“Are You With the Show?” “Well, Let’s Just Say I’m Not Against It”

George S. Kaufman? Dick Cavett? Howard Dietz? Leonard Lyons? Howard Teichmann? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: A prominent theater producer was unhappy with the tryout performance of a show that he was funding. A stagehand did not recognize the producer which led to the following dialog:

“Are you with the show?”
“No, I’m against it!”

A variant joke employed similar wordplay. A well-regarded writer was called upon to improve a script. He attempted to enter the theater to see a rehearsal, but the doorman did not recognize him:

“Excuse me, sir; are you with the show?”
“Well, let’s just say I’m not against it.”

Would you please explore the provenance of this word play?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a short item published in the “The Kansas City Star” newspaper of Missouri in 1906. The dialog participants were both anonymous. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1906 May 13, The Kansas City Star, Some People of the Stage, Quote Page 9, Column 1, Kansas City, Missouri. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

It was at the stage door at Wallack’s, New York, one night recently during the brief “run” of the since defunct “District Leader.” Among those awaiting the exit of members of the company were several theatrical friends. Two of them met for the first time in months. Said one:
“Are you with the show?”
Growled the other, who doubtless had sat it out on a pass:
“No; I’m against it!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1937 the popular columnist Leonard Lyons attributed the riposte to Broadway lyricist Howard Dietz:[ref] 1937 October 28, Daily Times, Broadway Medley by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 47, Column 2, Chicago, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) [/ref]

“Howard Dietz, author of ‘Between the Devil,’ didn’t like the tryout performance in New Haven,” a producer relates at the Marguery.
“He stood in the back of the theater, and a stagehand asked him, ‘Are you with the show?’ Dietz answered: ‘No, I’m against it.’”

In 1972 Howard Teichmann published a biography titled “George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait”. Kaufman was a prominent playwright, director, and producer who died in 1961. Teichmann presented the following anecdote:[ref] 1972, George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait by Howard Teichmann, Chapter 6: The Director, Quote Page 137, New York, Atheneum. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

A stage doorman, evidently new to the legitimate theatre, failed to recognize Kaufman as he walked into the semidarkness of a rehearsal theatre.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he asked, “are you with the show?”
“Let’s put it this way,” Kaufman said, “I’m not against it.”

In 1974 Scott Meredith published “George S. Kaufman and His Friends” which included the following excerpt:[ref] 1974, George S. Kaufman and His Friends by Scott Meredith, Chapter 27: The Genius, Quote Page 588, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

Kaufman’s strongest sense of loyalty was not to himself as a writer, director, or producer, but to the play, its performances, and the enjoyment of those who saw it. He expressed this in his funny, modest way one afternoon when a doorman failed to recognize him as he was entering a theatre where one of his shows was in rehearsal. The doorman asked, “Excuse me, sir, are you with the show?”
“Well,” Kaufman replied, “let’s just say I’m not against it.”

In 1979 television personality Dick Cavett wrote the preface to the book “By George: A Kaufman Collection”, and Cavett retold the anecdote:[ref] 1979, By George: A Kaufman Collection by George S. Kaufman, Compiled and edited by Donald Oliver, Section: Foreword be Dick Cavett, Quote Page x, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) [/ref]

I resumed walking up Broadway, rolling my favorite sayings of his over and over in my mind. Like the one prompted by a stage doorman who failed to recognize the famous forlorn countenance when Kaufman arrived for a rehearsal. “Are you with the show?” the doorman asked. My hero replied, “Let’s just say I’m not against it.”

In conclusion, this family of jokes began to circulate by 1906. The creator was anonymous. By 1937 the zinger was assigned to Howard Dietz, and by 1972 a variant was assigned to George S. Kaufman.

Image Notes: Picture of a theater stage from MustangJoe at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

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