cultivating laughs

| 24 Aug 2015 | 04:14

Every week, Our Town will celebrate our 45th anniversary by profiling a neighborhood business that has been around longer than we have. Know of a local business that should be on our list? Email us at

Walk into Dangerfield's on First Avenue and you enter into a 1960s time warp. The maroon curtains, sofas, table lanterns and lampshades stamped with customer-drawn graffiti are all from the club's opening in September 1969. James Dulworth, 70, has worked at the club for 17 years and points out that owner Tony Bevacqua, who founded the club with Rodney Dangerfield, cultivates the look. “We only got rid of our rotary phone two years ago!” Dulworth says.

Dangerfield was known for “getting no respect,” but his eponymous comedy club, just north of East 61st Street, has had the respect of New Yorkers and tourists alike for 46 years. Comedians, too, pay tribute.

Comedian Chris Monty has performed at Dangerfield's countless times over the years and appreciates the old-school look, saying, “It's like walking into the past.” The decor, he says, is “kitschy and cool.”

On a recent Saturday night, Long Islanders Stefanie and Gregory Edler sit in a back booth waiting for the start of the 8 p.m. show. Nothing unusual there except that Stefanie is in a family way, and when asked what her due date is, says, “Tomorrow.” Gregory laughs and adds, “We figure if she laughs a lot, we'll be able to push the baby out ... easier.”

According to Dulworth, whose title on his official Dangerfield's business card reads “Executive Daytime Slave,” Dangerfield opened the club in part to cut down on travel time and allow him to spend more time with his children. He performed nearly every day there for over a decade before his success in films such as “Caddyshack,” “Easy Money” and “Back to School” led him to move to the West Coast.

Peter Bales, 60, the Sunday night M.C., performed at the club for decades and spoke highly of Dangerfield. “It was always such a privilege to watch Rodney practice for his Tonight Show appearances,” he says.

It was after Dangerfield moved to California that the club began to feature up-and-coming comedians. “Everyone” has been at Dangerfield's, Dulworth says. The picture wall, to the right of the bar, features icons such as Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Louis CK and Chris Rock. A signed photo of President Bill Clinton also hangs there.

Dulworth recalls Andy Kaufman's debut as a true club highlight. Kaufman showed up after midnight in a van filled with all his props, such as bongos, a record player and an Elvis suit, and performed solely for the waiters.

Speaking of waiters, at the end of each night, the M.C. for the evening calls up to the stage 80-year-old Chario Antonio, who has catered to the club's customer's since 1970. Antonio's five-minute set is filled mostly with raunchy one- and two-liners, and is always a very popular part of any visit to Dangerfield's.

Dulworth, who also worked for eight years at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, has seen it all, and when asked about his favorite part of the job, the answer was simple, and apt: “The comics ... the jokes.”