Mister Schimmel has passed away

Robert Schimmel

Robert Schimmel

I get the occasional email from my father. Usually they are empty, the subject line of the email is the message he hopes to convey to me. Other times they are notes picked from the obituaries—random grotesque deaths or deaths of people he knew. The other evening he sent me an email simply titled “RIP.” There was a link that I clicked and was whisked through the magic of the Internet to a story about the death of comedian Robert Schimmel. I was shocked.

In spite of his being a celebrity, Schimmel does have a slight connection to my father. In late 2009 by Dad visited my brother in Brea, California. There is a comedy club nearby my brother’s home where Schimmel gigged and the two of them saw him there. They bought me a DVD of an unreleased show and Schimmel autographed it to me. It took me a long time to watch the DVD but when I finally did it was very funny and rather poignant owing to the slideshow of his days of recovery from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had a chance to hear him on Fresh Air on NPR one day and his tales of despair while receiving treatment for his illness. Hearing about how his own father, who survived the Holocaust, spoke to him in his lowest moment was pretty incredible.

I have been listening to his comedy for the past 14 years, picking up his first CD in 1996. I have the entire disc memorized but the one memory I truly retain about listening to that disc for the first time was laughing so hard that my stomach hurt and tears were streaming down my cheeks. It was hilarious. Just hilarious. Much to my wife’s chagrin I have a few bits of his that I have straight up taken and used on many different occasions. What made his CD so funny? It was unexpected, for one thing. I had never heard of Schimmel before (on YouTube one can find that he was doing comedy specials on TV as far back as 1990) and I took a chance at finding something new and funny. That freshness of the unknown, with no buzz, allowed me to let my guard down and really get caught up in the disc. The other reason, maybe the main reason, was the fact that it was just plain old dirty. Raunchy and raw. His presentation is very dry, which adds to material. In the vacuum of wackiness the ideas of the humor stand out clearly. Something about the material really made me think of being a kid and listening to the first Sam Kinison LP on TAPE on HEADPHONES. The dirtiness of the material was so refreshing; it felt like plain, old fashion, dirt for dirt’s sake. Nothing political, nothing controversial (I suppose), and nothing revolutionary. Just dirty. Subsequent records of his were more topical, more connected to his everyday life, touching on harder topics. He suffered a heart attack and turned the pain and fear into comedy. His cancer brought a gravity and sadness and joy to his comedy, and the slide show he incorporated into his later work about his recovery was tragic and touching. I feel that his comic genius came from the banality of what he was talking about. Things like sex, getting older, etc. His work was hilarious and biting but in a way that was relatable and wry and just a treasure to hear.

Do yourself a favor and head over to YouTube and find clips of his work and realize how talented Robert Schimmel was as a comedian.

One Response to “Mister Schimmel has passed away”
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  1. Mister Schimmel has passed away « The Idler…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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