I've wanted to pay tribute to the late Shelley Berman since he died at the beginning of September, but I waited until I could do it right. Doing it right in this case involved digging out the Funhouse episodes in which I presented my 2002 interview with Shelley, which took place at the Hollywood Collectors Show. (The theme for that particular show was “performers who starred on The Twilight Zone.”)
I had a great time interviewing Berman and consider our chat one of the best interviews that has appeared on the Funhouse. This was because the conversation grew organically – I was there to interview him, but it became apparent after a short while that Mr. Berman was going in and out of his onstage persona. I was privileged to serve as his straight man and was especially touched by the fact that, after the camera was turned off, he leaned over to me and said, “I was just kidding. You asked some good questions.”
In any case, I should not forget the first clip I put up from the interview, which can be found here. This was the first Funhouse clip I put up on YouTube eleven years ago, and I'm very happy to see it's been watched by so many people – I was delighted that Shelley moved effortlessly into a new routine (which I'm not certain he ever recorded in any medium) about his frustration with automated phone menus.
The new clips I've uploaded to YT are other great moments from our talk. The first one finds Mr. Berman talking about how much he dislikes other drivers, ribbing me for moving the microphone away from him, ribbing me a bit more (this time about public access – he is the only guest who has actually shown interest in and acknowledged where the chat in question was going to be seen), and then onto a serious question I had asked about his wonderful “father and son” routine, which can be heard here.
The third clip was a bit of a departure. At one point in the interview, after he had moved forward chronologically he moved back to his beginnings as a performer and paid homage to his wife Sarah, who was sitting right next to him. This is a sweet segment (and there's even a punchline!), mostly because Shelley and Sarah were together their whole adult lives – they got married in 1947 and remained with each other until his death in in September.
The saddest aspect of Mr. Berman's later years was that he fell victim to Alzheimer's disease. This is always a terrible, godawful way to live one's last years, but for a man who was so eloquent and verbally brilliant, it must've been a particularly awful and confusing situation to exist in.
I'm glad some of us were able to tell Mr. Berman how important (and really funny) his comedy was to us. As I said at the end of our interview, conjuring up a terrible metaphor but stating an undeniable truth, he was a very important link in the “chain” of modern comedy. All of the post-Fifties neurotic comedians, from Woody Allen to Larry David and onward to each new generation of onstage neurotics and kvetchers, owe a great debt to Shelley Berman.