Jerry Was Comedy Gold

(Above source: YouTube video)

We look at the long TV career of Jerry Stiller, who mined comedy gold as the perpetually aggrieved patriarch of the dysfunctional Costanzas on Seinfeld.

Today, son Ben Stiller announced his passing at age 92 on Twitter.

Stiller and Meara

Stiller’s television resume began in the late 1950s with a handful of guest roles in such shows as Studio One in Hollywood and The Big Story. But he found magic in fellow Second City alum and New Yorker Anne Meara (she died in May 2015).

Starting in the 1960s, the husband-and-wife duo made regular appearances on popular variety and talk programs including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Carol Burnett Show. Their material often played off their ethnic backgrounds – he Jewish, she Irish – and usually dealt with dating or marriage:

Early HBO subscribers might also recall Stiller & Meara’s monthly sketch show called HBO Sneak Preview, which highlighted new films and shows coming to the cable channel. Here is a segment from December 1980:

Along Comes Seinfeld

In the late 1980s, Stiller’s solo career took off. In addition to guest turns on Murder She Wrote, LA Law and Law Order, he was a restaurant maître ‘d in the comedy-drama Tattinger’s, starring Stephen Collins and Blythe Danner, which ran for 14 one-hour episodes on NBC from 1988 to 1989.

Then came NBC’s Seinfeld (1989 to 1998) — and the rest is comedy history.

Stiller took over the role of George’s (Jason Alexander) father in 1993 (first played by John Randolph) in the “The Puffy Shirt” episode. Paired with actress Estelle Harris (also called Estelle on the show), the Costanza parents’ high-volume kvetching would undermine George’s psyche for another five seasons. Frank Costanza will forever live on in Seinfeld bar trivia nights for “serenity now,” that warm family holiday “Festivus,” and that most practical of men’s undergarments “The Manssiere” (or was it “The Bro?”)

You can stream all nine seasons of Seinfeld with a Hulu subscription: or buy individual episodes from $1.99 on Amazon, YouTube and other services.

The King of Queens

Once Seinfeld ended its triumphant run, Stiller landed yet another sitcom, The King of Queens (1998 to 2007) starring Kevin James. This time Stiller was Arthur Spooner, Carrie Hoffman’s (Leah Remini) widowed father. The show ultimately reunited Stiller with Meara, who played Spooner’s fourth wife Veronica Olchin in nine episodes. The King of Queens aired on CBS for 207 episodes over nine seasons.

You can stream all nine seasons of The King of Queens with a FuboTV subscription. Individual episodes are currently unavailable to rent or buy.

Film Career

Stiller also enjoyed a considerable run of films later in life, including Hairspray (1988), alongside Sonny Bono and Divine, and Zoolander (2001) and Zoolander 2 (2016), both starring son Ben.

Hairspray is available to Amazon Prime subscribers, or it can be rented for $2.99 from Vudu, YouTube and other providers.

Zoolander is available to Amazon Prime subscribers, or it can be rented starting at $2.99 from Google Play and other services.

Zoolander 2 is available to Amazon Prime subscribers, or it can be rented from $2.99 via iTunes, Vudu and other providers.

About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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