The Wildest Romance Novel of All Time Was Written by Rodney Dangerfield

Romance novels get no respect. No respect at all
The Wildest Romance Novel of All Time Was Written by Rodney Dangerfield

The legendary Rodney Dangerfield is best known for his stand-up career, but he held a number of other jobs too. He was also an actor, a screenwriter and a hip-hop recording artist that one time, unfortunately.

Then there was the year that Dangerfield wrote a sizzling romance novel — sorta. 

In 1995, Dangerfield released La Contessa, which wasn’t exactly an album, and wasn’t exactly a book. It was an audiobook (for “liberal sophisticates”) that found Dangerfield narrating the steamy story of how he reunited with a long lost flame, the titular contessa, all accompanied by romantic music and occasional sound effects. 

In many ways, La Contessa plays like most traditional harlequin romance novels, which were hugely popular at the time, following the familiar story beats, but in a condensed time frame. And the hand-painted cover is gloriously authentic, featuring Dangerfield’s face on a Fabio-esque body. I’m no art expert, but this thing clearly belongs in the Louvre. 

Occasionally, Dangerfield’s prose feels like it’s been pulled straight out of a legit work of paperback erotica. At one point he writes, “I knew her love was still burning. I watched her eyes as they surveyed my body, always pausing at a certain height, expelling lust.” But the story is also full of wall-to-wall puns and one-liners like, “I went home and tried to forget her by playing with my schnauzer.” 

La Contessa doesn’t feel like a parody of a romance novel, but rather, a romance novel filtered through the Rodney Dangefield comic persona. It’s a genuinely filthy piece of work, even more risqué than Dangerfield’s stand-up routines (and possibly even racier than many romance novels). Is there a Guinness world record for “Most Dick Jokes in One Story”? If so, La Contessa would be a lock.

During an interview in 1994, Dangerfield mentioned that he was working on a screenplay called My Love Affair With La Contessa. So at some point he seemingly decided to turn this movie idea into an audiobook instead, either due to possible budgetary constraints, or maybe just because he didn’t want to grow out his hair and commit to Fabio’s exercise regimen. 

All that being said, it’s tough to fully recommend La Contessa today since it features an uncomfortable amount of casual racism and blatant homophobia (the passages about Dangerfield’s illegitimate gay son are shockingly terrible). But as a pop-culture artifact, La Contessa certainly is a unique, occasionally very funny, oddity. At the very least, it’s a good example of how a comedy album can be experimented with and recontextualized. It’s also interesting within the context of Dangerfield’s larger body of work. When La Contessa tells his character, during a moment of intense passion, that she will finally give him “all the respect” he never got, it’s oddly touching. 

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 


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