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David Brenner

Born: February 4, 1936
Death: March 15, 2014
BlueMeter: Tame

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2009 Leave ‘Em Laughing
2005 The Aristocrats (Original Soundtrack)
1983 Excuse Me, Are You Reading That Paper?

Specials (and other video)

2000 David Brenner: Back With a Vengeance
1984 The Young at Heart Comedians Special

Books (by and about)

2003 I Think There's A Terrorist In My Soup
1983 Soft Pretzels with Mustard


At the turn of the 70's, "The Ed Sullivan Show" was a memory and the old-fashioned comedians he booked were dying out, along with their wife jokes. Most younger stand-ups, including George Carlin and Richard Pryor, were rebelling against the conventional styles in stand-up.

Almost alone among the younger performers was David Brenner, strongly influenced by the Sullivan-styled comedians and waiting for his chance to perform standard family-oriented comedy like they did. As it turned out, there was a big market for a young, clean performer. While most young stars couldn't appear on television with their dirty jokes and drug-tinged humor, there was David Brenner getting on "The Tonight Show" on January 8, 1971 after only a few years in stand-up. He would log an amazing 150 guest spots over the next 15 years and guest-host another 75 times.

Back then contemporaries considered Brenner a "sell-out," but audiences appreciated this newcomer who told real jokes they could understand. Like the one about his tough South Philadelphia neighborhood: "It was a tough neighborhood. The gang from Third Street would always fight the gang from Fifth Street. They'd throw things at them. And what they used to throw at them were the kids from Fourth Street."

After a career as a television producer following his years at Temple University, Brenner had given himself one year to make it in stand-up. Show business was in his blood thanks to his vaudevillian father. But, Brenner decided, if it didn't turn out to be "a way of reaching my financial goals" he'd try something else. As it turned out, there was a goldmine in Brenner's straight brand of comedy and his personality as a guy just like his audience: hard-headed, working class and down-to-earth. His most famous joke was about riding the subway to work: "I sat down on a newspaper on the subway, and a guy asked if I was reading it. I said yes, stood up, turned the page, and sat down again."

In 1986 he hosted his own talk show, "Night Life." Brenner insisted he would succeed as a perfect contrast between the other rising talk show hosts of the day, Joan Rivers and David Letterman. He believed Rivers was too wild, "a bombastic woman who talks about putting a diaphragm on her head and going into the shower." Letterman was merely "an acerbic, put-down, pick-on-the-small guy" type who only appealed to "ten percent of America." As it turned out, Brenner was perceived as much blander than Rivers, a goofy nerd compared to a zealous yenta. And Yuppies preferred the coolness of Letterman to Brenner's blue collar attitude. The show was cancelled in June of 1987 and his standing was so badly damaged that Garry Shandling and Jay Leno eased past him as the most popular guest hosts for "The Tonight Show." Brenner failed to bring his 1989 one-man show to Broadway after a two-week tryout, but still retained his popularity as a casino and resort headliner. He wrote a few chatty, anecdotal books that his fans appreciated and even had his own 'David Brenner Day" in Philadelphia. For some added diversion he opened The Amsterdam Billiard Club in New York City, complete with 30 pool tables. In the 90's he was clearly no longer the bright young boy rushing to the head of the class, but he remained a professional and always dependable class act.