Stein­berg lead­ing ser­vice at Tem­ple Play­house

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALT

CON­SID­ER­ING that this visit rep­re­sents the sec­ond (home)com­ing of David Stein­berg, it’s prob­a­bly fit­ting that the gala he’s host­ing at the Win­nipeg Com­edy Fes­ti­val has dis­tinctly re­li­gious over­tones.

This city’s orig­i­nal com­edy ex­port helped put the lo­cal com­edy fest on the map when it launched 11 springs ago, and Stein­berg says he’s glad the op­por­tu­nity fi­nally came around for him to make an­other con­tri­bu­tion to the home­town com­edy scene.

“I’ll take the op­por­tu­nity when­ever it’s of­fered to me,” Stein­berg said in a re­cent tele­phone in­ter­view from his Los An­ge­les home. “It’s where I come from — why wouldn’t I want to go back? The only thing I don’t like about it is planes and travel, be­cause it’s such a pain, but once I’m there, I’ll be very glad to be back.

“The last time I was back, (artis­tic di­rec­tor) Al Rae and (Win­nipeg-born co­me­dian) Bruce Clark were close friends of mine be­cause we worked to­gether (on the Global TV com­edy Big Sound). They said it would help, so I jumped into it. And this time, it’s much the same — Al’s there, and Bruce, and Jeff Roth­pan. What the busi­ness has be­come for me at this stage in my life is the re­la­tion­ships; I’m go­ing to get to hang out with good friends for a day or two, which will in­voke some mem­o­ries, and then I’ll get back up on­stage and do some standup, which I haven’t done in ages.”

Stein­berg will host the fes­ti­val’s Satur­day Evening Gala, The Cho­sen Show, which will ex­plore the long his­tory and undis­putable in­flu­ence of Jewish per­form­ers in standup com­edy. The ros­ter in­cludes Roth­pan, Perry Perl­mu­tar, Jon Stein­berg, Ste­vie Ray From­stein and Judy Gold. Tick­ets are $39.95, avail­able at Tick­et­mas­ter.

“The sub­ject mat­ter, and the friends who are do­ing (the show), are what made it ap­peal­ing,” said Stein­berg. “I don’t see how one with­out the other would have worked as well.”

When he first made his mark in the com­edy world back in the 1960s, Stein­berg cre­ated some con­tro­versy but quickly be­came a favourite of Tonight Show host Johnny Car­son be­cause he was the first per­former of his gen­er­a­tion to be bold and un­apolo­getic in dis­cussing his eth­nic­ity.

“The ver­sion of Jewish­ness that I pre­sented on The Tonight Show was very con­tro­ver­sial, be­cause I was mil­i­tantly Jewish,” he re­called. “I wasn’t the sort of self-dep­re­cat­ing Jewish that the co­me­di­ans be­fore me were. With me, it was the gen­tiles who were the dum­mies, and that’s who I was at­tack­ing, in a funny way. I talked about my Dad’s prej­u­dices all the time, and no one was do­ing that. My Jewish point of view, at that time, was un­heard of; now it’s just part of what ev­ery­one else is do­ing.”

Stein­berg, who has spent most of the past cou­ple of decades toil­ing be­hind the cam­era as a pro­ducer ( In­side Com­edy, Sin­gle White Spenny, Liv­ing In Your Car) and di­rec­tor ( Se­in­feld, Mad About You, Curb Your En­thu­si­asm) of TV shows, said he has been en­er­gized by the process of re­turn­ing to his standup-com­edy roots.

“At this point, I re­ally don’t have to do ‘ca­reer moves’ any more,” said Stein­berg, an ex­tremely youth­ful 69. “So it’s about what’s chal­leng­ing and ap­peal­ing.... Standup is so dif­fi­cult when you do it right — it’s trial by fire, and the only way com­edy works is if you’re fail­ing in front of an au­di­ence. You can’t take a piece of ma­te­rial that you’ve writ­ten and ex­pect it to work that night. The au­di­ence will tell you what works, when it works and what doesn’t work. It’s bru­tal, but you have to go through the process, putting it in front of them over and over again.”

Two of Stein­berg’s most re­cent projects, In­side Com­edy and Sit Down Com­edy with David Stein­berg, have in­volved the North End prod­uct en­gag­ing in long, re­veal­ing one-on-one dis­cus­sions with some of show­biz’s fun­ni­est folks, in­clud­ing Jerry Se­in­feld, Larry David, Robin Wil­liams, Don Rick­les, Chris Rock, Steve Carell and Carl Reiner.

They’re the kind of con­ver­sa­tions Stein­berg loves, be­cause he un­der­stands the peo­ple and the sub­ject mat­ter so well.

“We speak a cer­tain lan­guage that only some­one who’s been to the bat­tle­field knows,” he ex­plained. “Com­edy is about find­ing a mo­ment of truth that you don’t re­ally have in your reg­u­lar life. You have to be bru­tally hon­est about your­self to do com­edy, and that’s one of the things that binds ev­ery­one to­gether.

“Co­me­di­ans are like jazz mu­si­cians — they just talk to each other in a dif­fer­ent way.”

For a more ex­ten­sive over­view of David Stein­berg’s ca­reer and ac­com­plish­ments, check out www.the­david­stein­


Stein­berg says he doesn’t like to travel, but he’s happy to come home to par­tic­i­pate in the fes­ti­val. Be­low, with Jerry Se­in­feld on an episode of In­side Com­edy, which aired last year in the U.S. on the Show­time cable net­work.

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