It’s 1976 or 1977 and sitting at the table are John Candy, Martin Short, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas – Canadian comedy royalty if there ever was. And yet standing over them, presiding over the entire affair in this old TV clip, is David Steinberg. Already an influence to a generation of comedians due to his storytelling abilities and decision to keep his own name, it seems apropos that he help spawn even more careers from his own short-lived TV show (about a guy called David Steinberg who had his own TV talk show – the influence continues…). Yes, a Canadian could actually grow up to become a famous comedian and even do it on his own terms no less.
Quality Balls (a term provided by Jerry Seinfeld to denote not only what Steinberg possesses, but also what he was able to provide as a legacy to today’s political humourists) is a conventional enough documentary about Steinberg’s life, but is generous enough with old clips (in particular some gems with Johnny Carson) and new interview footage so as to give us a very full picture of the Winnipeg-born funny man’s humour and approach to comedy. Through his early days in Chicago’s Second City (with Fred Willard, Robert Klein and others), to his improvised sermons, to his 130 appearances on Carson’s Tonight Show (second only to Bob Hope) and on to his current incarnation as a director (film and TV), we see the growth of his natural timing and charm as he perfects the art of slowly unveiling his tales.
You can see it in the eyes of Carson as he watches Steinberg from his desk (there’s a wonderful rapport between the two of them – easy to see why he was brought back so often) and hear it in the voice of Jerry Seinfeld as he tries to coax him back to doing another stand-up – it’s that sense of joy they have in watching the craft of comedy. It’s a bit odd to think of that kind of reverence being given to such a friendly man who achieved great success for directing top TV hits like Newhart, Golden Girls and Mad About You, but when you hear about his years being on Nixon’s enemies list, his sharp barbs (“critics are like eunuchs at a gang-bang”) and how he is essentially the reason for the removal of The Smothers Brothers Show from the airwaves, it makes a whole lot more sense. Quality balls indeed.
Thu, May 2 9:30 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Fri, May 3 4:15 PM
Sun, May 5 4:15 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre
Critical Thinker At Large