‘The Honeymooners’: Jackie Gleason’s Disdain for Rehearsals Led To One of Ralph Kramden’s Most Noteworthy Quirks

Jackie Gleason was known for his physical comedy and relatable but hilarious storylines on both The Jackie Gleason Show and The Honeymooners. One thing the star wasn’t known for was his love of rehearsing. In fact, Gleason absolutely refused to rehearse, which meant the recitation of his lines was not always perfect. His lack of preparation led to the creation of one of Ralph Kramden’s most notable quirks. 

Jackie Gleason portrayed Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners

By the time The Honeymooners began airing as a standalone sitcom, Gleason was well-known in Hollywood. He showed up in several movies and shows after, too. In the 1970s, for example, he appeared in Smokey and the Bandit as Buford T. Justice. His most recognizable role was as Ralph Kramden, though. 

Jackie Gleason appears in promotional photos for 'The Honeymooners'
Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden | Carsten/Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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Gleason portrayed the bus driver from Brooklyn for the show’s original 39-episode run. The series focused on Ralph and his wife, Alice Kramden. His wild schemes with his best friend and neighbor, Ed Norton, often led to hijinx, much to the disdain of his and Norton’s wives. 

Gleason was known for rubbing his stomach to buy himself time to remember his lines

Gleason may have been considered an amazing entertainer, but his work ethic was reportedly lacking. According to The Baltimore Sun, a 1992 biography painted Gleason as a comedic genius who was also insecure and struggled with his relationship with alcohol. According to the publication, Gleason was known for showing up to performances with just minutes to spare after having several drinks and only glancing at a script the day of a performance.

Audrey Meadows and Jackie Gleason appear on stage together
Audrey Meadows and Jackie Gleason | Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

One of the ways he hid his lack of preparation was ad-libbing. According to several sources, Ralph’s signature stomach pat on The Honeymooners was Gleason’s way of distracting the audience. It gave him enough time to compose himself and signaled to his co-stars that he needed coverage.

His co-stars often helped him along, too 

Gleason’s co-stars were also known for helping him along when he clearly forgot lines. Audrey Meadows was particularly helpful to Gleason during scenes. The publication claims Meadows would often guide Gleason to his mark with body language. According to Mental Floss, Alice’s harsh glances and hand on her hip were not just ways to let the audience know she disapproved of her husband; They were employed to help Gleason get to his mark. 

Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph, Art Carney and Jackie Gleason on the set of 'The Honeymooners'
The cast of ‘The Honeymooners’ | Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Art Carney, who portrayed Ed Norton, was also familiar with Gleason’s fail-safe signals. If you watch each episode, you may notice Norton talking furiously while Gleason pats his stomach. Carney often took the stomach pat as a signal that he needed to start coming up with dialogue while Gleason remembered his lines.