Any guesses? Anyone? Photo: (PHIL McCARTEN/Reuters/Corbis)
Imagine a quiet, unassuming, rather short man who:
-- was already considered a legendary standup in the 1960s;
-- was responsible for getting the Smothers Brothers kicked off the air at CBS;
-- made Richard Nixon's enemies list, becoming the only comedian to do so ("In America, anyone can become President. I think we bend over backwards to prove it.");
-- logged more Tonight Show appearances than any other entertainer, save for Bob Hope;
-- hosted the Tonight Show when he was 26;
-- had a mobster for a best friend;
-- directed hundreds of television commercials;
-- whose imprint on TV comedies ranging from Bob Newhart's shows to Mad About You to Seinfeld to Curb Your Enthusiasm is as indelible as the show's creators themselves;
-- continues to work today, as revered as ever by his peers.
How could David Steinberg not be a household name?
David Steinberg. That David Steinberg. Oh?
Ok. Meet, for the first time, David Steinberg, a Canadian, a Yeshiva-student-turned-writer-turned-comedian-turned-director, one of the sharpest comic minds in the universe.
Here's an excerpt from an admiring interview Roger Ebert did with Steinberg in 1967. (1967!)
I consider myself a comedy fan, so I was ashamed that I only learned about Steinberg when I saw a Showtime documentary about his life's work, called Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story.
The past few years have seen Steinberg get some upper crust respect, with fawning pieces in The New York Times, his own Showtime show, and a one-man play.
His relative anonymity, at least in recent decades, was chosen.
A member of the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, he played to his strengths. Some of his first comic essays — sermons, if you will — were about God. One of those sermons was the final straw in CBS's long-running content war with the Smothers Brothers, and because the brothers stood with Steinberg, their show was canceled.
He decided to become a director after a successful television career, and spent the late 1980s, the 1990s, and the first decade of this century behind the camera, helping those in front of the camera to be more funny. He directed many of episodes of the Designing Women, Evening Shade, and Mad About You, and worked on The Golden Girls, Friends, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and even Weeds.
He's not Chris Rock or Louis CK simply because he is too unassuming, and now, a bit too old, for the Comedy Central-influenced circuit today.
But his comedic footprint is just as large.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- How I lost all my money
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- The best books we read in 2014
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How to wrap a present with mathematical precision (and waste less paper)
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
Subscribe to the Week