Legendary Comedian Speaks About His Storied Career
You only have to walk into Robert Klein’s house to under-stand his Westchester. The entertainer’s Briarcliff home doesn’t broadcast its glories from the outside. But step inside, and you will get it, instantly. His living-room has a 180-degree, wrap-around view of the Hudson that reaches up from Tarrytown to Croton Point Park and beyond, while across the water, blue hills melt into open sky. It’s a view to die for.
“I’m not looking to relocate,” the comedian comments dryly.
In one corner stand three tele-scopes. Klein loves to watch the river view. “I’m boyish like that,” he says. At 77, he’s boy-ish in appearance too, with long, well-groomed grey hair and a limber physique. “Showbiz helps keep me younger.”
Over the course of a 53-year long career, Klein has done it all. He is blessed with a great voice and won an award for his performance in the Neil Simon musical, “They’re Playing Our Song.” He was the first comedian to appear in a live concert on HBO and has gone on to do nine one-man shows for that channel. He’s been nominated for Grammys, Tonys, and Emmys. He’s acted in films–Two Weeks Notice; The Back-Up Plan; Primary Colors–and TV series Madame Secretary and Will and Grace. He’s made over 50 appearances on the Tonight Show. He’s released albums and writ-ten an autobiography. And he’s still working. In fact, you can catch him on October 25 at the Tarrytown Music Hall.
“I’m performing better than I ever did,” he says. “I have so much stuff. Yes, there are set pieces, but how I get there, that’s the adventure.” He compares himself to his friend George Carlin, who sold more records, and won Emmys that Klein was only nominated for. “George wrote his routines like a play-wright. I admired him enormously, but I’m not like that.”
Klein earned his comic chops at the famed Chicago troupe “Second City,” where he discovered his talent for improv. It’s that multi-faceted talent, and a good serving of luck, that have sustained him. Plus, he loves what he does, especially nowa-days, with his new, reduced schedule.
“It’s a continuum. I do what I always do. My politics haven’t changed, nor my dress or attitude. When you make people laugh, they forget their disappointments about health or family, or work, or whatever. And the audience, they know who I am. They grew up with me.”
Klein himself grew up in a sixth-floor art deco apartment in the Bronx, near Woodlawn Cemetery, the son of a textile salesman. His family dreamed of a home in Westchester, and on weekends they would drive out and look at houses, but never relocated. It was the performer’s success that allowed him to buy his first Westchester property, a “not terribly winterized” vacation cottage in Croton. Later, after ten years of marriage and the birth of his son, he bought a Stanford White–designed home in Briarcliff with a tennis court and a vineyard. “I became a country squire.”
But the marriage didn’t last, and Klein moved on to his cur-rent home, where he has lived for 26 years. He has a one-bed-room apartment in New York City too, but spends ninety per cent of his time in Briarcliff. “I love the ease of it. I have little interest in local politics, and I pay exorbitant taxes. But what does interest me is the excellent police department, the efficient garbage collection, the small-town feel.”
“And there are the local amenities,” Klein says, before listing favorite restaurants like Spaccarelli’s and Capri Pizza & Pasta. He holds a special reverence for the recently destroyed Landmark Diner, though. “My primary concern is for the fine staff who are out of work, including a dude who makes the best fried chicken and mashed potatoes. I’m told the owner has vowed to rebuild. I hope so. The perfect place to eat, talk politics, or even do ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’ with Jerry Seinfeld.”
Klein’s house is stuffed with books and memorabilia, its walls covered with signed photos and stills from his countless appearances, productions and show-biz events. Al Pacino, Ronald Reagan, Christopher Walken, Wendy Wasserstein, Judy Collins, Jay Leno: It’s like the night of a thousand stars, gazing at the photos that span a five-decades-plus career.
And of course, he’s a fund of stories too, many of them very funny. Will you hear some of them, if you attend his October show in Tarrytown? Maybe. Even he doesn’t know. “I look the venue over, I do a sound check, I warm up on the harmonica, and I warm up my voice.” And that’s it. Then Klein the performer takes over. And on he goes.