Robert Klein describes himself as an “uncomedian comedian, talking reality.” Uncomedy and reality must be pretty funny, because Klein, who attended the Yale University Drama School and was a member of The Second City comedy troupe, has been nominated for two Emmys, two Grammys and a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, They’re Playing Our Song.
Klein grew up in the Bronx and attended Alfred University in upstate New York. He planned to be a pre-med major, but his theater teacher convinced Klein’s father to send him to Yale. Klein stayed at Yale for one year and learned of an opportunity to apply to Second City. At 23, he was hired by the famed improv troupe and stayed for a year. When he returned to New York, Mike Nichols cast him in the Broadway musical, The Apple Tree. He starred in HBO’s first stand-up comedy special and has starred in nine one-man shows on the network. They usually conclude with his “I Can’t Stop My Leg,” routine, which provided the title for a recent documentary about him, Robert Klein: Still Can’t Stop His Leg.
For Klein, everyday life is the stuff of his stand-up. Whether it is the relationship between parents and children, the ubiquitous lawyers who advertise to the injured, the hypocrisy of public figures or his own aging, it is all fodder for his wit.
“The golden years,” he has said. “Someone sent me an AARP card on my 50th birthday. I needed that like a hole in the head. You get a nice magazine with great pricing on oxygen and flowers.”
In a 1998 interview with Dan Markowitz, Klein reflected on his career to date. “I started with absolutely nothing, no connections,” he said. “I think I’ve made a lot of people laugh, which I think is a reasonably high calling. I think I definably developed a trend in stand-up as an uncomedian comedian, talking reality. It was important to me not to be the guy wearing cufflinks, making fat girlfriend jokes. A lot of people like Seinfeld and Leno and Billy Crystal said I had a certain influence over them.”
While Klein mines getting older for laughs and underlying truths, he isn’t slowing down. He’s having too much fun, skewering the pretentious, the pompous and the just plain silly, as he always has. It’s fortunate we get to come along for the ride.