What’s harder—to make an audience laugh or to make them cry? The classic answer is that comedy is harder because even an onion can make someone cry, but there is no vegetable that can make someone laugh. “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh” was said by New York City-born theater producer John Golden (1874-1955) in 1931. Golden repeated the line in a 1932 radio interview.
New York City-born comic actor Jack Pearl (1894-1982) is also credited with the line. American comedian Fred Allen (1894-1956) advised Pearl (as recorded in 1942), “Jack, anyone can peel an onion and make people cry, but what vegetable is there to make ‘em laugh?” “I’ve (Pearl—ed.) decided, at the tender age of 53, that although serious drama is O. K. in its place, the world needs laughs,” Pearl wrote in 1948. “After all, you can peel an onion to make your eyes water, but what vegetable can make you guffaw?”
The line has most frequently (since 1975) been credited to American humorist and actor Will Rogers (1879-1935), but there is no evidence that Rogers ever said it.
Wikipedia: John Golden
John L. Golden (27 June 1874 - 17 June 1955) was an American actor, songwriter, author and theatrical producer. His best-known song is Poor Butterfly. He produced many Broadway shows, and four films.
Wikipedia: Jack Pearl
Jack Pearl, born Jack Perlman (October 29, 1894 – December 25, 1982), was a vaudeville performer and a star of early radio.
Born in New York, Pearl made an easy transition from vaudeville to broadcasting when he introduced his character Baron Munchausen on The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in 1932. His creation was loosely based on the Baron Münchhausen literary character. As the Baron, Pearl would tell far-fetched stories with a comic German accent. When the straight man (originally Ben Bard, but later Cliff Hall) expressed skepticism, the Baron replied with his familiar tagline and punchline: “Vass you dere, Sharlie?” This catch phrase soon became part of the national lexicon.
11 January 1931, Syracuse (NY) Herald, “Our Friends the Comedians” by William Lyon Phelps, third sec., pg. 2, col. 3:
The other day I was talking with my friend, the theater producer, John Golden; and he suggested to me the idea that the stage comedians never receive their due reward in popular regard. “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.”
14 January 1932, San Diego (CA) Union, pg. 6, col. 5:
NOT YET INVENTED,
Grantland Rice has produced a lot of good radio interviews, but none has been snappier and more interesting than that given last night in the Coca Cola hour, when John Golden, theatrical producer, answered the questions. The gem of the evening came when Golden was asked which was easier to write—tragedy or comedy. He voted for tragedy and remarked:
“An onion will make you cry, but they never have invented a vegetable that will make you laugh.”
18 January 1932, San Diego (CA) Union, “Mewsings of Sergeant Mike” by Hal Johnson, pg. 5, col. 3:
John Golden said last week in a radio interview that “an onion will make you cry, but they never have invented a vegetable that will make you laugh.”
How about spinach? Plenty of pundits have punned it.
1 November 1938, Iowa City (IA) Press-Citizen, “So They Say,” pg. 4, col. 5:
AN onion can make people cry but there has never been a vegetable invented to make people laugh.
-- The late May Irwin, actress.
17 October 1942, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, “The Lyons Den” by Leonard Lyons, pt. 2, pg. 1, col. 1:
Fred Allen was one of the many friends of Jack Pearl who advised him to forego his hope of becoming a dramatic actor and to resume his role of the Baron for a coast-to-coast program. “Jack, anyone can peel an onion and make people cry,” Allen told him, “but what vegetable is there to make ‘em laugh?”
5 June 1943, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, “Lyons Den” by Leonard Lyons, pg. 3, col. 8:
John Golden, the producer, was in Gertrude Lawrence’s dressing room when she was asked by an interviewer: “In your stage roles, Miss Lawrence, do you prefer doing comedy or tragedy?"..."Let me answer that,” Golden interrupted. “An onion will make any person cry. But as yet they haven’t invented a vegetable to make a person laugh.”
2 September 1948, Denton (TX) Record-Chronicle, sec. 2, pg. 4, col. 3:
Veteran Comic JackPearl Decides
World Needs Laughs, Quits Drama
By JACK PEARL
Veteran Comic and Radio’s “Baron Munchausen”
I’ve decided, at the tender age of 53, that although serious drama is O. K. in its place, the world needs laughs. After all, you can peel an onion to make your eyes water, but what vegetable can make you guffaw?
12 October 1955, Amarillo (TX) Daily News, “Letters to Martha Mason,” pg. 11, col. 1:
An onion can make people cry, but there is yet to be invented a vegetable that can make them laugh.—ANONYMOUS.
6 August 1969, Albuquerque (NM) Tribune “Glad You Asked That!” by Hy Gardner, pg. B-5, col. 3:
Q: Which is more difficult for an actor to do—make people laugh or cry?—Mrs. R. L., Providence.
A: Veteran comedian Jack Pearl (the Baron Munchausen of radio fame), speaks for his craft, I think, when he says, “Even peeling an onion can make people cry—but there’s no vegetable to make them laugh!”
2 January 1974, Post Tribune (Jefferson City, MO), “Glad you asked that: Laugh...or vegetate” by Marilyn and Hy Gardner, pg. 10, col. 1:
Q: A question which has always intrigued me: Which is it easier for a comedian or actor to do—make people laugh or cry?—P. Wellington, Pittsburgh.
A: We think that Jack Pearl, the famous “Baron Munchausen” of the rosy era of radio, summed it up when he said: “You can peel an onion to make your eyes cry. But what vegetable can make you laugh?”
You Must Remember This
By Walter Wagner
New York, NY: Putnam
I like what Will Rogers said about comedy: “An onion can make people cry, but there’s never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.”
“An onion can make people cry, now God needs to create a vegetable that makes people laugh."~Will Rogers
3:12 PM - 22 Jun 2011
New York City • Music/Dance/Theatre/Film • Sunday, October 20, 2013 • Permalink