A few years back, I was scanning the Facebook friend list of a radio colleague and one name really jumped out at me…
He died of cancer a few weeks ago at the age of 78. Throughout the ’70s Brenner was on every talk show that existed including more than 150 appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was one of Carson’s favourites, and one of mine.
I caught a radio interview with actor/comedian Kevin Pollack who said that without Brenner’s observational bits that often began with, “Did you ever notice…” there wouldn’t have been Jerry Seinfeld’s “What’s the deal with….”
Brenner wondered why the TV Superman stood proudly and didn’t flinch when bad guys fired bullets at the Big S on his chest, but ducked when they threw the gun at him.
He was dumfounded when a fellow subway passenger asked him if he was reading the newspaper he happened to be sitting on. Brenner said the next time it happened he got up, turned the page, sat back down on the paper and said, “yes.”
I saw Brenner in concert, maybe in the late ’70s, at what was then the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto (now known as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts….what a dull corporate name). With opening act John Davidson. The singer, not the hockey analyst.
But back to that Facebook thing.
David already had 5,000 “friends” and Zuckerberg and his rigid policies don’t allow more than that, so I sent Brenner a message saying that I had caught him at the O’Keefe Centre.
To my utter delight, he replied. Brenner had fond memories of the O’Keefe Centre and joked that it was probably a supermarket now. When his friend total dipped below 5,000 I sent a request and David accepted.
We didn’t have many exchanges but I did sense Brenner was disappointed with his status in the modern world of comedy. He was one of the hot comics in the ’70s but Brenner went from TV to touring to Vegas. He never got a sitcom like Seinfeld, Bob Newhart or Ray Romano.
In later years Brenner said if Carson had retired five years earler, the Tonight Show would have been his. Instead, it became a battle between Letterman and Leno.
Thanks for the laughs….thanks for being my favourite comedian, and my most treasured Facebook friend (the profile is now managed by his son).
I’ll end with Brenner’s story about appearing on a TV game show called The Magnificent Marble Machine (really, it was a giant pinball game).
The clue: an athletic supporter.
Brenner’s answer: a jock.
The correct answer: a fan.
“All I know,” Brenner said, “is I never went to gym class wearing a fan.”