Stand-up comedian, actor, and author David Brenner died of cancer on Saturday at age 78. In Brenner’s New York Times obituary, comedian Richard Lewis calls him the “godfather of hip, observational comedy.”
Born and raised in poor areas of South and West Philadelphia, Brenner directed documentaries before he debuted on TV in 1971 on the The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, later becoming one of the show’s most frequent guests.
Performance ran in Brenner’s family; his father, Louis, was a vaudeville comedian, singer, and dancer. His career was short-lived, however, because he gave up a film contract in order to please his rabbi father, who objected to him working on Shabbat. Free of these religious pressures, David Brenner went on to be a regular guest of David Letterman, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and made the list of Comedy Central’s “Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.”
His comedy had shifted in recent years to focus on current events, with Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN bringing Brenner on-air as a commentator. In 2003, he published a book titled I Think There’s a Terrorist in My Soup: How to Survive Personal and World Problems with Laughter—Seriously, which tried to get Americans laughing after 9/11.
Brenner, who continued performing stand-up until late last year, is survived by his wife, three sons, and one grandson.