A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 23, 2011
“Don’t tell my mother I’m a politician—she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse”

"Don’t tell my mother I’m a politician—she thinks I play piano in a bordello/brothel/cat house/whorehouse” is a joke about how little people think of politicians. The joke has involved many other professions, but has been used mostly for politicians or lobbyists since the 1980s-1990s.

The joke began during the Great Depression (about 1934) and was originally told about bankers.


Google Books
International Affairs: journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs
Volume 13
1934
Pg. 348:
Wilbur presses him, and he says, “Well, I have become President of a bank, but don’t tell my mother; she still thinks I am playing the piano in a house of ill fame.”

Google Books
The Jazz Record Book
By Charles Edward Smith, Frederic Ramsey, Charles Payne Rogers and Bill Russell
New York, NY: Smith & Durrell
1942
Pg. 12:
A large sporting house had a number of parlors, each with a piano. The quip: “Don’t tell my mother I’m a bond salesman; she thinks I’m making an honest living playing piano in a sporting house,” recalls the fact that there were good nights when top men such as Tony and Jelly Roll pocketed as much as a hundred dollars in tips.

Google News Archive
21 February 1942, Youngstown (OH) Vindicator, “The Banks Lend a Hand,” pg. 8, col. 1:
Not so long ago the story was going around about the young man who was asked what he was doing and replied: “Working in a bank. But don’t tell my mother; she thinks I’m playing piano in a jook joint.” That was at the height of the banks’ unpopularity because of their forced closing.

10 October 1947, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI), pg. 6, col. 1:
Break the News to Mother
It wasn’t very many years ago that a sign-of-the-tough-times joke went something like this:

“Don’t tell my mother I’m a banker. She thinks I play piano in a saloon.”

Google Books
A Different Face
By Olivia Manning
New York, NY: Abelard-Schuman
1957
Pg. 96:
There was the standard story about the young man who wrote home: ‘Please don’t tell my mother I’ve joined the P.I. She thinks I play a piano in a brothel.’

26 July 1964, Lake Charles (LA) American Press, pg. 4, col. 3 editorial cartoon:
(A man in a newsroom to an angry member of the public—ed.)
“Please Don’t Tell My Mother Where I Work! She Thinks I Play Piano in a House of Ill-Repute!!”

Google Books
The Great Slump:
Capitalism in crisis, 1929-1933

By Goronwy Rees
New York, NY: Harper & Row
1971, ©1970
Pg. 60:
Chief among them, perhaps, should be counted the bankers, who almost overnight lost their reputation, not merely for prudence and sagacity, but even for honesty; a popular music-hall joke of the depression was: ‘Don’t tell my mother I’m a banker, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel.’

Google Books
The Political Economics of International Bank Lending
By David Gisselquist
New York, NY: Praeger
1981
Pg. 73:
Don’t tell my mother I’m a banker, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel.
Depression joke

Google Books
Private Eye
Issues 497-522
1981
Pg. 53:
(All politicians are liars. Or the American crack: Don’t tell my mother I’m a politician. She thinks I play the piano in a whorehouse).

Google Books
How to Get the Best Advertising from Your Agency:
How it works, how to work with it—a management primer for advertisers

By Nancy L. Salz
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
1983
Pg. 2:
Jock Elliott, former chairman of Ogilvy & Mather International, often quotes the old saw: “Don’t tell my mother I work in advertising; she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.”

Google Books
Night of the Fox
By Jack Higgins
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster (Pocket Books)
1986
Pg. 168:
“I loathe politics. It reminds me of the senator in Rome who’s supposed to have said: ‘Don’t tell my mother I’m in politics. She thinks I play the piano in a brothel.’”

Google News Archive
30 June 1990, Florence (AL) TimesDaily, “Ex-politicians find ‘revolving door’ profitable” by Philip Rawls (Associated Press), pg. 6A, col. 2:
MONTGOMERY—A sign on Mike Weeks office wall says: “Don’t tell my mother I’m a lobbyist. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.”

Google Books
Honest Government:
An ethics guide for public service

By W. J. Michael Cody and Richardson R. Lynn
Westport, CT: Praeger
1992
Pg. 1:
Americans have always had a healthy skepticism about politicians, reflected in an old saying: “Don’t tell my mother I’m a politician. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.”

The Independent
Column One: Politicians? Some of them are almost human
Sean O’Grady and Paul Grey
Tuesday, 23 November 1999
DON’T TELL my mother I’m a politician, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel.” So runs the old joke.

Google Books
Encarta Book of Quotations
By Bill Swainson
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
2000
Pg. 27 (ANONYMOUS):
Don’t tell my mother I’m in politics — she thinks I play the piano in a whorehouse.
U.S. saying

Google Books
Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right:
How One Side Lost Its Mind and the Other Lost Its Nerve

By Bernard Goldberg
New York, NY: HarperCollins
2008, ©2007
Pg. 146:
In fact, there’s an old joke that pretty much sums up the character of these “profiles in courage” and the “high esteem” in which they’re held:

“Don’t tell my mother I’m in politics. She thinks I play the piano in a whorehouse.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Saturday, July 23, 2011 • Permalink