SHELLEY BERMAN INTERVIEW FROM FILMFAX, 2005

Shelley Berman, interviewed by yours truly back ’05 for Filmfax magazine, was part of an idea I had while trying to get Lee Marvin Point Blank published. I figured I’d keep my writing chops up by interviewing subjects within a given theme, in this case it was pioneering comedians. It started with the rare opportunity afforded me to interview both Sid Caesar and Steve Allen. From there the plan was to write about the holy trinity of Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Shelley Berman. Well, I met Berman at a Hollywood Collector’s Show and he agreed on a day and time to be interviewed. When I found out he was good friends with Sahl, I thought the next step would be a breeze. It wasn’t. As for Bruce, I wanted to interview his daughter, Kitty, who was amenable over the phone but constant scheduling conflicts made the proposed piece prohibitive. Ahh well, maybe some day…
As for Berman, he remains one of the strangest interviews I have ever conducted. He invited me to his home and was very cordial but as our talk went on, he kept pressing me to ask him about certain subjects he wanted to expound on. I’m sure he wanted some specific comments on the record, but that was not why I was there. I maintained control of the interview and asked about subjects I knew the good folks at Filmfax wanted me to ask him about.
Then, at one point, a certain subject was brought up that so angered him, he said that I should turn off the tape recorder as the interview was officially over. I did turn off the recorder but it was to convince him to go back on the record. I won’t say what (or who) the subject was that angered him as I agreed not to go public with it. He calmed down and the interviewed continued to its conclusion. Later, when I told publisher Mike Stein about it, he laughed and said how cool he thought the whole thing was. That eased my worries a bit as I then turned in the article that you see below. Suffice to say, the subject that angered him is still present but only slightly altered. Can you tell what it is???
Oh, and one more thing. After the article, I posted the letter Berman wrote that stated a few of his objections and no, the subject that angered him was NOT in the letter. Go figure….

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Shelley Berman's letter to the editor after the interview was published. No, the angry subject is NOT in the letter.

Shelley Berman’s letter to the editor after the interview was published. No, the angry subject is NOT in the letter.

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9 thoughts on “SHELLEY BERMAN INTERVIEW FROM FILMFAX, 2005

  1. Great interview . I was a big fan of Mr. Berman .
    I’m sure you are aware of his early TV documentary . Perhaps this was what he got angry about .
    Today , it would have made him more famous . At that time (think the 50’s) it killed his career .
    He was doing his father/son routine in a nightclub . He had rules that the pay phones would be taken off the hook , while he performed .
    It was left on the hook and at a poignant moment , it rang . The audience laughed .
    This was one of the first documentaries where the camera followed him around .
    After the show he was furious (rightfully so) and was screaming backstage .
    When it was aired , the TV audience , turned against him .
    I met him in the late 60’s . He was going to direct a film . He was a nice man .

    • Glad you remembered, Ron. That was one of the subjects he wanted me to ask him about but I refused to do so. The subject that angered him to the point of wanting to end the the interview, was something else entirely.

        • Good question, Ron. I didn’t bring it up for a couple of reasons:
          1) The mood he was in at the time would have meant a long rant that would have gone far afield of what the interview was about.I thought about as a possible follow-up but once I transcribed the interview, I chose to simply allude to in the introduction, instead.
          2) His response to that incident was very well known as it’s been in other books & periodicals and I wasn’t interested in retreading old material.
          3) Most of all, I learned a valuable lesson in controlling an interview with a subject and not the other way around.
          Hope that helps.

          • I’ve never read anything about it . I would have liked to hear his rant .
            I’ve ranted about it , myself .
            Perfect example of how stupid the 50’s were .
            He was/is a great talent . Glad to hear he’s still performing .

          • In writing about the landmark comedians of the 50s & 60s it always comes up and to tell you the truth, I personally was getting tired of it. Check out Gerald Nachman’s book about the subject (“Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 50s & 60s”) among others. It’s well documented. I guess maybe I assumed too much. Hindsight is 20/20 of course so maybe I should have brought it up. Oh well.

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