Tonight Show Fave, Comedian David Brenner Dies at 78

Standup pioneered observational comedy of Seinfeld

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Mar 16, 2014 5:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – Other veteran comics could head straight to The Tonight Show couch to banter with Johnny Carson, but David Brenner had to do a stand-up routine when he was a guest. Finally, Carson told a puzzled Brenner why. "I like to sit back, smoke a cigarette and laugh for six minutes," Brenner, in a 2013 interview with CBS, recalled him saying. Carson's regard for Brenner, who died in his New York City home yesterday at age 78 after battling cancer, made him one of the most frequent visitors to Tonight as a guest and substitute host who was on more than 150 times.

The lanky, toothy-grinned Brenner's brand of observational comedy became a staple for other standups, including Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser. "David Brenner was a huge star when I met him and he took me under his wing. To me, historically, he was the godfather of hip, observational comedy," comedian Richard Lewis said in a statement. But he didn't achieve the success of Seinfeld's self-titled NBC sitcom or Reiser's Mad About You, and he saw Jay Leno follow Carson as Tonight host. "I really believe that had ... Johnny Carson retired in the early '80s, then I would be sitting behind that desk," he told the AP in 1995. "I don't think there's any doubt." In a statement, his family said he left a last laugh: A final request that $100 in small bills be placed in his left sock "just in case tipping is recommended where I'm going."

This July 13, 1977 file photo shows comedian David Brenner. On Saturday, March 15, 2014, publicist Jeff Abraham announced Brenner has died at the age of 78.
This July 13, 1977 file photo shows comedian David Brenner. On Saturday, March 15, 2014, publicist Jeff Abraham announced Brenner has died at the age of 78.   (Uncredited)
FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005 file photo, comedian David Brenner and Olympic ice skater Tai Babilonia walk the red carpet during the opening night of Barry Manilow's new Las Vegas show at the Las Vegas Hilton. On Saturday, March 15, 2014, publicist Jeff Abraham announced Brenner had...
FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005 file photo, comedian David Brenner and Olympic ice skater Tai Babilonia walk the red carpet during the opening night of Barry Manilow's new Las Vegas show at the...   (Eric Jamison)
FILE - In this Sept. 24, 1986 file photo, comedian David Brenner hosts avant garde fusion musician Frank Zappa, center, and his children, Dweezil, left, and Moon Unit, during a taping of Brenner's Nightlife talk show in New York. Brenner holds a necktie given to Frank Zappa upon entering a...
FILE - In this Sept. 24, 1986 file photo, comedian David Brenner hosts avant garde fusion musician Frank Zappa, center, and his children, Dweezil, left, and Moon Unit, during a taping of Brenner's "Nightlife"...   (David Bookstaver)
This 1981 photo released by the  Las Vegas News Bureau shows David Brenner at the Riviera. A spokesman for the family of the comedian  says the Tonight Show favorite has died. He was 78. Brenner died Saturday March 15, 2014, at his home in New York City, said Jeff Abraham,...
This 1981 photo released by the Las Vegas News Bureau shows David Brenner at the Riviera. A spokesman for the family of the comedian says the "Tonight Show" favorite has died. He was 78. Brenner died...   (Pre-News Bureau)
This 1979 photo released by the  Las Vegas News Bureau shows David Brenner and Wolfman Jack at the Riviera. A spokesman for the family of the comedian  says the Tonight Show favorite has died. He was 78. Brenner died Saturday March 15, 2014, at his home in New York City,...
This 1979 photo released by the Las Vegas News Bureau shows David Brenner and Wolfman Jack at the Riviera. A spokesman for the family of the comedian says the "Tonight Show" favorite has died. He was...   (Pre-News Bureau)
This 1979 photo shows David Brenner and Lesley Ann Warren at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas.  A spokesman for the family of Brenner says the Tonight Show favorite has died. He was 78.
This 1979 photo shows David Brenner and Lesley Ann Warren at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. A spokesman for the family of Brenner says the "Tonight Show" favorite has died. He was 78.   (Pre-News Bureau)
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