cohen on the telephne
February 26, 2007 5:25 PM   Subscribe

"Cohen on the Telephone" (real audio) is "not politically correct by modern standards, due to its Yiddish stereotyping, but certainly popular in its time and rumored to be the first comedy record to sell a million copies. This bit primarily made fun of the crude telephone system in use during 1913, when Joe Hayman recorded it in London in July of that year for Regal/Zonophone (it was issued on Columbia here in the States the following year). Several other labels hastily released versions by other artists, and a series of sequels followed right up into the mid-20's." Such as "Cohen Exceeds the Speed Limit", "Cohen at the Pay-station", "Cohen Phones His Tailor", "Cohen Telephones the Health Department" and "Cohen's Recruiting Speech" (all mp3s from The Virtual Gramaphone). There was even a movie.
posted by grumblebee (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
interesting bit of Jewish history, thanks.
posted by gnutron at 5:33 PM on February 26, 2007


Actually, my father, whose parents were native Yiddish speakers, would affect almost exactly the same accent when he was impersonating older, Yiddish-speaking Jews, so I presume that while the accent might be stagey and exaggerated, it's not far from the mark.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:29 PM on February 26, 2007

Here's another version of "Cohen on the Telephone" performed by George Thompson from the Jewish Wit and Humor section of the Cylander Preservation and Digitization Project. This version came out 3 years later but is almost identical to the original in pacing and delivery. At times you can play them over each other and they're perfectly synced. The only difference seems to be some minor inflections and a bit more wind impressions on the latter.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:13 PM on February 26, 2007

Don't leave me Cohen on the telephone
Don't leave me Cohen on the telephone
I hoid your mama now she's goink out der door
Did she go to woik or just go to der store
All those tings she said, I told you to ignore
Oh why can't we talk again?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:10 PM on February 26, 2007

Related: I recently heard Terry Gross interviewing the compilers of this CD, which features a set of early-20th-century American songs that are certainly not politically correct. They had some interesting things to say about how this kind of humor was a way of second-generation American Jews distancing themselves from the immigrant stereotypes that they're mocking.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:45 PM on February 26, 2007

I preferred Dickie Crickets, myself.
posted by cerulgalactus at 10:21 PM on February 26, 2007

A Prairie Boyhood:
My boyhood saw the beginning of many things that are commonplace today. The town's first phonograph belonged to one of my uncles. It had the big horn, the fragile wax cylinder, and the handle to wind up the spring, that are well-remembered today. Humorous monologues were more popular than music. The favorite with us, as it was everywhere, was "Cohen on the Telephone."
posted by pracowity at 3:21 AM on February 27, 2007

The accent sounded perfectly credible to me. The humor, on the other hand—oy! We've come a long way in the comic arts, baby!
posted by languagehat at 5:46 AM on February 27, 2007

What would be the modern update to this? Chaim on the IM?
posted by dr_dank at 7:15 AM on February 27, 2007

The humor, on the other hand—oy! We've come a long way in the comic arts, baby!

In standup? Almost an FPP: Check out A Few Moments with Eddie Cantor, a sound film made in 1923 (yup, before Jolson's Jazz Singer). Cantor, born Israel Iskowitz, was himself a "gentleman of the Hebraic faith," and grew up to be entirely awesome -- and obscene and hilarious.
posted by booksandlibretti at 2:46 PM on February 27, 2007

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