TVGuide.com: How was Vegas?
Shelley Berman: It was marvelous. I broke in some new stuff. You're always a bit on tenterhooks, wondering if you can get away with it. And I not only got away with it, but boy, it splashed. A whole new opening monologue, that was the basis for the show, and it just worked. To get the opportunity to think something through, and then put it up on the stage and have an audience accept it and laugh, that makes a guy feel pretty damn good.
TVGuide.com: You hit it big as a comedian, but started as a serious actor.
Berman: Acting was really the thrust of what I wanted to do with my life; comedy came as a result of struggle and needing to finally earn some money. And there I was, being humorous with this improvisational group in Chicago [the Compass Players, the group today known as the Second City]. And I gave it a whirl and I got started.
TVGuide.com: How did it feel having comedy lead you to bigger fame?
Berman: Well, that was at a point in my life when I was reaching 30 and I thought, "Gee, I better get started with something here." And I found that making it as a comedian was at least a very good substitute for what I was seeking in my life. Still, I thought, as I signed with the agency — at that time, the big agency was MCA — I kept telling these guys, "Listen, you know I'm an actor, right? Yes, I'll do comedy, but please, for god's sake, get me some acting work in the theater." And they said, "Yes, yes, yes," but the money was in the comedy. So I wasn't getting the acting jobs. But eventually they came.
TVGuide.com: I just screened Curb's Season 5 premiere, and you're terrific in it.
Berman: Oh, good, because I haven't seen it. I don't know what [Larry has] cut, what he's put in there, I haven't any idea.
TVGuide.com: I'm sure you'll be pleased — the scene where Larry checks Nat's eyes to see if he's lying is priceless. How did this role come about?
Berman: The producers called me to see if I was compatible with Larry. But the whole idea of that show is improvisation, and that's really where my primitive beginning was — to go in and improvise with Larry was a snap; it was wonderful. So there I was with a good role.
TVGuide.com: You've always worked clean on stage. Do you sometimes have a problem with Curb's content?
Berman: No, I don't. For me, the content of Curb when it is apparently gross is not gross. It's very daring material that he uses. And I don't find that it is not clean. My experience there has always been that he goes for good, healthy comedy, and if it's broad, and if some people might find it offensive, well, I'm sorry, but we're doing comedy. And comedy sometimes will not fall in line with ordinary prosaic thinking.
TVGuide.com: Does this come up in your class?
Berman: What I teach is how humor comes about, and I teach how to access it. I don't teach screenwriting or television writing; I teach humor writing, both literary and dramatic. So it is about where the joke comes from, where our humor comes from, and how to articulate it. I find that with the young people I'm working with — although this is a graduate course, and the students are sometimes in their thirties and forties — their feeling about humor is that it's what we see in the comedy rooms today, using vernacular and concepts that are often not outside the area of the underwear. That bothers me, so I'm trying to help them find humor outside of that. And they do.