David Brenner was the first stand up comedian I recall laughing at. As a kid I would always get excited when he’d be on The Tonight Show or one of the ubiquitous daytime talkers such as Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin. He just had such an easy, likable way, and his routines made me think about the comedy in everyday life. It made a huge impression on me, even as a kid. I remember he had a bit about his car breaking down. He looked under the hood, even though he knew nothing about cars, waiting for a flashing light that said “Fix me! Fix me!” I asked my mom, “How do you get that job?”
I also felt kinda bad for Brenner when it seemed a new generation of more cynical comics pushed him to the margins a bit in the 1980s. And I recall his late 1980s late night show, launched amid a crowded herd of such shows. His, like most of the others, were doomed to fail. I remember rooting for the show to work (it mostly didn’t) because he was so earnest and clearly loved just being there, having the opportunity to talk to celebrities for a living.
This quote from his obit supports that memory of his glad-to-be-there disposition:
“I come from the slums of Philadelphia and everything in my life is profit. My downside is what most people would strive a lifetime to get to.”
We will miss you, David Brenner. Here’s a great clip of Brenner on Letterman from several years back. It’s past the prime of his career, but it’s a terrific example of his gift of humor in observation of everyday life. It’s not Louis CK, but not everything has to be.