Schimmel: Censored

This morning I awakened to the news that comedian Robert Schimmel had died.

I’d heard that Craigslist was shutting down its “adult entertainment” listings. But this seems like a step too far.

Schimmel was, without question, one of the most “adult” (in the modern sense of the word) entertainers ever to gain a mainstream following. Like his idol Lenny Bruce, and his contemporary predecessors Richard Pryor and George Carlin, Schimmel described the oddities of life using the most scatological language that exists in English. There was no subject Schimmel wouldn’t address in his act — including the most deeply personal aspects of his own life — and no four-, five-, seven-, or twelve-letter word he wouldn’t use in the addressing.

If your average coarse-speaking comic is described as working “blue,” Schimmel was working the indigo edges of midnight.

Schimmel’s caustic comedy arose out of a life that seemed destined to catch every conceivable unfortunate break. The son of Holocaust survivors, Schimmel survived a heart attack, bouts with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and hepatitis C, the death of one of his children from cancer, the breakup of two marriages (just last year, Schimmel was arrested, but not prosecuted,  for assaulting his second wife), and a career that never took the next great leap into super-stardom, largely because his penchant for graphic verbalization made Schimmel anathema to broadcast television.

As is often true of great comedians, Schimmel aimed his humor at himself as often as he pointed it at others. He was fascinating to watch onstage — a slightly built, bald man who almost always performed wearing a suit and tie, Schimmel rarely made eye contact with his audience. (I don’t know whether Schimmel, like another deceased comic, Mitch Hedberg, suffered from stage fright, and avoided looking at patrons for that reason.) His deflected gaze and the defeated, world-weary tone of his voice and body language made his act seem at times like a tortured internal monologue. Watching Schimmel was, for me, like eavesdropping on a man in his bedroom talking to himself, liberated in his speech because he believed that no one else was listening.

It’s fitting of Schimmel that he died in exceptionally tragic fashion — the result of injuries received in an automobile accident in which his teenage daughter was the driver. Schimmel the comedian would have milked that situation for all the profane hilarity he could wring out.

Robert Schimmel was 60.

Explore posts in the same categories: Celebritiana, Dead People Got No Reason to Live, Ripped From the Headlines

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