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 March 30, 2016
“You have to be a contortionist in this economy to make ends meet”

The old financial expression of “make ends meet” becomes a joke when a contortionist is mentioned. “The contortionists at Barnum’s show will never know what it is to be bankrupt. They can always make both ends meet” was cited in 1877. “Times are very hard when it takes a contortionist to make both ends meet” was cited in 1879. “Why did the contortionist apply for unemployment insurance? Got so he couldn’t make ends meet anymore” was a joke that appeared in many newspapers in 1965.

The Two Ronnies, a BBC television comedy sketch show from 1971 to 1987 that featured Ronnie Barker (1929-2005) and Ronnie Corbett (1930-2016), used this joke:

“In a packed programme tonight, we will be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.”


Wiktionary: make ends meet
Verb
make ends meet

1. (idiomatic) To have enough money to cover expenses; to get by financially; to get through the pay period (sufficient to meet the next payday).
1661, Thomas Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England:
(entry on Archbishop Edmund Grindall) Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring only to make both ends meet; and as for that little that lapped over he gave it to pious uses.

22 August 1877, St. Louis (MO) Dispatch, “Life in St. Louis,” pg. 4, col. 1:
The contortionists at Barnum’s show will never know what it is to be bankrupt. They can always make both ends meet. Have a cigar.

18 March 1879, The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA), pg. 4, col. 1: 
Times are very hard when it takes a contortionist to make both ends meet.

Google Books
2 August 1888, Life (New York, NY), pg. 61, col. 2:
HOWEVER extravagant a contortionist may be he always manages to make both ends meet.

Google Books
21 January 1896, Harvard Lampoon, pg. 132, col. 2:
A MAN who can make both ends meet—A contortionist.

1 August 1896, Burlington (IA) Gazette:
“O, I manage to make both ends meet,” replied the contortionist.

17 March 1899, Belleville (KS) Telescope:
It’s a poor contortionist that can’t make both ends meet.

9 December 1907, The Courier (Evansville, IN), “Only Things Man Owns Is His Sins,” pg. 5, col. 3:
“As travelers, we are all more or less concerned about the baggage we carry, and in these days when it takes a contortionist to make ends meet, the baggage that concerns all more or less is money.”
(Rev. Charles A. Rowand.—ed.)

Google Books
14 April 1909, The Insurance Press, pg. 12, col. 2:
Wives of uninsured men should practice gymnastics, for when they are widows they may have to be contortionists, trying to make ends meet.

Chronicling America
10 July 1914, The Public Ledger (Maysville, KY), “Dr. C. C. Mitchell’s Lecture,” pg. 3, col. 2:
Only the millionaire and contortionist can make ends meet.

19 February 1931, Boston (MA) Herald, “Top o’ the Morning” by George Ryan, pg. 14, col. 4:
In San Francisco or somewhere out that way a contortionist has just filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy, although you’d think if any man could make ends meet, he’d be the one.

Google Books
Complete Speaker’s and Toastmaster’s Library
By Jacob Morton Braude
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
1965
Pg. 18:
Contortionist: a guy who can still make both ends meet these days.

6 August 1965, Seattle (WA) Times, “Hardwick” column, pg. 25, col. 1:
ANSWER: He couldn’t make ends meet.
QUESTION: Why did the contortionist file for unemployment?

6 October 1965, Evening World-Herald (Omaha, NE), “A Smile or Two,” pg. 70, col. 2:
Why did the contortionist apply for unemployment insurance? Got so he couldn’t make ends meet anymore.—Ollie James in Cincinnati Enquirer.

Google Books
News and Views - Ohio AFL-CIO
Volumes 21-23
1972
Pg. ?:
Hear about the contortionist who got arthritis and couldn’t make ends meet!

Google Books
The Reader’s Digest
Volume 108
1976
Pg. 168:
... the contortionist who applied for unemployment insurance because he could no longer make ends meet? (Ollle James in Cincinnati Enquirer)

Google Books
The Two Ronnies:
Their Funniest Jokes, One-liners and Sketches

By Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett
London: Ebury
2003
Pg. ?:
“Good evening… in a packed programme tonight, we’ll be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.”

Google Books
The Mammoth Book of Great British Humour
By Michael Powell
London” Constable & Robinson
2010
Pg. ?:
In a packed programme tonight, we will be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.
Ronnie Barker

Google Books
The Mammoth Book of One-Liners
By Geoff Tibballs
London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd
2012
Pg. ?:
Why did the arthritic contortionist claim state benefits?
Because he could no longer make ends meet.

BBC News
Ronnie Corbett’s best jokes
March 31, 2016
Entertainer Ronnie Corbett, best known for The Two Ronnies, has died aged 85, his publicist has said.

Here are some of his best jokes:
(...)
We will be talking to an out of work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBanking/Finance/Insurance • Wednesday, March 30, 2016 • Permalink