Curb Your Enthusiasm's Shelley Berman Dead at 92

Shelley Berman

Berman died Friday at his home in Bell Canyon, California, from complications from Alzheimer's disease, according to spokesman Glenn Schwartz.

"I'm not a stand-up comedian", Berman often insisted. He collaborated with Mike Nichols, Elaine May and others, honing his improvisation skills and developing the routine that employed an imaginary telephone to take the place of an onstage partner. As he is put on hold or asked stupid questions by the store operator, Berman's facial expressions convey urgency, anxiety and anger to hilarious effect. After serving in the Navy, he returned there and enrolled as a drama student at the Goodman Theatre. Coming from the golden era of comedy alongside the likes of Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Bob Newhart, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show more than 20 times and became famous for his "sit-down" brand of comedy in which he sat on a barstool and told amusing stories while miming a telephone. Sahl was known for a stream-of-consciousness style in which he riffed on the day's headlines and social trends.

He then auditioned for a gig at Mister Kelly's, a Chicago nightclub on Rush Street. Soon he was touring the country as a solo act, appearing on TV shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar and recording for Verve Records. Having accomplished many "firsts" in the comedy business, Berman's "Inside Shelley Berman" live album was the first comedy recording to be certified gold.

Most recently, he'd played the father of Larry David's character in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Berman also penned TV scripts, plays and books. "I was always making people laugh, in school and later in life". In it, his act was interrupted by a ringing phone, this in the days before cellphones, and he yelled "I'll pull the damn phones out of the wall" on camera, getting him a reputation as a troublemaker. That year he issued his first album, "Inside Shelley Berman".

Generations of comedians have benefited from Berman's unique brand of nervous humor. He would go on to appear twelve more times over four seasons. You changed modern stand-up'.

He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Sarah, his daughter, Rachel, and two grandsons.His son Joshua died in the mid-1970s from brain cancer at the age of 12.

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