David Brenner: One Night Only 

By David J. Spatz
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 15, 2012

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Ever since the first caveman comedian told the first joke, stand-up comics have accused one another of stealing material and committing grand theft comedy.

Not David Brenner. Fellow comedians never actually pilfered his jokes. They went one better.

They stole his whole damned format. And not just once, but twice.

The first time was back in the 1980s, when Brenner was on his way to setting a record for the most appearances with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show — 158 by actual count. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of times he guest-hosted the show in Carson’s absence.

Whenever Brenner would be booked into the Catch A Rising Star comedy club in New York or Los Angeles, up-and-coming comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and Garry Shandling would come to study the way Brenner worked.

Seinfeld went on to create and star in the most popular sitcom in television history. That didn’t bother Brenner too much, nor did the fact that Seinfeld began getting the credit for originating observational comedy.

“But then one day I was reading a magazine story about [Seinfeld] and it credited him with developing the [set-up] line, ‘Did you ever notice ...?’” Brenner recalls during a recent chat from his home in New York City. “And that’s where I said, ‘Whoa, hold on, wait a minute.’”

Brenner logged on to YouTube and searched for his first Tonight Show appearance. And there, in a study of black-and-white video recorded on Jan. 8, 1971, was a very young Brenner, asking Carson, his studio audience and millions of viewers, “Did you ever notice ...?”

“Three times! I said it three times [during the segment]. I think [Seinfeld] was still in the sixth grade!” Brenner fumes. “I don’t mind not getting credit for something. But I do mind it when I’m discredited.”

The second time Brenner says he had an entire format stolen was about a dozen years ago, right after he performed a cable TV special that was based entirely on topical events and the news. Brenner had planned to corner the market on this genre of humor.

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