The comedy of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara was born out of loving differences.
Married in 1953, they became one of the most successful comedy teams around by joking about their respective ethnic groups (Jewish and Irish Catholic). They recorded comedy albums, played nightclubs and Las Vegas and were mainstays of variety hours on TV; in the 1960s, they were on “The Ed Sullivan Show” three dozen times.
But with the demise of musical variety shows and Meara’s reluctance to go on the road, they decided to split up the act.
Stiller, 83, went on to even greater fame as a sitcom dad on “Seinfeld” and “The King of Queens” while appearing with his movie star son Ben in many films. Meara, 81, also worked with Ben in movies and became a playwright.
Now thanks to their son, the two have reunited as a comedy team and have taken their act to the Web. Ben is an executive producer and frequent director of their new weekly Web series for Yahoo!, “Stiller & Meara: A Show About Everything.” Shot in the living room of their New York apartment, the two chat about such topics as Justin Bieber, basketball and even “Jersey Shore.” Time certainly hasn’t dimmed their comedic teaming.
“We did miss our back and forth,” Meara says. “I love improvising with him.”
“It’s exciting for us now because we are getting responses on twitters and toots,” Stiller quickly adds.
“It’s tweets,” she corrects her husband in a way familiar to longtime fans of their act but admits: “We don’t fully understand it.”
Chatting with them over the phone recently from their home felt like listening to their act.
Anne: I love working with Jerry doing these webisodes. Ben gave us a great direction. He said, “Mom and Dad, remember, this is not a show, it’s a conversation.”
Jerry: We didn’t write any sketches or story.
Anne: We just improvised around the subject.
Jerry: We roll it off -- like basketball. I just ranted.
Anne: Jerry is the maven of basketball. I don’t know anything about it.
Jerry: My passion is basketball because I don’t play basketball.
Anne: That’s because you are short.
Jerry: I am almost as tall as Nate Robinson, whom the Knicks traded to Boston. That gets me mad. A lot of things get me mad.
Anne: Jerry can remember an argument he had in 1973 with someone and he’ll relive the whole thing.
Jerry: You start hearing from people you thought were dead.
Anne: A lot of people might think we are dead.
Jerry: I don’t know who thinks us dead.... I’m still waiting for a Christmas card from Ed Sullivan.
Anne: That’s true. He resents that...
Jerry: I don’t resent anything. He gave us 36 appearances.
Anne: We did 36 shows, so what? He worshipped that guy. I never liked him.
Jerry: You are out of your mind. You never liked him?
Anne: He scared the stuff out of me. I am talking about Mr. Sullivan himself. I wasn’t the only one. There were international favorites from all over the world throwing up in the wings -- singers and tenors and guys who spin plates. It was live. We were scared.
Jerry: Ed Sullivan brought us up to the level that we never knew we could get to -- him standing there on the right side of the wings laughing, tears coming out of his eyes and then calling us over and saying, “You know, we got a lot of mail on that last show that you did.” I said, “From Catholic or Jewish people?” He said, “The Lutherans.”
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Father and son
The popular actor-director Ben Stiller and his father have appeared together in such films as “Zoolander” and in the ill-fated 2007 remake of “The Heartbreak Kid” -- as you guessed it, father and son.
Jerry Stiller has also gone solo in films and television, including playing Frank, the loudmouth father of George Costanza on “Seinfeld” from 1993 to ’98, and as Carrie’s eccentric dad, Arthur Spooner, on the 1998-2007 CBS comedy “The King of Queens.”
Besides being an accomplished playwright, Meara has also starred in several TV series, including 1975’s “Kate McShane” and as Veronica the cook from 1979-82 on “Archie Bunker’s Place” and in such TV movies as 1984’s “The Other Woman.”
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Besides Stiller and Meara, there have been countless popular comedy teams over the decades. One of the biggest was Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who were movie and radio superstars from the ‘30s to the ‘50s.
Lanky straight man Abbott and burly gag man Costello were both veteran burlesque entertainers by the time they were first paired in 1936. They hit the big time two years later on “The Kate Smith Radio Hour,” where they first performed their signature routine, “Who’s on First?” Signing with Universal in 1939, they starred in numerous hit comedies, including the 1941 favorite “Buck Privates.” They took their act to TV in the 1950s but split up after their final film, 1956’s “Dance With Me Henry.” Costello died in 1959; Abbott in 1974.