The Elliotts: 3 generations of comic royalty
(CBS News) Chris Elliott, star of the TV show "Get a Life," is just one member of a family that's been making people laugh for three generations and counting. Rita Braver has our Sunday Profile:
Of course they give you a royal welcome. After all, you're looking at American Comedy royalty. But Bob Elliott said he never expected to become the founder of a dynasty of funniness.
"No, no. Never thought of it until it happened, one by one, where we had fooled people all these years," he laughed.
Family patriarch Bob Elliott and his partner, the late Ray Goulding, were on radio and then TV for four decades beginning in the 1940s.
Known for their deadpan humor, Bob and Ray parodied journalism in the early days of broadcasting. And by 1979, they were making fun of themselves on "Saturday Night Live."
Chris Elliott followed in his father's footsteps. By his twenties he was appearing on David Letterman to do weird bits, like coming out as a disheveled Marlon Brando.
"It was always Dave I was writing for," he told Braver. "It was always, What's gonna make Dave laugh when I'm out there?"
And then there's Chris' daughter, Abby Elliott, who just spent four seasons on "Saturday Night Live," where she was known for dead-on-impressions of celebrities, like Rachel Maddow and Angelina Jolie.
In fact, this family - including Chris's wife, Paula, and younger daughter Bridey - is surprisingly sane and low-key, despite Chris' claims to the contrary.
"I can remember getting looks, just wheeling you guys down the street in Manhattan, from people that recognized me, that just thought, 'No, he should not have children! That person should not have kids!'" Elliott laughed.
Alas, Chris's life is so normal that he recently felt compelled to write a comic "unauthorized" autobiography.
Instead of Bob Elliott, he claims his dad is actor Sam Elliott, because "Son of Sam" sounds funnier.
But the truth is, Chris grew up behind the scenes of his real dad's radio show.
"He would set me up in front of the 8-track cart, sound effect machine, and I knew how to push the buttons, and I would just put 'em in."
In 1990 Chris starred in his own TV series, about a 30-year-old paper boy still living at home with his unhappy parents. He got his real father to play his father on the show.
"Not my first choice," Chris said.
Over the years Chris played dozens of roles in TV shows and films, including Bill Murray's testy cameraman in "Groundhog Day."
On screen, Chris has carefully cultivated the persona of a clueless, self-centered idiot, like the dad who invents stupid board games on "How I Met Your Mother."
"You once said that stupidity excites you," Braver said.
"Well, because intellect does not - I'm sorry, that's just the way I'm wired," he laughed.
In real life he's a devoted father, husband and son. He even purchased a place right next door to his dad's house in Maine.
And Chris has worked with his daughter Abby in Letterman skits, like a send-up of a tyrannical TV chef.
Braver asked Abby if she grew up performing for her dad, trying to make him laugh.
"Yeah, my sister and I always performed," she replied. "And I remember at a really young age, we did these plays that we would improvise on our front stoop in L.A. Without knowing it, I think, we were funny in our own way."
And as you may have guessed, Bridey, the youngest Elliott, is now entering the family business.
"What's it like to be the youngest one, the one just breaking in now?" Braver asked.
"It's like a duel," Bridey Elliott said. "And there's sibling rivalry, and it's horrible," she laughed.
And for Bob Elliott, at age 89, he's clearly delighted by founding this funny family.
"Being the patriarch of it is a prideful experience," he said. "A word I use carefully, and not frequently."
Three generations . . . of laughter.
For more info:
- "The Guy Under the Sheets: The Unauthorized Autobiography" by Chris Elliott (Penguin)
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