ALAN KING, 1927-2004
“I don’t like going to shul because people recognize me. My rabbi said that if I came more often, people wouldn’t care so much”
By Lukas I. Alpert
NEW YORK – Alan King, whose tirades against everyday suburban life grew into a long comedy career in nightclubs and TV that he later expanded to Broadway and character roles in movies, died Sunday at the age of 76.
King, who also was host of the New York Friars Club’s celebrity roasts, which had recently returned as a staple on TV’s Comedy Central, died at a Manhattan hospital, said a son, Robert King. He died of lung cancer, his assistant Miriam Rothstein said.
King appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” 93 times beginning in the 1950s.
Comedian Jerry Stiller, who knew King for more than 50 years, said King was “in touch with what was happening with the world, which is what made him so funny.”
“He always talked about the annoyances of life,” Stiller said. “He was like a Jewish Will Rogers.”
King played supporting roles in more than 20 films including “Bye Bye Braverman,” “I, the Jury,” “The Anderson Tapes,” “Lovesick,” “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “Casino” and “Rush Hour 2.” He also produced several films, including “Memories of Me,” “Wolfen” and “Cattle Annie and Little Britches,” and the 1997 TV series “The College of Comedy With Alan King.”
He said he was working strip joints and seedy nightclubs in the early 1950s when he had a revelation while watching a performance by another young comedian, Danny Thomas.
“Danny actually talked to his audience,” he recalled in a 1991 interview. “And I realized I never talked to my audience. I talked at ’em, around ’em and over ’em, but not to ’em. I felt the response they had for him. I said to myself, `This guy is doing something, and I better start doing it.’ ”
King, who until then had been using worn-out one-liners, found his new material at home, after his wife persuaded him to forsake his native Manhattan, believing the suburban atmosphere of the Forest Hills sections of Queens would provide a better environment for their children.
Soon he was joking of seeing people moving from the city to the suburbs “in covered wagons, with mink stoles hanging out the back.”
He also worked as the opening act for such music stars as Lena Horne, Billy Eckstine, Patti Page and Judy Garland, whom he joined in a command performance in London for Queen Elizabeth II.
Born Irwin Alan Kniberg, he grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Brooklyn.