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As the child of the popular 1960s comedy team of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, actor and director Ben Stiller had an up-close view of the inner workings of show business right from the start. Thanks to his privileged perch, Stiller had a leg up when he decided to break into entertainment, starting with several appearances with his parents on stage as a child. When he reached adulthood, Stiller broke off on his own, making short parody films that attracted the attention of producers on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), who hired the young talent as an occasional cast member. He soon made a name for himself with his Emmy Award-winning sketch series, "The Ben Stiller Show" (MTV, 1991-92; Fox 1992-93), which earned a healthy helping of critical praise, but failed to connect with audiences. But it was feature films that allowed Stiller to flourish as a comedic actor. With memorable performances in "There's Something About Mary" (1998), "Meet the Parents" (2000) and "Meet the Fockers" (2004), Stiller established himself as a top-grossing A-list comedian. Not content with merely performing, he made several offbeat dark comedies - including the often misunderstood "Cable Guy" (1996) and "Zoolander"...
As the child of the popular 1960s comedy team of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, actor and director Ben Stiller had an up-close view of the inner workings of show business right from the start. Thanks to his privileged perch, Stiller had a leg up when he decided to break into entertainment, starting with several appearances with his parents on stage as a child. When he reached adulthood, Stiller broke off on his own, making short parody films that attracted the attention of producers on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), who hired the young talent as an occasional cast member. He soon made a name for himself with his Emmy Award-winning sketch series, "The Ben Stiller Show" (MTV, 1991-92; Fox 1992-93), which earned a healthy helping of critical praise, but failed to connect with audiences. But it was feature films that allowed Stiller to flourish as a comedic actor. With memorable performances in "There's Something About Mary" (1998), "Meet the Parents" (2000) and "Meet the Fockers" (2004), Stiller established himself as a top-grossing A-list comedian. Not content with merely performing, he made several offbeat dark comedies - including the often misunderstood "Cable Guy" (1996) and "Zoolander" (2001) - that helped solidify Stiller as one of Hollywood's most adept comedic talents.
Born on Nov. 30, 1965 in New York, NY, Stiller was raised in a show business family headed by his father, Jerry, and mother, Anne Meara, who performed as the comedy team Stiller and Meara in the 1960s and 1970s. Stiller made frequent appearances on set with his parents, including on "The Michael Douglas Show" (Syndicated, 1966-1981) when he was six. A budding filmmaker almost from the start, he began making Super-8 movies with his sister, Amy, and friends. When he was 10, Stiller made his official acting debut on "Kate McShane" (CBS, 1975-76), a short-lived courtroom drama that starred his mother as a gutsy, outspoken and unorthodox lawyer working in Los Angeles. After performing in children's theater, Stiller attend the Calhoun School in New York, graduating in 1983 with a desire to pursue sketch comedy. He matriculated at the University of California, Los Angeles as a filmmaking student, but left after nine months and returned to New York with designs on becoming a fulltime actor.
After interning at the Actors Studio and waiting tables, Stiller landed his first big break with a part in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of "The House of Blue Leaves." In 1987, Stiller reprised his Broadway role for the play's PBS "American Playhouse" production. That same year, he also made his feature debut in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" (1987), which he soon followed by directing a short parody of Martin Scorsese's "The Color of Money" (1986) called "The Hustler of Money," which starred Swoosie Kurtz and Stockard Channing, and was aired on "Saturday Night Live." Stiller remained as a featured player and apprentice writer on "S.N.L." for about a year, but reportedly left due to creative frustration. He continued to appear in several features, including "Fresh Horses" (1988), "Next of Kin" (1989) and "Highway to Hell" (1992). Based on the strength of his comedy short, "Back to Brooklyn" (1989), Stiller was given his own half-hour comedy-variety show on MTV, "The Ben Stiller Show." A prototype to his later elaborate network effort, the series proved to be short-lived, suffering from constant music video interruptions and the lack of a suitable format.
Though his initial stab at his own show only lasted 13 episodes, Stiller had a chance for redemption when Fox aired a second version of "The Ben Stiller Show," giving him the proper format and a bigger budget to showcase his talents. With sketches like "Cape Munster" - a spoof combining the television show "The Munsters" and the film "Cape Fear," which featured him skillfully evoking a hybrid of Robert De Niro and Eddie Munster - Stiller displayed an irreverent sense of humor not seen since the early days of "S.N.L." Other sketches, featuring skewerings of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Cruise, The Pig-Latin Lover, the amusement park Oliver Stoneland and the evil sock-puppet Skank who told everyone to "Shut your stinkin' trap," made the show one of the hippest and funniest on television. Despite strong critical reviews, the show had low ratings and was canceled in its first season. Nonetheless, Stiller shared an Emmy Award for Writing with his staff writers, including co-creator Judd Apatow.
Stiller segued to the big screen as a filmmaker, making his feature directorial bow with "Reality Bites" (1994), an old-fashioned romance marketed as a "Gen-X" comedy in which Stiller played a neurotic, workaholic music television executive who is involved in a love triangle that includes a recent college grad (Winona Ryder) and a brooding slacker (Ethan Hawke). The film received some positive notices - especially for Ryder's performance - and Stiller was commended for his skill with actors, but his command of narrative storytelling was deemed shaky. Meanwhile, the target audience largely steered clear, making his debut an inauspicious event at the box office. After small roles in the subpar Disney film, "Heavyweights" (1995), and the little-seen comedy, "For Better or Worse" (1995), Stiller returned to the director's chair for "The Cable Guy" (1996). Though budgeted at a formidable $40 million - half of which went to star Jim Carrey - "The Cable Guy" dared to offer a change-of-pace as the rubber-faced comic showcased a darker, more menacing variation of his usual goofball persona in playing a demented cable installer who becomes obsessive with one of his clients (Matthew Broderick). While the film had its share of admirers, "The Cable Guy" proved to be the first flop of Carrey's career as a superstar and stalled Stiller's future directing efforts.
In 1996, Stiller enjoyed a solid art-house success with "Flirting with Disaster," playing a married man who goes on a road trip with a leggy psychology student (Tea Leoni) in order to meet his biological parents (Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin). He brought manic energy to his portrayal of a conceptual artist with designs on a New York psychotherapist (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the unsuccessful romantic comedy "If Lucy Fell" (1996), which he followed with a brief uncredited turn as a smarmy nursing home operator in "Happy Gilmore" (1996). But Stiller had his breakout year in 1998 with several strong performances, beginning with an understated turn as the partner of a reclusive investigator (Bill Pullman) in "Zero Effect" (1998). Stiller then played a former teen nerd still haunted years later by his disastrous prom date with the girl of his dreams (Cameron Diaz), who hires a private detective (Matt Dillon) to track her down in the Farrelly brothers' low-brow blockbuster comedy, "There's Something About Mary" (1998). Though not the studio's first choice for the role, Stiller proved to be the perfect choice, going to great lengths for a laugh, especially in the infamous scene where he gets his penis caught in his zipper the night of the prom. With this single scene, Stiller showed a complete lack of vanity to undertake potentially embarrassing scenes and fully mine them for humor.
Applying a similar technique to dramatic material, Stiller played a shifty college professor who embarks on an affair with his best friend's wife (Amy Brenneman) in Neil LaBute's bombastic dark comedy, "Your Friends and Neighbors" (1998). He capped a fantastic year with a tour-de-force performance as drug-addicted screenwriter Jerry Stahl in the true-to-life adaptation of the writer's autobiography, "Permanent Midnight" (1998). Stiller was next featured alongside longtime friend and former companion, Janeane Garofalo, in "Mystery Men" (1999), a disappointing comedy centered around a band of misfit superheroes. He rebounded with a starring role in the oddly charming sleeper romance "Keeping the Faith" (2000), playing a rabbi who finds himself falling for the same childhood friend (Jenna Elfman) that his best friend (Edward Norton) also loves. The same year, Stiller had another box office smash with "Meet the Parents" (2000), playing a man driven to desperation by the overprotective and overbearing father (Robert De Niro) of his would-be fiancée (Teri Polo). The feel-bad brand of slapstick comedy connected with a large audience, and Stiller proved to be not only as lovable a loser as he was in "There's Something About Mary," but also a worthy screen partner to De Niro.
After turns in "The Suburbans" (2000) and "The Independent" (2000), Stiller went back to the director's chair to helm and star in the often riotous, but poorly received "Zoolander" (2001), a send-up of the modeling world that was at once smart and over-the-top bizarre. Released shortly after the tragic events of September 11th, the film lost some of its comedic steam, but later found find life as a cult favorite at the video store. He rejoined his "Zoolander" nemesis and frequent co-star Owen Wilson in "The Royal Tenenbaums," a masterful serio-comedy co-written by Wilson and director Wes Anderson about a dysfunctional family of geniuses suddenly brought together after years of separation when the titular head of the family (Gene Hackman) declares he has six weeks to live. Stiller's portrayal of a anxiety-plagued, rage-ridden, red Adidas warm-up suit-garbed widower and real estate magnate featured some of the film's most honestly moving moments and garnered the performer several critical accolades.
After cameo appearances in "Orange County" (2002) and "Run Ronnie Run" (2002), Stiller co-starred with Drew Barrymore in the flop "The Duplex" (2003), a black comedy directed about Danny De Vito about the lengths one will go to in order to rent the perfect apartment in New York City. He rebounded again with mildly amusing and modest hit, "Along Came Polly" (2004), in which he played a risk assessment expert who, after his wife (Debra Messing) cheats on him during their honeymoon, learns to take chances when he falls for a free spirited woman (Jennifer Aniston). Stiller had an amusing three-episode arc during the 2004 season of the HBO sitcom "Curb Your Enthusiasm," playing a bedeviled version of himself who gets tapped by Mel Brooks to play opposite Larry David in a stage production of "The Producers," only to quit when he can no longer tolerate Larry's shenanigans. Stiller returned to big budget features for the high profile, but ultimately disappointing parody on the classic cop TV drama, "Starsky & Hutch" (2004), co-starring friend and frequent collaborator Owen Wilson as the easy-going Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson to Stiller's loudmouthed David Starsky.
While merely mildly amusing, "Starsky & Hutch" was head and shoulders above his next effort, "Envy" (2004), an epic misfire co-starring Jack Black and directed by Barry Levison. Unfunny, incoherent and begging the question of why so many talented people agreed to make this film, "Envy" relied too much on the comedic reputations of the two lead actors, while regurgitating some of the most played-out elements of Stiller's overly-familiar persona. The actor was slightly more amusing as the puffy-haired, mustached White Goodman, the ruthless, but undereducated head of the Purple Cobras in the sports comedy "Dodge Ball" (2004). By this time, Stiller was clearly established as a central figure in what many characterized as a comedic Rat Pack-style clique of actors - redubbed The Frat Pack - who frequently teamed up or made cameo appearances in each other's films, and included the likes of Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Owen and Luke Wilson, and Steve Carell. Meanwhile, the actor rebounded successfully at the end of the year with another stint as Gaylord "Greg" Focker in the popular comedy sequel, "Meet the Fockers" (2004), which added his character's doting parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand) into the family fold.
Turning to animation, Stiller then lent his distinctive voice to "Madagascar" (2005), Disney's animated adventure about four zoo animals who escape and inadvertently find themselves in Africa, where the city slickers struggle to survive in the wild. His next project was "A Night at the Museum" (2006), a family comedy about a night security guard in the Museum of Natural History who unwittingly unleashes a curse that brings to life the bugs and animals on display. Following that box office success, Stiller teamed up again with the Farrelly Brothers for "The Heartbreak Kid" (2007), a loose remake of the 1972 comedy of the same name. Stiller then directed his fourth feature, "Tropic Thunder" (2008), an inspired satire about a group of self-absorbed actors (Stiller, Black and Robert Downey, Jr.) filming the ultimate war movie who are left behind in the jungles of Southeast Asia by their frustrated director (Steve Coogan) to get a real taste of armed combat. Despite strong reviews and a solid box office take, "Tropic Thunder" was pounced on by disability advocacy groups who protested the premiere because of the film's repeated use of the word "retard." Stiller led the public push-back against the criticism, claiming that they were parodying actors who played mentally deficient characters onscreen, not real-life handicapped people.
In much more family-friendly fare, Stiller reprised his voice role as Alex in Dreamworks' animated sequel "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" (2008), quickly followed by another repeat performance as security guard Larry Daley in the sequel to the hugely popular children's fantasy adventure, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (2009). The following year, Stiller impressed with his turn as a neurotic 40-year-old who returns home after years of stagnancy in the indie dramedy, "Greenburg" (2010). Stiller's performance in the Noah Baumbach film was by turns touching, awkward and hilarious; garnering him a Best Male Lead nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. There was more voice work for the comedic actor in another Dreamworks animated feature, the superhero parody "Megamind" (2010), featuring the talents of Will Ferrell as the titular super villain, and Brad Pitt as his caped nemesis, Metro Man. The holiday season found Stiller returning to all too familiar ground with "Little Fockers" (2010), the second sequel in the comedy franchise about in-law angst, co-starring Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Barbara Streisand.
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According to "Jews Who Rock", a book by Guy Oseary, Stiller was once a drummer in a band called Capital Punishment.
"You know what SUCKS? The focus groups. Seeing your movie broken down into numbers takes the heart out of what you're doing--it becomes PERCENTAGES. As a filmmaker who wants to work in the studio system, I found myself wanting to IMPROVE those numbers. [But] after a certain point, a filmmaker shouldn't be pushed to get the score up like an SAT score. All of a sudden it was like I was back in high school saying 'No, wait I KNOW I can get a better score on this test!'" --Stiller on directing "Reality Bites," quoted in Movieline, March 1994.
"I think this whole celebrity world is weird anyway. Weird and funny and kind of pathetic and yet so ripe for parody. There's a sense here in L.A. that everybody's aware of everybody all the time. It's funny but we choose it. People who are here want to be here, including me." --Stiller, quoted in Interview, April 1996.
"I don't think it's ever easy to be funny. I find it easy to amuse myself with a certain sort of cynical, dark humor that tends toward the meaner side, like my character in 'Happy Gilmore.' Those kinds of characters come easily to me. I'm just not a naturally cheery person. I'm naturally moody. I know that from people who spend a lot of time with me." --Ben Stiller, quoted in Interview, April 1996.
"I never thought I was funny." --Stiller to Janeane Garofalo in The New York Times Magazine, December 28, 1997.
"I've never really felt like a funny, funny guy. I've never really felt like Mr. Life of the Party. People who know me know that I'm not the most gregarious person. I'm trying to open myself up more. I've realized in the last few years that my state of mind affects how I live my life." --Ben Stiller quoted in "His Journey From Nerdy New York Kid to Hip Hollywood Royalty Proves There's Something About Ben Stiller" by Chris Mundy in Rolling Stone, November 12, 1998.
"I think the Farrelly brothers (and David O. Russell when I did 'Flirting With Disaster') see me as a reactive guy. If you have a guy doing something really funny, I like to contribute on some level by being the straight person, that's about subtelty and not having to do anything except 'be', and that's a real challenge. It's amazing what is picked up by the camera. ... " --Stiller to Empire, October 1998.
"What most people don't know is that Ben has his own demons; he's got pain for days, and he really tapped into that. As Ben once said, 'The reason I don't do drugs is that I would like them too much.' Which I can relate to. I just have a different story." --Jerry Stahl, whom Stiller portrayed in "Permanent Midnight", quoted in Premiere, November 1998.
"In 'Permanent Midnight', I identified with my character's alienation. I connected with his feelings of self-loathing, of being unable to embrace who he was or bond with other people." --Stiller quoted in The New York Times, September 20, 1998.
"I see Ben as the conscience of his generation, and a messenger of all its excesses. I follow his career like I follow the path of a hurricane." --Jerry Stiller on his son, quoted in The New York Times, September 20, 1998.
"I do have anger. Rage and anxiety are kind of a funny mix because they're fighting against each other, and I definitely cop to that." --Stiller to Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2001.
"When I was a kid, I didn't fantasize about being a comedy star. I was thinking, wouldn't it be great to be Gene Hackman in 'The Poseidon Adventure'? My specific goal was to be a director and make all different kinds of movies. 'There's Something About Mary?', 'Meet the Parents', I didn't fantasize about being that guy." --Stiller to GQ, September 2001.
Stiller on parallels between the world "Zoolander" occupies and Hollywood: "I've met a few male models and they remind me of actors because there are some actors who don't take what they do seriously at all, but there are others who think they're God's gift to humanity. Also, acting and modeling aren't very masculine professions. That's why I like directing more, because to me it feels like a job you can feel comfortable doing. Not that I'm a macho guy at all, but sometimes it can be a little strange being the guy who has the make-up put on. Sometimes, you want to take more responsibility for yourself. --to The Times of London, November 25, 2001.
In the wake of the attacks on September 11, Stiller cancelled his appearance as host of the season opener of "Saturday Night Live". Answering producer Lorne Michaels' snipe, "I thought he was a New Yorker", Stiller told Details (December 2001): "I don't need to defend myself as a New Yorker. I grew up here. I'm not Canadian."
"Did I say that I wanted to stretch? You know, I like doing comedies, and I think that comedy is challenging. For whatever reason, the comedies are the best opportunities I've been offered.
"I don't really have a burning desire to go off and be taken really seriously as an actor. You know, I don't have a master plan in that way. I just want to do what I enjoy doing and hopefully not do the same thing over and over again." --Stiller to Chicago Sun-Times, December 22, 2001.
"I like the idea of playing parts that will somehow just give me a little bit more insight into myself as a person," he says. "...[I like] trying to figure out how to become that character and finding what I had in common with that character."---Stiller Biography Spring 2004
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