A career in entertainment was not a “legitimate” pursuit for a middle class kid born in the Bronx, even though his father, Ben, was a good livingroom comedian, and his mother, Frieda, was a show business fan. So, Robert Klein graduated from Dewitt Clinton High School and entered Alfred University as a pre-med student.
At Alfred he joined the college’s acting company and graduated in 1962 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. But the acting bug hit hard, and Robert’s drama professor convinced Ben Klein that his son should pursue an acting career. Yale Drama School beckoned, and Klein was on his way.
He finished a year at Yale, followed by summer stock.
In March of 1965, he auditioned for the famous Chicago “Second City,” became a member of the troupe, and there he spent the single most important year of his career.
Klein returned to New York as a seasoned member of “Second City” and was seen by producer Mike Nichols and chosen for a role in his Broadway musical, “Apple Tree.” He began working on stand-up comedy material at the original “Improvisation” club.
Soon after that, Klein was cast in two more Broadway shows, “Morning, Noon and Night,” and “New Faces of 1968.” In 1970, he starred in “Comedy Tonight,” the CBS summer replacement for Glen Campbell’s show. Klein and the show were highly acclaimed, and it was becoming very clear that Robert Klein was here to stay.
In 1973, Klein released his first album, “Child of the Fifties,” and ingenious collection of material which brought Klein to a vast audience and won him a Grammy Award nomination for Best Comedy Album of the Year. Two more albums followed, including “Mind Over Matter,” also nominated for a Grammy, and “New Teeth.” “Let’s Not Make Love” was released in 1990 on Rhino Records. Because of popular demand, Rhino re-released “Child of the Fifties” and “Mind Over Matter” in 1990. In 1992 CBS re-released “New Teeth.”
In conjunction with the release of “Let’s Not Make Love,” Klein filmed a music video of the title track, hilariously depicting his quest for love in the safe-sex ‘90’s’ as only Klein can. For the video, Klein tapped Geraldo Rivera, Joan Rivers, Maury Povich, Capt. Lou Albano, Joe Franklin, Lisa Sliwa, Vitas Gerulaitus, Bob Costas and Marv Albert for cameo appearances.
Probably no single event is more indicative of Klein’s success than his first sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in 1973, “The First Annual Robert Klein Reunion.” For nearly two hours, Klein knocked out his audience with his high-energy comedy and comment. The critics raved, and Klein affirmed his place as a major personality in contemporary entertainment and as an influence on a whole generation of comedians.
In 1979, Klein returned to Broadway in grand style with a Tony nomination for Best Actor, and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance in the hit musical, “They’re Playing Our Song,” with Lucy Arnaz.
While “They’re Playing Our Song” was running in New York, Klein began hosting “The Robert Klein Radio Show,” an internationally syndicated comedy-rock show taped before a live audience which ran for two years.
In 1993, Klein starred in Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Sisters Rosensweig” with Madeline Kahn and Jane Alexander. Quickly becoming a favorite of the Broadway critics in the role of Merv Kant, a manufacturer of “Synthetic Animal Covering,” Klein won both an Obie Award For Performance and The Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor.
To say that Klein’s show business career has been varied would be an understatement. He has been a regular guest on “The Tonight Show” for over twenty years, and has guest-hosted the show on numerous occasions. He also appears regularly on “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Klein also hosted “Saturday Night Live” twice, and starred in the first “Cheeseburger” sketch with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd.
Klein’s movie roles include “Hooper,” starring Burt Reynolds, “The Owl and the Pussycat,” with Barbra Streisand, “Rivals,” with Joan Hackett, “The Landlord,” “The Bell Jar,” “Nobody’s Perfekt,” “Dangerous Curves,” and “Tales From The Darkside: The Movie.” Klein has recently appeared in “Radioland Murders,” “Mixed Nuts,” “Jeffrey,” “One Fine Day,” “Suits,” “Next Stop Wonderland,” “Primary Colors,” “Goosed,” “Labor Pains,” “Two Weeks Notice,” with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock, “How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, “Safety of Objects,” with Glen Close, and “People I Know,” with Al Pacino.
No stranger to television movies, Robert’s starring credits include, “Summer Switch” and “This Wife For Hire” for ABC, “Poison Ivy” for NBC, and “Your Place or Mine?” for CBS.
In 1984, NBC’s “Bloopers and Practical Jokes” sent him onto the streets of New York for weekly segments exploring the country’s most exciting city in the inimitable Klein style.
Klein has also frequently guest starred on hit television series including “The New Twilight Zone,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Midnight Caller,” “Frasier,” “Phenom,” “Law and Order,” “Grace Under Fire,” and “Mad About You.” His 1988 episode of “Family Ties” was nominated for an Emmy Award. Klein has also appeared on “The King of Queens.”
In 1975, Klein was the first comedian to appear in a live concert on the precedent setting Home Box Office “On Location” series, and has done seven one-man shows since for HBO. His 1982 show, “Robert Klein at Yale,” has been added to the permanent collection of The Museum of Broadcasting. 1984’s “Robert Klein: Child of the 50’s, Man of the 80’s” has been released as a home video by Thorn/Emi-HBO. “Robert Klein on Broadway,” taped at New York’s Nederlander Theatre in 1986, is also available on home video. In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Klein’s first special, his sixth special “It All Started Here,” premiered in December 1995. Klein’s seventh HBO special, “Child in His 50’s” premiered in December 2000 to rave reviews.
Klein also hosted the “Dead Comics Society.” Seen on Comedy Central, “Dead Comics Society” was a series featuring pristine prints of classic comedy films by Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and others, with Klein adding adept commentary, anecdotes and insight about each of the artists, their lives, and work.
Robert has also starred in several teleplays including “Table Settings” for HBO, and the classic French Farce “Pajama Tops,” for Showtime.
From 1986 through 1988, Klein also hosted “Robert Klein Time” on the USA Network, his own weekly talk/variety/comedy show which was nominated for seven Ace Awards.
In 1991-1992 Klein hosted the highly acclaimed “Arts and Entertainment Review.” Seen on the A&E Network, each week Klein presented the finest in the world of entertainment via his incisive interviews and reviews.
From 1993-1996, Klein starred on NBC’s “Sisters” as “Big Al” Barker. As “The Prince of Pricetown,” Big Al’s love affair with Alex (Swoosie Kurtz) kept viewers riveted from the moment Klein joined the cast as the burly, yet lovable, retail appliance magnate. The show is presently in syndication.
Klein also hosted “E! Stand-Up Sit-Down Comedy,” a half-hour series seen on E! Entertainment Television in which Klein interviewed and featured the performance of one of the nation’s hottest young Stand-Up comedians each week.
Klein hosted “New Joke City,” which was seen weekly on The Metro Channel. Taped at New York’s famed Gotham Comedy Club, the series featured some of the hottest stand-up comedians from around the country.
Robert recently completed his first book for Simon & Schuster, an affectionate coming-of-age memoir about growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s before embarking on a show business career. In “The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue,” he recounts his journey from an apartment in the Bronx, developing his talent in Chicago and the beginning of his show business stardom that is pure Robert Klein: witty, honest, self-questioning and always contagiously funny. Publishers Weekly writes: "...he unfurls an array of captivating anecdotes, writing with wry wit and honesty."
When Robert isn’t making a movie, filming a one-man concert, performing on Broadway, at the White House, or hosting a television show, he relaxes by regularly traveling the country appearing at hundreds of colleges, universities, and theatres, or in Atlantic City performing his brilliant comedy for sold-out houses.