Alan King: The Model Comedian
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
any young Americans know comedian Alan
King's work - they just don't realize it.
The observational style of King, who
died May 9, 2004, of lung cancer at age 76, was a
model for younger comedians such as Billy Crystal and
Jerry Seinfeld. Crystal, a close friend, was one of those
who paid tribute to King at his funeral Tuesday.
Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, co-editor of the The Big Book
of:Jewish Humor, said King was "someone who brought
a sense of indignance about the travails of life."
King, who usually was seen with a cigar in his
mouth, was among the first to lampoon airline food
and other irritants of airline travel, as well as doc-
tors' bills and traffic. "That was considered kind of
cutting edge in that period, where most people were
just telling jokes about their mother-in-law;" said
Gerald Nachman, author of Seriously Funny: The
Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s.
King adopted the comedic voice of someone hard
to please, cantankerous and impatient. As the drama
critic Kenneth Tynan once put it, "If a sawed-off
shotgun could talk, it would sound like Alan King."
In comparison to his contemporaries, King was
less raunchy than Lenny Bruce, less schmaltzy than
Buddy Hackett and didn't talk in dialect like Sid
Caesar, Waldoks observed. But like these other
geniuses of American Jewish comedy, King was
quick with the zingers.
In one of his better-known lines, King said, "As
life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except
for salami and eggs. Now that's better than sex, but
only if the salami is thickly sliced."
After performing for Queen Elizabeth II, he was
introduced to the queen. When she
asked, "How do you do, Mr. King?"
he told audiences he replied, "How
do you do, Mrs. Queen?"
"She stared at me, and then Prince
Philip laughed," he recalled. "Thank
God Prince Philip laughed."
Born in Brooklyn as Irwin Alan
Kniberg to Jewish immigrants from
Poland, King quit school at age 14.
Through his appearances on the The
Ed Sullivan Show in the 1950s and
1960s, and for his guest-host appear-
ances on The Tonight Show Starring
Johnny Carson, King brought the
edgier, Catskills style of humor to the
But he put his own personal stamp on the Borscht
Belt joke. King has said he was inspired to change his
style after watching a performance by another young
comedian, Danny Thomas, in the early 1950s.
"Danny actually talked to his audience," he recalled
in a 1991 interview. 'And I realized I never talked to
my audience. I talked at 'ern, around 'ern and over 'ern,
but not to 'ern. I felt the response they had for him.
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5. Newman or
10. Laughing sound
13. Punim (Eng)
14. Nazirite no no
15. Ribicoff and
18. Acted the bigot
19. Scape for one
23. Change for a
24. Fear of Flying,
30. Kosher fish
31. B.C.E. word
32. Seder guest?
35. 3,10 0
39. Cain's victim
40. Feeling for
"I said to myself, 'This guy is doing something,
and I better start doing it."'
That sometimes meant a turn to topical humor.
"Why is everybody carrying on about Woolworth's?"
he asked a black audience at a rally after the first
lunch-counter sit-ins of the civil rights era. "Have you
ever eaten at the counter at Woolworth's? If you want-
ed to sit in the Colony Club, I could understand."
King said he didn't want to slow down in his later
years - and he didn't, performing a few years ago
as film mogul Samuel Goldwyn in Mr.
Goldwyn. "You only live once," he once
said, "except for Shirley MacLaine."
He plied his trade well enough that he
was named the first recipient of the
National Foundation for Jewish Culture's
award in American Jewish .humor.
The award now is named after him. King
also showed the younger generation of
comics how to be a successful businessman.
He appeared in film and on stage, produced
Broadway plays and wrote five books.
He was the master of ceremonies for
part of President Kennedy's inaugural
party in 1961, and for the 1972
Academy Awards. His collection of remi-
niscences, Matzo Balls for Breakfast and Other
Memories of Growing Up Jewish, will be published
next year by Simon & Schuster.
He also was involved in Jewish philanthropy. He
founded the Alan King Diagnostic Medical Center
in Jerusalem and established a scholarship fund for
American students at Hebrew University. He also
created a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis
42. Ark builder
48. Poet Baeck
50. Dave Brubeck
56. Bautista star
57. Copeland on
59. Poet Nelly
62. "Rock Of "
63. Bea Arthur role
65. Teva product
66. The Golden
68. Royal title
69. Israeli coin
70. Biblical spice
71. Sun _____ of Ahaz
1. Fays (Eng.)
4. Mobster Lansky
Biblical sign of
7. Father (Yid.)
8. Egyptian Slave
10. Gad's son
11. First American
12. Shema starter
16. Sagan sight
21. Like the
23. Nizer org.?
25. Esther and
27. Etrog cousins?
28. Monty Hall
33. Shikker's choice?
35. Alphabet run
36. Purim hero
46. "Purim", or
47. El Al milieu
48. Bagel maker
52. Son of Gad
53. Shnozzes (Eng)
55. Enjoyed the
58. Violinist Leopold
61. Chometz action
63. Movie house
64. Number ending
For crossword answers,
please see page 91