Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Lower East Side Of Jerry Stiller

an excerpt from a 2007 article in the forward entitled STILLER A STELLAR HIT AT CENTER FOR JEWISH HISTORY GALA
“My father was a Litvak, my mother a Galitz — one Sunni, the other Shi’ite,” Jerry Stiller told the guests at the Center for Jewish History’s December 6 Board of Overseers and Board of Governors dinner, held in the center’s impressive atrium. Special guest Stiller added: “I was born during the Lindbergh baby abduction. It was the Depression… we shared a Lower East Side tenement bathroom with a red-haired communist. My father, who worked for the [Works Projects Administration] on the Palisades Parkway, used to say, ‘Derharget zol er vern!’ [“He should drop dead!”]. I went to Seward Park High… my early theater work was with the Henry Street Playhouse… I was with the Actors Temple… my first award was for contributions to Jewish culture.” In 1991, at another event, Stiller told me, “You know, I went to the downtown Talmud Torah.”“I’ve had a lucky career,” he continued at the dinner. “There was ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ with my wife, [Anne Meara].” Apropos his character in “Seinfeld,” he joshed: “How does a family that eats kasha knishes have a name like Costanza? We were a Jewish family in the witness protection program.” While working on the hit TV series “The King of Queens,” Stiller struck his head getting out of a cab. Rushed to New York Presbyterian Hospital, he got an MRI and was reassured that “there’s no brain damage,” but he was warned not to make any decisions during the coming week. “I went to the [Jewish community center], took a shower and went to the pool. ‘Mr. Stiller, don’t you wear trunks?’ I was asked. So much for no brain damage.”
From her table seat, Meara suddenly called out: “Jerry! I can’t see you! Can you stand up straight?” Unphased by Meara’s offstage cue, Stiller cited “Seinfeld” actor Michael Richards, best known as the ensemble’s character Kramer. (So unhinged had Richards become at a recent club gig that his rant using the “n” word became the actor’s self-immolation heard ’round the world.) “One of the most gifted people,” Stiller lamented. “He has a dybbuk. His life’s gone down the drain. He was heckled, and he lost it.” Stiller then asked the audience: “Have any of you every been heckled? Anne and I were in a small club doing one of our [Jewish] Heshy and [Irish] Mary Elizabeth Doyle skits. A guy next to me taunted me, ‘Jew! Jew! Jew!’ I ignored him. Anne later scolded me, ‘Why didn’t you say where? Where?”
Here’s a sampling of this “Abie’s Irish Rose” couple’s first meeting. Heshy: “We go to the Catskills.” Mary Elizabeth: “So do we!” Heshy: “We go to Hymie’s kochalayn [bungalows]. Mary Elizabeth: “We go to Hennesy’s Haven near the Shamrock Chalet.”

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