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David Brenner: Documentary director and comedian celebrated for his influential brand of observational stand-up


David Brenner’s brand of observational comedy became a staple for a generation of stand-ups that most notably included Jerry Seinfeld. The gangly, toothy-grinned Brenner’s routines became a favourite of the Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, beginning in the 1970s. His 150-plus appearances turned the former documentary film-maker into a hightly sought-after entertainer.

The son of a vaudeville comedian, he was also a regular on other television talk shows and game shows and starred in four HBO comedy specials. He briefly hosted his own syndicated talk show in 1987. He moved with the times, trading routines about the humour of everyday life for jokes about social and political issues. He appeared on MSNBC and Fox News Channel cable programmes as well as talk shows with such luminary hosts as Ed Sullivan, David Frost and David Letterman.

Before turning to comedy, he wrote, directed or produced over 100 television documentaries, then in 1969 performed his first stand-up gig, at the original Improv club in New York. Two years later he was on the Tonight Show.

Despite being diagnosed with cancer, Brenner worked steadily last year; a four-day stint in December included a New Year’s Eve show in Pennsylvania in which he showcased young comedians. Fellow comedian Richard Lewis said: “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. He mentored me from day one. His passing leaves a hole in my life that can never be replaced.”

David Norris Brenner, comedian, author, film-maker and actor: born Philadelphia 4 February 1936; twice married (three children); died New York 15 March 2014.