Skip to main content

Comedian Shelley Berman Dead At 92 (Photos)

  • Author:
  • Updated:
Comedian Shelley Berman Dead At 92 (Photos) Promo Image

Shelley Berman, famed observational comic who helped pave the way for modern stand-up comedy, died in his home in California Sept. 1. He was 92.

Berman succumbed to complications of Alzheimer's disease and reportedly passed away "peacefully, in his sleep, with no pain as far as his hospice care workers could tell," wrote close friend Christopher May on a Berman fan club Facebook page.

Berman is credited with helping create the "modern" stand-up comedy routine, as his performances in the 1960s and 70s were far more cerebral and personal than the slapstick gags of comics before him, according to The New York Times.

Berman was best known for his "sit-down" routines, where he would sit on a stool for the entirety of the performance, riffing on the foibles of everyday human interaction. One of his most famous skits was the solo telephone call, where Berman would act out one side of a typically ridiculous conversation.

With his debut comedy album "Inside Shelley Berman" in 1959, he helped prove that records from comics could be a success. It raced to No. 2 on the Billboard album chart and also netted Berman a Grammy Award. The public reception to Berman's album helped comedians like Steve Martin and Bill Cosby produce their own successful comedy albums. It was also the first non-musical album to win a Grammy award, according to Variety.

Image placeholder title

"I was nervous about that record, because I thought no one would want to see me anymore if they could just play it,” Berman told The New York Times in 2003. "Then, after it came out, I went to play a show on Sunset Boulevard, and there was a line around the block! I told my wife, 'I can buy two suits now.'"

Berman often considered himself an actor before a comedian, having been classically trained at Chicago's Goodman Theater acting school, notes Variety. While there, he met a fellow actor Sarah Herman, and the two were wed in 1947. They remained married until Berman's death.

As his comedy career began to wind down, Berman had a successful stint playing Nat David, Larry David's father in the HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" from 2002 to 2009. He was nominated for an Emmy award in 2008 for his performance as Larry's partially blind, oft-crotchety father.

Berman also taught master's level writing at University of Southern California for more than 20 years, which also inspired him to release a book of poetry in 2013, entitled "To Laughter With Questions."

Image placeholder title

Berman is survived by his wife, Sarah, his daughter Rachel Berman, and two grandsons.

Sources: The Official Shelley Berman Facebook Fan Group/Facebook, The New York Times, Variety / Featured Image: Lestat (Jan Mehlich)/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Sally Ryan/The New York Times, HBO via The New York Times

Popular Video