David Brenner

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David Brenner
David Brenner 1976.jpg
Birth nameDavid Norris Brenner
Born(1936-02-04)February 4, 1936
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
DiedMarch 15, 2014(2014-03-15) (aged 78)
Manhattan, New York, United States
MediumStand-up, television
Alma mater Temple University
Genres Observational comedy, self-deprecation, topical comedy [1]
SpouseElizabeth Slater (2000–2001; divorced; 2 children, 1 stepson)
Ruth (2014–2014; his death) [1]
Partner(s)Charisse Brody (1980–1983)
Tai Babilonia (2002–2009)

David Norris Brenner (February 4, 1936 – March 15, 2014) was an American stand-up comedian, actor and author. The most frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1970s and 1980s, Brenner "was a pioneer of observational comedy." [2]

<i>The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson</i> Television series

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is an American talk show hosted by Johnny Carson under the Tonight Show franchise from October 1, 1962 through May 22, 1992.

Observational comedy is a form of humor based on the commonplace aspects of everyday life. It is one of the main types of humor in stand-up comedy. In an observational comedy act, the comedian "makes an observation about something from the backwaters of life, an everyday phenomenon that is rarely noticed or discussed." The humor is based on the premise of "Have you ever noticed?", which has become a comedy cliché. "Observational humour usually took the form of long monologues of personal narrative, and the punch-line was either hard to predict or never came."


Early life

Brenner was born to Jewish parents in 1936 [3] and raised in South and West Philadelphia. [1] His father, Louis, was a vaudeville comedian, singer and dancer, performing under the stage name of Lou Murphy, who gave up his career and a film contract to please Brenner's grandfather, a rabbi, who objected to his working on the Sabbath. [1] Once David became successful, he regularly sent his parents on cruises, and both of Brenner's parents would eventually die at advanced ages while on cruises aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, approximately two years apart. [4]

South Philadelphia Neighborhood of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

South Philadelphia, nicknamed South Philly, is the section of Philadelphia bounded by South Street to the north, the Delaware River to the east and south, and the Schuylkill River to the west. A diverse community, South Philadelphia is especially known for its large Italian American population, but also contains large Irish American and African American populations.

West Philadelphia Neighborhood of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

West Philadelphia, nicknamed West Philly, is a section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though there is no official definition of its boundaries, it is generally considered to reach from the western shore of the Schuylkill River, to City Avenue to the northwest, Cobbs Creek to the southwest, and the SEPTA Media/Elwyn Line to the south. An alternate definition includes all city land west of the Schuylkill; this would also include Southwest Philadelphia and its neighborhoods. The eastern side of West Philadelphia is also known as University City.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has had the same geographic boundaries as Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

After high school, Brenner spent two years in the U.S. Army, serving in the 101st Airborne and as a cryptographer of the 595th Signal Corps in Böblingen, Germany. After being discharged, he attended Temple University, where he majored in mass communication and graduated with honors. [1]

Signal Corps (United States Army) United States Army division

The United States Army Signal Corps (USASC) is a division of the Department of the Army that creates and manages communications and information systems for the command and control of combined arms forces. It was established in 1860, the brainchild of Major Albert J. Myer, and had an important role in the American Civil War. Over its history, it had the initial responsibility for portfolios and new technologies that were eventually transferred to other U.S. government entities. Such responsibilities included military intelligence, weather forecasting, and aviation.

Böblingen Place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Böblingen is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, seat of Böblingen County. Sindelfingen and Böblingen are contiguous.

Temple University public research university in Philadelphia, United States

Temple University is a public research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1884 by the Baptist minister Russell Conwell. In 1882, Conwell came to Pennsylvania to lead the Grace Baptist Church while he began tutoring working-class citizens late at night to accommodate their work schedules. These students, later dubbed "night owls", were taught in the basement of Conwell's Baptist Temple, hence the origin of the university's name and mascot. By 1907, the institution revised its institutional status and was incorporated as a university.


Brenner was a writer, director or producer of 115 television documentaries and headed the documentary units of Westinghouse Broadcasting and Metromedia, winning nearly 30 awards including an Emmy, before moving to comedy. [1] [5] His first paid gig was at The Improv in June 1969, and following that he frequently performed at clubs in Greenwich Village. [1] After making his national television debut in 1971, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson , he became the show's most frequent guest, with 158 appearances. He guest-hosted for Johnny Carson 75 times between 1975 and 1984, placing him fifth on the list of Carson's most frequent guest hosts. Brenner was ranked No. 53 on Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time. At one point, he had appeared more often on major TV talk shows than any other entertainer. [6] He also wrote five books, [7] and starred in four HBO Specials. [8]

Westinghouse Broadcasting former radio and television broadcast company owned by Westinghouse Electric Corporation

The Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, also known as Group W, was the broadcasting division of Westinghouse Electric Corporation. It owned several radio and television stations across the United States and distributed television shows for syndication.

Metromedia defunct American media company

Metromedia was an American media company that owned radio and television stations in the United States from 1956 to 1986 and controlled Orion Pictures from 1988 to 1997.

The Improv business

The Improv is a comedy club franchise. Originally, it was a single venue founded in 1963 by Budd Friedman and located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City on West 44th near the southeast corner of 9th Ave. A second location was opened in 1974 at 8162 Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, California. In 1979 Mark Lonow became a general partner and with Budd Friedman ran the Melrose club and oversaw the expansion of the single room as it became a successful chain. In 1982 the L.A. Improv became the original site for the A&E Network television series An Evening at the Improv, running from 1982 until 1996, and was produced by Larry O'Daly, created by O'Daly and Barbara Hosie-O'Daly, with Budd Friedman as a warm-up host. Other locations have opened since then, such as in Tampa, Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Louisville, Kentucky. LEG, formerly known as [Levity Entertainment Group, is the largest shareholder of The Improv comedy clubs.

Brenner released the comedy album Excuse Me, Are You Reading That Paper? on MCA Records in 1983 (The title arose from a gag wherein a fellow passenger on a subway asked Brenner if he was reading a newspaper on which he was sitting. Brenner stood up, turned the page, sat down and said, "Well, yes I am.") Brenner also penned five books [1] including Soft Pretzels With Mustard (1983), Revenge is the Best Exercise (1984), Nobody Ever Sees You Eat Tuna Fish (1986), If God Wanted Us to Travel... (1990), and I Think There's a Terrorist in My Soup: How to Survive Personal and World Problems with Laughter—Seriously (2003) which was also released as two audiobooks.

MCA Records US record label, imprint of MCA Records, Inc.

MCA Records was an American record label owned by MCA Inc., which later gave way to the larger MCA Music Entertainment Group, which the label was part of until its dissolution in 2003. The label's country division MCA Nashville is a still active imprint of Universal Music Group Nashville.

Brenner was the star of the 1976 TV series Snip (alternative title: Flip), which was inspired by the film Shampoo and set in a hair dressing salon. [1] The situation comedy was cancelled by NBC before it aired due to its inclusion in the supporting cast what would have been one of the first gay characters in an American situation comedy. He also played a charity ball auctioneer in the 1989 romantic comedy Worth Winning (with Mark Harmon, Madeleine Stowe, and Lesley Ann Warren, who was also Brenner's co-star on Snip). [1]

Snip is a 1976 comedy starring David Brenner about a hairdresser living in Cape Cod, Massachusetts who has his ex-wife, daughter and former aunt living with him in his apartment. He and his ex-wife are both in the same hairdressing business under their boss and friend who's an openly gay man. It was a take-off of the movie Shampoo and was created by James Komack, the creator of Chico and the Man and Welcome Back Kotter.

<i>Shampoo</i> (film) 1975 film by Hal Ashby

Shampoo is a 1975 American satirical comedy-drama film written by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, and directed by Hal Ashby. It stars Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Jack Warden, Tony Bill, and Carrie Fisher in her film debut.

<i>Worth Winning</i> 1989 film by Will Mackenzie

Worth Winning is a 1989 romantic comedy film directed by Will Mackenzie and starring Mark Harmon, Madeleine Stowe and Lesley Ann Warren. It was written by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott, based on the novel by Dan Lewandowski.

In 1986, King World Entertainment gave Brenner his own 30-minute syndicated late-night talk show, Nightlife , in an attempt to compete with Carson, but it was cancelled after one season. The show premiered September 8, 1986, on 102 stations [9] and was touted as "alternative". [10] Filmed in Manhattan and featuring a casually dressed Brenner, [10] it was unique among the late night talk genre for not having a monologue. [10] It gave some comedians, such as Bobby Slayton, their national television premieres. [11]

In addition to the Tonight Show, Brenner also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show , The David Frost Show , The Mike Douglas Show , Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show With David Letterman , Real Time With Bill Maher and The Daily Show and was a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show . [1] In later years he appeared on both MSNBC and Fox News Channel shows commenting on current events. [12]

The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia named Brenner their Person of the Year in 1984 and inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2003. [13] From 1994 to 1996, Brenner hosted a talk-radio program, taking over the timeslot of the long-running Larry King Show on the Mutual Broadcasting System. [14] [15] He had earlier hosted a syndicated weekly radio show, David Brenner Live, for three months in 1985. [16] [17]

His friend, comedian Richard Lewis, described Brenner as "the king of hip, observational comedy." [18]

Personal life

Brenner had three children—Cole, Slade and Wyatt. [19] He and the mother of Cole, his first son, fought a custody battle for several years. Brenner finally won child custody in 1992. Because family courts would have regarded him as an absentee father if he were away from home more than 50 nights a year, Brenner substantially reduced the number of appearances in his stand-up comedy work, including performances on the Tonight Show in order to secure and maintain custody of his son. [1] [12] Brenner married Elizabeth Slater of New York, the mother of his sons Slade and Wyatt, in the closing minutes of his David Brenner: Back with a Vengeance! HBO Special recorded in Las Vegas, on February 19, 2000. They divorced a little over a year later and also then fought two custody battles, both of which Brenner won. Brenner was engaged to Tai Babilonia in 2005, but they never married. [1] [12] For a while in the 2000s, Brenner lived in Las Vegas. [11]


Brenner died on March 15, 2014, at age 78 from pancreatic cancer at his Manhattan home. [20] [21] [22]

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  2. Bort, Ryan (March 17, 2014). "David Brenner: 1936-2014". Paste .
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  6. The Book of Lists #2 p. 203.
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  14. Puig, Claudia (June 24, 1994). "Today's Talk-Radio Topic: The Future of Talk Radio". Los Angeles Times .
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  19. David Brenner: Back with a Vengeance!, 2000, HBO.
  20. "'Tonight Show' Legend David Brenner -- On Death Bed". TMZ .
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  22. Webber, Stephanie (March 15, 2014). "David Brenner, Comedian and Actor, Dies at the Age of 78". Us Weekly . Retrieved March 16, 2014.