After the death of his father Jerry Stiller, Ben Stiller is reflecting on his dad’s comedic legacy and his comedy partnership and marriage to Anne Meara.
Jerry, who died last week at age 92, had a lengthy comedy career with Meara — Ben’s mother — who died in 2015. Stiller and Meara worked both together and solo, toured the U.S on the comedy stage, acted in film and TV, as well as made regular guest appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show”. Their onstage act sometimes spilled over into real life. For Ben and his sister Amy, the act didn’t stop when the family were at home, according to a new interview with The New Yorker.
“It was the fabric of our lives,” he says. “They had a sketch where they hated each other and they would just talk about how much they hated each other. And my sister overheard, and really thought that they hated each other. And then, another time, hearing them arguing and thinking it was rehearsing a sketch, and it wasn’t. So that was part of the energy in the household. They were very different people but they were so, so devoted to each other. A very beautiful and imperfect relationship, as every relationship is.”
One of Jerry’s most famous roles came later in his life when he got the call for “Seinfeld”. As Frank Costanza, Jerry made a whole new generation laugh.
“[F]or someone who’s thrived on work and thrived on being funny and having an interaction with an audience, it really changed everything for him,” Ben says of the “Seinfeld” role.
“[W]hen you see the tributes that the cast members have given to him — he was so loved by those people because his process was so connected to other actors. He loved working with those actors, and he would prepare like he was doing Shakespeare. He would break it down, a sitcom script, and figure out, ‘Why am I saying this? What’s the motivation for this character? What’s his history?’ So it came out of him putting everything into it, and not trying to be funny. And yet, of course, it came out so funny because he was just putting everything into it.
“And it was just like the amalgam of who he was, as a person,” he adds.
Still will also speak about his dad’s legacy on “Sunday Today with Willie Geist” this weekend. In a preview for the upcoming chat, Ben says, “It’s been really heartwarming to see how much he touched people, how beloved by people he was…he loved doing what he did and he loved connecting with people.”
When asked how he thinks his dad would want to be remembered, the actor replies: “I think of the word ‘generous’ and I think of ‘funny’ — truly funny — and just a unique person.”
The full chat will air on “Sunday Today with Willie Geist” on May 24.