Robert Klein taking life, comedy in stride
BY MIKE THOMAS Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org November 9, 2012 9:24AM
Comedian Robert Klein headlines shows this weekend at UP Comedy Club. | GETTY IMAGES
♦ Nov. 9-11 (times vary
♦ Up Comedy Club, 230 W. North, third Floor
♦ Tickets, $25
♦ (312) 662-4562;
Less than 24 hours after Hurricane Sandy pounded New York and much of the East Coast, comedian and actor Robert Klein gazed out the windows of his 31st floor high-rise apartment near Central Park. The day before, he’d had a “beautiful” generator delivered to his home in Westchester, where he spends most of his time when not on the road.
But since there was no opportunity to hook it up before disaster struck, he’d vacated the premises and moved to higher ground. His sister and her husband would soon join him from their storm-ravaged neighborhood in downtown Manhattan.
Still, he was in a talkative mood. Now in his fifth decade of performing, the Yale-trained Second City alum (class of 1966) and former Broadway star (he got a Tony nomination in the 1979) still tours the country — though less rigorously than he once did — and continues to draw much of his material from of-the-moment events: aging and relationships, family and politics.
Prior to touching down in Chicago, where he’ll stalk the stage at Up Comedy Club in Old Town Nov. 9-11, Klein spoke with characteristic honesty and trademark wisenheimer-y about his life, career and why tragedy plus time doesn’t always yield comedy.
Q. Do you still get calls from guys like Jerry Seinfeld, who idolizes you?
A. It’s not like we exchange much very often. He sent me a letter about my last HBO special [in 2010] — that he loved it. He always liked my after-shave. I have this after-shave I discovered in Europe, Yves St. Laurent. It’s out of print and I bought about six bottles and I sent him one.
Q. You’re dealing with a huge natural disaster in New York. What’s your opinion of comics who use that sort of stuff as material — especially soon after an event happens?
A. That’s a terrible thing. That’s like a kid’s sick joke. In other words, there is humor about cancer. There is humor about concentration camps. Because the victims themselves had that humor in order to get by. You can make a joke about those subjects, but you’ve gotta be twice as good.
Q. Several comics you came up with — George Carlin and Alan King, to name a couple — are dead. Are you feeling your mortality a bit more lately?
A. Yes, I am. And in fact, I’m especially worried as Jews bury so quickly. “What the hell happened to Irving? He was here a minute ago.” “We buried him.” The older I get, around my relatives I’m afraid to take a nap lest I be mistaken for dead.
Q. You’re only 70. Still in good health?
A. I’m in very good health. Having a regimen of exercise for over 25 years has probably helped, although everything hurts. I no longer run. I go very fast on the treadmill or use the elliptical. I work with a trainer a couple of times a week and I do a third workout on my own. I have a couple of good machines at home. I have a rotator cuff injury, which I thought was so cool when I got it. I said, “Uh-oh. There goes that contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.” And then I went to rehab: I was the youngest person in the room. Everyone has a rotator cuff [injury], and they’re not pitchers. They’re hoping to walk. So I can’t bench press, and I’m concerned with my breasts being firmed up a little.
Q. You were quite the ladies man for many years. Are you still scoring with the chicks?
A. You wanna know something? It’s not bad to remember. I started slow and made up for lost time. But there’s a kind of hazy time in the last few decades. I’ve been divorced for 23 years. I’ve had a couple of nice relationships. But then again, I’m also not interested in very young women. I’m seriously not. On the other hand, I’d like a sort of in-between-aged woman. And I am what I am; they’re getting someone with high mileage.
Q. So you’re not looking for a 23-year-old.
A. No, no. I had a romance with a much younger woman. A brilliant woman whose name I dare not mention on the record. I just felt guilty about it, even though we knew there was no real future and we’d laugh about that. We enjoyed each other’s company. But I couldn’t handle it psychologically. I felt it was not right for some reason. And I’m not exactly happy with the way I did handle it. Maybe I was afraid of becoming so involved that I would not want it to end. Because I knew it could not go on indefinitely and that this person deserved the right to marry someone and have a life.
Q. Does part of you keep performing as a way to stave off Old Man Time?
A. I don’t think of it that way. I’m the one who’s been obsessed about my age since time immemorial. You see me on “The Tonight Show” — which I did as a guest 82 times and maybe 15-some times as a guest host — constantly mentioning my age. “Well, Johnny, I’m 28.” “Well, Johnny, I’m a 34-year-old now.” So I look up and here I am at this age. … Yet I go on like I always did. I’m not as busy and I really am glad about that. I love not to be rushed, not to be on big tours and not to be looking [toward] the next thing. … But I do feel the need to keep working. I have the idea that to completely stop working at something I actually quite love would be destructive. I don’t see any point to it.