Bob Einstein’s movie shows more than Funkhouser – the Forward
Bob Einstein was a comedic test case between nature and culture. In the end, the comedy was what came naturally.
Son of the vaudevillian Parkyakarkus (born Harry Einstein), who was a fan on the radio and around the dinner table, Einstein had a showbiz pedigree. And yet he rejected the call of entertainment until the age of 26 for reasons that closely resemble the origin story of a sinister anti-comedian – or at least a very little accountant. funny.
Harry Einstein died on stage during a Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball roast. Bob, who had just turned 16, was dismayed when he saw his father’s friends use the funeral as a chance to do their deeds. So Einstein, who was 6’5 – as his brother Cliff puts it, “for a Jew it’s like being 7’2” – played college basketball. He worked as an advertiser. He berated his younger brother, Albert Brooks, for his own views on Hollywood.
But as a new HBO documentary “The Super Bob Einstein Movie,” released on December 28, recounts, Einstein would end up making his own contribution to film and television – and doing it his own way.
While Albert had made a career of cerebral author and Parkyakarkus was a largely theatrical dialect character, Bob Einstein was sui generis, a heterosexual man. He was the king of the deadpan delivery, even when run over, clubbed, or smeared in the street as the Super Dave Osborne daredevil. On talk shows, even Charles Grodin didn’t pretend to take himself seriously. And no one enjoyed Einstein’s comedy more than Einstein himself.
The film, from director Danny Gold of showbiz documentaries “If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast” and “The Bronx, USA”, traces Einstein’s career from his debut as writer and occasional actor on “The Smothers Brothers Hour of Comedy. From there, we see him launching his own creative ventures with the subversive cable show“ Bizarre, ”“ Super Dave, ”and, of course, cementing his ending legacy. of life as Marty Funkhouser on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.
Gold, who spoke to David Letterman, Steve Martin, the main cast of “Curb” and the Einstein Brothers (wait until you hear Albert’s impression on Bob) paid a rousing tribute to the late comedian, who died in 2019. And by doing so, he created what he calls a “comedy masterclass”.
I spoke with Gold over Zoom about what made Bob Einstein such a one-of-a-kind comedic presence, how the Barenaked Ladies ended up on the soundtrack, and why rappers love Super Dave so much. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
PJ Grisar: We hear in the documentary how everyone got to know Bob Einstein, whether it was as Officer Judy or Super Dave. I would like to know how you met him for the first time.
Danny Gold: As a comedy fan, my first acquaintance with Bob Einstein was Officer Judy in “The Smothers Brothers”. I’ll be honest, I saw him in rehearsal. I loved his character. I love tongue-in-cheek and I got to see it in “Modern Romance” and of course, Super Dave Osborne and Marty Funkhouser.
When did you first meet?
I was interviewing famous comedy writer-producers on television and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Bob for it. And then after that Bob and I became friends. A typical phone conversation with Bob was that he would call you and tell you a couple of jokes right off the bat. And then we were discussing the Dodgers. And then we had to spend a few seconds on any case we had to talk about. So when he passed away I knew what I had and through Hollywood magic it came to fruition with HBO.
There are a lot of big names in there, but of course they all knew and loved him and I’m sure they were excited to participate – although Larry David kind of jokes about his reluctance.
Everyone who was in this movie liked him first and really has a lot to say about him. The film, in my opinion, is in some ways a masterclass in comedy.
If you watch the movie, you see Bob from his first appearance on television. He has this deadpan. The way he would deliver something, he would give you the longest wind-up, the longest set-up to the point where the show’s host, whether Carson or Letterman or Kimmel, is almost uncomfortable! And then he would deploy the punchline when he needed it, when he wanted it, when he saw fit. Bob has been funny all the time, and it shows. And what’s really cool about this movie is you have people like Letterman and Kimmel and Steve Martin showing their appreciation for it and explaining it.
You mention this first appearance, where he plays the guy who sets the stars on the Walk of Fame. Part of what I love about the documentary is that we get to see the people watching it. Steve Martin, seeing this first appearance for the first time, says “this is Bob’s mature style”.
In this particular film, I used this way of doing an interview where I showed the clip to the interviewee and filmed their contemporary reaction to it – laughing in appreciation or giving rise to any anecdote. or explanation she wanted to give. I really wanted to show that connection.
I was sort of surprised at how reluctant he was to enter the show business at first. What do you think flipped that switch for him?
I think he was influenced by his father and was a fan of comedy in general. And I think deep down he had something to say comically, and he got down to it. That first clip he played while still in the commercial – he just did it for a blunder. But look what happened. It just happens to have been seen by Tommy Smothers and then all of a sudden the advertiser is in the Smothers Brothers writing room.
And Martin mentioned how this style of publicity man made him such a unique and punchy voice. I think Albert Brooks says Bob was closer to their father. He had polio as a child and stayed home and ended up making older characters like his dad. But of course, these characters are so different from Parkyakarkus!
Bob definitely had his voice and it was the deadpan voice that worked. As Jerry Seinfeld says in the movie, “You only need one thing if it works.” But there was a scale to his career. Bob wasn’t just that comedic character on television. He was a hard-working producer and writer, and I think that really helped him. And then when he launched into “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, it is improvisation, another discipline in which he excelled.
We feel like Bob is kind of a tough, down-to-earth producer from this guy from Barenaked Ladies – and we have this great song now too.
It’s a story in itself.
Yeah, how did that happen?
I was looking for a song for the movie and wanted an original song. I wanted Barenaked Ladies because I thought they had the right key, the right point of view, and I thought that would be perfect. So I reached out to them, through their management, and we had a chat and it turned out – and that’s the fortuitous part now – that drummer Tyler Stewart was working for Bob when the movie was released. Toronto film school when Bob was doing “Super Dave”. and Ed Robinson, the band’s lead vocalist, he was also a huge Bob’s fan and had gone to a few “Super Dave” recordings in Canada. So they were meant to be.
I was also surprised to learn that Super Dave got so many names in hip-hop songs. Was this something you knew about coming in?
When you make a documentary, you investigate, you do research. All of a sudden he turned out to be a benchmark in a lot of hip-hop tracks. And so we had the chance to contact Money-B of the Digital Underground. I think he said that every hip-hop artist had a reference to Super Dave in their arsenal of lyrics. Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest. It just shows the extent of its reach.
Everyone has a favorite Bob Einstein moment that they share in the movie. What is your?
I have two favorite Super Dave’s: “King of the Road” and also “Simba the Elephant”, the very beginning of the sketch where you get on the scaffolding and he says he’s going to jump off the side of an airbag. And all of a sudden he jumps up and he says, “Oh, I missed it! It was so subtle, but so Bob. There are so many. The hardest part in making this film was reducing it. Even in the Smothers Brothers, I love when Ringo Starr and the Smothers Brothers sing “The No No Song” and then he comes up with his punchline as Officer Judy.
I was truly honored and lucky to spend a few months making a movie about a guy named Bob Einstein who I really admired and considered a friend. We went for the funny. We wanted to show the essence of her comedy, and we were very lucky to have amazing people commenting on it.