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The new book Inside Comedy: The Soul, Wit, and Bite of Comedy and Comedians of the Last Five Decades is written by a true insider: David Steinberg — “a comic institution himself,” as The New York Times has said. Steinberg includes personal stories about more than 75 legendary comedians, from late greats such as Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters to current stars such as Tiny Fey and Chris Rock.
The Canadian-born funnyman, 78, started in comedy with Chicago's famed Second City troupe, working with talents such as Jack Burns and Robert Klein and doing stand-up in New York City's Greenwich Village. He went on to a long, high-profile career that included 140 appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, directing scads of TV episodes (shows such as Friends, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm) and hosting Showtime's Inside Comedy series from 2012 to 2015. Throughout those decades he met (and, in many cases, befriended) absolutely everybody who's anybody in the funny business.
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Steinberg now lives in Los Angeles and works on a handful of comedy projects alongside his wife, Robyn Todd. We asked him about his career, his famous pals and what really makes him laugh.
His family was part of his comedy education
My brother Fishy always took me to comedy movies: Abbott and Costello, the Bowery Boys, Marx Brothers, to name a few. I saw everything from the time I was 5 years old. I even skipped school to see movies again and again. Fishy loved comedy and he was always telling jokes. My dad also had a great sense of humor. He was a rabbi and his sermons were always funny. Sermons became such a large part of my comedy. That's not a coincidence. My life has always been a great inspiration for my comedy. I owe them all.
Advice to anyone considering a career in comedy
Figure out what makes you laugh and keep making it funnier. Writing is about rewriting, rewriting and rewriting. Be prepared to come back from failure — a lot. You have to learn how to fail and use that failure to get better and better. There are no shortcuts to comedic success. In comedy you have to learn how to crawl before you can walk.