One of comedian Robert Klein’s most famous lines is about his adolescent sex dreams that involved “hot dogs chasing doughnuts through the Lincoln Tunnel.” Klein will bring his fast-paced humor to the Bearsville Theater as part of the 2015 Woodstock Comedy Festival, running from Friday, September 18 through Sunday, September 20.
In addition to Klein’s Saturday night show, the festival will present “Laughingstock” on Friday evening at the Kleinert/James Art Center, with stand-up and improv by Robert Dean, Brendan Eyre, Megan Gailey, Jeffrey Joseph, Cynthia Kaplan, Shane Torres, local favorite Audrey Rapoport, and host Jo Firestone. Saturday afternoon will bring panel discussions to the Kleinert, including “Joan Rivers: A Tribute”, “George Carlin: Growing Up Funny”, and “The Life of a Stand-Up.” On Sunday, comedic shorts will be screened at Upstate Films, plus the documentary Just About Famous, about the lives of celebrity lookalikes.
Klein, the headliner, has worked in comedy and film for 50 years, appearing on the Tonight Show and Late Night more than a hundred times, hosting Saturday Night Live, receiving Grammy and Tony Award nominations, acting in films with Barbara Streisand and Al Pacino, and starring in nine HBO stand-up comedy specials.
He grew up in the north Bronx, where he played stickball and curveball in a middle-class neighborhood and attended DeWitt Clinton High School. His youth provided rich material for his 1973 record album “A Child of the Fifties” and his book, The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue (Simon & Schuster, 2006).
Klein attended Alfred University, where he majored in history and political science. Politicians provide fodder for much of his humor, such as the Donald Trump satire he improvised over the phone in an interview with Woodstock Times: “‘Where do you stand on women’s issues, Mr. Trump?’ ‘I’m great with women, I love women, I’ve been married four times, I had a mother, I have a daughter. Mexicans? I love Mexicans, I hire them all the time. I once had diarrhea in Mexico City.’”
In 1966, at Klein’s first theater audition, Mike Nichols cast him in the Broadway musical The Apple Tree. The show’s stars, Barbara Harris, Alan Alda, and Larry Blyden, went to the Improvisation Club to watch Klein try out a comedy routine based on his year with Second City, the seminal Chicago improv troupe. After his 15-minute show, said Klein, “a guy came up to me, tugging at his collar, saying ‘You were fucking brilliant, and I’m a tough cocksucker. Now you’re going to come here for five years to get it right.’” The man was Rodney Dangerfield, and the two remained close friends for over a decade, although Dangerfield was 20 years older than Klein.
“He was my Yale Drama School of stand-up,” said Klein, who had done a year at Yale before deciding Second City was more his speed. “Rodney told Woody Allen’s manager about me. I was there at the beginning of the ‘no respect’ thing. He was too intense and too depressed, so eventually I had to break away a little. Our styles were very different, but he was an amazing comedian, a tremendous creator of humor.”
In Woodstock, he’ll be appearing with his longtime accompanist and producer, Bob Stein, with whom he’s written many songs, including “The Colonoscopy Song.” The show will include music, stand-up, improv, and takedowns of celebrities. (“People are so down on Cosby, but nothing’s been proven. It’s a case of he said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said….”)
Klein is looking forward to visiting Woodstock, where he had a gig in a club in 1969, although attending the Woodstock Festival didn’t even occur to him. Among his friends have been many locals, including Happy and Artie Traum, as well as banjo virtuoso Eric Weissberg, who played on one of his albums. “When I come to Woodstock, I’m hoping they’ll give me the key to the city,” Klein remarked. “I was given the key to Orlando, Florida. I did a USO show there for military people — at great risk, flying into Orlando, taking fire from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. When I went to Schenectady, they couldn’t give me the key to the city, but they gave me the combination.”
The Woodstock Comedy Festival will be held September 18-20 at venues around Woodstock. For a full schedule of events and to buy tickets, visit https://ulsterpub.staging.wpenginecomedyfestival.org.