My introduction to comedy was probably listening to my folks laugh. Ma laughed easy and often. Dad, more reserved as a personality and as a person, laughed less often, but it was perhaps more special for its rarity. For me, discovering comedy records in their LP collection was like looking for dimes at the beach with a metal detector and finding gold coins.
The first albums I found were of Shelley Berman. A great comic who (according to his album covers, as I didn’t see videos until years later) sat on a stool, gestured with a cigarette, and told stories which were human, honest, insightful, and that took a wide/full a range of emotions from happy to sad to hilarious to meaningful in very short period of time that none-the-less seemed to slow for me because after laughing, I wanted to see if there was a trick behind the art, and even more wanted to understand the reveal behind the revelry.
While seeing Bob Hope on TV was the pivotal epiphany of the idea that someone could do “comedy” for a living, listening to Shelley Berman on my folks Hi-Fidelity Zenith console record player/stereo, was the first clue in the mystery I’ve wanted to solve my whole life.
I got to meet Shelley Berman in Las Vegas a few years back, and in conversation got to hear him laugh up close and personal. He was kind and polite in company that revered him. I went to the event to see him, but meeting him and having a conversation with him was better than I could’ve hoped for. I got to tell him that he was part of the reason I became a comic, and express personally my appreciation for his creativity, his humor, and his longevity.
Mr. Berman turned 92 this weekend, and as I’ve just passed my 30th year of being a comic, and put my truncated appreciation for my comedy life on Facebook, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add a thanks for him introducing me to a type of comedy to which I still aspire. Words fail to accurately describe, but it’s that comedy that’s timeless, a kind of humor that will be funny as long as listeners can feel.
Happy birthday, thanks for filling the world with such great laughter.