So That’s What “Schlemiel!” “Schlimazel!” and “Hasenpfeffer” Actually Mean!

LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, 1976-1983.
© ABC /Courtesy Everett Collection

We all know that famed TV theme song and opening from Garry Marshall’s Laverne & Shirley, where brassy Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) and fiercely sweet Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) lock arms and skip their way down a city sidewalk singing …

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated
We’re gonna do it
Give us any chance, we’ll take it
Read us any rule, we’ll break it
We’re gonna make our dreams come true
Doin’ it our way”

But what does schlemiel even mean? And what is Hasenpfeffer Incorporated?

Could it be some apparatus the two maneuvered on the job as bottle cappers for Shotz Brewery? For eight seasons (1976-83), this Happy Days spinoff had us all singing to their opening theme song, but few of us ever knew what we were singing about.

According to the Etymology Dictionary (that’s an explanation dictionary versus a meaning dictionary) , schlemiel is a Yiddish term that means an awkward or clumsy person.

The word schlimazel (also spelled schlemazel) also comes from a Yiddish phrase “shlim mazel,” which means a consistently unlucky person, someone who just has rotten luck.

Here’s a way to remember it:

“A shlemiel is the fellow who climbs to the top of a ladder with a bucket of paint and then drops it. A schlimazl is the fellow on whose head the bucket falls,” cited New York Rep. Stephen J. Solarz in 1986, according to Etymology Dictionary.

Or as NJBIZ’ Andrew Sheldon once compared:

“That time I drove to the grocery store without my debit card in my wallet? Schlemiel.
Not realizing it until I got to the register and all my goods were completely rung up? Shlimazl.”

As for Hasenpfeffer, it’s not a place, and hardly incorporated. The word is actually German/Dutch and in the culinary world is a seasoned stew made from marinated rabbit (something Bugs Bunny tried to avoid).

Well, according to Cindy Williams, who told MLive/The Ann Arbor News in 2015, “That came about when Garry Marshall directed all the setups for the show’s opening credits. We did something like 120 of them in one day – little things inside the brewery and things like that. He took the crew all over L.A. for that montage, and we didn’t quite know what we were doing yet. But we ended up on New York St. on the Paramount lot – this is suddenly giving me a flashback of doing that that day – and we were in front of our apartment facade on the backlot of Paramount. And Garry said, ‘Penny, teach Cindy what you used to sing on the way to school,’ so she did. … She’d lock arms with her girlfriends, and they’d sing and count their steps on the way to school. She was trying to teach it to me really fast, saying, “You go up on ‘Hassenpfeffer,’ and I’ll go down, and you go down on ‘Incorporated,’ and I’ll go up,” and I just thought, “I don’t get it.” But Garry said, ‘We’ve got to go. We’re losing light,’ so we shot it once or twice and we left. And we never thought about it again until it showed up in the opening credits.”

There you have it, we can credit Penny and Garry Marshall!

Classic Comedy Duos
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Classic Comedy Duos

March 2021

Chuckle at television & films funniest comic duos.

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