STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
For 50 years funny man Robert Klein has been active in show business.
March 1965 was when Klein and actor Fred Willard walked into an audition with the now-legendary Second City in Chicago and improv-ed their way into the cast.
“I always had success getting work because I developed a reputation and made sure I wasn’t forgotten about,” said Klein in a phone interview, keeping one eye on a picturesque view of New York’s Hudson River Valley, and the other on his iPhone.
He had no shortage of things to talk about heading into his Nov. 7 stand-up show at Sellersville Theater (and a meal at the neighboring Washington House restaurant, which Klein said he was looking forward to).
Depending on which ending was chosen by the SyFy viewer voters, Klein could reprise his role as the Mayor of New York City in the next installment of “Sharknado,” despite appearing to get killed at the beginning of this summer’s “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” (The laws of science never apply in “Sharknado”).
“I’m hoping I survive (for the next movie). In the attack (scene), I almost threw my back out reacting to nothing,” the 73-year-old Klein said of pretending during filming that the CGI sharks were there.
“I think versatility is important. Acting, stand-up … doing a lot of things helps,” said Klein of his 40+ movie roles (among them, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Two Weeks Notice,” “One Fine Day,” “Definitely, Maybe” and “The Back-Up Plan”), recurring TV guest star appearances (NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” and CBS’ “The Good Wife,” “The Stones” and “Madame Secretary”), and even six Broadway shows (including a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for the lead role in “They’re Playing Our Song,” alongside Lucie Arnaz).
However, Klein said that he finds stand-up ultimately the most satisfying because he can sense the energy and mood of the audience.
Although he had few details, Klein shared that there’s a new documentary about his career that appeared at Sundance Film Festival, and scheduled for release late next year — “Robert Klein: Still Can’t Stop His Leg,” a reference to one of his signature jokes, which he says happened spur-of-the-moment on stage doing an imitation of a blues singer.
Musical comedy has been a part of Klein’s act ever since the Second City days, he said. He enjoys performing humorous songs, which he co-writes with producer/music director Bob Stein, such as “Hymn for America” and “The Colonoscopy Song.”
One of the trailblazers of stand-up comedy as we know it, Klein was the subject of the first HBO comedy concert special in 1975. “I did the first, and I did the most, except for George Carlin. He did 13, I did nine. No one’s likely to pass either one of us,” Klein said, adding that he did the first “HBO on Location” show at Haverford College.
Although Klein believes that television led to the decline of nightclubs, he observed that HBO, A&E and other cable channels “created a whole new kind of nightclub called comedy clubs,” leading to stand-up comic becoming an actual occupation (something laughably unthinkable when Klein was starting out).
He shared a memory of Robin Williams, whom he called “brilliant.” Klein recalled bringing his then-9-year-old son to one of the Comic Relief homelessness awareness benefit shows of the early ‘90s. When Williams saw them approaching, he placed his hands together at the palms and greeted them with a reverent, deep bow. Later, during the show, Williams welcomed Klein to the stage, introducing him as “the sensei.”
Jay Leno, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher are among the celebrities that pursued a career in comedy because of Klein, whose hundreds of career TV appearances include “Saturday Night Live,” alongside Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Dan Akroyd.
Now 31, Klein’s son, Alex, recently decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and go into stand-up. Still puzzled by the career move, Klein thinks his son will be successful, despite not having much comedy training or experience, simply because of his tenacity.
“Once I got established, I didn’t like going on the road 30 weeks out of the year,” said Klein, who feels that his current stand-up act is better than it’s ever been because he’s not traveling as much.
The deaths of his heroes Jonathan Winters and Rodney Dangerfield, and being a regular on what he jokingly refers to as “the memorial circuit,” have made Klein conscious of his physical fitness. He’s a fan of the treadmill and weights.
Klein’s show is recommended for ages 18+ because of adult content. However, he’s old-school in that he disapproves of blue humor/frequent profanity — the kind, he said, that makes Lenny Bruce seem tame — for the sake of shock value.
“I pace the stage like a cat. I sing and I make noises. All this and more at Sellersville,” Klein promised.