Fresh, funny improvisation from legendary duo Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara is now available "on Internet," as Stiller would say. In two-minute clips that go up each Tuesday at Stiller & Meara on Yahoo! Video and Hulu.com, the husband-and-wife team bring their hilarious musings about such modern phenomena as "spacebook" to a whole new audience.
Stiller, 83, admits he didn't even know Facebook existed until his son, actor-director Ben Stiller, clued him in.
"Anne is the one with the computer," Jerry Stiller says. She's the one who updates their Facebook page (more than 4,000 people like them) and tweets to their 13,000-plus followers on Twitter. "She's in touch with every part of the world," Stiller says of the 81-year-old Meara. "She is listening in on everything. She has communication on Facebook and she's talking and I'm sitting there writing my next book, totally out of touch with what's going on."
He may be "unsophisticated with the technology," but Stiller is not really out of touch. He is smart about the need to know technology — and not just because he has an iPhone on which he still can't retrieve his messages. "I think it's important to learn because you can't be outside the loop. No matter what age today, you can't stand there and let the traffic pass you."
That said, Stiller confesses to writing the aforementioned current book the way he did his 336-page memoir, Married to Laughter — in longhand. "I did not take typing," he says. "To this day I regret it."
Focus on topical humor
In the first video for the Web, Meara describes the show as "topical," and Stiller says that's exactly what they are striving for in each one. "We want to keep one step ahead of everything, to look at what's coming up. Thanksgiving is coming and we have done that show. We're trying to be relevant."
To that end, they pick a topic — singer Lady Gaga or MTV's hit Jersey Shore, for example — do a little homework ("I learned a lot about Gaga; I really like that woman.") and begin with the unscripted banter they have honed during 57 years of marriage, the raising of two children and working together.
"It's our own truth," Stiller explains. "What else can you say at this point in your life? What are you holding back?"
The videos are drawing a following: One about basketball has had more than 249,000 views; another about Jersey Shore has attracted more than 104,000 views.
Ben Stiller, 44, says his parents are "an incredible symbiotic organism when it comes to performing together. I'm amazed every time I watch them do it, because it seems that wherever they go it is organic and real, yet funny. My dad genuinely wants to finish a thought, and my mom genuinely wants to stop him. Then he gets genuinely upset. Which in life is not always funny, but for the show it is great."
On the show, Stiller and Meara talk about everything from smoking marijuana to getting a good obituary in The New York Times. The latter came to Stiller (who reminds "it's a one-day thing when you die") as many ideas do: "I sit down about 7 or 8 in the morning on the day we're going to tape the show and let my mind roll."
Cheers and jeers
That's not how it worked when he and Meara were appearing regularly on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s. Their six-minute sketches were written and approved in advance by Sullivan himself. Stiller speaks fondly of Sullivan as "a groundbreaker for us." He recalls him as a friend but also, "he was a tough taskmaster. If a sketch wasn't right, we wouldn't do it."
Stiller and Meara did not get to appear on the show with the Beatles, when the Fab Four drew a record-breaking 73 million viewers in 1964. But they were unlucky enough to be in the lineup on the night in 1967 when the Rolling Stones appeared. Stones fans were "behind the barricades and booed us as we entered from the stage door," Stiller recalls.
The duo, who have worked in TV and movies individually and together since those days on Sullivan, are robust as ever in spite of some health challenges — open heart surgery for Meara and two hernia operations for Stiller.
They recently appeared on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart in the run-up to Stewart's Rally for Sanity in Washington last month. They didn't actually attend the rally, Stiller says, though that was part of The Daily Show bit. Stiller says he wrote a scenario that involved him driving a gypsy cab to the rally. "They said theirs was funnier, which is OK by me."
The Stewart appearance is perhaps testament to Stiller and Meara's staying power and endurance. And, Stiller says, they are not ready to stop.
"You're retired when the phone doesn't ring anymore," he says. "And when it does ring, you're back in business. The phone started ringing again and we responded. We never knew whether [the Web videos] were going to be popular.... All we did was listen to Ben, who was there for us and gave us some hints. You don't know where it's gonna land but here it is — we're back in the good old days and it feels great. "
Lorrie Lynch is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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