Documentary reveals 75-year-old Robert Klein to still be edgy and funny
March 30, 2017
The oddest thing about Marshall Fine’s documentary “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg” is how guys like Jerry Seinfeld, Eric Bogosian, Richard Lewis, Billy Crystal and Jay Leno keep using the past tense when they talk about the man’s status in the comedy world.
At 75, Klein is as funny, edgy, groundbreaking as he ever was, but Seinfeld et al are on hand to acknowledge his influence on their own careers.
The title of Fine’s documentary, airing at 9 p.m. Friday on Starz, comes from one of Klein’s classic bits. Dressed like a model for “The Preppy Handbook,” but with a bandana around his head, he blows a mean blues lick into his harmonica and stomps his foot before he launches into song, “I can’t stop my leg from shaking.”
Lewis calls Klein one of comedy’s three kings, along with Richard Pryor and George Carlin. For his part, Klein cites two comedy gods, Lenny Bruce and Jonathan Winters, as influences. He got Bruce’s purpose, he says, “to dignify and make more important standup comedy. Talking about something, not just a joke.”
That said, one of his closest friends and mentor was the supreme joke teller, the late Rodney Dangerfield, who was the unofficial emcee for two years at the Improv in Los Angeles. Dangerfield’s daughter says Klein almost became part of the family.
‘Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg,’
When: 9 p.m. Friday
‘Robert Klein: Still Can’t Stop His Leg’
When: 9 p.m. Friday
The documentary is hagiographic, but then again, find someone who doesn’t like Robert Klein. His marriage to opera singer Brenda Boozer is mentioned, and while there’s a discussion with Fred Willard about comedy’s roots in pain, we see very little evidence that Klein was ever in much pain.
Fine can’t be faulted for loving his subject. His filmmaking reflects that love, but while he makes an admirable attempt to avoid simple chronology, the film zips from Klein’s youth to present tense and back again with little apparent purpose other than to show, correctly, that the guy has always been smart and always been funny.
Klein’s material has evolved over time, as evidenced by his countless HBO specials, and inevitably, there are a good number of altacocker jokes in his more recent routines and in his quotidian patter. But the drive to tell stories and not just jokes is as potent as ever, and as current.
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Did you hear the one about Barack Obama?