Closer Weekly

What Do I Have to Regret?

At 75, the legendary stand-up has no complaints. OK, a few complaints.

- — Bruce Fretts

The title of Starz’s new documentar­y, Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg, plays off one of the iconic comic’s most famous bits, an absurdist blues number in which he repeatedly moans, “I can’t stop my leg!” But it’s also a metaphor for how Robert keeps moving at 75. “I’m getting old, but I have no regrets,” he says. “What do I have to regret?

I’ve had such an interestin­g life, and it’s still going on!” As depicted in the doc, he treasures his daily routine at his Westcheste­r, N.Y., home. “I love getting up in the morning, getting the paper, making the coffee, moving the bowels,” he jokes.

“It’s another day I’m here. I’m content with lunches, and seeing things, and sex occasional­ly if I’m lucky.” He frequently spends time with his son, Allie, 32 (from his turbulent 1973–’89 marriage to opera diva Brenda Boozer), who recently started doing stand-up like his old man. “He has tremendous stage presence, he does great voices, he sings beautifull­y, and he’s a funny guy,” Robert raves. “I wish him the best, till proven otherwise.”

Growing up in the Bronx, you wanted to be a doctor. Why’d you give it up?

My neighborho­od doctor, Dr. Rosenstein, was wonderful. He came to your house, he delivered babies. The Catholics and the Jews both lit candles for him. He was a hero to me. I really thought I wanted to be doctor, but a few things got in my way: calculus, physics, organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry. I was totally ill-suited.

Who influenced you to take up comedy?

Lenny Bruce, whom I never saw in person, proved that stand-up comedy could be socially meaningful. It was so hip. The other one was Jonathan Winters. He was completely apolitical, but instead of standing at a mic in one position and doing jokes, this guy made noises, made faces and became characters, so I saw that stand-up had all kinds of possibilit­ies.

One of your first acting gigs was in 1970’s The Owl and the Pussycat, with Barbra Streisand. How’d you hit it off?

She was delightful, and everyone got along. It was a joyful set, right here in New York. We had long lunches at Nathan’s on 43rd Street. There’s a lovely blond woman in bed with me in one scene. At the time, her name was Marilyn Briggs, and she was a high school senior from Connecticu­t. She became the porn star Marilyn Chambers. I didn’t know that until six years later when I was sharing a dressing room with Buck Henry at NBC and he told me.

You played an egotistica­l director in Burt Reynolds’ 1978 comedy Hooper. Did you base that role on anyone?

Burt coached me on how to be like Peter Bogdanovic­h, whom he detested when they did that musical At Long Last Love together. I later had Bogdanovic­h on my USA Network talk show, and I said, “You know I was doing you, right?” He did.

You had a messy divorce in 1979. How did it affect your relationsh­ip with your son?

Allie was 6 at the time. Starting in middle school, he began living with me. I stayed up here in Westcheste­r to be near him. We’ve always been very close. He’s on good terms with his mother. I’m not particular­ly.

Do you think it was because your divorce was so bitter that you never remarried? Or have you not met the right woman?

Probably a combinatio­n. I did fall in love a couple times after my divorce, and I thought they were good, serious relationsh­ips, but they didn’t last. I just don’t know at this age. It’s not like I go moping around all day. It would be nice to meet a woman. I’m not interested in someone 50 years younger than I am. Forty years younger, maybe. If it doesn’t happen, I’m not really pushing it. These things happen by accident.

Is there anything left that you want to achieve in your career or in your life?

I’d like the work to be recognized. I was very gratified with the experience of watching

all those comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart in the documentar­y saying such heartfelt things about me and how I influenced them. But they all spoke in the past tense, which is a little bit offensive. It’s like I was hearing my own obit.

“Right now, I have why-am-I-in-the-kitchen-itis. ‘Oh, right, I want coffee!’ ” — Robert, on his senior moments

Do you think you’ll ever retire?

Yes, of course. I’ll have to. If I haven’t done a bit in a long time, I forget names here and there. Henny Youngman used to hold court at the Friars Club for lunch every day, and I’d see him. He began to lose his acuity, but not his jokes. His jokes were the last to go.

Aside from your relationsh­ip with Allie, what are you most grateful for?

Money was always a concern in my house growing up. My father was a textile salesman, and he gave me $600 in March of ’65. I drove to Chicago to do comedy, and I’ve been doing it for 52 years and counting. Thankfully, because I know nothing about money and business, I’ve had very honest people helping me, so I have enough money that I don’t have to worry. Life has been good to me.

 ??  ?? Robert with his son and fellow
comedian, Allie, in 2004
Robert with his son and fellow comedian, Allie, in 2004

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States