David Brenner, a beloved comedian who guest starred often on The Tonight Show, died Saturday at his New York City home in the company of his family at the age of 78. He had been battling cancer.
It was while Johnny Carson held The Tonight Show reins back in the 1970s that David Brenner became a fairly regular guest performer, but his humor–a brand of observational comedy–was studied and undertaken by more recent stand up comics like Paul Reiser and Jerry Seinfeld. He actually appeared on The Tonight Show more than 150 times between the 1970s and the 1980s, and he even guest hosted for Johnny Carson. He was the most frequently recurring guest Carson ever had on the show.
“David Brenner was a huge star when I met him and he took me under his wing. To me, historically, he was the godfather of hip, observational comedy,” comedian Richard Lewis said in a statement following news of Brenner’s passing. “He mentored me from day one. … His passing leaves a hole in my life that can never be replaced.”
Recent years found Brenner’s style changing a bit to keep up with the times. He swapped out some of his every day humor for social and political jokes instead. His last appearance was a four-day gig in Pennsylvania over the New Year’s holiday where he showcased some up and coming young comedians.
Jimmie Walker was just one of the young comedians David Brenner mentored years ago.
Walker called Brenner “a true comic genius” who was “my mentor and taught me about life and comedy.”
David Brenner was always the first to admit he put his family before his fame, and following a custody battle with his girlfriend over his son back in the 1980s he cut down significantly on his performance dates.
“In a nutshell, I couldn’t work more than 50 nights a year (out of town) or I’d be an absentee father,” he said. “That was when they were giving out the talk shows, the sitcoms.”
Once asked during an interview if he ever regretted that decision, Brenner had the following to say.
“I didn’t even make a decision. I didn’t even think about it. How could you not do it? I don’t mean to sound noble,” Brenner said. “Besides, I come from the slums of Philadelphia and everything in my life is profit. My downside is what most people would strive a lifetime to get to.”
David Brenner is survived by his wife Ruth, and sons Cole, Wyatt, and Slade. He also had one grandson named Wesley. No information has hit the media yet regarding funeral plans.
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