Yogi Berra? Rags Ragland? Suzanne Ridgeway? John McNulty? Ukie Sherin? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: An amusing anecdote states that baseball great Yogi Berra was once asked whether he wished to have dinner at a highly-regarded restaurant, and he replied with a remark combining wisdom with contradiction:
Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
Is this an authentic Yogiism?
Quote Investigator: Berra has stated on multiple occasions that he did make this remark, and detailed citations for this claim are given further below.
Yet, this joke has a long history, and it was already circulating before Berra was born. A thematic precursor about parties was published in 1882 in a London periodical called “The Nonconformist and Independent”. The comedy hinged on the impossibility of all the guests delaying attendance until all the other guests had already arrived: 1
“I’m afraid you’ll be late at the party,” said an old lady to her stylish granddaughter, who replied, ” Oh, you dear grandma, don’t you know that in our fashionable set nobody ever goes to a party till everybody gets there?”
The earliest strong match known to QI was published in December 1907 in a New York newspaper humor column called “Sparklets”. The creator of the joke was unidentified, and the person delivering the punchline was also not named: 2
Ambiguous, Yet Clear—Oh, don’t go there on Saturday; it’s so frightfully crowded! Nobody goes there then!”
In the ensuing days, months, and years the jest was reprinted with minor alterations in other papers such as “The Philadelphia Inquirer” in Pennsylvania. 3 4 It was still circulating in 1914 when the same text was printed in the “Middletown Daily Times-Press” of Middletown, New York. 5 Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who identified this primal version and located other valuable citations. 6
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1941 Hollywood gossip columnist of Paul Harrison spoke with a comedian named Rags Ragland who claimed that his girlfriend, Suzanne Ridgeway, used a version of the quip. However, it was possible that Ragland was simply providing entertaining fodder for Harrison’s newspaper readers by recycling an old joke. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 7 8
For laughs off the set, Rags goes around with a flutter-brained cutie named Suzanne Ridgeway. He says he took her to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl the other night, and as they inched their way up the ramp with the throng she remarked: “Now I know why nobody ever comes here; it’s too crowded.”
In 1943 “The New Yorker” magazine published a short tale titled “Some Nights When Nothing Happens Are the Best Nights in This Place” by the journalist John McNulty whose lauded literary style was distinctive. McNulty included an instance of the expression: 9
Johnny, one of the hackmen outside, put the whole thing in a nutshell one night when they were talking about a certain hangout and Johnny said, “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”
Also in 1943 the joke was assigned to an archetypal Irishman in a column by a sportswriter in a Pennsylvanian newspaper: 10
“Speaking of places did you see that one about the Irishman who says ‘No one goes to Murphy’s saloon anymore because it’s too crowded.’
“If you don’t get that one on the first hop it’s not the fault of the gag.”
In January 1961 the columnist Earl Wilson indicated that the jest was still being used by comedians such as Ukie Sherin: 11
Appearing at the Losers Club in Hollywood, Ukie said, “No wonder nobody ever comes in here — it’s too crowded.”
In April 1962 the joke was assigned to Yogi Berra in the pages of the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio: 12
A Yogi Berraism: At Ft. Lauderdale Yogi was listening to his teammates talk about a restaurant in the area. Said Yogi, “Aw, nobody ever goes there. It’s too crowded.”
In 1963 the gag was ascribed to Berra again, but a detail of the story was changed; the restaurant was in New York instead of Ft. Lauderdale: 13
New York Yankee coach Jim Hegan attributes this story to Yogi Berra, the new resident genius of the Bombers.
Berra was asked if a certain restaurant in New York was as popular as ever. “Naw,” quoth Yogi. “Nobody ever goes there anymore — it’s too crowded.”
In 1984 the writer Roy Blount Jr. published a profile of Berra in “Sports Illustrated” magazine, and he inquired about the history of the well-known quip: 14
“How about the one about the restaurant being so crowded nobody ever goes there?” I asked. “You didn’t really say that, did you?”
Yogi smiled. “Yeah! I said that one,” he assured me.
“You did?” I said. “About Charlie’s in Minneapolis?”
“Nahhh, it was about Ruggeri’s in St. Louis. When I was headwaiter there.” That would have been in 1948.
“No,” said Carmen, “you said that in New York.”
“St. Louis,” Yogi said firmly.
So there you are.
In 1996 a journalist named Joe Sharkey spoke to Berra and printed his comments about the saying in “The New York Times”: 15
We were stalled in crosstown traffic. Mr. Berra glanced at a restaurant awning on 50th Street and recalled something he once said about a nightclub. “That place, it’s so crowded nobody goes there anymore.”
Mrs. Berra shook him off. “No, you said, ‘It’s so popular nobody goes there,'” she said.
“Right, popular,” he agreed, and tossed out another one: “Thank you for making this day necessary.”
In 1998 Berra published “The Yogi Book” which discussed many of his celebrated remarks, and the volume included a date and setting for the joke under investigation: 16
Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
I was talking to Stan Musial and Joe Garagiola in 1959 about Ruggeri’s restaurant in my old neighborhood in St. Louis. It was true!
In conclusion, the earliest instances of this remark were anonymous. The comedians Rags Ragland and Ukie Sherin employed the quip, as did the writer John McNulty. In addition, there is some evidence that Yogi Berra employed the joke, but in all cases the jest was already in circulation.
Image Notes: Yogi Berra in 1956 issue of Baseball Digest. Public domain image accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Silhouette image of a crowd of people from geralt at Pixabay.
(In Memoriam: Thanks to my brother Stephen who greatly enjoyed Yogiisms.)
- 1882 February 23, Nonconformist And Independent, Gleanings, Quote Page 178, Column 3, London, Middlesex, England. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1907 December 7, Daily People, Sparklets, Quote Page 2, Column 3, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1907 December 19, Philadelphia Inquirer, Here and There: Clear But Confusing, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1908 March 9, Titusville Herald, Clear but Confusing (Filler item), Quote Page 5, Column 7, Titusville, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1914 March 4, Middletown Daily Times-Press, Clear, but Confusing (Filler item), Quote Page 7, Column 5, Middletown, New York. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- Website: The Big Apple, Article title: ‘”Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded” (restaurant joke)’, Date on website: July 22, 2004, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on August 26, 2014) ↩
- 1941 September 8, Racine Journal Times, Harrison in Hollywood by Paul Harrison, Quote Page 14, Column 1, Racine, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1941 September 30, Trenton Evening Times, In Hollywood by Paul Harrison, Quote Page 14, Column 4, Trenton, New Jersey. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1943 February 20, The New Yorker, “Some Nights When Nothing Happens Are The Best Nights In This Place” by John McNulty, Start Page 13, Quote Page 13, Column 1, The F-R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1943 April 12, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mirrors of Sport by Havey J. Boyle (Post-Gazette Sports Editor), Quote Page 22, Column 1, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1961 January 6, St. Petersburg Times, Best Of New York: Emotional Bit Better Now That Phil Can’t See Critics Leaving by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 10-D, Column 3, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1962 April 1, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Flap Your Arms, Hitters Tell Perry by Hal Lebovitz, Quote Page 2-C, Column 6, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1963 December 29, Mansfield News Journal, Fred Tharp On Sports by Fred Tharp (News-Journal Sports Editor), Quote Page 20, Column 1, Mansfield, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1984 April 2, Sports Illustrated, “Yogi: As a reincarnated Yankee skipper, Yogi Berra is working for George Steinbrenner” by Roy Blount Jr., Time Inc., New York. (SI Vault; Sports Illustrated Archive; Accessed May 7, 2013) ↩
- 1996 May 19, New York Times, Section 13: New Jersey, Commencement Ain’t Over Till It’s Started by Joe Sharkey, Quote Page NJ1, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1998, The Yogi Book: I really didn’t say everything I said! by Yogi Berra, Page 16, Workman Publishing, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩