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Overview for Shelley Berman
Shelley Berman

Shelley Berman


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Also Known As: Sheldon Leonard Berman,Shelly Berman Died: September 1, 2017
Born: February 3, 1925 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession: Cast ... comedian actor director playwright taxi driver


The "sit-down" comedy of Shelley Berman - so named for his frequent position on stage, perched on a stool as he reeled off anxious, neurotic monologues that embodied the minor tragedies of everyday life - was a major force in transforming the tone and focus of comedy in the mid-1950s from broad slapstick and joke-driven material to humor drawn from character foibles and all-too-real scenarios. Born Sheldon Leonard Berman on February 3, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois, he intended to become a serious actor, studying at Chicago's Goodman Theatre after serving in World War II. He married fellow student Sarah Herman in 1947, and the couple headed east to New York City, where Berman contributed sketches to "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC/ABC/syndicated, 1956-1964). The Bermans then returned to Chicago, where he began performing with Mike Nichols and Elaine May in the Compass Players, an improvisational troupe that would become the famed Second City. During his tenure, he began to develop solo routines in which he would portray one half of a telephone conversation. The monologues took off, and Berman was soon an in-demand comic on the Chicago and national club circuit. These led to a contract with Verve Records and a comedy album, Inside Shelley Berman, which landed at the No. 2 spot on the Billboard album chart for five weeks and earned him the first Grammy Award for a spoken comedy record. Berman was soon appearing on television, both as a comic performer and actor, most notably on "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1963), and would record six more albums for Verve. But a 1963 segment on "The DuPont Show of the Week" (NBC, 1961-64) would derail his career for decades; the documentary episode, which observed Berman's life and career both on and offstage, captured a moment in which he was provoked into a rage by a phone that rang during one of his performances. He was soon dogged by negative press, which portrayed him as difficult and tempermental - a notion underscored by his belief that Bob Newhart had plagiarized his telephone routines for his own act - and Berman would maintain a low profile as a guest performer on episodic television and the occasional stage production for much of the next three decades. He also wrote several books and television pilots and served as a lecturer in the University of Southern California's masters program for professional writing, and taught performance at the Improv Olympics. The death of his son, Joshua, from a brain tumor at the age of 12 in 1977 further limited his visibility, but by the late 1980s, Berman began to resurface: he had his own one-man show, "Insideoutsideandallaround with Shelley Berman," in 1980, and became a regular presence in guest roles on television, most notably as Hollywood producer Ben Flicker on "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994) and as a judge on "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08). Berman mounted a terrific comeback in 2002 when he was cast as Larry David's irascible father on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ), for which he received an Emmy nomination in 2008. The exposure afforded by the show led to appearances in films like "Meet the Fockers" (2004) and "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" (2008), and several more comedy albums, including To Laughter with Questions in 2013. Berman logged his last screen appearance on a 2012 episode of "Hawaii 5-0" (CBS, 2010- ); he died from complications related to Alzheimer's disease at his home in Bell Canyon, California on September 1, 2017 at the age of 92.

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