Klein makes another stand for stand-up comedy

September 15, 1995|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

Robert Klein sounds like an athlete making a comeback.

"I had to ask myself, 'Can I do this?' " he relates in a recent telephone interview. "The answer is yes. The show's come back. . . . They're going to see me pretty sharp."

The comedian/actor is talking about performing stand-up comedy again after a hiatus of a few years. On Sunday, he'll present "A Night of Laughter" at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, a benefit for the Sheppard Pratt Care for Kids Fund.

The show represents an on-the-road tryout of material Mr. Klein is planning for an "HBO Comedy Hour" special, to be taped next month at Haverford College in Pennsylvania for a December telecast. The cable show will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series, on which Mr. Klein was the premiere performer in December 1975.

"This is a young man's game, and I'm 53. I don't like being 53, although I don't know what I'd rather be instead -- certainly not 45, or 40," he jokes. "I'm working out with a trainer three times a week, and I've never been in better physical shape."

He talks about the annoyances of the aging process in his act -- he thought about calling his show "Robert Klein: Child In His 50s" -- as well as about his parents in retirement and more topical subjects, including O.J. Simpson.

But in this interview he seems most interested in talking about the aging of stand-up comedy itself, a process he does not find particularly positive.

"Audiences seem less erudite, less informed than when I started," he complains, noting the kind of topical satire for which he is known is found less and less among younger performers.

Instead, audiences seem easily satisfied by gratuitous bad language and graphic gags about bodily functions, with no deeper content than embarrassment.

"It seems an irony that Lenny Bruce's sacrifices, his utterances, seem so almost moral now," he says of the late comedian who was charged with performing obscene material in the 1960s.

While many younger comics today have talent, "the level of a lot of the stuff is beyond banal, it's anti-human . . . just deprecating all around, there's nothing funny about it," asserts Mr. Klein, a Bronx native who went to Alfred University as a pre-med student but ended up at Yale Drama School.

Mr. Klein finds irony in the fact that his first performance for HBO in 1975 marked the loosening of standards on television.

"I have a reputation for being clean; people think I don't use profanity, but it's not true. I use it when it's appropriate and in context. When it's funny," he says.

Mr. Klein says he wrote no stand-up comedy material for about four years. But he has been busy, including making a music video "Let's Not Make Love" (about safe sex in the '90s), co-starring on Broadway in "The Sisters Rosensweig" and holding down roles as host of "Arts and Entertainment Review" on the A&E Network and "E! Stand-Up Sit-Down Comedy" on the E! Entertainment network.

He also says he will return this fall to the NBC series "Sisters" as Big Al, last season's love interest of star Swoozie Kurtz. The character had a heart attack at season's end, but he will recover.

"I had a mild attack, in case William Morris didn't close the deal [for him to return]," Mr. Klein jokes.

"A Night of Laughter With Robert Klein"

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College

Tickets: $25

Call: (410) 938-3100

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.