Remembering comedy legend Jerry Stiller
It doesn’t matter your age, you’ve probably been touched by the comedy of Jerry Stiller. Maybe you know him as Ben Stiller’s dad or maybe you know him as Frank Costanza. No matter how you remember him though, he was undeniably a comedy legend.
He had the material that made Emmy winners break character and crack into uncontrollable laughter, only to then try recover to work the scene.
He was so adept at playing different iconic characters with complete authenticity that it often created a mystery around who he really was as a person. But Stiller was a New Yorker through and through, and he came correct in every turn with that amazing “chutzpah” that guaranteed anyone who met him would remember him.
Most comedy fans of our time are familiar with the notorious Second City improv, a comedy company that opened on the cusp of the sixties. The company nurtured big names such as Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Mike Meyers, and more recently Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert. This is the Ivy League of comic talent and Stiller was right there from the beginning.
Before Second City there were the Compass Players. This is where Stiller got his start and also brought in his wife and comedy partner, Anne Meara. Although she was an aspiring actor that didn’t consider herself much of a comedic talent, the pair proved to be a comedic success as a duo in comedy clubs across New York and eventually on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Their ongoing shtick of “Hershey Horowitz and Mary Elizabeth Doyle, a short Jewish man and a tall Catholic woman who had virtually nothing in common except their love for each other” was exactly the crowd needed to fall in love with the pair.
They carried on their comedic duo in radio commercials, a short radio sketch comedy bit called “Take Five with Stiller and Meara” and even a 1986 sitcom named “The Stiller and Meara Show.”
But then there was Frank Costanza — a character that was developed and played by Jerry Stiller on perhaps one of the greatest sitcoms ever, Seinfeld.