Family & Companions
One of the most influential stand-up comedians to emerge from the 1970s, Robert Klein easily ranked in that decade's pantheon of comedy legends, alongside the likes of such funnymen as George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Neither bitter nor cynical, Klein made his mark on stand-up comedy with his wry, observational style. Twenty-five years after Klein debuted his hilarious take on his generation's cultural touchstones with the comedy album Child of the Fifties, echoes of Klein could be heard in the routines of many top comics of the day, most notably Jerry Seinfeld. Klein was also a Yale-trained actor who earned acclaim for his work on Broadway in musicals like "They're Playing Our Song," in addition to appearances in such films as "The Bell Jar" (1979) and as a frequent guest on TV sitcoms like "Sisters" (NBC, 1991-96). One of the most pioneering and prolific stand-up comics of his generation or any other, Klein enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with the special "The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue: A Child of the Fifties Looks Back" (HBO, 2005) - his eighth for the cable network - and followed it up with a well-received memoir of the same name in 2006. A consistent comedic presence for more than four decades, Klein's significant contributions to comedy could not be overstated.
Robert Klein was born on Feb. 8, 1942, in the Bronx, NY. His 2006 autobiography recounted early years in a middle class, lefty Jewish apartment building, singing in a neighborhood doo-wop band and a summer spent working in the restaurant of a Catskills resort. But it was the everyday, universal features of Klein's postwar American life that would be the basis for his relatable stand-up material - lunch ladies, air raid drills, and the idolatry of Babe Ruth. As no ideal postwar nuclear family would encourage one of its members to embark on a career in show business, Klein followed up his 1958 graduation from DeWitt Clinton High School with four years at Alfred University in Upstate New York. While working towards a Bachelors degree in Political Science and History, Klein became involved in the school's drama department, and with the encouragement of an acting coach, decided to pursue post-graduate work in Yale's drama department. While at Yale, Klein traveled to Chicago to audition for a spot in the fledgling Second City comedy troupe, sharing the stage with fellow comedy hopeful, Fred Willard. Both were accepted, permanently changing the course of Klein's life evermore.
Klein spent a year cutting his teeth in Second City productions before returning to New York in 1966, where he immediately landed several stage roles including the Mike Nichols-directed Broadway musical "The Apple Tree." He appeared in several more Broadway productions while developing his stand-up act at New York's famed Improv comedy club. In the summer of 1970, Klein's growing reputation as a comedian and his Broadway resume led to being cast as the host of "Comedy Tonight" (CBS, 1970), a variety show with comedy sketches and musical numbers punctuated by Klein's comedy routines. The show only lasted through the summer but it introduced TV audiences to Klein's observational humor and led to film roles including a part in "The Owl and the Pussycat" (1970) starring Barbra Streisand.
Klein's stand-up career hit it big in 1973 with the release of his first comedy album Child of the Fifties and a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. The Grammy-nominated album cemented Klein's reputation as one of the era's biggest entertainers, and also marked the beginning of the "observational" style that would influence the future of stand-up. He released a pair of follow-up albums in 1974 and 1975 - the same year Klein became the first stand-up comedian ever to appear on the three year-old cable network HBO. Klein hit his stride in 1979, exploring his many talents with a role in the big screen drama "The Bell Jar" and a return to Broadway in the Neil Simon musical "They're Playing Our Song," for which he earned a Tony nomination. He also launched a weekly syndicated radio show called "The Robert Klein Radio Show" which ran for two years.
Throughout the 1980s, Klein appeared regularly in guest roles on prime time TV but the bulk of his work focused on his Robert Klein-ness. He recorded more stand-up specials for HBO, including "Robert Klein at Yale" (1982), and though his background might have seemed ideal for helming his own talk show, both "The Robert Klein Show" (NBC, 1981) and "Robert Klein Time" (USA, 1986) failed to survive. In the 1990s, thanks in part to the cultural phenomenon of "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998), observational comedy was the reigning flavor of the day, and its originator suddenly found himself both lost in the crowd and outdated at the same time.
In a return to serious acting, he landed his first recurring TV role on the drama "Sisters" (1991-93) and coincidentally followed up with success on Broadway with "The Sisters Rosensweig." At the turn of the new millennium, Klein was able to cash in on his "boomer" status, referencing his early career with the stand-up special "Child in his Fifties" (HBO, 2000), and receiving an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music and Lyrics for the song "Colonoscopy." Now a bona fide legend, his talking head was frequently featured in comedy documentaries like "Comedian" (2002), "When Stand-Up Comics Ruled the World" (VH1, 2004), and "Funny Already, A History of Jewish Comedy" (Comedy Central, 2004). In 2005, Klein recorded his eighth HBO special, "The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue: A Child of the Fifties Looks Back" and released a memoir of the same name the following year. HBO paid homage by releasing the DVD set, "Robert Klein: The HBO Specials 1975-2005" in 2007.
Never slowing down, Klein kept busy with continued film appearances in movies like the Adam Sandler tearjerker "Reign Over Me" (2007) and the Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy "The Back-up Plan" (2010). On television, he took on a recurring role as defense attorney Dwight Stannich on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) and delivered yet another stand-up special with "Robert Klein: Unfair & Unbalanced" (HBO, 2010). Admittedly on the lower-end of the cinematic spectrum, Klein played the financier of a filthy film in the raunchy Direct-to-DVD comedy "National Lampoon's Dirty Movie" (2011), directed by and starring "Law & Order: SVU" star Christopher Meloni.
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Became a member of the famous Chicago "Second City" troupe
Broadway musical debut, "Apple Tree"
Cast in the Broadway shows, "Morning, Noon and Night" and "New Faces of 1968"
Hosted "Comedy Tonight," the CBS summer replacement for Glen Campbell's show
Played George Segal's swinging roommate in "The Owl and the Pussycat," also starring Barbra Streisand
Performed first sold-out concert, "The First Annual Robert Klein Reunion," at Carnegie Hall
Released first album, "Child of the Fifties"; earned a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album of the Year
First comedian to appear in a live concert on the precedent setting Home Box Office (HBO) "On Location" series
Appeared opposite Julie Harris in an adaptation of Plath's autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar"
Earned a Tony award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his role in "They're Playing Our Song"
Performed "Robert Klein at Yale" on HBO
Appeared in weekly segments for NBC's "Bloopers and Practical Jokes" exploring the streets of New York
Starred in the HBO teleplays, "Table Settings" and the classic French Farce "Pajama Tops"
Hosted "Robert Klein Time" (USA), a weekly talk/variety/comedy show
Hosted the highly acclaimed "Arts and Entertainment Review" (A&E)
Hosted "E! Stand-Up Sit-Down Comedy," on E! Entertainment Television
Had a recurring role on NBC's "Sisters" as 'Big Al' Barker, a love interest for Swoosie Kurtz's character
Starred in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig" with Madeline Kahn and Jane Alexander
Cast as Mr. Lobel, the neighborhood dogwalker in the ensemble film, "Mixed Nuts"
Co-starred with John Travolta and Emma Thompson in the Mike Nichols directed "Primary Colors"
Co-starred with Glen Close in the indie feature, "Safety of Objects"
Played Matthew McConaughey's boss in the comedy, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"
Appeared opposite Adam Sandler in the Mike Binder directed "Reign Over Me"
Cast in "Ira and Abby" a comedy feature co-starring, written and produced by Jennifer Westfeldt