“My Favorite Jokes”

Reading Eagle – Aug. 22, 1965

By: Danny Kaye

Editor’s Note: Danny Kaye, Brooklyn-born son of a Russian-born tailor, is one of the few authentic international entertainers of our day. As with Chaplin, his most effective comedy is purely visual. He is not, in essence, a joke teller, a one-line artist. He himself gives that accolade to Bob Hope.

Kaye’s particular brand of humor was distilled from years of rough-and-tumble experience on the streets of Brooklyn and in the rustic dining halls of the borsch-circuit summer resorts deep in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The resort managers had one simple instruction for their young entertainers: “Get laughs or get out.”

A frantic comedian in those early days, Kaye today has come to a more leisurely pace, will frequently sit and simply stare at an audience until it breaks up in helpless laughter. When he is not involved with his weekly TV show for CBS, Kaye likes to conduct symphony orchestras (but strictly for the financial benefit of the musicians’ pension funds), do a fast month at Las Vegas (the kind of stage work he considers the purest relaxation) or hop a plane for Hong Kong where he roams the streets making faces at Chinese kids.

At 52, Kaye stands at an even 6 feet, still weighs a lean 160 pounds, watches his health carefully as befits a man who still wishes he had become a doctor. He also flies his own plane, cooks Chinese food expertly and counts the following stories among his favorites:

Have you ever had a vivid dream which, at the time, seems to make eminent and even brilliant sense but which come morning turns out to have been more like ashes than fire? I have always liked the story of the playwright who dreamed an entire three-act play one night. It was absolutely the most sensational thing he had ever conceived of. Struggling awake, he grabbed a pencil which he always kept on his bedside table and furiously scribbled notes. Then, satisfied that he had captured the gist of this masterpiece on paper, he slipped back into a deep and blissful sleep. Awakening next morning, he recalled the experience with a start and reached eagerly for his note pad. On it he had scrawled just two words: “Write play.”

It has been my experience that the greatest men live by the simplest creeds. During World War II I heard of a lonely destroyer skipper who ran his ship with both strength and compassion but who kept almost entirely to himself. He had one ritual, however, which puzzled his fellow officers almost beyond endurance. Every morning before coming up to the bridge he would unlock a special drawer in his desk, take out a strongbox, unlock it, remove a small scrap of paper, read it carefully, return it to the strongbox, replace the box in the drawer and lock the drawer. One day, during a particularly heavy air attack, the skipper was killed. After the very briefest of decent intervals, his executive officer led a mad dash to the captain’s cabin, unlocked the special drawer, remove the strongbox, unlocked it, removed the mysterious scrap of paper and examined it carefully while his companions waited breathlessly. On it was written: “Port is left, starboard is right.”

Few baseball characters have spawned more or better stories than Leo Durocher. One day, while managing the then Brooklyn Dodgers, Leo was riding the plate umpire particularly hard on called balls and strikes, a practice since mercifully barred. Along about the seventh inning he raced from the dugout to the plate for perhaps the tenth time for another jaw-to-jaw session over a called strike. Satisfied that he had made his point—and he had, he had—Leo turned and walked back toward the dugout, muttering something just loud enough for the umpire to hear but not understand. “What was that you said?” the umpire barked after him. Leo turned like an actor on cue. “You’ve been guessing all day,” he snarled triumphantly. “Guess again!”

- Home -