Robert Klein Discusses Expansive Career In Comedy

Comedian Robert Klein and Director Marshall Fine sitting inside the Reg. Lenna Center in Jamestown as the duo field questions from the crowd. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

Stand-up, Broadway, TV and film — these are all things Robert Klein has mastered. But among those crafts, comedy has been front and center in a career spanning 40 years.

In association with the Lucille Ball Comedy Fest and the National Comedy Center, Robert Klein sat down Saturday night to speak at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts in Jamestown for a segment called “A conversation with Robert Klein.”

The evening began with a screening of clips highlighting Klein’s career under the name of “Robert Klein: Still Can’t Stop His Leg,” a call back to a performance from earlier in his career. The documentary features clips from almost all of his major performances from his career and interviews with several comedians that were inspired by him. The movie breaks down Klein’s ability to mix comedy and music in a way that no one could.

In one clip, Klein visits with a comedy club at a college. Klein watched numerous students perform and one of them tried to blend music into his jokes. Afterward, Klein gave each of the comedians advice. Klein told the students that if a comedian is going to use music in his act, the music should be good.

The opening scene of the movie featured famous comedians, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Bill Maher. The trio spoke of the great influence that Klein had on their lives.

“He was the Beatles,” Seinfeld said of Klein’s impact on his life.

Two individuals, Garth and Nance Jackson, were in the audience and were excited to be in town and catch Klein live. They had bought tickets to the comedy festival to see someone else but were overjoyed when they knew they would get to see Klein, as well.

“We’re just excited to see him,” Nance Jackson said. “Because he’s so famous.”

Accompanied by Director Marshall Fine, Klein took the stage inside the Reg Lenna Center to applause and cheers. Almost immediately, and fittingly, Klein had the crowd laughing.

“Actually, this is a continuation of the movie. I’m a hologram. I am not actually here,” Klein joked.

Klein spoke about the rural area in Western New York. Klein had graduated from Alfred in 1962. But in 58, when he first arrived in Hornell and then when he got to Alfred, he was surprised to see cows. Klein was a Bronx native and lived a “vertical” life, as he put it in his movie referring to his apartment life style as a child.

Klein made the sound of a cow “mooing.”

“I’ve never seen dogs that big,” Klein said referring to the cows.

Klein had actually went to Alfred to become a doctor. But he said a few things got in his way. “Calculus, physics, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry… reading, spelling, comprehension, behavior, aptitude, attitude, inclination, women, attendance and talent,” Klein listed off, as the crowd roared with laughter.

After the film, Klein and Fine opened the floor for questions from the audience. Some questions were about his musical background, comedic background and his influences.

Klein talked about how he used to watch comedians growing up. “I loved watching comedians,” he said.

Klein is famous for making comedic songs. One song in particular is about former President Barack Obama.

The audience member asked if he had a song for Trump, to which Klein responded, “I don’t have a song for Donald Trump.”

Fine also spoke about the movie and why he made it.

“I made this movie because, well I mean first of all, I’ve been a fan of Robert since I was in college and have been a friend of his for a long time and (I) felt that he deserved it, that he is someone who was so influential on so many comedians,” Fine said.

Fine talked about the impact of Klein and remembered Seinfeld citing Klein as his biggest influence. In the movie, a segment from Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” web series is played and Seinfeld can be heard telling Klein that Klein is the reason Seinfeld began doing stand-up.

Klein first major appearance in his long career was when he was the replacement host for in the 1970s for the show Comedy Tonight. Klein has made appearances in movies such as “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Two Weeks Notice” and played a mayor in two of the Sharknado movies. He has also appeared on the sitcom “The King of Queens” and the TV series “Madam Secretary.”

On top of all this, Klein has also hosted Saturday Night Live, twice. Klein has been nominated for a Grammy for “Comedy Album of the Year,” for his albums, “Mind Over Matter” and “Child of the Fifties.” In 1975, Klein was the first comedian to appear live in concert on HBO.