Years later, Robert Klein is still funny

His poster was on wall above bed in Jay Leno's Boston apartment

Recently I came far too close to dying doing something I love. What I love doing is enjoying humour whether in movies, books, or stand-up routines.

That’s why I watched Jay Leno’s final Tonight Show. To wind up his 22 years in style, he brought back Billy Crystal, his very first guest. Crystal reminisced about how they both began as stand-up comics. Leno lived then in an apartment in his home city of Boston where he generously bunked startup comedians who couldn’t yet afford lodgings of their own. Crystal was one.

Over Leno’s bed hung a publicity poster of Leno’s idol, Robert Klein, a standup comic ten years Leno’s senior. A man I had never heard of until Crystal named him.

While I dallied over my breakfast coffee several days later I googled Robert Klein and on Youtube found two of his comic routines – one about visiting a dentist and the typical things dentists do. They aren’t funny until a comedian bends them out of shape and adds sound effects, evoking memories of Tim Conway as a dentist in a Carol Burnett skit where Conway injected himself with anesthesia, paralyzing first one hand, then one leg. His patient, Harvey Korman, laughed so uncontrollably he wet his trousers.

Klein’s second Youtube routine mocked the way we treat our pets as though they were humans.

Like Leno, Klein used no obscene language in his jokes. At the time of his Youtube routines in the 1970s TV was closely censored. George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV” were rigidly enforced. Leno has always abided by those language restrictions and still draws large audiences because of it.

Too many comics today expect viewers to approve of cuss words thrown in “like an excuse for potty-mouth behaviour with expletives as the main attraction,” in the words of New York Times critique Kathryn Shattuck.

If a comedian, actor or writer wants me as his audience, he’d best put more effort into creative turns of phrase and plot twists. The best, funniest, longest remembered comedians have the cleanest routines. Remember Bob Hope, Mark Twain, George Burns?

Klein was well into his animals-as-people Youtube routine when one of his observations struck me sideways. Caught mid-sip, I choked. I didn’t spew coffee all over my desk or down my shirt; I wheezed like a 90-year-old diehard smoker with COPD. Though my lungs struggled valiantly, they exchanged less breath than would a snoozing kitten.

Fearful thoughts darted about in my brain. There I was, by myself, too short of breath to dial 911, and if I could, I’d be suffocated before a dispatcher could answer. My next thought was, “Laughing while drinking or eating is another hazard to lengthen a senior’s list of risks.”

Not enough seniors must be on guard at all times to prevent falls and other mishaps by keeping a tidy home, immediately cleaning up any spills especially in the kitchen, maintaining a clear pathway from room to room, installing grab bars in the bathtub and shower, providing good lighting on stairs, now I must avoid comedians while eating.

No more “Everybody Loves Raymond” or “The Big Bang Theory” at snack time; I’ll stay safe watching CPAC or “How It’s Made”.

Dying while doing something you love seems to me to be highly overrated, certainly not an ending devoutly to be wished.

In 2006 Klein published a memoir titled, “The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue: A Child of the Fifties Looks Back.” His 384 page book is available for $20 through Misty River Books.

You can watch Robert Klein’s dentist routine at





Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Terrace city council are reaching out to the B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson regarding councillor Jessica McCallum-Miller’s resignation on Feb. 22, 2021. (Black Press Media File Photo)
City of Terrace seeking ombudsperson investigation into allegations of systemic racism

Councillor Jessica McCallum-Miller resigned Feb. 22, citing racism

A large provincial grant will make cycling and walking safer in Terrace. (File photo)
Large grant to make walking, cycling safer in Terrace

Pathway will connect old Skeena Bridge to the downtown

Design work continues for planned new hospital

Construction contract still in the works

The Terrace municipal council in 1974. Front row, left to right, alderman E.F. Clift, Mayor Gordon Rowland, alderman H.M. Buncombe. Back row, left to right, alderman R.A. Green, alderman M.J.G. Duffus, alderman N. Jacques and alderman C.D. (Dave) Maroney. (City of Terrace photo)
Former Terrace mayor passes away

Gordon Rowland was mayor during the 1970s

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

The BC SPCA is offering many chances for school-aged kids to learn about animal welfare and other animal topics. Pictured here is Keith, a three-month-old kitten seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
From pets to wildlife, BC SPCA offers animal education programs geared to youth

BC SPCA offering virtual spring break camps, workshops and school presentations

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
B.C. musician records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s close connection to director led to rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

Most Read