Comedian Shelley Berman

Published on Saturday, 2 September 2017 21:23


NEW YORK (AP) - Comedian Shelley Berman, who won gold records and appeared on top television shows in the 1950s and 1960s delivering wry monologues about the annoyances of everyday life, has died. He was 92.

Berman died Friday at his home in Bell Canyon, California, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to spokesman Glenn Schwartz.

Berman was a pioneer of a new brand of comedy that could evoke laughter from such matters as air travel discomforts and small children who answer the telephone. He helped pave the way for Bob Newhart, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and other stand-up comedians who fashioned their routines around the follies and frustrations of modern living.

Tributes came in Friday from Steve Martin, who tweeted that Berman “changed modern stand-up,” and Richard Lewis, who said there was “no better wordsmith.”

Late in his career, he played Nat David, father of Larry David, on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” With dialogue improvised by its cast, the comedy series gave Berman the opportunity to return to his improv roots and introduced him to a new generation of TV viewers.

“I’m not a stand-up comedian,” Berman often insisted. “I work on a stool.”

Comedy was not a childhood ambition for him. He trained as an actor, with the Goodman School of Drama in his native Chicago and with the prestigious actress-teacher Uta Hagen in New York.

“I had dreams of being an actor,” he said in a 1960 interview. “For 10 years I tried, picking up small jobs in summer stock and TV. I had a hard time of it.”

As a last resort, he put together a 20-minute routine and auditioned at the Chicago nightclub Mister Kelly’s. He was given a job, and then he had to scramble to write more material for a half-hour show.

“I was always one of those life-of-the-party boys,” he admitted, “though I never stooped to wearing women’s hats or lampshades. I was always making people laugh, in school and later in life.”

Berman made the first of many appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1959. That year he issued his first album, “Inside Shelley Berman.” It won a gold record and received the first-ever Grammy Award for the spoken word. Two more albums achieved gold status.

Berman retired from performing in 2014 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Posted in New Britain Herald, on Saturday, 2 September 2017 21:23. Updated: Saturday, 2 September 2017 21:25.