Shelley Berman, 92, comic
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2017-09-01 15:01:55 UTC
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Shelley Berman, Stand-Up Comic and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Actor, Dies at 92

By Maane Khatchatourian, Dave McNary

Famed stand-up comic Shelley Berman, who recently played Larry David’s father on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” has died. He was 92.

Berman died early Friday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease at his home in Bell Canyon, Calif., his publicist confirmed to Variety.

The Grammy winner and Emmy-nominated actor was one of the most successful stand-up comedians of the 1950s and ’60s. His 1959 live record “Inside Shelley Berman,” was the first comedy album be certified gold (with sales of more than 500,000) and was the first non-musical recording to win a Grammy Award. Two other albums, “Outside Shelley Berman” and “The Edge of Shelley Berman,” also went gold.

Berman was the first standup comedian to perform at Carnegie Hall. He appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” more than 20 times and was a guest on shows hosted by Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and Dean Martin.

The Chicago native trained as a serious actor before jumping into comedy as a nightclub performer. His signature bit was to sit cross-legged on a bar stool, act as if he were on the telephone and improvise long, complicated, one-sided conversations.

Berman appeared on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as Nat David between 2002 and 2009 received an Emmy nomination in 2008. He retired from performing in 2014.

Berman broke into show business in 1943 after his discharge from the U.S. Navy and enrolled at Chicago’s Goodman Theater acting school. One of his routines involved Berman portraying his own father when the 18-year-old Shelley calls home to ask for $100 for acting school.

While at Goodman, he met Sarah Herman and they were married in 1947. Berman worked a series of summer stock and odd jobs and eventually sold a sketch to Steve Allen for his “Tonight!” show. Through Martin Landau, Berman took a job at Chicago’s improvisational Compass Players group, working alongside Mike Nichols and Elaine May, where he began to develop his famous phone call routines.

In 1962, Berman participated in NBC’s documentary-style television show “Comedian Backstage,” where cameras followed him as he prepared for and performed his nightclub act. The cameras caught Berman becoming angry when a telephone backstage started ringing during his act, which dimmed his popularity for a time.

Berman appeared in the 1964 film, “The Best Man” with Henry Fonda and appeared on “Peter Gunn,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Rawhide,” “Bewitched,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Adam-12,” “MacGyver,” “L.A.Law,” “Friends,” ” The Bernie Mac Show,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Entourage” and “Hawaii Five-0” in 2012.

He made numerous recurring guest star appearances as the semi-senile Judge Robert Sanders on “Boston Legal” between 2004 and 2008.

Berman said in his introduction to his 2013 poetry book, “To Laughter With Questions,” “I have always written. As a kid growing up in Chicago, I wrote stories for my own amusement. Along the way, I read and appreciated poetry, but never really tried my hand at writing it until late in my ‘other’ career, teaching writing in USC’s Master of Professional Writing program.”

Berman taught at USC for more than 20 years. He also volunteered at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills, Calif., teaching a poetry class. His class was documented in the 2007 short film “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”

Berman is survived by his wife of 70 years, Sarah; his daughter Rachel Berman; and two grandsons.

Here’s the Facebook post announcing the news on Berman’s official Facebook fan group page:

Shelley passed away this morning at 1:24 a.m., at his home in Bell Canyon, CA, due to complications from Alzheimer’s. He was 92 years old. He slipped away peacefully, in his sleep, with no pain, as far as his hospice care workers could tell.

Right now, I’m a bit of a wreck, having spent much of the last couple of hours crying, pacing, being unable to concentrate, and, frankly, being conflicted as to how I should feel about all of this. I will have more to say in this group in the days ahead, but Sarah (who I just spoke to) wanted me to let all of Shelley’s Facebook fans know about Shelley’s passing. Sarah loves the fact that Shelley has so many devoted followers on social media.

There will be a private service for family and close friends, followed by a public memorial. I will provide details as they are finalized.

I’m going to leave it here for now, and I want all of you to please enjoy one of my favorite photos of Shelley, taken in Palm Beach, Florida, in the early ’60s — a star in his dressing room before showtime!

I love you, Shelley.


Shelley Berman, Famed 'Sit-Down' Comedian, Dies at 92

7:16 AM PDT 9/1/2017
by Mike Barnes

After an angry outburst caught on camera damaged his nightclub career, he worked as an actor, appearing in 'The Best Man' and as Larry David's dad on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.'

Shelley Berman, the wildly popular “sit-down” comic of the late 1950s and ’60s who, after his career came unhinged following an outburst caught on camera, concentrated on acting and played Larry David’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm, has died. He was 92.

A standout in a golden era of comedy that included other observational masters like Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Bob Newhart, Berman died early Friday morning at his home in Bell Canyon, Calf., according to a post on his official Facebook page. He had a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Inside Shelley Berman, his live record released in 1959, became the first comedy album to go gold (reaching sales of 500,000 units) and was the first non-musical recording to win a Grammy Award.

The Chicago native trained as a serious actor before jumping into comedy as a nightclub performer. His signature bit was to sit cross-legged on a bar stool, act as if he were on the telephone and improvise long, complicated, one-sided conversations.

Inside Shelley Berman featured a classic seven-minute riff on drunken regret, “The Morning After the Night Before” (“My tongue is asleep and my teeth itch. Where is my Alka-Seltzer?”), and another routine about people’s pornographic-level love of buttermilk.

He “typified the everyman who regularly cracked under social pressures and couldn’t quite stay ‘normal,’” Ethan Thompson wrote in the 2010 book, Parody and Taste in Postwar American Television Culture.

As an actor, Berman was memorable as a guy who has some dirt on presidential candidate Cliff Robertson in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (1964); as the misanthropic Archibald Beechcroft, who wills everyone in the world to be just like him (to his eventual dismay), in a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone; and as a hilariously senile judge on Boston Legal.

Berman received an Emmy Award nomination in 2008 for playing Nat David on Curb. He auditioned for the role minutes after Shecky Greene, another top-notch 1960s comic, tried out for the part. To get the job, Berman had to agree to be seen without his hairpiece.

Born in Chicago on Feb. 3, 1925, Berman trained with legendary acting teacher Uta Hagen in New York and then enrolled as a drama student at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

While appearing in a production of Winterset, he met Sarah Herman, a seamstress who was in charge of costumes and wardrobe. At the time, he wasn’t wearing pants (someone had mistakenly taken them away to be pressed). They were married in 1947, and she survives him.

He graduated from the Goodman Theatre, then joined the Woodstock (Ill.) Players theater company, where he performed with Geraldine Page, Betsy Palmer and Tom Bosley.

After working a series of jobs that included driving a cab and teaching at an Arthur Murray dance studio, Berman wrote sketches as a freelancer for Steve Allen’s Tonight Show in New York.

Chicago beckoned again, and he accepted a spot with the improvisational troupe the Compass Players, a forerunner of the fabled Second City. He collaborated with Mike Nichols, Elaine May and others, honing his improvisation skills and developing the routine that employed an imaginary telephone to take the place of an onstage partner.

He then auditioned for a gig at Mister Kelly’s, a Chicago nightclub on Rush Street.

“When developing my routines doing improvs with Compass,” he said in an interview in 2000, “I had always sat in a chair to talk on [his imaginary] phone. But when I went to audition at Mr. Kelly’s, I realized that on the very low stage I’d be invisible beyond the front tables. I requested a bar stool to sit on. I would become identified with that prop and the mimed phone. Needless to say, I won my first comedian job at this very club.” 

Sahl, who in 1955 had a live album of comedy recorded at the hungry i in San Francisco, convinced Berman to record what would become Inside Shelley Berman at that North Beach venue. It was the No. 2 album on the Billboard album chart for five weeks.

“I was nervous about that record, because I thought no one would want to see me anymore if they could just play it,” Berman told The New York Times in 2003. “Then, after it came out, I went to play a show on Sunset Boulevard, and there was a line around the block! I told my wife, ‘I can buy two suits now.’ ”

He would eventually record six albums for Verve Records, including Outside Shelley Berman and The Edge of Shelley Berman, both of which also went gold.

“I was a passionate fan of [Sahl]. I went to see him before even dreaming of being a comedian,” Berman told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010. “I thought, ‘Wow, we don’t have to stand there and do ‘set up, joke, set up, joke.’ I watched him, and there weren’t any jokes. It was just all things to laugh at.”

Berman became a national sensation, doing his act on The Ed Sullivan Show more than 20 times as well as performing on programs hosted by Allen, Jack Paar, Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Dean Martin and others.

In March 1963, NBC trailed him for a month for a documentary titled Comedian Backstage. When a ringing telephone backstage disrupted one of his phone routines — this one a tearjerker about his father — the camera was there to capture his outburst. “I’ll pull the damn phones out of the wall!” he said.

“I got a reputation for causing trouble, maybe because I am passionate about things,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. “But I did not deserve the things that were said about me. I was never just a troublemaker.”

In Gerald Nachman’s Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Berman said he was set up, that producers arranged for the phone to ring just to get him to react. “These people wanted an exciting program,” he said.

A review in the New York Herald Tribune said Comedian Backstage revealed Berman to be “a spoiled child with a nasty temper, a petty disposition, a taste for tyranny and a blind insensitivity to others.”

Berman had trouble finding work after the incident and eventually filed for bankruptcy. He turned to acting, though his career would never be the same.

In addition to The Best Man, Berman appeared in such films as Divorce American Style (1967) opposite Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds; Every Home Should Have One (1970) with Marty Feldman; Teen Witch (1989); The Last Producer (2000); Meet the Fockers (2004); The Aristocrats (2005); The Holiday (2006); and, as Adam Sandler’s father, in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (2008).

On television, Berman could be spotted on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (as a member of The Better Luck Next Time Club, an organization for divorced people); on L.A. Law as a Hollywood mogul who takes Arnie Becker (Corbin Bernsen) under his wing; and on Friends as Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) boss at Fortunata Fashions.

He also showed up on episodes of Peter Gunn, Bewitched, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Night Court, MacGyver, The King of Queens, The Bernie Mac Show, Grey’s Anatomy, Entourage and Hawaii Five-0.

Berman starred on Broadway in 1962 in the Chicago-set musical comedy A Family Affair, directed by Harold Prince, and in 1980 headlined a one-man show, Insideoutsideandallaround With Shelley Berman.

For more than 20 years, Berman taught humor writing at USC. In 2013, his collection of poetry, To Laughter With Questions, was published.

His son Joshua, months shy of his 13th birthday, died in the mid-1970s from brain cancer.


Comedian Shelley Berman, who got his start in Chicago, dies at 92


09/01/2017, 10:27am

Darel Jevens

Shelley Berman, who rose from Chicago’s Compass Players to become one of the most successful stand-up comedians of the 1950s and ’60s, died early Friday at age 92, his official web page reports.

A statement on Berman’s fan page on Facebook said he died in his sleep “at his home in Bell Canyon, CA, due to complications from Alzheimer’s.”

In addition to his stand-up work, Berman was an actor best known for playing Larry David’s crotchety father on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a role for which he was Emmy-nominated in 2008. He appeared often on stage, notably alongside Garrett Morris in a 1989 production of Herb Gardner’s “I’m Not Rappaport” at Chicago’s Briar Street Theatre.

A Chicago native who grew up on the West Side, Berman got his start as a student at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. There he met Sarah Herman, who would become his wife of 70 years. After graduating he joined the Woodstock Players in suburban Chicago, performing with future stars including Geraldine Page, Betsy Palmer, and Tom Bosley.

He had relocated to New York to write for Steve Allen when he received an invitation to return to Chicago to join the Compass Players, an improvisational troupe and precursor to Second City. His castmates there included Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Though the Compass encouraged ensemble work, Berman shone brightest in solo scenes, often performing one side of a phone conversation with an unheard partner. In one bit, first improvised during a New Year’s Eve show, he played a hungover man learning of his misdeeds the night before. In the first tellings, he learned he’d thrown a lamp out of the window, but at the suggestion of castmate Severn Darden, he changed that to a cat.

“It became one of the most requested routines that I have in my act today,” Berman told author Jeffrey Sweet for his Compass history “Something Wonderful Right Away.” “People are still requesting ‘the morning after the night before,’ or they say, ‘Do the hangover,’ or sometimes, ‘Do the one with the cat.’ How casually it was said: ‘Not a lamp, Shelley, a cat.’ Just whispered in darkness.”

Phone routines would become a trademark of his stand-up act, first unveiled at Chicago’s famed Mister Kelly’s nightclub in 1957. Over the years, he would maintain that Bob Newhart ripped off his one-sided conversational technique, an idea he advanced in a 2012 interview on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast.

Newhart, for his part, acknowledged the phone gimmick had been done earlier by Berman but also by Lily Tomlin, Georgie Jessel and Nichols and May.

Other nightclubs around the country put Berman to work, and he became a contemporary of fellow stand-up pioneers Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. Verve Records signed Berman to record his act. His debut album, “Inside Shelley Berman” (1959), went gold and won a Grammy for best comedy album.

He became a television fixture in the 1960s, appearing on variety shows and specials, and continued his acting work on stage and the big and small screens. His film credits included “The Best Man” (1964), “Divorce American Style” (1967), “Meet the Fockers” (2004) and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” (2008), in which he played Adam Sandler’s father.

On TV, he also appeared on “The Twilight Zone,” “Friends” and “Boston Legal,” among many other shows.

He retired from performing in 2014, after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
RH Draney
2017-09-02 01:11:00 UTC
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Post by That Derek
Shelley Berman, Stand-Up Comic and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Actor, Dies at 92
On TV, he also appeared on “The Twilight Zone,” “Friends” and “Boston Legal,” among many other shows.
He did a great guest spot on "Dead Like Me" (appropriate for this ng) in
which unlike all the other guests who wander the earth for a bit before
going on to their reward, he decided to experience the afterlife in the
nude (his character had died that way, in a steamroom if memory serves)....r