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“I Have a Thirst that Could Sink a Ship!”: Early Vaudeville

Immigrants and African Americans decisively shaped a multiethnic urban popular culture in the late 19th century, built in large measure on the emergence of vaudeville. Vaudeville blended slapstick comedy, blackface minstrelsy, and sentimental songs into a rich and highly popular cultural stew. Among the most successful vaudeville practitioners were two Jewish singers and comics from the mean streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Joe Weber and Lew Fields. Weber and Fields’ routines usually featured broad stereotypes of German immigrants: Fields played “Meyer,” the shrewd German slickster who wanted to “put one over” on Weber’s “Mike,” the dumb “Dutch” newcomer. At the peak of their popularity in 1904, Weber and Fields recorded this popular routine, “The Drinking Scene,” for commercial sale. Ironically, just a few months after recording this routine, the Weber and Fields team broke up, ending nearly three decades of public performances, the longest of any team in American popular theater.

Listen to Audio:

“The Drinking Scene”


Fields: Ha, ha, ha. Well, Mike, ain’t ya glad ya come to Paris to spend your vaccination?

Weber: Aw . . . it’s very magnesium here.

Fields: Ain’t it grand?

Weber: Fine.

Fields: Have ya got any money?

Weber: Not a cent.

Fields: You ain’t got any money?

Weber: No, busted.

Fields: And I’m your guest. Are ya thirsty?

Weber: No, not a bit.

Fields: Sure?

Weber: Sure?

Fields: Ha. I could love you for those words. I’ll tell ya why. You see, I’ve only got five pennies and I’m dying for a glass of beer. Now, it wouldn’t look nice for both of us to go over to the bar here, and one of us drink, and the other ain’t. So when we go inside, I will say to you: What you going to have?

Weber: Uh huh.

Fields: And you say, in sort of a careless way, “Ooooh . . . I don’t care for it.” Then I will say to the bartender, “Give me a glass of beer,” and I will drink the beer, and we walk out and he won’t know whether we got money or not. Understand?

Weber: Yeah.

Fields: Will you do that for me, please?

Weber: Oh, sure, sure.

Fields: Oooh, I love you for that!

Weber: Yeah.

Fields: Now, now, when we get inside, I’ll say to you, ‘What are you gonna have?’ And what do you say?

Weber: What do you say?

Fields: What do you say?

Weber: Ooooh, I don’t care for it.

Fields: Ooooh, oooh, I love ya!

Weber: Now, now be quiet.

Fields: Yeah.

Weber: See, something in my heart tells me you’re not gonna do this right.

Fields: No, let’s just try it on the outside, then we know what we gonna do on the inside.

Weber: That’s a good idea. Now, we practice out here. Now, we gonna imagine that here is the bar and here’s the rail what goes on the bar. Over here is free lunch.

Fields: Free lunch?

Weber: Yeah, forget that. Don’t go near the free lunch. And here is two doors. Now, remember: the bar, the railing, the free lunch, and the door.

Fields: And the free lunch.

Weber: And the free . . . Now we go’in.

Fields: Ah.

Weber: Now, what you gonna have?

Fields: I don’t wanna.

Weber: Aw, go on, take something.

Fields: No, I wouldn’t.

Weber: Aw, come on, be a sport!

Fields: Oh, no, no, no.

Weber: Take something small.

Fields: Well, I’ll take a small bottle.

Weber: What! Small bottle! With my poor five cents.

Fields: Well, why do you wanna coax me for?

Weber: I wasn’t coaxing. I was only making a bluff!

Fields: Well, I don’t take any bluffs. Why don’t you say what you gonna have, and don’t have it?

Weber: I’ll say anything I like, and all you say is: “Oooh, I don’t care for it.”

Fields: Oooh, I don’t care for it.

Weber: Now, try it again.

Fields: All right, try it again.

Weber: What you gonna have?

Fields: No, I don’t want it.

Weber: Aw, go on, take something.

Fields: I don’t wanna!

Weber: Come on! Take something.

Fields: Well, I’ll take a cigar.

Weber: What! A cigar? You want to boin [burn] up my five cents?

Fields: Why? Do I gotta give up smokin' too?

Weber: If you don’t give up smoking, I’ll have to give up drinking.

Fields: Well, I got to look out for myself.

Weber: Mike, please, I beg of ya, do me a favor: use your brain. Remember, you don’t drink, and you don’t smoke and you don’t eat! Now, we go in.

[Sound effects]

Fields: What did ya say?

Weber: I said what you said I should said.

Fields: What did ya say? What did ya say?

Weber: Oooh, I don’t care if I do.

Fields: Aw . . . and the bartender gave you the glass of beer, and I had to say, “Oooh, I don’t care for it.” And I got a thoist [thirst] that would sink a ship!


Source: Courtesy of the Michigan State University Voice Library.

See Also:"I'm A Gizzard": The Vaudeville Comedy of Weber and Fields