Q&A: Back in Annapolis, comedian Robert Klein reflects on career, comedy

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Comedian Robert Klein will be performing at Rams Head in Annapolis on Saturday.

At age 74, comedy legend Robert Klein — a man Jerry Seinfeld calls his hero — has no intention of slowing down.

Klein will make his return to Annapolis Saturday when he performs at Rams Head On Stage at 8 p.m. The comedian, who was the first to perform in a live concert on HBO, currently stars in the TV show "Mysteries of Laura." He's recently played roles in "Madame Secretary" and "The Good Wife," and is preparing for a "juicy role" in an upcoming film project. He's also appeared on "The Tonight Show" and "Late Show with David Letterman" more than 100 times.


Later this month, a documentary focusing on his life and career, titled "Robert Klein Still Can't Stop His Leg," will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The Capital spoke with Klein about his upcoming performance and his thoughts on comedy.


Have you been to Annapolis before?

Yes, I was there less than a year ago. I mooched on someone's yacht once. When I was there to perform, I didn't see much of it. I was impressed with (Rams Head) and the audience was very smart, which I like.

You've been a lot of TV shows recently, are you still interested in doing stand-up? Do you prefer one type of comedy medium over another?

Stand-up is how I started and what my main reputation is for. I've been in films, six Broadway shows and tons of television as an actor. Actors get a big thrill out of Broadway. I'm spoiled, and I get that as a stand-up comedian without saying someone else's lines. I'm the playwright and I can argue with myself. Broadway is something I prefer not to do anymore and it infringes on my time. I like to do what I like to do.

A lot of stand-ups include singing, and you play the harmonica. Any plans on doing that on Saturday?

Absolutely. I do that with (producer) Bob Stein. We sound like a law firm "Stein and Klein." I write the comedy material and he writes the song. He produced the last four HBO specials. Music is always a part of it.

To you, is there a difference between what it was like to be a comedian in the 1970s and 80s and what its like to be a comedian now?

It's a tough business when no one knows you. It's almost adversarial world. Like a bullfighter and a bull. I see a tremendous difference.


There was no clear path to being a professional comedian. There was one club in New York and that's where I met everyone. Now there are tons of comedy clubs and places where you can go. There are more people seeking it now and the Internet has revolutionized everything. It's a completely different landscape and there are a lot of talented people. I do decry the "anything goes" mentality. A lot of profanity is being substituted as wit. I have nothing against profanity when it's used properly.

Within the past year or so, several comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have commented on how political correctness has "killed comedy." What are your thoughts on this?

I hate the expression "politically correct." It sounds North Korean. Politically correct, to me, is it out of control at times. If you have to be warned in a college course that something might offend you, that's too much. Of course have respect for women, have respect for minorities and have respect for people who might be different. They've been here forever but we're now understanding that they're here.

The Trump candidacy is showing we are not post-racial and post-gender yet. I think a woman would be a tremendous change and great to not have this macho stupidity.

So you're a supporter of Hillary Clinton?

Of course, she's a tough a** politician. Would I want a beer with her and all that crap? Has she been devious? Of course, she's a politician. She was a very effective Secretary of State.


What comedians do you like now? What makes you laugh?

I'm not interested in pursuing the latest and greatest in comedy. I like to feed my birds and watch ball games. I sound like a guy who is half-retired, I'm not.

I enjoy the ancients. I'm a devotee of the Marx Brothers. Groucho Marx sent me a letter when I guest hosted "The Tonight Show." He wrote: "I laughed so hard I fell off my secretary's knee. When you come to California give me a call and I'll give you dinner. If I really like you, I'll give you breakfast."

Nobody made me laugh like Jerry Lewis and The Colgate Comedy Hour. He was an amazing clown. It's tough to make me laugh out loud. I smile a lot, which is funny because I hate that in audience members.

You've been doing this for more than 40 years, is there still something you hope to accomplish?

I want to play Hamlet. I'm the right age for Polonius but he was a fool.


This Q&A has been edited and condensed.