Youngman's most famous one-liner - ``Take my wife - please'' - was actually delivered by accident before an appearance on radio's ``Kate Smith Show.''

A frazzled Youngman was getting ready minutes before air time when his wife, Sadie, showed up with several friends to see the show. Youngman grabbed an usher and told him, ``Take my wife, please.'' The comic was still using the line after his wife died in 1987 at age 82.


Henny Youngman is justly famed for giving this observance its definitive form in English. Actually, this archetype is far older. Attentive students of Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough will recognize this phrase as a vestige of an archaic, solar fertility cult. These ceremonies are too well known in Europe, Asia, and Africa to need further discussion in this node. Here is an example attested in North America:

... the young men who have their wives back of the Circle go each to one of the old men with a whining tone and request the old man to take his wife (who presents herself necked except a robe) and -- (or Sleep with her) the Girl then takes the Old Man (who verry often can scarcely walk) and leades him to a convenient place for the business, after which they return to the lodge; if the old man (or a white man) returns to the lodge without gratifying the Man & his wife, he offers her again and again; it is often the Case that after the 2d time without Kissing the Husband throws a new robe over the old man &c. and begs him not to dispise him & his wife. (We Sent a man to this Medisan Dance last night, they gave him 4 Girls) all this is to cause the buffalow to Come near So that they may Kill them.

Journals of Lewis and Clark, ed. De Voto, 5th of January 1805.


Youngman, Henny: Take my wife, please!: Henny Youngman's giant book of jokes, Carol Pub. Group, A Citadel Press book, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1998, ISBN 0806520574.

DeVoto, Bernard, ed., The Journals of Lewis and Clark, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1953, ISBN 0-395-08380-X.

Bakeless, John, ed. The Journals of Lewis and Clark, New American Library, New York, 1964