Take my dad, please

Co­me­di­ans’ kids find it tough to es­cape their par­ents’ shadow.

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - JANE BOR­DEN style@wash­post.com

“When I was 18, Dad wanted me to do stand-up,” re­calls Rain Pryor. “And I was like: ‘Are you crazy? You’re Richard Pryor, Dad. That’s im­pos­si­ble.’ A reg­u­lar comic can go to an open mic and work out ma­te­rial. I have to go and be funny right away.”

The list of job re­quire­ments for a co­me­dian is short: Make peo­ple laugh. How­ever, for those who also hap­pen to be chil­dren of fa­mous co­me­di­ans, that list mul­ti­plies: Be as funny as your par­ents, es­pouse their same opin­ions, be a con­duit for them, an­swer for their ac­tions, serve the role of holy relics af­ter they die. All the while, of course, they strug­gle to cut their own paths, as any­one fol­low­ing in a par­ent’s foot­steps would — ex­cept in a very pub­lic way.

Pryor, now 47, did even­tu­ally try stand-up, but it isn’t her pas­sion. She in­stead per­forms au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal solo shows and is a cabaret singer. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that each of the five chil­dren in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle pur­sues an art form slightly dif­fer­ent from his or her par­ent’s.

“I’m grate­ful that he never did stand-up,” Camilla Cleese says about her dad, Monty Python leg­end John Cleese. “Part of the rea­son I tried it the first time is be­cause I saw it as a way to es­tab­lish my­self as a sep­a­rate en­tity.”

Still, fans of her dad oc­ca­sion­ally ask her to do his fa­mous silly walk. “I have the same weirdly dou­ble-jointed legs,” the 33-year-old comic says, laugh­ing. For all their sim­i­lar­i­ties, though, she as­serts, “I know I’m not as funny as him — that’s not my goal.”

Such dis­claimers are an­other com­mon­al­ity among kids of co­me­di­ans. “My dad is the fun­ni­est guy I know,” says A.B. Cas­sidy, speak­ing of the Far­relly brothers di­rec­tor Bobby. “I rank, like, 19th in my fam­ily. My sis­ter had to ex­plain jokes to me.”

Ear­lier this year, A.B., 24, adopted the stage name Cas­sidy. “Far­relly is such a spe­cific brand of hu­mor, and I don’t want those pre­con­cep­tions about my com­edy,” ex­plains the stand-up, who mines her ex­pe­ri­ence as a butch les­bian. She says she even re­moved a poop joke from a TV script she’s writ­ing be­cause it felt too close to the gross-out com­edy as­so­ci­ated with her dad.

Rain Pryor ad­mits once us­ing a pseu­do­nym, Cyn­thia Gross­man, at an open mic in Albany, N.Y. Max Sil­ver­stein, on the other hand, never needs a fake name, be­cause his dad, An­drew Dice Clay, al­ready has one. Drum­ming is Sil­ver­stein’s pro­fes­sional pur­suit — he and his brother, Dil­lon, are in the band Still Rebel — but he’s also been “qui­etly do­ing open mics for 10 years,” he says. “It’s a weird hobby to have. I grew up at the Com­edy Store,” he ex­plains, re­fer­ring to the mar­quee club in Los Angeles where his dad of­ten per­formed.

Other comics at these mics usu­ally know who Sil­ver­stein’s dad is, but they don’t bring it up.

Pro­fes­sional set­tings are dif­fer­ent. “In stand-up, I am never just Rain Pryor,” she says. “It is al­ways, ‘The daugh­ter of . . .’ ”

It’s a way to wow the crowd. And, Camilla Cleese says, it’s also some­times a cruel joke. “I still get hazed about it at one club in par­tic­u­lar. It’s very de­lib­er­ate. They in­tro­duce me as John Cleese’s daugh­ter. I feel the room turn.” Sud­denly the au­di­ence is judg­ing.

An­other thing Cleese says: “I don’t envy Kelly or Rain.” She’s speak­ing of Kelly Car­lin (daugh­ter of Ge­orge), Rain Pryor and the shadow un­der which they live as chil­dren of, ar­guably, the two most iconic stand-ups in his­tory. Camilla has met them — and also Max and A.B.

“It is a club in some ways,” Car­lin says. “It’s a club when your par­ents are alive. And it’s an­other club when your par­ents are dead and you are the fo­cus.”

Car­lin, a sto­ry­teller and mem­oirist, didn’t find her voice un­til af­ter her fa­ther died. In 1999, she wrote a solo show, her first on­stage en­deavor, about her mother’s death. “I gave my dad the script to read, and he said it made him un­com­fort­able, and that he would never stop me, but he would not come to any per­for­mances. This com­pletely cut me off at the knees.” She did the show for friends but can­celed its sched­uled six-week run — and then went to grad­u­ate school to study Jun­gian psy­chol­ogy.

Af­ter Ge­orge Car­lin’s death in 2008, the co­me­dian Lewis Black, who knew about

Kelly’s sto­ry­telling work, in­vited her to tell fam­ily tales on a cruise ship for which he was book­ing tal­ent. She and the au­di­ence both found it cathar­tic. Back on­shore, she de­vel­oped the show into a the­atri­cal run and then a book. “To fully let go of the man­tle of be­ing Ge­orge Car­lin’s daugh­ter, I had to walk through the fire of it,” Kelly says.

She says she spent nine years en­gag­ing with her dad’s fans “24/7 on so­cial me­dia” and sup­port­ing her dad’s legacy. Last year, she do­nated his ar­chives to the Na­tional Com­edy Cen­ter and told fans that she was fin­ished talk­ing about her dad, a re­quest they have largely re­spected. She de­scribes play­ing the role of Ge­orge Car­lin’s daugh­ter, dur­ing her book’s pro­mo­tional tour, as “a strange priv­i­leged hell.”

Pryor also feels that she plays two roles on­stage. “If I men­tion [my dad] in a show, it trig­gers this thing” for fans, she ex­plains. “It en­croaches on your process to grieve. It wasn’t just Richard Pryor that died. That was my fa­ther. ‘Oh, we get it, we miss him too.’ No, dude, you’re a fan. I miss my dad.”

Ev­ery­one in­ter­viewed ex­pressed a de­sire for healthy bound­aries with their fa­thers, whether emo­tional or cre­ative. But they also ad­mit­ted in­her­it­ing some of the cre­ative DNA. “The great thing I got from my dad is this truth that I can’t avoid. I am hon­est to a fault,” ex­plains Pryor, whose work of­ten grap­ples with the ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up black and Jewish.

Cleese, who looks like her fa­ther and, at 6-foot-2, shares his height, ad­mits that she and her dad “have a very sim­i­lar sense of hu­mor.” Help­ing her dad write a one-man show was her first foray in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. “When I started do­ing standup, I had to snap my­self out of writ­ing in his voice. It would be weird if I said ‘In­deed!’ on­stage.”

Car­lin’s name gives her, she says, “per­mis­sion with peo­ple to cross a line, to push up against author­ity.” She also feels in­clined to. “That icon­o­clas­tic urge is in my cel­lu­lar be­ing. And yet, I am a woman and born in a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion and had a dif­fer­ent up­bring­ing than my fa­ther. My dad used a sledge­ham­mer.”

Her tool is “diplo­macy and charm,” she says, adding that in a house full of al­co­hol and drugs, “that was my job as a kid any­way.”

“My dad was one of the big­gest truth-tell­ers in the 20th cen­tury, and yet in our house, be­cause it was dys­func­tional and al­co­holic, no one knew how to speak the truth to each other,” she says. “For me to get on stage and speak my emo­tional truth — that has been as icon­o­clas­tic in my life as my dad say­ing, ‘Have you ever no­ticed women against abor­tion are women you wouldn’t want to f--- any­way?’ It feels like that kind of a re­bel­lious act.”

Cleese talks about her dad on­stage, too, but anony­mously (“Very ex­cit­ing news, we have a new child in the fam­ily: my new step­mom”). She is also de­vel­op­ing a sit­com based on her life. An­other thing these comics share: hus­tle. Sil­ver­stein’s band, Still Rebel, re­leases its de­but LP, “Val­ley Daze,” this sum­mer. Pryor is tak­ing her the­atri­cal show “Fried Chicken and Latkes” on the road, and she re­cently per­formed her cabaret night in New York. Cas­sidy hits Los Angeles stages sev­eral nights a week. And Car­lin’s next project? A book about cre­ativ­ity, daugh­ter­hood and how to un­cou­ple the two.

The list of these per­form­ers is grow­ing. Re­cently, Larry David’s daugh­ter Cazzie launched the Web se­ries “Eighty-Sixed.” Sketch per­former and ac­tor Bridey El­liott is car­ry­ing a fam­ily tra­di­tion started by her grand­fa­ther Bob El­liott (half of the ground­break­ing ra­dio duo Bob and Ray), and con­tin­ued by her dad, Chris El­liott (“Cabin Boy,” “Get a Life”), and sis­ter, Abby El­liott (“Satur­day Night Live”). And Dana Car­vey’s sons, Thomas and Dex, have be­gun work­ing their way up the stand-up lad­der.

But hav­ing a fa­mous name can take you only so far. “If you’re not funny, no one in that crowd is go­ing to laugh be­cause your dad is so-and-so,” Cas­sidy says. “There is no short­cut,” Cleese adds. Offstage is a dif­fer­ent story. Sil­ver­stein says the brash­ness of his dad’s per­sona can work in his fa­vor: “I meet peo­ple, and they’re like, ‘I would’ve thought you were a to­tal d---.’ Be­cause they thought I was go­ing to be, I come off as way nicer.” It’s al­most like a joke. “Yeah, my dad is the setup and I’m the punch­line.”

Camilla Cleese, daugh­ter of Monty Python fun­ny­man John Cleese, says: “I’m grate­ful that he never did stand-up. Part of the rea­son I tried it the first time is be­cause I saw it as a way to es­tab­lish my­self as a sep­a­rate en­tity.”

Max Sil­ver­stein, An­drew Dice Clay’s son, is a co­me­dian and the drum­mer in the band Still Rebel. “I meet peo­ple, and they’re like, ‘I would’ve thought you were a to­tal d---,” he says.

“A reg­u­lar comic can go to an open mic and work out ma­te­rial. I have to go and be funny right away,” says Rain Pryor, daugh­ter of the late stand-up comic Richard Pryor. Stand-up isn’t her pas­sion. In­stead, Pryor per­forms au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal solo shows and is a cabaret singer. Al­though she and other chil­dren of co­me­di­ans ex­press a de­sire for healthy bound­aries, they also ad­mit to in­her­it­ing some cre­ative DNA. “The great thing I got from my dad is this truth that I can’t avoid. I am hon­est to a fault,” she says.

PHO­TOS BY MELISSA LYTTLE FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A.B. Far­relly, daugh­ter of Far­relly brothers di­rec­tor Bobby, adopted the stage name of Cas­sidy be­cause “Far­relly is such a spe­cific brand of hu­mor.” The stand-up comic mines her ex­pe­ri­ence as a butch les­bian for ma­te­rial.

Ge­orge Car­lin’s daugh­ter Kelly is a sto­ry­teller and mem­oirist. Like her dad, she pushes “up against author­ity,” but where he did so with a “sledge­ham­mer,” she uses “diplo­macy and charm.”

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