David Brenner, who passed away on 3/14/14, was the quintessential comedian, best known for his satirical pokes at current events and a brilliant tendency to talk for days but never finish a sentence without wandering off subject quite often. But whether his subjects were original or offshoots, they all flourished into great anecdotes.
David made his debut on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He went on to appear on The Tonight Show 158 times, guest-hosting 75 times. In all of his appearances on the show, he was always required to do a stand-up routine. He once asked Johnny why he never graduated from that requirement, as most did, to being able to just come out and sit on the panel for conversation without doing a monologue first. Johnny’s answer was, “I like to sit back, smoke a cigarette and laugh for six minutes.”
Brenner once said his career goal was “to make as many people laugh, as heartily as they can, for as long as I can.”
After 9-1-1, Brenner canceled his 48-week Las Vegas gig and embarked on a tour called “Laughter to the People.” He called this his most gratifying tour, saying, “I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine and that if one can laugh, one can live. The same applies to a country and her people.”
In memory of David Brenner, his observational comedy and his compassionate spirit, here are 10 of our favorite performances/discussions by him.
image: video screenshot
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10. The Midnight Special
In an 1974 appearance on Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special, Brenner talks about the moon shot, dating, California girls, hair transplants, air pollution, crime in New York, King Kong…
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9. Politically Incorrect
In an appearance on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, the panel discusses what else but politics and the politically incorrect. We get a little more serious view of David’s political leanings, but perfectly placed humor to keep it fun.
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8. The Tonight Show
On one of his many appearances on The Tonight Show, David discusses the national defense budget, the Mideast, behavioral science, politics, anthropology…
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7. Final Tonight Show appearance
This is David Brenner’s 158th and last appearance with Johnny Carson. He discusses dolphins in the Persian Gulf, a national health crisis, safety in the home, stupid signs…
David discusses visualization with a story of how rough his childhood life was in a poor Philly neighborhood, and tells how he fantasized how he would make it big, make a lot of money and get everyone out of this bad neighborhood. He would describe to his friends where he would live, what the rooms would look like, every detail. And, well, I’ll let him tell you the rest of the story. I’ll warn that he does use the F word twice, but it is in quoting what someone else said while he’s telling the story. And this is the only cussing you’ll find in all of these videos, which is pretty good for a comedian. Please excuse the foul language. Thanks.
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5. Tonight Show debut
This is David’s big television break, his debut appearance on Johnny Carson, January 8, 1971. Johnny introduces him as “very clever, somewhat warped.” David discusses the trouble with asking for directions.
In 1986, David was given his own 30-minute talk show called Nightlife. In this video from one of the shows, David talks with Gene Simmons of Kiss in a very entertaining segment.
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3. As Tonight Show host
David’s opening monologue on one of the 75 times he guest-hosted The Tonight Show.
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2. CBS This Morning
In this video from 12/27/13, David appears on CBS This Morning talking comedy, then and now, and its importance to society. David tells of his latest venture, “David Brenner Introduces Comedy Stars of Tomorrow,” for which he hand-picked four up-and-coming comedians that he would open for and introduce in a four-night run at the end of 2013. Of the show, he said, “We’re bringing back the Golden Age of Comedy.” The show was well received.
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1. Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday
David performs on Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday on November 1, 1978 and discusses laugh tracks, dumb things people do…