LOS ANGELES — David Brenner, the gangly, toothy-grinned “Tonight Show” favorite whose brand of observational comedy became a staple for other standups, including Jerry Seinfeld, died Saturday. He was 78.
Brenner, who had been fighting cancer, died peacefully at his home in New York City with his family at his side, according to Jeff Abraham, his friend and publicist.
“David Brenner was a huge star when I met him and he took me under his wing. To me, historically, he was the godfather of hip, observational comedy,” comedian Richard Lewis said in a statement. “He mentored me from day one. ... His passing leaves a hole in my life that can never be replaced.”
The lanky, always sharply dressed Brenner became one of the most frequent visitors to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” in the 1970s and ’80s.
His 150-plus appearances as guest and substitute host turned the former documentary filmmaker into a hot comedian, one who was ubiquitous on other talk shows and game shows.
He also briefly hosted his own syndicated talk show in 1987 and starred in four HBO specials.
Brenner moved with the times, trading routines about the humor of everyday life for jokes about social and political issues and appearing on cable news programs.
Although his career faltered, he worked steadily through 2013 doing standup. A four-day gig last December included a New Year’s Eve show at a Pennsylvania casino-resort in which he showcased young comedians.
Brenner, who was raised in working-class south Philadelphia and graduated with honors from Temple University, was “always there helping a bright young comedian, whether it be Richard Lewis, Freddie Prinze or Jimmie Walker, and he was still doing it until the very end,” Abraham said.