Sunday, March 16, 2014

David Brenner

David Brenner passed away yesterday.

There was a time, when I was young, when he was my favorite comedian. There were two reasons for that. The first was that he guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on the tonight show on so many occasions. While I never thought of Johnny as a comic -- he was a host -- David was a comedian filling in for the host. And at the time, he always made me laugh, maybe even more than Johnny did.

Second, he was from Philadelphia. It seems a strange thing to matter so much to me, but it did. He was one of ours, a guy from that same area that became a big star. David Brenner, because of his local origins, but also because he always seemed to wear those origins on his sleeve, somehow made the idea of success real. That's important to a kid. (I feel the same sense of local pride in Tina Fey. When the Phillie Phanatic showed up on an episode of 30 Rock, Kathy probably got a sunburn from the sheer joy on my face.)

Mark Evanier has a great remembrance of David Brenner on his blog.

I've got nothing but warm memories of him, and how much he made me laugh when I was younger. But there was one day... Kathy and I were walking up the strip -- forever, it seemed, as distances are illusions out there, and objects are much further than they appear. And all the while, we were being paced in the bumper-to-bumper traffic by a truck with a loudspeaker and a billboard that was blasting raucous, canned laughter, punctuated by David Brenner's voice urging us to come to his show. The laughs were eardrum-piercing, meant to grab attention for the brief moment as the truck drove past. But it was crawling along in a traffic jam, and we were walking the same unfortunate direction. So instead of hearing it for 20 seconds or so, we heard it for fifteen minutes, on an interminable loop.

For refuge, we ducked into a shop that was selling cheap tourist bait, and holed up there among the "What Happens In Vegas" T-shits and souvenir dice. Eventually, the truck crawled by, and the danger had passed. I can't stress enough to you how aggravating the sound of all that phony laughter on the recording was, and how much of it we heard. I can only say this: Had it been Carrot Top, I'd still be livid about it today.

But David Brenner? I could forgive him anything.

Rest in Peace, David. Thanks for almost all of the laughs.