‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Shelley Berman dies at 92

He died at his home in California

NEW YORK (AP) — Comedian Shelley Berman, who won gold records and appeared on top television shows in the 1950s and 1960s delivering wry monologues about the annoyances of everyday life, has died. He was 92.

Berman died Friday at his home in Bell Canyon, California, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to spokesman Glenn Schwartz.

Berman was a pioneer of a new brand of comedy that could evoke laughter from such matters as air travel discomforts and small children who answer the telephone. He helped pave the way for Bob Newhart, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and other standup comedians who fashioned their routines around the follies and frustrations of modern living.

Late in his career, he played Nat David, father of Larry David, on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” With dialogue improvised by its cast, the comedy series gave Berman the opportunity to return to his improv roots and introduced him to a new generation of TV viewers.

“I’m not a standup comedian,” Berman often insisted. “I work on a stool.”

Comedy was not a childhood ambition for him. He trained as an actor, with the Goodman School of Drama in his native Chicago and with the prestigious actress-teacher Uta Hagen in New York.

“I had dreams of being an actor,” he said in a 1960 interview. “For 10 years I tried, picking up small jobs in summer stock and TV. I had a hard time of it.”

As a last resort, he put together a 20-minute routine and auditioned at the Chicago nightclub Mister Kelly’s. He was given a job, and then he had to scramble to write more material for a half-hour show.

“I was always one of those life-of-the-party boys,” he admitted, “though I never stooped to wearing women’s hats or lampshades. I was always making people laugh, in school and later in life.”

Berman’s success in Chicago led to a booking in Las Vegas. He bombed. The gamblers didn’t laugh nor did they talk. Accustomed to slam-bang comics out of vaudeville and burlesque, they listened in amazement to the guy sitting on a stool and using big words with a routine that often consisted of one side of a make-believe phone call.

Shown is photo is Comedian Shelley Berman on August 6, 1962 in New York City. (AP Photo/Kradin)

He continued on the saloon circuit, honing his craft and deciding on which direction to go. He didn’t fit any category. He wasn’t a joke teller nor a “sick” comedian. He figured he was a “humanist humorist.”

Late in his career, he played Nat David, father of Larry David, on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” With dialogue improvised by its cast, the comedy series gave Berman the opportunity to return to his improv roots and introduced him to a new generation of TV viewers.

“I’m not a standup comedian,” Berman often insisted. “I work on a stool.”

Comedy was not a childhood ambition for him. He trained as an actor, with the Goodman School of Drama in his native Chicago and with the prestigious actress-teacher Uta Hagen in New York.

“I had dreams of being an actor,” he said in a 1960 interview. “For 10 years I tried, picking up small jobs in summer stock and TV. I had a hard time of it.”

As a last resort, he put together a 20-minute routine and auditioned at the Chicago nightclub Mister Kelly’s. He was given a job, and then he had to scramble to write more material for a half-hour show.

“I was always one of those life-of-the-party boys,” he admitted, “though I never stooped to wearing women’s hats or lampshades. I was always making people laugh, in school and later in life.”

Berman’s success in Chicago led to a booking in Las Vegas. He bombed. The gamblers didn’t laugh nor did they talk. Accustomed to slam-bang comics out of vaudeville and burlesque, they listened in amazement to the guy sitting on a stool and using big words with a routine that often consisted of one side of a make-believe phone call.

He continued on the saloon circuit, honing his craft and deciding on which direction to go. He didn’t fit any category. He wasn’t a joke teller nor a “sick” comedian. He figured he was a “humanist humorist.”