David Brenner, Philly Comedian and Carson Protegé, Dead at 78
David Brenner told the first mildly naughty joke that I can remember. This was the very early ’80s, I was very young but being allowed to stay up late, and he was doing one of his kabillion appearances subbing for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
“Italians, they make food with their entire bodies,” he said, musingly. “They stomp around on grapes to make wine. They use their hands to really knead dough and toss pizza crusts. (A beat passes.) That’s why I never eat Italian donuts.”
Brenner was old enough to have some Borscht belt in his blood, young enough to spice up his act with some implied blueness, and big enough to become Carson’s alternate. The Philly comedian died over the weekend at the age of 78.
David Brenner, the lanky, toothy-grinned “Tonight Show” favorite whose brand of observational comedy became a staple for other standups, including Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, died Saturday. He was 78.
The tall, thin and always sharply dressed Brenner became one of the most frequent visitors to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” in the 1970s and `80s.
His 150-plus appearances as guest and substitute host turned the former documentary filmmaker into a hot comedian, one who was ubiquitous on other talk shows and game shows.
Brenner was raised in working-class south Philadelphia and graduated with honors from Temple University.
Philly Mag talked to Brenner right before he went on tour five years ago, and then asked him to talk about the Philly accent a year later:
“Years ago, a Philadelphia-native waitress in Beverly Hills told me, ‘There was a young man in here, and he kept saying to me, ‘Keep talking, keep talking.’ And she said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Your accent — I’m trying to get David Brenner’s accent down pat. I’m playing a role as a guy from South Philly and I wanna get it right.’ And that was Sly Stallone.”
And here’s how his website looks at the moment: