Clean-cut Comic Plumbed
Absurdities To Extract Laughs
AVID BRENNER was honored at an Israel
Bonds dinner in 1992 in New York where he told of growing up in a
tough changing neighborhood in Philadelphia. Whenever he went
jogging he’d run into someone’s fist.
His grandfather was an Orthodox rabbi who
went to shul (synagogue) accompanied by his sons carrying bats to
protect him from the bigots.
Three of his uncles became rabbis and
three became gangsters. David’s father, Louis Yehuda Brenner, was a
vaudevillian comedian and later a cigar burning, whiskey guzzling
bookie. He went to shul every morning.
David inherited a penchant for comedy from
his father. So it was easy for him to deflect the antisemites on the
mean streets of his hometown by breaking them up with a barrage of
Antisemitism in South Philly and the
Holocaust overseas forged his identity and made him an ardent
Zionist and champion of Israel. His father would say, "If it ever
happens here we have a place to go."
Brenner, who died of cancer on March 15 at
age 78 at his home in Manhattan, was well respected in the comedy
trade for his keen insight on the human dilemma. He never relied on
shock, insult or raunchy jokes to get laughs. He was concerned with
family, society, the economy, and his material was brilliant. Tell
him to have a nice day and he’ll suggest, "Why one nice day? How
about a weekend? Why not a nice life?"
He was a regular on Johnny Carson’s
Tonight Show, having made his debut on Jan. 8, 1971. He logged more
than 150 appearances, as artist and substitute host.
People asked him where he gets his
material, and he answered, "All you have to do is look and listen."
He developed what he called "observational humor." People
magazine in 1986 praised it as "a nice-Jewish-guy style of humor."
For example a sign in a restaurant that
said "For bathroom use staircase" cracked him up. This sign in the
bus was really dumb: "ILLITERATE? Call 1-800…" And the sign in the
lavatory on the plane, "For used razor blades," was classic. Who’s
going to shave with a razor blade on a flying jet?
I saw him at Kutsher’s Country Club in the
Catskills where he talked about smoking cigarets. People warned him
to stop, that his lungs will turn black. "So what?" he said.
He went to an acupuncturist. A man came in
with a set of needles, and starts knitting him. For two days he
didn’t smoke. On the third day he craved a cigarette. "I lit one up
and smoke came out of 50 holes."