Myron Cohen, 83, a comedian whose "Borscht Belt" style of dialect jokes made him a hit at nightclubs and resorts around the country and on such popular television programs as the old "Ed Sullivan Show," died March 10 at Nyack Hospital in Nyack, N.Y., after a heart attack.
Mr. Cohen, who lived in New York City, was born in Poland and came to this country as a child. For the first half of his life he worked as a salesman in the garment industry. In 1945, having achieved success at a number of amateur nights, he started a professional career as a stand-up comic. Although slowed by repeated heart problems in recent years, he continued to work until October 1984. His last performance was at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.
A story Mr. Cohen frequently told was how he went from selling silks to selling yarns. He would start out in his normal speaking voice, which had no ethnic accent, but at some point he would slide into a kind of Yiddish-based patois associated with New York's garment district. It all really started, he used to say, because before he could sell either cloth or stories he had to sell himself. And that is where the malapropisms, hyperbole and endemic misunderstandings of his gentle humor came into play.
"It was pretty well assumed that the next guy was selling the same goods," Mr. Cohen told The Washington Post in an interview in 1983. "So I'd tell him a story. And he'd laugh. I'd tell him another story. He'd laugh. I'd forget what I came for. Ten minutes later, he's sold me a raffle book for the UJA United Jewish Appeal .
"For instance, I tell a story about a little old Jewish man walking down Collins Avenue, very dejected because it's difficult to get a plane during the holidays. A friend spots him and says, 'Where you living?' 'If I could get a flight, I'm living Thursday.' "
One of Ed Sullivan's favorites, he said, was the story about the Italian gentleman who went to a bank to borrow money and "they tell him the loan arranger's out to lunch. 'Well,' he says, 'if the loan arranger's out to lunch, I'll talk to Tonto.' "
And so he would go on and on and on, and as long as he did it there were people who loved him. In 1983, for example, he was outdrawing other top bananas at the Indigo Supper Club, a swank establishment on New York's East Side, and the same year he appeared in Washington at a benefit for the UJA.
Mr. Cohen made his debut, so to speak, at Leon & Eddie's Cafe, a nightclub in New York where many famous comedians appeared on Celebrity Night. Sometimes the emcee would pass the mike to Mr. Cohen, introducing him (because of his accent) as a professor of languages at Columbia University. In 1945, Lou Walters, the father of Barbara Walters, hired him for $1,250 a week to play a nightclub in Florida.
In the 1950s and 1960s Mr. Cohen reached a national audience through his appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and other productions. He was a regular in the "Borscht Belt" resorts of the Catskill Mountains in New York. He also appeared at Atlantic City, Las Vegas and elsewhere.
His wife of 56 years, Miriam, died in 1981. Survivors include two brothers, Philip Cohen of Fort Lee, N.J., and Milton Cohen of Queens, N.Y.