Sober Sue - You Can't Make Her Laugh!
So read the advertisements in 1908
out front of Broadway
's Hammerstein's Victorian Theater
. During intermission
one afternoon the managers of the theater marched a woman onstage - a woman they called "Sober Sue" - and challenged anyone in the audience to make her laugh. Anyone who could make Sober Sue chuckle would get $1,000 on the spot. When nobody in the audience could ellicit a laugh from her, the theater opened the offer to New York
's top comedian
Several weeks went by, and during that time the theater hosted just about every famous funnyman the area had to offer, each one performing their best material on stage next to Sober Sue and hoping for a mountain of good publicity by being the one to make the sullen woman laugh.. Not a single one made her laugh.
It wasn't until long after Sober Sue had left town that her secret came out: her facial muscles were paralyzed and she couldn't have laughed even if she wanted to. The Victoria Theater had hatched the "contest" to trick New York's most famous (and most expensive) comedians into performing their routines for free.
And Sober Sue - whomever she was - "laughed" all the way to the bank.
Uncle John's Bathroom Reader #14