LI comedians tickle your funny bone
"Having personally studied this phenomenon over a lifetime in the comedy profession, there is no question in my mind that, on average, people that live on Long Island are funnier by a significant increment than the national average of funniness in America," Seinfeld said. "I simply chose to do it professionally, but I do believe that half the population of this strange island could be comedians. The other half — do-nothing politicians, home improvement charlatans and murderers."
Of course, he's kidding, at least about the "other half." Hybrid accents and tabloid crimes aside, Long Island has bestowed upon the nation not only Seinfeld, but Billy Crystal and Rosie O'Donnell. And Eddie Murphy. And Kevin James. They, along with Judd Apatow, Alan Zweibel and a plethora of others, have tickled millions of funny bones. The laugh track started right here, and continues.
"When someone says, 'To make a long story short,' they're already too late."
"Five-minute drum solos are always four-and-a-half minutes too long."
Those are Leifer's musings from her New York Times bestseller, "When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win" (Villard Books, 2009). The stand-up comic and award-winning comedy writer has been based in Los Angeles since 1991, but Leifer, 56, was raised in East Williston, which in the late 1950s and '60s had a small-town vibe.
"We had kind of an idyllic childhood," she said. "We could literally walk from our house [on Bengeyfield Drive], about a 10-minute walk up to Hillside Avenue, which was where all the stores were — Big D and Smiles Five and Dime, Hildebrandt's, which is still there . . ."
Leifer, who has a son, Bruno, 7, with partner Lori Wolf, said she inherited a sense of humor from her late father, Seymour. And her parents exposed her to theater at an early age with trips into Manhattan.
At The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, where she was a cheerleader, Leifer wrote and performed in sketches for the annual Varsity Review. It was there that she discovered a knack for entertaining and eventually majored in theater at SUNY Binghamton, where she dated aspiring comic Paul Reiser, who would later create, co-produce and star, with Helen Hunt, in the TV sitcom, "Mad About You."
Reiser introduced Leifer to the burgeoning comedy club scene in Manhattan. Hooked, Leifer transferred in 1977 to Queens College for her senior year so she could be near the clubs. Seinfeld was the emcee when Leifer and Reiser auditioned at The Comic Strip. Needless to say, they passed.
Leifer, a writer for "Seinfeld," "The Larry Sanders Show" and the Academy Awards, went on to star in her own comedy specials on HBO, Showtime and Comedy Central. She won a Writer's Guild Award for "Modern Family."
If he looks familiar, it's because in addition to stand-up tours and specials, Miller has appeared in more than 100 films and TV shows, including "Pretty Woman," The Nutty Professor," "Boston Legal" and "Law and Order."
Last year, he fell and injured his head and was in a coma.
"I'm feeling just fine," Miller, 59, said of his recovery. "I'm wearing a Swiss girl dress, but other than that — it relaxes me and who's hurt by it? I lost my brain briefly."
During the post-World War II suburban sprawl, Miller's family moved from Brooklyn to a house on Hungry Harbor Road in Valley Stream when he was a boy. He majored in music at Amherst College, from where he graduated in 1975.
"Like most people in show business, it wasn't exactly clear what I wanted to do," Miller said. So he moved back home. By day, he worked at Amtrak. At night, he played drums and piano in Manhattan clubs. One night in 1977 at The Comic Strip he took a turn at the microphone and made people laugh.
"I see something very deep in comedy," said Miller, who hosts a weekly podcast series. "It's not just jokes. It's someone who stands up and says 'I have something I've been feeling, and want to tell you about it.' "
If you recognize the words "goat boy" then you're familiar with the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member, who became a hit by bleating dialogue in sketches. His Joe Pesci impression wasn't too shabby, either. But those days are long over for the Jefferson Avenue, Valley Stream native, who also appeared in the films "Half Baked" and "Zookeeper."
Now 46 and the father of three young daughters, the New Jersey resident is busy touring. Fans can catch him on June 14 at Governor's in Levittown and hosting his Sirius/XM radio show, "Fridays With Breuer," where he talks shop with colleagues such as Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby.
"I was pretty funny in school," Breuer said. "I was a mimic, a clown."
But Breuer's mother wouldn't hear of him going into show business and had other plans for her son, who graduated from Valley Stream Central High School in 1985 (along with SNL cast member and "Portlandia" star Fred Armisen).
"I did not want to go to college, but my mom was petrified and convinced me to go to Nassau Community College and take accounting," Breuer recalled.
He reluctantly obliged, but "one day in the first semester, the accounting teacher said, 'This is the last day you can withdraw from class. Any day past here, if you don't want to be here and are not doing well you're going to get an F.' I didn't even wait for her to finish the sentence and walked out."
And right into the theater department. He didn't graduate from NCC or any college. When he turned 20, Breuer's family moved to Palm Harbor, Fla., but he returned to Long Island a year later to pursue comedy and acting. While living in a friend's basement for about six months, he worked the comedy club circuit in Manhattan, then landed his first break: the nationally syndicated TV show "Uptown Comedy Club."
"Most of my childhood is a big blur, 'cause I needed better glasses." Conversation with Liebman is mired with such one-liners. Her trademark style: a set-up followed by a punch line afterthought. But she didn't set out to do comedy.
After graduating from Roslyn High School in 1979, where she was in the drama club (she was Eliza in "My Fair Lady") and a cheerleader, the Roslyn Heights native headed to Wellesley College, where she majored in psychology. There, she got laughs onstage for the first time playing a catatonic character in the play "Uncommon Women and Others."
The comedy bug bit her in 1984, at Harvard Medical School of all places.
"I took the mail in from the wrong apartment," Liebman said. "There was a course catalog for The Cambridge Center for Adult Education. One of the classes was 'How to be a Stand-Up Comedian.' Bells, buzzers went off in my head."
Her first performance was at Stitches on Commonwealth Avenue. On a train the following day, "I looked out the window and saw Stitches and thought, 'I made a bunch of people laugh in that room last night,' " Liebman recalled.
She has appeared on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and other late-night talk shows. In 1996, Liebman won the American Comedy Award as the Best Female Comedian. These days she performs at Governor's.
Liebman lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Jeffrey C. Sherman, and her two stepsons. She comes back to Long Island once or twice a year, she said, although her parents just sold the home where Liebman was once a very small businesswoman.
"My sister and I had a lemonade stand — with a two-drink minimum."
The award-winning author, comedy writer and producer was like a kid in Disney during a recent visit from Short Hills, N.J., to his childhood home on Holiday Park Drive in Wantagh. His family had moved there from Brooklyn in 1957. Spreading his arms wide, he exclaimed, "This was all brand new. Everyone's parents were the same age. There were dirt roads. Everything was under construction and then it came alive. This was the American dream!"
It's within the walls of that house where Zweibel, who is now 62, turned on the TV one night and saw his future in "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
"I saw this guy Rob Petrie. His character was a TV comedy writer," Zweibel recalled. Petrie had a beautiful wife, a son, a nice house in the suburbs, and "he spent the day at the office lying on his back kidding around with Buddy and Sally. And I'm going, 'I think I want to do that.' And I didn't know how.' "
It took a move to Woodmere in 1965 and then another to SUNY Buffalo, where, as a college freshman, he began to figure it out, by sending jokes to Catskills comics and TV talk shows like "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."
After graduating in 1972, Zweibel moved back home, worked at a deli in Queens and tried stand-up at the Improv and Catch a Rising Star, befriending then-unknown comics Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer, Larry David and Billy Crystal, who drove him to the clubs in his blue Volkswagen. The two have since collaborated on Crystal's "700 Sundays," which returns to Broadway in November.
After Zweibel's mother had a chance meeting with nightclub comic Morty Gunty, he agreed to take a look at Zweibel's jokes. "He was the first guy to pay me," said Zweibel, who copied and framed that check. Gunty passed Zweibel's name around to other Catskills comics, who paid $7 for his jokes.
Then, one night in 1975, Lorne Michaels caught Zweibel's stand-up act and offered him a writing post on his new sketch comedy show, "Saturday Night Live." At 24, Zweibel began living his dream.
"I went from slicing lox in a deli to an Emmy Award, all within nine months," he said.
He stayed with SNL from 1975 to 1980 and was a writer for "Monk" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." In 2010 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Writers Guild of America and co-wrote the films "Dragnet," "North" and "The Story of Us," which starred Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Next up is the movie "Lunatics," based on a novel Zweibel co-authored with Dave Barry; it is slated to feature Steve Carell.
Apatow, a TV and film writer, producer and director, was obsessed with comedy from a young age.
"I didn't play sports, so while a lot of my friends would go to practice, I'd go home and watch the Dinah Shore Show, Mike Douglas" and other daytime talk shows, which frequently showcased up-and-coming comics. By the time he was at Syosset High School and living with his divorced father after they moved from Woodbury, Apatow started the "Club Comedy" radio show, which enabled him to interview his idols, among them Garry Shandling, Steven Wright, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld.
"When I was a kid there was a comedy explosion — Steve Martin, Monty Python, Saturday Night Live . . ., " which led to a Long Island comedy club boom with the 1980 opening of the East Side Comedy Club in Huntington, followed by Governors in Levittown, Laughs in East Hampton, Top of the Town in Huntington, Chuckles in Mineola and others. Apatow landed a job in 1983 as a dishwasher at the East Side Comedy Club, where he studied a young Eddie Murphy doing killer sets, in addition to Bob Nelson, Rob Bartlett and Rosie O'Donnell.
"I wanted to be a comedian," Apatow said, "so I'd do all the open mikes."
But after moving to Los Angeles, he had an epiphany. "I realized that I was more of a writer than a performer," Apatow, 45, said. "Writing jokes for other comedians, it soon became clear, was my calling."
Then in 1990, a huge break: Garry Shandling was hosting the Grammys and needed jokes. Shandling, who later hired Apatow to write for "The Larry Sanders Show," became a mentor and friend, championing Apatow's every success.
Nowadays, Apatow is producing "Anchorman: The Legend Continues," starring Will Ferrell. His other film projects include "Bridesmaids," "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and he produces HBO's Emmy-nominated series "Girls."
"I wanted to be funny when I was very little, but I probably wasn't funny for a long time, not till my mid-20s," Apatow said.