DOCUMENTARY “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg”
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 10 p.m. on Starz
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Produced by film critic and author Marshall Fine, this loving portrait of Robert Klein’s extraordinary career covers everything — his Second City years, his ’70s Broadway triumph, “They’re Playing Our Song,” “SNL,” the comedy albums and HBO concerts. With lots of interviews, including: Billy Crystal, Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Ray Romano, Larry Miller, David Steinberg and Lucie Arnaz, his “Song” co-star.
MY SAY To quickly explain the title, “Can’t Stop My Leg” was probably Klein’s most famous bit over a 50-plus year career, and helped launch “Saturday Night Live” 42 years ago. But forget about legs and stopping them for a moment. Many people — let’s classify them as the callow, the culturally unlettered, or just the millennial — don’t even know who Robert Klein is.
As brilliant and durable a comedian as Klein is, this seems inconceivable. He’d also probably be the first to remind you that the world’s a tough crowd. Every generation has their favorite comic, but for a generation now pushing 70, that would have been George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Robert Klein. He’s endured, he’s still funny, and he’s still important — this film easily establishes that. Nevertheless, the crowd has moved on. One of the funnier bits arrives at the very end, while Klein is watching himself in “Sharknado 3” (he played the mayor of New York City) on a TV set. He then glances at the camera: “I gotta make a living, don’t I?”
At moments, “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg” does have an ancient regime feel to it, as other notables — from Fred Willard to James Burrows — attest to his greatness. There’s nothing autumnal about it, however. Fine puts that camera right in his face, tightens the focus, and this legend comes fully alive.
Fine has structured “Still Can’t Stop His Leg” as a series of chapters, each a small and very funny portrait-of-the-life in miniature. In one, Klein hangs out in the kitchen with his son, Allie, also a comedian. In another chapter, he visits his childhood home at 2535 Decatur Ave. in the Bronx, then listens as a train rattles overhead — “the sound of my childhood.”
He goes swimming with his poker pals (“Amphibious Jews,” he notes). He tries to hoist a leg onto a concert grand during a recent performance at the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center, before conceding that age (he’s 75) makes hoisting of any sort impossible. A natural — and incessant — tummler, he falls silent only while listening to “Appalachian Spring” while driving near his home in Briarcliff Manor. A highly accomplished musician himself, his heart grows full with Bach (or Copland), he explains.
This genial portrait does not tarry. Chapters move along briskly, and so do those testimonials, all informative. Klein says he had three standup role models — Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Rodney Dangerfield. A dozen other legendary comics, from Seinfeld to Richard Lewis, say they had just one: Klein.
Eventually, the impression emerges that Klein is actually happy — a counterintuitive impression when it comes to the stand-up trade. There’s none of the savage indignation of Carlin or the self-destruction of Pryor. Klein seems to enjoy every moment, memory and encounter. The world has moved on, and Klein could care less. That’s the real pleasure of his company — and of this film.
BOTTOM LINE A movable, funny and very enjoyable feast.