Joe Penner: “Wanna Buy a Duck?”

Joe Penner (1904-1941) inadvertently illustrated a vaudeville pitfall by being a one-horse comic, beating the horse to death, and then beating the dead horse. To be more accurate, he was a one duck comic. He struggled along in vaudeville for years without distinguishing himself as a dialect comedian. Gradually he developed a character with the power to amuse by offering to sell preposterous articles, “Wanna buy a [something or other].” Through experimentation, he learned that he got the biggest laugh by saying “Wanna buy a duck?” He was able to milk this shtick for a couple of years in vaudeville, then introduced it on radio on Rudy Vallee’s show, where it made a national sensation. After a couple of years of this, though, no one wanted to buy the duck anymore. Unfortunately, this bit was the only weapon in his arsenal. In 1941, God apparently asked him “Wanna buy a farm?” He did.

To find out more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

2 comments

  1. Loved the Joe Penner and duck stories.
    Love to see a Marge Champion bit as sad he will be 101 on 6 September 2020 and throw in her half sister Lina Basquette and her Father Ernest Belcher and you have Hollywood history from 1915 to 21st century and broadway from 1923 to 1980s.

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  2. I’m one of the few people who loved Joe Penner’s work, although, it was short lived.
    ‘You wanna buy a duck’ wasn’t his only famous catchphrase.
    He was also famous for always saying ‘You nasty man…’,with the vowels a bit elongated.
    The thing with many of these old time comedians, especially the ones coming from radio was that the humor was in their character, which I always liked (and still do) better than just the joke tellers.
    Not a lot of comedians I like in today’s world, but tons from that era.
    They were supposed to be ‘caricature’ characters, with exaggerated wording, gestures,etc.
    I liked Penner in a similar way I like Bob Goldwaite.
    I like totally wacked out, outrageous more than the joke tellers.
    Anyway, mainly just wanted to add his other popular catchphrase ‘you nasty man…’

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