I got into Robert Schimmel’s comedy at an inappropriate age. He was a little crude but bluntly honest and keenly observant, and though I didn’t understand all of his material, I fucking adored it.
If Schimmel was on Howard Stern (another comic who I got into at an inappropriate age)I was listening. When his albums like If You Buy This CD I Can Get This Car and Unprotected came out, I blew my allowance on them or put them on my Hanukkah list. I’m quite sure my mother was concerned.
Now, if you know who Robert Schimmel is, then you know that his life ended tragically in a 2010 car crash. You may also know that Schimmel had beaten cancer, a heart attack, and great personal loss in his life, things that he kept coming back from, things that he kept making fun of because he could seemingly always find humor in the darkest of places.
In my humble view as a mere observer, that is part of his great and durable legacy, but there was clearly so much more to the man, and that’s why his brother Jeff is now trying to celebrate Robert’s life with a memorial e-book that will collect tons of stories and pieces from his brother’s life and career.
You can learn more about Jeff’s Kickstarter project by clicking here, but first, I urge you to read our interview with him about Robert, what kind of man he was, and why his is a career that deserves such recognition.
Can you paint the picture of who Robert was as a comic, as a brother, as a friend?
Jeff Schimmel: The best way to describe Robert Schimmel, as a comedian, is to say he was a throwback. He was more like an old school comic than someone from the newer waves. He liked to wear suits onstage, and was most comfortable just holding a microphone and pacing back and forth, head down, talking to the audience. He considered himself to be one of them, but with one major difference. He was saying the things that the others in the crowd were only thinking. If you listen to him carefully, you’ll notice that his vibe is more like that of a mischievous kid who was afraid of getting caught doing something wrong than a raunchy comedian who was just trying to shock you into nervous laughter.
As a brother, he was a challenge. He was always funnier to me offstage than onstage, but that often got me into trouble with our parents. If I laughed during an inappropriate moment, I would instantly catch a backhand to the chops from Mom. But she did it with love. We loved each other like crazy, and when we fought, it was like the worst of enemies going at it. It took me many years to understand that siblings fight, no matter how much they care about one another. But he was there for me and, as a big brother who was seven years older than me, he did all the things a big brother would do, good and bad.
Also, it isn’t really possible to explain Bobby (that’s what we called him) as a brother without including our sister, Sandy, in the mix. She was in between us in age, but there is no such thing as the Two Stooges. Sandy had her own relationship with Bobby that was nothing like mine, and the three of us had another dynamic that we shared, much to our amusement.
As a friend, I would say my brother was probably the best you could ever have. He would literally do anything for someone he cared about. Ask anyone, and they will tell you what a kind, gentle, sympathetic and empathetic man he was. He didn’t just love family and friends, he spent countless hours, year after year, providing support of all types to strangers in need. He rarely spoke about it, because he wasn’t interested in accolades.
Robert had a very honest, very unguarded act on stage and on his appearances on the Howard Stern show that drew from his life and his family’s life. Was there ever a time where you thought he went too far, a time when his act made you wince a bit?
Jeff: One thing you had to know about Robert Schimmel, the comedian, is that he didn’t have a filter hooked up to his mouth. He would just let it fly, and hope for the best. Sometimes, that blew up in his face. But he was willing to take that chance if it meant he could make you laugh, or portray the world in a real way. There were times that I would walk into work, and find co-workers in the hallway, anxious to ask, “Hey, did you hear your brother on Stern today? Is that stuff true?” I remember stopping short and dropping my head, and asking, “What did he say this time?”
Has this project, the memorial e-book, made you feel closer to Robert, has it helped with the healing or have their been times where — well I imagine you’ve had to go through a lot of old pictures, video, etc — has that hit a nerve as well?
Jeff: When my brother had his car accident, that hit the nerves at once, and no nerves would ever need to be hit again. I think that applies to my Dad and sister as well. I can’t speak for anyone else, nor will I try to quantify their emotions. We didn’t just lose a brother and a son. We lost Bobby, the guy that we knew, and who went on to become comedian Robert Schimmel. Those are two different people, but two people who can’t be separated. Bobby gave Robert things to talk about. It’s hard to explain, and I don’t mean it in some stupid way. He didn’t have an alter ego like some other comedians I know. It’s just that being his brother meant that I would always be identified with him, and that is a plus and a minus. For years, I felt as if I didn’t have an identity unless my brother was standing next to me. I even told a mutual friend, who is a great comedian in his own right, that I’m always surprised when people recognize me if I’m alone.
Away from the stage, what are some of the things about Robert that you want people to know and what inspired you to do this and to share some of these memories with Robert’s fans?
Jeff: My brother worked all over the country, and fans flocked to those shows. But during the day, when those fans were unaware of Robert Schimmel, he would spend hours visiting children’s hospitals. He lost a son, and he never completely got over it, as if anyone could. He couldn’t do anything more for his own kid, but he would go all out to do something for a stranger’s kid. He would buy toys, play with the kids, support the parents who were going through emotional turmoil. And while he was going through his own battle with cancer, my brother would visit infusion centers everywhere, bringing comedy CDs from a myriad of comedians, as well as CD players that he would buy and give as gifts, just so people could maintain a positive attitude and laugh a little bit during treatment.
This has to be a tough question answer, but what do you think your brother’s legacy is both as a comic and as a man?
Jeff: You’re right, this is a tough one. To his fans, Robert Schimmel is an adored entertainer. No doubt about that. To some comedians, he was an inspiration. I don’t want to get too negative here, but you asked, so I’ll answer. Before I began the fundraising process for this tribute project, I thought my brother’s legacy as a comedian was cemented in eternity. Carved in stone, just like the words “I’m A Comedian” that grace his headstone. But it has been extremely difficult to get people to be willing to part with $1.00 to help us create a fitting memorial for my brother. It’s hard to believe, but I think this is a case of “What have you done for me LATELY?” Sure, he worked in great clubs in L.A. and New York, and everywhere in between. But he’s been gone for 2 1/2 years, so they seem to have forgotten that he packed their seats, night after night. If clubs participated in our campaign with just the price of ONE ticket to a Robert Schimmel, we would’ve been done with our fundraising efforts a long, long time ago. They haven’t, and we aren’t.
Please, feel free to say anything you like about Robert and why people should chip in to help you guys get over the hump and get this project funded.
Jeff: Why should people contribute to our tribute project for Robert Schimmel? That’s easy. If you like comedy, you can appreciate his talent. If you’re a fan, no explanation necessary. If you went through harsh treatment for an illness, you can identify with him, especially if you read his book. If you’re just interested in reading very, very funny stories and seeing private video, you’ll love this interactive eBook tribute. The bottom line is this: he deserves a tribute because he’s Robert Schimmel.
Here is the link to check out the Leave ‘Em Laughing Kickstarter.
Jeff is looking to raise $14,250 and as of this article going live, he is just $1,152 short with only 5 days left, so if you feel like you want to support the campaign, give a few bucks, and please share this article and the link to the Kickstarter campaign.