Tag Archives: Comedians

Jew of the Week: Shelley Berman

Sheldon Leonard Berman (1925-2017) was born in Chicago. After serving in the navy during the Second World War, he went to study drama and theatre. Berman soon moved to New York in search of his big break, and in the mean time made a living as a taxi driver, dance instructor, speech therapist, and drug store worker. Failing to find success, Berman returned to Chicago and joined the Compass Players actors group. This group would transform into The Second City, an improv troupe that became one of the most influential in the world, eventually spawning Saturday Night Live, and many other hit shows and comedy clubs. In 1957, Berman started doing stand-up comedy and was soon signed to a record deal. His first three albums all went gold, and Berman won the first-ever Grammy for a comedy recording. With this, Berman launched an industry, making comedy albums popular and paving the way for countless future comedians. Berman starred on Broadway, and appeared on multiple TV shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Twilight Zone, and MacGyver; as well as Friends, The King of Queens, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Grey’s Anatomy later in his career. Berman also appeared in 11 films, wrote three books, two plays, and numerous poems and TV scripts. For twenty years, he taught humour writing at the University of Southern California. Berman was famous for his clean, innocent jokes; for making the annoyances of everyday life hilarious. Great comedians like Steve Martin, Woody Allen, and Jerry Seinfeld followed in his footsteps, and credited him with both being an inspiration, and “changing modern stand-up”. Sadly, Berman passed away last month from complications related to Alzheimer’s. Berman left behind a daughter, and a wife to whom he was happily married for an incredible seventy years. This was the achievement he was most proud of, and said: “The love we have and the way it has grown, that’s what I’d like to be remembered for.”

Words of the Week

Humour uplifts the mind from a state of constricted consciousness to a state of expanded consciousness.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

Jew of the Week: Garry Shandling

Shandling at the Emmy's (Credit: Alan Light)

Shandling at the Emmy’s (Credit: Alan Light)

Garry Shandling (1949-2016) was born in Chicago and grew up in Tucson. He studied electrical engineering, marketing, and creative writing at the University of Arizona. While working for an ad agency in Los Angeles, Shandling wrote a script for the TV show Sanford and Son, and sold it to NBC. This started a long and prosperous script-writing career. Several years later, Shandling got into a tragic car accident that almost killed him, yet ended up inspiring him to become a comedian. He performed his first stand-up act at LA’s famous comedy club, The Comedy Store. Soon, Shandling would make a guest appearance on The Tonight Show, and become its guest host, filling in when host Johnny Carson was away. In 1985, Shandling created a revolutionary sitcom, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, where the characters on screen are aware that they are actors in a TV show, and even interact with the audience. The show won multiple awards, including a ‘Funniest Male Performance’ for Shandling. In 1992, Shandling created an even more popular program, a mock talk show called The Larry Sanders Show. This show earned 56 Emmy nominations, revived HBO, and is often credited with inspiring Entourage, 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Many comedians and writers (including Judd Apatow) started out working on this program, which has been ranked among the greatest shows of all time by the likes of TV Guide and TIME Magazine. Shandling helped countless younger comedians refine their art, Sacha Baron Cohen among them. Aside from television, Shandling appeared in 17 films, including voicing a character in the upcoming The Jungle Book. Sadly, Shandling passed away last week after suffering a heart attack. Fellow comedian Jeffrey Tambor said of him: “He redesigned the wheel of comedy and was the kindest and funniest of geniuses.”

Words of the Week

“I sold my house this week. I got a pretty good price for it, but it made my landlord mad as hell.”

“I remember learning to drive on my dad’s lap. Did you guys ever do that? He’d work the brakes. I’d work the wheel. Then I went to take the driver’s test and sat on the examiner’s lap. I failed the exam. But he still writes to me. That’s the really nice part.”

– Garry Shandling

Jew of the Week: Sid Caesar

Greatest Comedian of All Time

Sid Caesar

Sid Caesar

Isaac Sidney Caesar (1922-2014) was born in New York, the third and youngest son of a mother from Russia and a father from Poland (given the name ‘Caesar’ by an immigration official). His parents ran a 24-hour eatery where, as a child, he would mimic and entertain the restaurant patrons. After high school, he intended to pursue a career in music as a saxophone player. From a small sax gig, he moved onto a dance band, then a comedy show when his jokes got more applause then his music. At the end of World War II (when he played for a military band), Caesar made his way to Hollywood and began starring in film. He also performed stand-up at comedy clubs, and had a stint on Broadway before focusing on television. Perhaps his most famous skit was double-talk, where he mimicked virtually any language perfectly, without actually saying anything intelligible (he only spoke English and Yiddish fluently). In the 1950s, Caesar was behind the greatest show on television, ‘Your Show of Shows’, watched by over 60 million people weekly. For this, he won his first Emmy, and was voted America’s Best Comedian. He would go on to make several other successful TV programs, and is even credited with helping make TV the dominant medium at a time when radio was still king. Caesar’s comedy is said to have revolutionized the entire genre, and inspired the next generation of comedians, many of which consider him the greatest funnyman of all time.  Meanwhile, he did a great deal of charity work (click here to see Caesar’s double-talk at Chabad fundraisers) and was happily married for 67 years. Sadly, Caesar passed away last week.

Words of the Week

When God created the first man, He showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: ‘See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world—for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.’
– Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13