Throughout his career, Bob Einstein was one of comedy’s secret weapons. Yes of course, everybody knew Bob Einstein through Super Dave Osborne, Marty Funkhouser on Curb Your Enthusiasm, as Officer Judy, his memorable scene in Modern Romance, or his epic talk show appearances. But no matter how much you thought you knew, you’re about to know a whole lot more thanks to HBO’s new documentary, The Super Bob Einstein Movie.
“Bob Einstein was an actor/producer/comic with a strong presence who was the king of deadpan, had a great heart as a person, and was deserving of a real look at to see his place in comedy,” the film’s director Danny Gold told us when asked how he would describe Bob Einstein. Producer George Shapiro added, “Bob was a complete joy. He made me laugh so much. I fell in love with Bob from the time I met him. I cherished Bob from the beginning.”
Some people may not know this, but Bob Einstein actually comes from a well-known comedy family. His father was Harry Einstein, who had a hit with the character Parkyakarkus. Harry Einstein tragically died onstage in 1958 at a Friar’s Club roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. This turned Bob off to show business for many years. And his younger brother is someone else you may have heard of, Albert Brooks.
But before there was Super Dave or Marty Funkhouser however, Einstein got his first gig in show business as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. While at the show, he formed a writing partnership with Steve Martin, and also created his very first character audiences got to know him as, Officer Judy. Judy was a police officer character who would often interrupt sketches, and quickly became a good escape when writers couldn’t think of an ending. Just have Judy come in and, for example, ask Liberace “Do you know how fast you were playing?”.
Shapiro recalls, “I was working for William Morris who represented the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. So I was there from the very first show. I was there in 1967 when three young writers started working with Tommy and Dick smothers on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It was Bob Einstein and his writing partners Steve Martin and Rob Reiner. And the three of them just lit up the room. Rob Reiner was the youngest. He was 21. I think Steve Martin was 22. And the oldest one was Bob Einstein, who was about 26 at the time. That was such a joy for me.”
It was also where Danny Gold first discovered Einstein. “[My introduction to Bob] goes back to watching the Smothers Brothers and Officer Judy, in repeats. (Laughs). But I did watch it and discovered that character and loved it. Later, seeing him in Modern Romance. And then Super Dave Osborne and then obviously Curb Your Enthusiasm. I just kept seeing him. And then obviously I had a chance to interview him and meet him and become friends with him. So all of that evolved into what you see.”
The idea for the documentary first came together through another producer, Aimee Hyatt, who Shapiro and Gold both worked with on 2017’s If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast. Shapiro says, “Aimee’s a producer who’s very, very close with the family. She was the one who started it.” And consequently, Gold had actually interviewed Einstein back in early 2015 for a different project.
“As documentarians are one to do, we’re constantly thinking about movies we want to make or stories,” Gold tells us. “And I’m a true fan of comedy. And I was developing an idea where I was interviewing famous writers, producers in the comedy television space. And I had the honor at that time to interview Bob. So that’s how that came about. And then as time went on, I became friends with Bob. And then unfortunately he passed. And there was a definite opportunity there. And because I had that great interview with him, it worked within the motif or story that I wanted to tell in his documentary, that’s how it came about.”
As for the film, Gold continues “I didn’t want it to be a memorial. And I didn’t want it to just be a tribute. I wanted it to be in the spirit of Bob. A little edge. I went for the comedy. I wanted to really focus on the funny with documentary elements to tell the story. So the story is really chronological as far as his childhood, his start, and some highlights of his professional career. So that’s sort of how it evolved. And looking back at the footage, there were little nuggets that would go into certain areas. You’d take that interview and dissect it and see what works within the storyline. And much more than I thought worked in the storyline. And also he told a few jokes and jokes became a big part of the project. And it worked out.”
The people who they got to come in and talk about Bob Einstein reads like a who’s who of comedy. Steve Martin, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, Rob Reiner, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, JB Smoove, Patton Oswalt, and his brother Albert Brooks all share their favorite memories of Bob.
“It’s all just a total celebration of Bob Einstein,” says Shapiro. “The guest stars are amazing. Albert Brooks is brilliant in this documentary. Wonderful, revealing. It’s absolutely brilliant. This is really something worth seeing.” Gold adds, “These people in the movie loved him. They were colleagues, friends. They just loved him. They had what to say.“
The film adopts an interesting tactic where Gold sets a TV up in front of the interview subjects and has them either remember a scene they worked on with Bob or even comment on something they had never seen before. This was done to let the audience be involved in the process. But also, it heightened the vibe he was going for. “I wanted them to revisit what made Bob great. His comedy. What better way than to show them the clip and enjoy it?”.
It wouldn’t be a Bob Einstein tribute without seeing some of his infamous jokes. Einstein had a gift in his joke delivery, where he could make even the cheesiest and most awful joke you’ve ever heard work. Nobody could elicit more laughter with an old joke like Bob Einstein.
George remembers, “I never saw Jerry Seinfeld laugh harder than in a segment with Marty Funkhouser on Curb Your Enthusiasm. They captured Jerry laughing hysterically at Bob Einstein. I never saw him laugh harder than listening to that joke.” Adds Gold, “That’s the genius of Bob. You could hear a story numerous times, and it’s just as funny as it’s always been. He had a real talent for that.”
Shapiro continues, “He just made me giggle all the time. He did two episodes of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. And he was the first comedian to repeat a performance. So I used to go to all of the taping sessions. And I would hide on the patio. I’d have my little headphones on and I put my head against the wall so no one could see me. And then when Bob was walking up to this restaurant where he and Jerry were getting together, he spotted me! He said ‘George Shapiro!’ I’m hiding from the camera. He turns me around and holds me up. I’m like a puppet in his arms. I’m 5’5 and he’s 6’5. It’s weird.”
One of the most unexpected things fans will learn is just how far His reach was. In the 80’s, he created the character of Super Dave Osborne, perhaps what he may be best known for. Super Dave was a parody of Evil Knivel, and despite getting hurt time and time again, always landed back on his feet. Osborne’s place in pop culture was such that in the 90’s, there was a fascinating trend in hip hop and rap where it became commonplace to drop references to Super Dave.
“His reach was wide. It was pointed out to us on one level. And then doing a deeper dive, finding the different songs that Super Dave was referenced in. Whether it was a Tupac song or a Tribe Called Quest or others. Also Bob’s wife Berta reminded us of the connection as well.”
The documentary is a perfect exploration into a unsung character who had his hand in some many classic comedy moments over the years. “I think that’s what the audience is going to be in store for,” says Gold. “A real inside comedy look at a comic genius, and we get to see his place in the pantheon of comedy.”
The Super Bob Einstein Movie is on HBO Max and HBO on demand now.