David Steinberg Just Wants To Talk Comedy

David Steinberg and Robin Steinberg attend the Vanity Fair party for the 5th Annual Tribeca Film Festival April 26, 2006 in New York City. GETTY

The biggest names in American comedy today get big laughs and big pay checks. They don't have to go on a little show on the TV Land channel, but they do because it is hosted by comic legend David Steinberg.

"The reason I'm doing this show? I told David, I don't need this," Jerry Seinfeld said when he appeared on the show. "But I felt so indebted to him, because when I was just thinking about comedy, he was already doing it."

If you're a Baby Boomer and older, you probably remember David Steinberg from his edgy comedy. If you're too young to remember the '60s and '70s, he probably made you laugh with some of the hit sitcoms he directed in the '80s and '90s, like "Designing Women," "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "Mad About You."

But if you like your comedy unplugged, unguarded and unrehearsed, Steinberg invites you to sit down and laugh with him once a week.

"It is my favorite thing to do," Steinberg told Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Whitaker. "I love stand-up comedians. I understand them. We all speak the same language. Stand-up comedians are like jazz musicians. They 'get' each other. We do it in front of an audience and it's totally, completely unscripted. I truly don't prepare, much the same way that you're working."

Steinberg grew up in a Jewish household in Winnipeg. He got his big break at Chicago's Second City Comedy Troupe.

"It's improv, is what you do. And Second City, of course, fueled all of 'Saturday Night Live.' That's where everybody came from, because you have a place to experiment."

After Second City, Steinberg made a brief foray into acting and starred in two Broadway plays.

"I really didn't feel like acting was what I wanted to do as much," he said. "Neither did the critics and the audience, so I thought, 'We're connected.'"

Steinberg came running back to comedy. With his boyish grin that seemed to soften his antiestablishment bite, he tickled the nation's funny bone and pushed the envelope. He got national exposure in the late '60s on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," here at CBS.

Tommy and Dick Smothers' political satire kept them in hot water with the CBS censors. Steinberg brought things to a boil when he played a rabbi giving a sermon. These lines are said to have gotten the show cancelled:

"Old Testament scholars say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The Gentiles, the New Testament scholars, say, 'Hold it, Jews, no.' They literally grabbed the Jews by the old testament."

That supposedly upset the censors' Standards and Practices and the heads of CBS to such a degree that they just canceled the entire show. Steinberg said the Smothers Brothers took CBS to court and a few years later won back $1 million.

"They played my sermon for a jury and I got big laughs," he said.

  • Caitlin Johnson

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