Shelley Berman

Comedian


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his nearly three-hour Archive interview, Shelley Berman (1935-2017) discusses his long career as a comedian and actor. He speaks of growing up in Chicago and studying acting at the Goodman Theater. He talks about the first routine he performed on The Steve Allen Show and explains how his "phone call" routines originated. He recalls joining the improv group The Compass Players (which later became Second City), and details writing and performing the routine "The Morning After the Night Before." He then describes his 22 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and comments on specific routines. He talks about his method for coming up with material and demonstrates some early telephone comedy routines. Berman recounts his appearances on The Dinah Shore Show, and an infamous appearance on The Jack Paar Show when the host walked off the stage. He recalls appearing in a Twilight Zone episode, where everyone's faces looked like his own, and appearing in Rawhide with Clint Eastwood. He discusses a difficult period in his life when his young son passed away, and how it impacted him and his career. Berman talks about how he came to guest-star as "Nat David" on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and talks of being nominated for an Emmy for the role. He outlines his tenure on Boston Legal and reminisces about meeting/working with Judy Garland, Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, George Gobel, Larry David, William Shatner, and many more. Stephen J. Abramson conducted the interview on December 19, 2012 in Bell Canyon, CA.

"I wanted all the time onstage that I could get, all the laughs that I could get. [I was] especially good when the audience was encouraged to shout out a suggestion. And one night they said, 'the morning after the night before.' So I invented all the characters. It was a party and there was the guy who ran the party and then the other characters, and I found that I had the worst hangover ever in anybody's life. Everything that happened on that stage that night was not written, not prepared. It was created as the audience saw it. And I began to feel okay. I began to feel that maybe that's what I want to do."  

Highlights
Shelley Berman demonstrates how an early phone call routine he did on The Dinah Shore Show  got notes from the censors
02:14
Shelley Berman on appearing as ALL parts in a Twilight Zone  episode "The Mind and the Matter" and his reaction getting a call from series creator Rod Serling
06:00
Shelley Berman on the origin of the routine "The Morning After the Night Before"
02:35
Shelley Berman on his emotional routine "The Father and Son" which he did on The Ed Sullivan Show, which went over seven minutes
06:52
Shelley Berman on finding out he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm; on Larry David's reaction to the news
02:42
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and growing up in Chicago; on his parents, Nathan and Irene; on the early radio and comedy programs that influenced him
On the first time he realized he was funny; on realizing he could not rely on routines other than his own for comedy; on enlisting in the Navy during World War II
On studying drama at The Goodman Theater in Chicago and meeting his future wife, Sara; on joining the Woodstock Players, a stock theater company along with Geraldine Page and Tom Bosley; on wanting to be an actor, not a comedian
On first learning about television; on Tonight with Steve Allen and how he got on screen; on realizing he had become a comedian
On moving to Chicago to become part of the improv group The Compass Players; on meeting Mike Nichols and Elaine May; on the genesis of his routine "The Morning After the Night Before"
On working again with Steve Allen; on becoming a better-known comedian; on his phone-call routines

Chapter 2

On his 22 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show; on the impact of his long routine "Father and Son" and the reaction to it
On Ed Sullivan; on coming up with new material; on censors
On his comedy albums; on having the first comedy LP to go gold
On his early television appearances (he demonstrates a version of an early phone call routine he did on The Dinah Shore Show  that got notes from the censors)
On the term "sick comedian"; on The Jack Paar Show; on Paar walking off the show one night
On appearing as ALL parts in a Twilight Zone  episode "The Mind and the Matter"
On shooting Rawhide  with Clint Eastwood; on playing both comedic and dramatic characters
On witnessing Judy Garland singing an emotional rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
On the documentary "Comedian Backstage"

Chapter 3

On appearances on Forever Fernwood during a difficult time in his personal life when his son Joshua passed away
On returning to work with many acting roles on television; on enjoying acting; on his appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David; on being nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on that show
On working on Boston Legal with William Shatner, James Spader, and Candice Bergen
On his love for teaching students of writing, and writing humor at USC
On the longevity of his career; on his successful marriage; on regrets; on how he would like to be remembered; on advice to aspiring performers
Shows

Boston Legal

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Shelley Berman on how he came to work on Boston Legal as a judge; on the cast of the show
02:42
Shelley Berman on his Boston Legal character and his line "no more jibber jabber"
00:55

Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Shelley Berman on how he came to appear as "Nat David", Larry David's father, on Curb Your Enthusiasm; on working with Larry David
02:32
Shelley Berman on a memorable episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, "The Hooker"
01:13
Shelley Berman on working with other actors on the show: Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman
01:34
Shelley Berman on how Curb Your Enthusiasm was shot; on the production schedule
03:04
Shelley Berman on finding out he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm;  on Larry David's reaction to the news
02:36

Dinah Shore Show, The

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Shelley Berman on a routine he did on The Dinah Shore Show and how it got changed by the censors

Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town

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Shelley Berman on his 22 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show; on his routine "The Father and Son" which ran well over the stipulated seven minutes on the live show
06:52
Shelley Berman on coming up with new material for his 22 Ed Sullivan Show  performances; on dealing with censors on live television
06:22
Shelley Berman on why The Ed Sullivan Show was so successful
02:51

Jack Paar Program, The (1962-65)

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Shelley Berman on his appearances on The Jack Paar Show; on Jack Paar walking off the show
Shelley Berman on the night Jack Paar walked off The Jack Paar Show; on the aftermath and how the press handled it
03:40

Judy Garland Show, The

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Shelley Berman on working on The Judy Garland Show; on her singing en emotional rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" on the show
06:37

Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse

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Shelley Berman on the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and working in live television

Rawhide

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Shelley Berman on shooting Rawhide  with Clint Eastwood
05:17

Steve Allen Show, The (1956-61)

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Shelley Berman on working with Steve Allen on The Steve Allen (Plymouth) Show
03:28
Shelley Berman on appearances on The Steve Allen  (Plymouth) Show; on his phone call routines

Tonight

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Shelley Berman on how he got on Tonight with Steve Allen

Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The

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Shelley Berman on his appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as an established comedian
01:42

Twilight Zone, The

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Shelley Berman on appearing as ALL parts in a Twilight Zone episode "The Mind and the Matter"
Topics

Advice

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Shelley Berman on his advice to an aspiring performer
00:47

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Shelley Berman on coming up with new material for his 22 Ed Sullivan Show performances and on dealing with censors on live television
06:22

Emmy Awards

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Shelley Berman on finding out he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm; on Larry David's reaction to the news
02:42

Hollywood Blacklist

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Shelley Berman on working during the Hollywood Blacklist
00:54

Industry Crossroads

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Shelley Berman on working during the Hollywood Blacklist
00:54

Memorable Moments on Television

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Shelley Berman on the night Jack Paar walked off The Jack Paar Show
03:45

Television Industry

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Shelley Berman on working during the Hollywood Blacklist
00:54
Shelley Berman on coming up with new material for his 22 Ed Sullivan Show performances and on dealing with censors on live television
06:22
Shelley Berman on his advice to an aspiring performer
00:47

We Considered

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Shelley Berman on the night Jack Paar walked off The Jack Paar Show
03:45
Professions

Comedian

View Profession
Shelley Berman on writing for Steve Allen's Tonight show; on his first appearance on the show and realizing he was a comedian
Shelley Berman on when he realized he had become a comedian through his work at the Compass Players (which later became Second City) 
Shelley Berman on becoming a recognized performer and how it affected his performance as a comedian
01:29
Shelley Berman on doing stand-up comedy at the various clubs in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago in the 1950s
Shelley Berman on coming up with new material for his 22 Ed Sullivan performances; on not worrying about censors
06:21
Shelley Berman on playing both comedic and dramatic characters on TV
01:10
Shelley Berman on his advice to an aspiring performer
00:47

Performers

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Shelley Berman on his advice to an aspiring performer
00:47
Genres

Comedy Series

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Shelley Berman on playing Larry David's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm
03:42

Late Night

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Shelley Berman on how he got on Tonight with Steve Allen

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

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Shelley Berman on coming up with new material for his 22 Ed Sullivan Show performances; on dealing with censors on live television
06:21
People

Steve Allen

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Shelley Berman on writing for Steve Allen's Tonight show; on his first appearance on the show and realizing he was a comedian

Candice Bergen

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Shelley Berman on working on Boston Legal  with Candice Bergen; on memories of her father Edgar
01:10

Tom Bosley

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Shelley Berman on working with The Woodstock Players theater group in Chicago, with Geraldine Page, Tom Bosley, and others
01:23

Johnny Carson

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Shelley Berman on his appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as an established comedian
01:41

Bill Dana

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Shelley Berman on coming up with a comedy routine after riffing with Bill Dana backstage at the Hungry i in San Francisco, which became "The Traveling Man's Nightmare"
02:03

Larry David

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Shelley Berman on playing Larry David's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm
00:31

Clint Eastwood

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Shelley Berman on appearing on Rawhide with Clint Eastwood
05:17

Judy Garland

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Shelley Berman on working with Judy Garland, on her singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" despite being told not to
04:49

George Gobel

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Shelley Berman on George Gobel
00:39

Martin Landau

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Shelley Berman on Martin Landau convincing him to join the Compass Players in Chicago

Bob Newhart

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Shelley Berman on his thoughts about Bob Newhart's telephone routines in his comedy act
01:39

Jack Paar

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Shelley Berman on how his relationship with Jack Paar changed after Paar walked off his own show and Berman remained

Mort Sahl

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Shelley Berman on Mort Sahl talking him into making a comedy album

Rod Serling

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Shelley Berman on appearing as ALL parts in a Twilight Zone  episode "The Mind and the Matter" and his reaction getting a call from series creator Rod Serling
06:00

William Shatner

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Shelley Berman on working on Boston Legal with William Shatner
00:27

James Spader

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Shelley Berman on working on Boston Legal  with James Spader
00:19

Ed Sullivan

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Shelley Berman on his relationship with Ed Sullivan and the encouragement he gave
00:42
Shelley Berman on Ed Sullivan off-stage and his style
05:25
Shelley Berman on why The Ed Sullivan Show  was so successful
02:52

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