"What? And leave show business?” is the punch line of a popular show business joke. The joke has been cited in print since at least 1959, when it appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.
The Saturday Evening Post
“The extras are an odd sociological group,” said one producer’s representative. “An extra is like the fellow who ran away to join the circus. He failed to become a tightrope walker, so he took a job driving the tent pegs. For days and weeks and months he carried out this menial chore, always complaining. Finally, the manager, unable to stand anymore, drew him aside. ‘Look, if you hate the work so much, why don’t you get a real job?’
“The would-be performer looked at him indignantly. ‘What,’ he snapped, ‘and leave show business?’”
8 October 1959, Daily Sikeston Standard (Sikeston, MO), “Under 21” by Dan Halligon, pg. 11, cols. 7-8:
This was relayed by my San Francisco guest, heard on a visit last week to Manhasset, Long Island:
An out of work actor took a temporary job with a circus and was assigned to cleaning the pen housing 40 elephants. The work was tedious and every day he became more discouraged. Then 12 more elephants were added and that night the actor complained bitterly to his girl friend. “It’s no use. I sweep and sweep but I have it all to do over again the next day. I’m just not getting ahead.” She agreed that it was too much. “Why don’t you quit?” she sympathized.
He drew himself up with dignity and said in a plaintive voice, “And leave show business?”
Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor:
A Lifetime Collection of Favorite Jokes, Anecdotes, and Limericks with Copious Notes on How to Tell Them and Why
By Isaac Asimov
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin
Joe was sitting on the corner stool at the bar, sunk in misery. The bartender said, “you look awful, friend. What’s your problem?”
Joe stared into his whiskey and said, “I’m tired of being a social outcast. I’m with the circus, you see, and clean up the animal cages. The result is that I can’t help smelling a little. Naturally, people avoid me and I don’t like it.”
The bartender sniffed. ‘yes, I see what you mean and I’ve got to admit it’s not the best fragrance in the world. But look here, there are openings down at the factory. You could get yourself a job there and they will probably pay better than your circus position.
“"What?" said Joe, outraged. “And leave show business?”
Google News Archive
22 August 1979, Daily News (Bowling Green, KY), “What? And leave show business?” (AP), pg. 14-B, col. 1.
Ringling Brothers to get rid of Elephant acts. Which means the guy cleaning up behind them can no longer say, “What and leave show business?
8:33 AM - 7 Mar 2015
New York City • Music/Dance/Theatre/Film • Tuesday, April 28, 2015 • Permalink