Thursday, July 21st, 2011

TCA 2011: Ed Sullivan: No joke teller, but he brought the funny

Ed Sullivan was one of TV’s most awkward hosts. He couldn’t tell a joke, couldn’t sing and always seemed stiff and unsmiling.

And he was one of the greatest friends to some of America’s most influential comedians.

Sullivan and his influence on popular culture in introducing the country to such groundbreaking comedians as Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, George Carlin, Alan King, Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers on his variety show during the 1960s will be celebrated in PBS’ “The Ed Sullivan Comedy Special,” which will premiere Aug. 6.

Robert Klein, who appeared on Sullivan’s show six times, talked about the importance of Sullivan during a presentation Sunday at the PBS portion of the TCA press tour in Beverly Hills.

“It was pure vaudeville,” said Klein. “There was no enhanced laughter, no laugh track. It was a tough room.” Klein marveled at how the comics were presented by someone “who had no visible talent at all.”

In recent years, specials and videos have focused on how Sullivan first introduced musical acts such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to American audiences, while providing a valuable platform for American musicans such as Elvis Presley, the Supremes and the Temptations. But Klein said he was equally influential in giving exposure to up-and-coming comics.

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