A Conversation With Local Legend Robert Klein
Screen star and Westchester resident Robert Klein, who has been entertaining America for nearly half a century, brings his celebrated standup to Mamaroneck.
photos by kevin mazur/courtesy of HBO
Westchester boasts plenty of outsize personalities, but Robert Klein’s is perhaps one of the biggest. Once cited by Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld as a major influence, the legendary comic has appeared in too many films and television shows to mention. He also happens to have called Briarcliff Manor home for more than three decades.
“I would say I spend 85 to 90 percent of my time in Briarcliff Manor. I moved up here about 30 years ago, and I love it in Westchester,” says Klein. “When I was a kid in the Bronx, my father was an air-raid warden, and a lot of the husbands coming home from the war were moving out of the Bronx and into places like Westchester. The place always seemed so beautiful to my mom, so Westchester was kind of always on my mind.”
It wasn’t until Klein purchased a vacation home in Croton-on-Hudson with his first wife, opera singer Brenda Boozer, that his dream became a reality. “When we got divorced, I wanted to be close to my son, and I fell in love with this house. I have a couple of acres, and I like very much having Mr. Duffy the mailman and going to the hardware store and kibitzing with the locals.”
With so much admiration for Westchester’s bucolic atmosphere, it is no surprise that Klein is particularly excited about his March 4 show at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck. “The little Emelin is adorable, and I have played it no fewer than half a dozen times. It is the perfect size, not a bad seat in the house,” shares Klein. “I am an Easterner through and through, and little things like the Emelin seem to me an anomaly in this world. A small, local space that the community keeps alive. That alone is such an achievement.”
“The little Emelin is adorable, and I have played it no fewer than half a dozen times. It is the perfect size, not a bad seat in the house.”
Klein is no stranger to achievement himself. Born in the Bronx, the stage came naturally to the up-and-coming comedian, who became a member of the revered comedy troupe Second City during the spring of 1965. Greats such as Bill Murray, John Candy, and Stephen Colbert were all members and, like his cohorts, Klein soon found himself rocketing to fame. After appearances on a handful of sitcoms and minor roles in movies, the funnyman hosted Saturday Night Live in 1975 and, that same year, earned his very own HBO comedy special.
Klein would go on to host no fewer than nine HBO comedy specials and now boasts hundreds of television and film credits, including a recent part on the critically acclaimed Debra Messing vehicle The Mysteries of Laura. Along with an award-winning book and several albums, the actor recently gained a new fan base with his portrayal of New York City’s mayor on the campy hits Sharknado 2 and Sharknado 3.
Marshall Fine, critic-in-residence at The Picture House in Pelham, even produced a documentary, Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg, summing up the work and expansive influence of the comic. “The shooting took longer than Cleopatra,” jokes Klein. “[The documentary] is going to have its television premiere March 31 on Starz, and it’ll be available on demand. I am the subject of it, which is very strange but also thrilling.” The film, which features interviews with comics ranging from Jon Stewart to Jerry Seinfeld, has already made waves during advance screenings at SXSW, the Tribeca Film Festival, and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Yet despite his seemingly endless screen time, it is the stage that calls out to Klein the most. “Even though I like physical comedy — I may or may not climb on the piano at some point during my Emelin show — I do like to do thinking person’s comedy, without going over the heads of the audience,” remarks the Tony-nominated actor. “Truthfully, I feel I am better now at standup than I ever was. I have lost some of my agility because, let’s be serious, aging sucks. But really, it’s going to be a wonderful show.”
Beyond the stage, Westchester also remains eminently close to Klein’s heart. The ways in which the county differs from New York City, where Klein first made his name and where he still owns an Upper East Side apartment, have made Westchester particularly inviting.
“To have this kind of verdancy and feeling of country and fresh air so close to the city is a wonderful plus. I believe I will be here ’til the end — but I hope it doesn’t come too soon!” he says with a laugh. “I am very fortunate I landed in the right profession and in this beautiful house in Westchester. I think I have one of the most spectacular views anywhere. It changes every single day, and the sunsets are gorgeous.”