5 Fascinating Bob Einstein Facts From 'The Super Bob Einstein Movie'
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Nearly three years after his untimely passing in January 2019, comedy fans were given a look inside the world of beloved comedian Bob Einstein earlier this week when a new documentary detailing his life and career – The Super Bob Einstein Movie – dropped on HBO Max. Famed for starring as Marty Funkhouser in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry the Middleman on Arrested Development, and for bringing his iconic satirical character Super Dave Osbourne to life, Bob's signature deadpan jokes and deep appreciation for slapstick comedy made him a star – and a force to be reckoned with among his professional peers.
From his comedy-filled childhood to the ingenious way he got back at Sonny Bono on national TV, here are five fascinating takeaways from the new film.
Comedy Runs In The Einstein Family
Long before Bob captivated audiences everywhere with his signature straight-faced brand of comedy, his father Harry (a.k.a. Harry Park) was a household name – well, at least his popular radio/TV character Nick Parkyakarkus was. Specializing in Greek “Dialect” comedy (a genre of jokes which as Bob's older brother Cliff put it are “not a cool thing today” but “was really good in the ‘40s"), Harry was not only a radio staple but also spent his spare time looking after Bob when he contracted polio around the age of six, an experience Cliff said shaped his brother.
“Bob had to stay home for a year, he couldn't go to school,” he recalled. “It formed Bob because he had all this time with my dad, and he watched him writing his shows and stuff,” he explained. Part of this connection also came through both the father and son's love of playing characters, a shared passion that his siblings say made them particularly close.
“My dad had crafted an alter ego, a character much different from himself and Bob spent his life with several characters, but predominantly the great Super Dave, who was not Bob, but was Bob," Cliff continued. "I think he learned from my dad.”
This inherited love for comedy quickly took a detour into resentment after his father died suddenly of a heart attack while performing at a roast honoring I Love Lucy's Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1958. Several of his father's comedian friends including Milton Berle and George Jessel essentially turned his pal's funeral into a comedy workshop, an occurrence that deeply upset teenage Bob.
“They did their act,” Einstein told Jerry Seinfeld in an included clip from his 2017 appearance on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. “Berle did his jokes, George Jessel did his jokes at my dad's funeral, I hated it so much," he said.
And it wasn't just his dad's joking pals – the star told Seinfeld that as a result of this, he “hated” show business altogether, a sentiment he also shared with his brother Albert around the time of the funeral.
“At my father's funeral, Bob was so turned off by the behavior of comedians,” Albert recalled. “He said ‘I never want to be any part of this, I don’t want anything to do with this business."
Bob Originally Worked in Advertising Before Getting His Big Break
So how, exactly, did Bob go from despising the entertainment industry to becoming one of its greatest staples? By simply asking.
“When I graduated from college, I worked for three years for an advertising agency, and one of the people who we used to hire to do voiceovers was a man named Bob Arbogast, who had a once-a-week television show," Bob recalled in an interview from 2015. “So I said to him ‘I want to go on your show tonight as the guy who puts the stars' names in the sidewalks of Hollywood.'”
Arbogast was evidently swayed. Einstein appeared on the show portraying character Arnold Fillmore, where he cracked several deadpan jokes, ranging from puns to full-on gags about bribery. Although this may have been Bob's TV debut, comedian Steve Martin says he was amazed upon seeing the segment for the first time while filming the documentary, specifically how indicative it was of his colleauge's comedic voice. “This was Bob's mature style,” he explained.
And Martin isn't alone. “That's all you need to know about Bob right there,” former late-night host David Letterman said. “The framework for that got bigger, but the consistency of his attitude is what's delightful.”
Beyond impressing his peers, this segment swayed Tom Smothers to bring Bob onto his show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. “The next day I'm at work and my secretary said ‘Tom Smothers is on the phone for you.'” Bob explained. Although he initially shrugged off the call as a prank, picking up the phone and saying “’hi Tommy! I'd love to talk to you but my uncle is a hunchback but he's straightening up today, I'll see ya later,'” he soon realized he was not, in fact being punked when Smothers called him again ten minutes later.
“I go ‘Hello?’ and he said ‘Bob? Yeah, Tom Smothers again,” he recalled. “I go ‘oh my god,’ I said ‘I am so sorry.’ He said ‘that’s ok, ‘I saw what you did last night and I loved it. We’re doing a summer show with Glenn Campbell would you like to write on it and perform?’"
Considering he was offered weekly payments equal to his yearly salary at the advertising agency, Bob quickly took Smothers up on his deal.
Bob's ‘Officer Judy’ Character Was the Go-To Ending For Tricky TV Skits
Alongside Bob's iconic Super Dave character, the comic was also famed for playing the no-nonsense Officer Judy on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Frequently arresting guests ranging from Liberace to the world's luckiest average drummer, Ringo Starr, the character came to be when Bob and Martin were attempting to find a funny introduction for an episode where musician Judy Collins was serving as a guest star. They ultimately landed on beginning the show with Bob lip-syncing along to the song “I Think It's Going to Rain Today" in full cop getup, a one off-segment that quickly took on a life of its own.
Martin says he does “believe” that he and Bob both created the character, but he also maintains that his co-star approached Officer Judy in a way that was uniquely his. “This was totally Bob's bit,” he said. “I had nothing to do with it. He just came in with it one morning."
But beyond becoming a beloved TV staple, Bob's character also served an important behind-the-scenes purpose – serving as a de-facto ending for skits that were tricky to complete. “Officer Judy would arrest people in the show and it was a great foil because if we didn't have an ending for a sketch, I would come in,” Bob recalled.
But The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour wasn't the only time Bob struggled with endings. While working on his 1980's Canadian TV series Bizarre, Bob's co-star John Byner says that they often had trouble finding conclusions, a problem Bob often shrugged off.
"He'd just say ‘It’s Bizarre, what can I tell you,'" Byner recalled. Comedy writers, take note – if you ever don't know how to end a sketch, just stop abruptly and call it “bizarre.”
Bob Once Got Back At Sonny Bono For Forgetting His Lines On National TV
Beyond his Officer Judy schtick, Bob also garnered popularity for appearing on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, where he regularly acted in the Sonny's Pizza sketch series, in which Sonny plays the owner of a pizzeria with nearly inedible pies. As the slogan on the fictional restaurant door says, “You Won't Believe You Ate The Whole Thing," which coincidentally, should also be plastered on the doors of every Taco Bell in existence.
While Bob says Sonny ultimately became “a great friend,” his triple-threat pal had one bad habit that drove him absolutely bonkers – messing up his lines “all the time.” This annoyed Bob so much that one day he had finally had enough, creating an entire segment specifically so he could act in peace without having to worry about his co-star flubbing his lines.
“I got so pissed that I wrote an episode of 'Sonny's Pizza' where Sonny had been tied up and gagged the whole sketch,” he recalled.
Related: Oh No, Bono Made A Coronavirus Song
Bob's Character Super Dave Osbourne Was Inspired By ‘Every Interview on Television’
Moreso than almost anything in his entire career – well, maybe except for fighting about whether he's an orphan with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm – many of Bob's most iconic moments were portraying his original character Super Dave Osbourne, a bumbling stuntman who allowed the comedian to explore his love of slapstick gags.
With his red white and blue starred suit and his propensity for death-defying stunts including being decapitated via French guillotine and riding a roller coaster while sitting next to a small child, it's clear the character was designed to parody famed stuntman, Evel Knievel. But contrary to popular misconception, the daredevil wasn't Super Dave Osbourne's only inspiration. He was also influenced by, well, “every interview on television,” according to Bob.
While coming up with the character, the comedian said he spent a lot of time watching every interview he could seemingly find, including “after-the-game interviews" and "after a political candidate had lost," he explained during an appearance on TV program Sonya Live!
“They all spoke about the same way – they were all happy, everything was great and things were terrific. In reality, they weren't saying what they felt at all, so we wanted to create a character like that, but also a character that could get his comeuppance physically,” he continued. “We loved physical comedy.”
Top Image: HBO