September 2, 2017


Shelley Berman, Stand-Up Comic Who Skewered Modern Life, Dies at 92 (PETER KEEPNEWS, SEPT. 1, 2017, NY Times)

Perched on a stool -- unlike most stand-up comedians, he did his entire act sitting down -- Mr. Berman focused on the little things. He talked about passionate kisses that miss the mark so that ''you wind up with the tip of her nose in the corner of your mouth." Or what to do when the person you are talking to accidentally spits in your face -- do you wipe the spit off or make believe it didn't happen?

Performing in upscale nightclubs and on concert stages, including Carnegie Hall at the height of his fame, he found humor in places where his borscht belt predecessors had never thought to look: ''If you've never met a student from the University of Chicago, I'll describe him to you. If you give him a glass of water, he says: 'This is a glass of water. But is it a glass of water? And if it is a glass of water, why is it a glass of water?' And eventually he dies of thirst."

"Sometimes," Mr. Berman told The New York Times in 1970, "I'm so oblique, even I don't know what I'm talking about."

Like his fellow Chicago comedian Bob Newhart, Mr. Berman specialized in telephone monologues, in which the humor came from his reactions to the unheard voice on the other end of the line. (Mr. Berman often claimed that Mr. Newhart stole that idea from him. Mr. Newhart maintained that the idea did not originate with either of them, noting that comedians had been doing telephone monologues since at least the 1920s.)

In one classic routine, Mr. Berman, nursing a brutal hangover, listened with increasing horror as the host of the party he had attended the night before reminded him of the damage he had done: "How did I break a window? ... Oh, I see. ... Were you very fond of that cat?"

In another, he called a department store to report that a woman was hanging from a 10th-floor window ledge: "And I was just sitting, I was looking out my window, and I, uh, uh, noticed there's a woman -- there's a woman hanging from a window ledge on your building about 10 flights up and she's. ... No, operator, you're missing the point. I don't wish to speak to the woman."

Posted by at September 2, 2017 8:42 AM