Shelley Berman with Emerson College

Comedian


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his two-hour interview for the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College, Shelley Berman (1925-2017) talks about his early career, and recording his first comedy album, “Inside Shelley Berman.” He describes learning how to deal with an audience as a stand-up comedian, and the tools of their trade. He recalls several of his favorite comedians, including Jackie Gleason, Robin Williams, Jim MacGeorge, and Danny Kaye. He discusses the construction of comedy, what makes people laugh, and the evolution of comedy. Berman speaks of the lifting of limitations and censorship on comedians, and what he considers to be the lack of creativity that leads to vulgarity in modern comedy. He talks about the then-future of comedy, and how he feels it is embodied by his Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star Larry David. Jenni Matz and Bill Dana conducted the interview on March 8, 2005 in Los Angeles, 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."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Shelley Berman on careers other than comedy that might have interested him
Shelley Berman on improvising on Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing the role of "Larry's" father, "Nat David"
Shelley Berman on stand-up comedians using a stool, and various other props of the trade, and on the challenges faced by a stand-up comedian
Shelley Berman on the importance of comedy in his life, on the importance of comedy during World War II, and on Jewish humor
Shelley Berman on the then-future of comedy, and on his great admiration for Larry David, and David's work on Curb Your Enthusiasm
Shelley Berman on how he'd like to be remembered
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On improvising on Curb Your Enthusiasm and playing the role of "Larry's" father, "Nat David"; on the type of performer he is, and on developing his early nightclub act
On recording his first comedy album, "Inside Shelley Berman," at the suggestion of Mort Sahl, and on learning how to manipulate the audience; on stand-up comedians using a stool, and various other props of the trade, and on the challenges faced by a stand-up comedian
On the comedian Jim MacGeorge, and on his own poetry; on the actor-comedians he most admires including Jackie Gleason and Robin Williams; on the source of comedy in a script or situation, and on "teaching" comedy
On the construct of comedy, and the difficulty in pinpointing what is funny or why people laugh; on the importance in comedy of the audience relating to the comedian, and on the evolution of comedy in terms of explicit language; on creative ways comedians used to get around language or subject restrictions in the early days of television, and on Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "nipplegate"
On the language and content of Curb Your Enthusiasm; on the power of words, and on the counterculture free speech movement of the 1960s; on the then-future of comedy, and on his great admiration for Larry David, and David's work on Curb Your Enthusiasm
On the importance of comedy in his life; on the importance of comedy during World War II, and on Jewish humor; on careers other than comedy that might have interested him
On his reputation for being difficult, and on the ups and downs of his life and career, including the loss of his son; on how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Shelley Berman on improvising on Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing the role of "Larry's" father, "Nat David"
Shelley Berman on the language and content of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and on the power of words, and on the counterculture free speech movement of the 1960s
Shelley Berman on the then-future of comedy, and on his great admiration for Larry David, and David's work on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Super Bowl

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Shelley Berman on Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "nipplegate" incident
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Shelley Berman on creatives ways comedians used to get around language or subject restrictions in the early days of television, and on Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "nipplegate"
Shelley Berman on the importance in comedy of the audience relating to the comedian, and on the evolution of comedy in terms of explicit language

Historic Events and Social Change

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Shelley Berman on the importance of comedy in his life, and on the importance of comedy during World War II

Television Industry

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Shelley Berman on creatives ways comedians used to get around language or subject restrictions in the early days of television, and on Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "nipplegate"
Shelley Berman on the then-future of comedy, and on his great admiration for Larry David, and David's work on Curb Your Enthusiasm
Shelley Berman on the importance in comedy of the audience relating to the comedian, and on the evolution of comedy in terms of explicit language

War

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Shelley Berman on the importance of comedy in his life, and on the importance of comedy during World War II

World War II

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Shelley Berman on the importance of comedy in his life, on the importance of comedy during World War II, and on Jewish humor
Professions

Comedian

View Profession
Shelley Berman on the type of performer he is, and on developing his early nightclub act
Shelley Berman on stand-up comedians using a stool, and various other props of the trade, and on the challenges faced by a stand-up comedian
Shelley Berman on the comedian Jim MacGeorge, and on his own poetry
Shelley Berman on the source of comedy in a script or situation, and on "teaching" comedy
Shelley Berman on the construct of comedy, and the difficulty in pinpointing what is funny or why people laugh
Shelley Berman on the importance in comedy of the audience relating to the comedian, and on the evolution of comedy in terms of explicit language
Shelley Berman on the importance of comedy in his life, and American life in general
Shelley Berman on his reputation for being difficult, and on the ups and downs of his life and career, including the loss of his son

Performers

View Profession
Shelley Berman on the type of performer he is, and on developing his early nightclub act
Shelley Berman on stand-up comedians using a stool, and various other props of the trade, and on the challenges faced by a stand-up comedian
Shelley Berman on the comedian Jim MacGeorge, and on his own poetry
Shelley Berman on the source of comedy in a script or situation, and on "teaching" comedy
Shelley Berman on the construct of comedy, and the difficulty in pinpointing what is funny or why people laugh
Shelley Berman on the importance in comedy of the audience relating to the comedian, and on the evolution of comedy in terms of explicit language
Shelley Berman on the importance of comedy in his life, and American life in general
Shelley Berman on his reputation for being difficult, and on the ups and downs of his life and career, including the loss of his son
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
On improvising on Curb Your Enthusiasm and playing the role of "Larry's" father, "Nat David"
Shelley Berman on the language and content of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and on the power of words, and on the counterculture free speech movement of the 1960s
People

Larry David

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Shelley Berman on the then-future of comedy, and on his great admiration for Larry David, and David's work on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Jackie Gleason

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Shelley Berman on the actor-comedians he most admires including Jackie Gleason and Robin Williams

Janet Jackson

View Person Page
Shelley Berman on Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "nipplegate" incident

Mort Sahl

View Person Page
Shelley Berman on recording his first comedy album, "Inside Shelley Berman," at the suggestion of Mort Sahl, and on learning how to manipulate the audience

Robin Williams

View Person Page
Shelley Berman on the actor-comedians he most admires including Jackie Gleason and Robin Williams

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