By Joe Dorinson
“Today I am a fountain pen!” This mantra for Bar-Mitzvah boys in the 1940s, embedded in a mandatory speech thanking parents, relatives, and friends, was coined by teacher/humorist Sam Levenson. Before affluence enveloped our country, a fountain pen proved to be a welcome gift to eager students from frugal parents. Teacher turned comedian, Mr. Levenson captured that transformative moment with a funny observation or pun as in punim.
Today, comedians sling four letter words like old-time short order cooks used to do with hash, the kind you ate, not smoked. They hyphenate mother with a sexual act and offer little or nothing about social concerns. Don Imus, a “shock jock” trying to emulate Lenny Bruce, resorted to racist and sexist stereotypes and almost aborted a lucrative career. What a pleasure, therefore, for this writer to discover a mother-lode of wisdom and wit in the Sam Levenson archives housed in the library of his alma mater, Brooklyn College. What follows is drawn primarily from this archive.