Robert Klein has appeared on a wide range of TV shows, including Saturday Night Live and 9—count ’em, 9—HBO specials.
He has also been in movies like 2007’s “Reign Over Me” with Adam Sandler. Klein is also a well-known singer-songwriter. But those activities that made him famous aren’t what Klein loves best. He grew a big show-business career in spite of putting more time, effort and love into raising his son, Alexander.
Klein brings his stand-up show to Glencoe’s Am Shalom April 20. In a phone interview from his New York City home, Klein offered us a glimpse into his passions and the irreverent entertainment he brings to every performance.
“I’m Shalom and you’re Shalom,” Klein says. “I’m not a very observant person religiously, but being Jewish is so much more complex than being religious.” He pauses, “And, Jews love to laugh.”
And Klein does love making people laugh. “What I love best to do as an entertainer is stand-up,” he says. “I’m better at it now than ever, too. I do a lot of physical movement, perform my own songs—really make it a show.”
Klein found his love of stand-up comedy as a Second City cast member. He started in 1967, following a year in graduate school at Yale University. He enthuses about those early years. “The creativity! The girls! The creativity with girls!”
A life-long New Yorker, Klein still considers Chicago his “second city.” “I played Big Al in the 1990’s sitcom ‘Sisters,’ set in a Chicago suburb, and I recently returned to Second City for a club performance, where I was blown away by the level of talent.”
Klein’s greatest love though is his 29-year-old son, from his marriage to opera singer Brenda Boozer. “I was just with Allie at the Yankees’ opener. He works for Bobby Kennedy’s Riverkeeper Project and lives with his girlfriend in Brooklyn,” Klein says. “We are very, very close.”
Klein always prioritized being with his son over growing his career. “Allie mainly lived with me, as his mother traveled the world for work,” he says. “I made the school lunches.”
“I helped bring him into this world, and that was my best. I never wanted to regret that I didn’t spend enough time with him or say I love you enough,” he says. “I’ve seen quotes by George Steinbrenner and Bob Hope about how, if they could, they would have spent more time with their kids.”
Consequently, Klein turned down opportunities that could have boosted his career to greater heights. For example, he says that the network wanted him in Los Angeles to tape ‘Sisters’ for 22 shows a year; but he would only agree to 10.
What will he perform at Am Shalom? “For sure, I’ll perform my song ‘Colonoscopy.’ Everyone loves that one.”
“Making people laugh is a very high calling,” he says. “It’s perceived as therapeutic. An hour or so of my show just might help people forget their troubles.”