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Iconic Stand-Up Comedian Shelley Berman Dies At 92

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Shelley Berman in 1964. (Photo by Larry Ellis / Getty Images)
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Shelley Berman, the stand-up comedian who helped redefine comedy in post-WWII America, died at his home near Thousand Oaks Friday morning. He was 92 years old. His publicist, Glenn Schwartz, announced his death and attributed it to complications around Alzheimer's disease.

The comedian built his career as a "sit down" stand-up comic, eschewing the easy punchlines of earlier comedy for wry, nuanced, and observational storytelling. He, along with his contemporaries Elaine May, Bob Newhart, and Mike Nichols, transformed the style of stand-up comedians and laid the groundwork for future icons like Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld. Berman acted and performed throughout his life and later experienced a career resurgence as Larry David's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Berman was born in Chicago on February 3, 1925, and trained as a serious actor before transitioning into nightclub performance. He performed with the Compass Players in Chicago, a forerunner of the famous Second City Theater. He went on to record several successful comedy albums and was the subject of a 1963 NBC documentary called Comedian Backstage. In the documentary, a phone rings at the end of one of his monologues. The documentary shows Berman losing his temper backstage as a result. He claims it "made him a “pariah” in the industry, and that his comedy career never fully recovered," according to the New York Times. At the time, L.A. Times reporter Hal Humphrey described him as "the most cussed and discussed comedian in the country."

During the interim years before his role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, he returned to straight acting and taught a course in humor writing at the University of Southern California until 2013.

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Berman is survived by his wife, Sarah Herman; their daughter, Rachel Berman; and two grandsons.