David Brenner, 78, succumbed to cancer March 15. Until the end, the Philadelphia native used his quick wit and celebrity to voice his political beliefs against gun violence, war and foreign aid to countries that vote against the U.S. in the United Nations. He was a regular at the former Gotham Comedy Club, where he first performed stand-up in the 1970s. Brenner holds the record for the largest number of guest shots on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” and surpasses other performers with the most guest appearances on all TV talk shows.
I last saw Brenner about a year ago in New York City. Although graying a bit, he was as sharp and edgy as ever, both on stage and off. His observational humor included stories about how New York City has changed through the years. Bike lanes and taxis were among his targets. Many of his longtime social and political subjects are equally relevant today–overcrowded prisons, America’s school system, Congress and lobbyists.
He described his humor as talking about the simple things in everyday life. He stayed up-to-date on current events and discovered the ridiculous side of them in his stand-up act. He reminded the audience that he did the last live “Ed Sullivan Show” and reminisced about his career from when Buddy Hackett helped get him into Vegas.
His off-handed style of humor was true David Brenner with engaging stories to which we can all relate. His airline anecdotes brought back memories of the Eastern Shuttle between New York, Washington and Boston. Talking about his days on the road, if he landed a hotel room adjacent to the ice machine, he’d put an “out of order” sign on it so he didn’t have to hear it clang all night. If only the rest of us had thought of that.
Brenner’s other timely targets for his insightful comedy sketches included IHOP, viagra, the recession, Walmart, cable news networks, the pope’s resignation, gun control, eBay and Facebook. He left little untouched.
After the show, he pointed out the irony of how often he appeared on national television as a guest and yet lamented that he couldn’t get his own show at this time.
“There are different people running the business today,” Brenner said. “I don’t appeal to the 18 to 35 year olds. There’s nothing scandalous about me. I could back out in a limo, nude with a tattoo of Lady Gaga and smoking grass with a transvestite, and I’m a super star again.”
We’ll miss David Brenner’s “free speech.”
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