NEW YORK -- A plea for an usher to seat a comedian's bride minutes before a radio broadcast 50 years ago started a one-liner institution when Henny Youngman asked, 'Take my wife, please?' the king of one-liners recalled Wednesday.
'Truck drivers shout it out and people in the street walk up and say it to me,' the 84-year-old Youngman said. 'It's become a logo.'
Youngman claims never to write jokes, only to buy them, but when his wife showed up with eight friends 10 minutes before a CBS radio 'Kate Smith Show' in 1940 on which he regularly appeared his most famous line of all was born.
Youngman asked an usher to her off his hands.
'I gave him $2,' he said with a grin.
The 50th anniversary of the joke was marked at Bruce Ho's midtown restaurant by a gathering of comics and a cake topped with a candle for every year the line has been bandied about.
Ho is fellow member of the Friar's Club, a fraternity of entertainers.
Youngman, 84, sat at the head of the table, a pink napkin tucked into the collar of his shirt, his coffee, scrambled eggs and French fries getting cold.
On his left was Professor Irwin Corey -- 'the world's most foremost authority' -- and his wife, Frances.
'If we don't change direction soon we'll end up where we're going,' warned Corey, who referred to Youngman as the 'Ambassador from Brooklyn.'
On Youngman's right, his daughter Marilyn Kelly, Paula Goldin, his secretary and 'friend of 50 years,' and Mickey Freeman, 'Zimmerman' on the 1950s television hit 'Sgt. Bilko.'
'My wife's so ugly she goes to the beauty parlor by ambulance,' Freeman said.
Comedian Milton Berle sent congratulations from California, saying he's celebrating the joke's anniverary 'because I stole it from Henny 50 years ago.'
George Burns also wired his regrets, but claimed it really was nothing to celebrate since he has jokes he's been using 90 years.
'George Burns is so old when he orders a 3-minute egg they ask him to pay up front,' cracked Youngman.
Youngman's wife of 59 years, Sadie, died in 1987.
Now that she's gone, Youngman said, he's coming out with a new book in January that will carry all the anecdotes he left out of his first one 16 years ago, because he 'thought it would scare her,' about working clubs run by 'mobsters.'
'I had a boss who used to stab me good night,' he said. 'The checkroom girl's name was Rocco.'
Still active, he was featured in the movie 'Goodfellas,' has two current television commercials and appears at banquets, sales meetings and roasts.
'My rates are reasonable,' he said.
'We just roasted Zsa Zsa Gabor,' Youngman said. 'She's been married eight times. She has rice marks on her face.'