Not liking either Seinfeld or King of Queens cuts you off from a lot of the Jerry Stiller material that most people are familiar with. And I’ll be honest; I’m not familiar with a lot of the rest of his material, either. But Jerry Stiller is one of those people that you’re just familiar with regardless of whether you actually know his stuff or not, because for literally decades, he was just there. In part because of his son, Ben, with whom he seems to have had a really charming relationship.
It’s not surprising to me that some of what he did on the stage was play a Shakespearean clown; honestly, I feel like Shakespeare would have loved to work with an actor like Stiller. He was a fine comedian with a great sense of timing, and that’s what you need to be a proper Shakespearean clown. You also need to know when to be in the background while the plot happens. You aren’t the center of the action, but when it’s your turn, you come on and you steal your scene.
It’s a fine balance. There are definitely actors capable of it. It’s an underrated quality. Kevin Kline can do it. Stanley Tucci can do it. Sir Ben Kingsley can do it. And I have no doubt, based on what I’ve seen of him, that Jerry Stiller could do it. It would have been interesting to watch, frankly far more interesting to me than an episode of Seinfeld, a show that doesn’t work for me. He’s also got some of the same quality in several other ways as Kline and Tucci and Kinglsey, men I have seen play Shakespearean clowns and also seen in dramatic roles. Because there’s not much room for Shakespearean clowns in Law & Order.
Oh, and there’s the family thing. Not just his incredibly famous son, of course. Less famous these days is his late wife, Anne Meara, with whom he did comedy and to whom he was married for over sixty years. He took her out for coffee once, all he could afford, and she swiped the silverware. He knew it was love. And that was on their first date, after she’d been—reading between the lines—sexually harassed by a casting agent.
This may not be the most glowing obituary you’re ever going to read, but you know, I really do have a lot of admiration for Jerry Stiller. I’m also quite sure he’s one of those people who influenced other performers. Ben, obviously, but more than just that. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that quite a lot of the big names in comedy today are writing much more personal, much more heartfelt tributes to the man; I know Frank Conniff, for one, has already posted about how nice he was as well as how funny he was, and that’s a great thing to know.