On Ben's Farm

How Rodney Got Respect

Rodney Dangerfield posed with superfan Paul Fallisi '83, right.

"MY FAN CLUB broke up," the king of self-deprecating comedy joked. "The guy died." The late Rodney Dangerfield's humor, with its angst, paranoia and trademark line, "I can't get no respect," struck a chord with audiences everywhere. In the '70s and '80s, his frequent appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson—70 in all—were must-see TV in college dorms. The residents of UNH's Hunter Hall were no exception.

One fall evening in 1980, UNH sophomore Paul Fallisi '83 and fellow dormmates were watching the comedian on television when Dangerfield mentioned that he was staying at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. In the wee hours of the morning, Fallisi and his friends decided to call him at the hotel. To his surprise, Fallisi was put through to Dangerfield's room, but there was no answer. On a whim, he decided to leave a message saying, "This is Paul Fallisi, president of your fan club," just to get his attention. A few days later Dangerfield returned his call, and the two talked. Later, Dangerfield's manager sent photos, pins and other Dangerfield trinkets to the so-called fan club.

In October, Fallisi learned that Dangerfield was appearing in Boston, so a group, including roommate David Tremblay '83 and Steve Shannon '82, went down to see the show. Afterwards, they were invited backstage to meet the star. Dangerfield was a great guy, "a real spaghetti-and-meatballs person," recalls Fallisi.

The fan club that had started as a joke went into high gear. The UNH Hunter Hall Rodney Dangerfield Fan Club had a board of directors and club meetings with minutes. The second-floor bathroom was dedicated to Dangerfield, and resident Steve Brown '81 painted a life-sized mural of the comic on a dorm wall. Members had to promise to watch Dangerfield on "The Tonight Show" once every three months. In return, Fallisi, club president, issued them an official fan club membership certificate.

Fallisi (center) and Hunter Hall Residents show off a prized plaque.

In January 1981, Fallisi received a registered letter from Dangerfield's manager. He was offered a hush-hush all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to appear on a special anniversary revival of the show "This is Your Life," where Dangerfield was to be the guest of honor.

For Fallisi, a self-described "bumpkin from New Hampshire," it was the trip of a lifetime. He flew to Las Vegas—his first airplane ride—and stayed at Caesar's Palace. Rehearsing his lines ahead of time with British talk show host David Frost, Fallisi met his favorite comic onstage before a live audience and presented him with a plaque.

Fallisi, who left UNH in 1981 to study actuarial science at Temple University, is now vice president and chief actuary of Cairnstone underwriters in Andover, Mass. In later years, he met Dangerfield several times a year and considered him a friend. He still remembers fondly the trip to Las Vegas and the autographed photo Dangerfield sent afterwards inscribed, "To Paul and all the guys at UNH. Thanks for some respect."

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