for this damn business and for what?”
He shook his head in disgust and looked straight into my eyes. “I don’t expect you to understand, Steve.” He looked down into his empty glass. “It should have happened years ago when I was younger. I really could have enjoyed myself.”
This is a truly sad story. Here was someone who should have been living his dream.
Instead, he was living a nightmare.
He achieved far more than he set out to do but he could not enjoy the benefits of his success.
Because for most of his life, he waited for a future event to make him happy.
Many years ago he created a belief system that signified that he couldn’t and wouldn’t be happy until he achieved a certain status in life. As a result, he bypassed the journey towards the goal and let his life pass him by. His past had taken over his present, daily reality, and he was haunted by regrets of days gone by.
People who view their lives as Rodney did quite often get caught up in a perpetual cycle of unconscious thoughts that lead them to believe that success and happiness is somewhere in the future or when the goal is achieved.
The unfortunate truth about people with this type of mindset is that no matter what they achieve, they will have a difficult time being happy.
As long as they go through life consumed with negative emotions and unaware that they are identifying their success and happiness with a distant goal, nothing will satisfy them, even when that goal is achieved.
These thoughts and more are shared in my new book, Get Your Shift Together.