The Peculiar Truth about Comedian Jack Roy
- New York City in the 1950s. Hanson’s Drugstore was a cheap 24-hour diner in midtown Manhattan where up-and-coming comedians hung out, including Don Rickles, Shecky Greene, and Buddy Hackett.
- Two of the funniest men to ever spend time at the joint were Joe Ancis and Jack Roy.
- Jack was born Jacob Cohen but changed his name after his father abandoned the family. As a teenager during the Great Depression, Jack sold jokes to Catskills comedians.
- Many people considered Ancis the funniest guy alive. Joe was neurotic and hilarious but too nervous to ever set foot on a stage.
- Ancis loved jazz and hung around jazz clubs. As a result, he scored a lot of pot, which he shared with the comedians.
- Joe and Jack got high all the time. So did Joe and his roommate Lenny Bruce.
- Lenny admitted to Ancis that he had created his stage persona from watching Joe. Ancis didn’t mind. He was never going to perform before an audience. Ancis helped Bruce draw on his Jewish background to mine more comedy for his act.
- Joe and Jack needed money. Especially Jack. His marriage was failing. They couldn’t just hang around Hanson’s cracking jokes and getting stoned.
- So they went to New Jersey to sell aluminum siding. Salesmanship didn’t thrill them, but it was a job.
- They still got high and wrote jokes, which they sold to comedians.
- Jack Roy itched to be back onstage. So he developed an entirely new act with a new persona and a new name.
- Jack Roy became Rodney Dangerfield.
- In 1967, the Ed Sullivan Show needed a last-minute replacement act. Rodney was hired. His career took off.
- Joe Ancis continued selling aluminum siding.
- Then Rodney Dangerfield became a huge success and he put Joe on his payroll.
- In 1980, Joe moved in with Rodney at his Manhattan apartment where he lived for the rest of his life.
- Joe never appeared onstage, but he and Jack, aka Rodney, remained lifelong friends until they passed away in 2001 and 2004.
Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five.