Joe Penner, was an American 1930s-era vaudeville, radio and film comedian. He was an ethnic Hungarian born as József Pintér in Nagybecskerek, Hungary, now Zrenjanin, Serbia. He passed through Ellis Island as a child when his family emigrated to New York City.
He was launched on his successful radio career by Rudy Vallée, appearances which led to his own Sunday evening half-hour, The Baker’s Broadcast, which began on the Blue Network October 8, 1933. Penner was a zany comic, noted for his famed catchphrase, “Wanna buy a duck?”, and his low hyuck-hyuck laugh. Penner’s other memorable catchphrase, often triggered by someone else’s double entendre remark, was, “You naaaasss-ty man!” He was voted radio’s top comedian in 1934, but a 1935 dispute with the ad agency over the show’s format resulted in Penner quitting The Baker’s Broadcast on June 30, 1935. Vox Pop began as a summer replacement series for Penner in 1935. A year later, he returned with The Joe Penner Show which began airing October 4, 1936 on CBS, sponsored by Cocomalt.
His films include College Rhythm, New Faces of 1937, The Day the Bookies Wept and Millionaire Playboy. He was caricatured by Tex Avery and Friz Freleng in the musical cartoon, “My Green Fedora”, “Can You Take It?” a “Popeye the Sailor” cartoon, and several pictures starring the bumbling stooge Egghead. He also made a cameo in the Disney cartoon “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood” in which he says, “Wanna buy a duck?”, and then shows Donald Duck on a plate.
After covering the 1932-34 rise of Jack Pearl, Elizabeth McLeod summed up Penner’s popularity:The ultimate Depression-era zany was Joe Penner. A forgotten performer today to most, and little more than a footnote to the average OTR fan, Penner was a national craze in 1933-34. There is no deep social meaning in his comedy, no shades of subtlety ? just utter slapstick foolishness, delivered in an endearingly simpering style that’s the closest thing the 1930s had to Pee-wee Herman. An added attraction was Penner’s in-character singing each week of a whimsical novelty song, especially written to suit his style. Like Pearl, however, Penner was doomed to early decline by the sheer repetitiveness of his format, even though he remained very popular with children right up to the end of his radio career.