The Super Bob Einstein Movie debuts on HBO tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT, and will be available to stream on HBO Max. ComingSoon talked with director Danny Gold about the film and the legacy of the legendary comedian.
“The Super Bob Einstein Movie features some of Einstein’s greatest comedic contributions, including his iconic alter-ego Super Dave Osborne, his work both behind and in front of the camera on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and his defining role as the unforgettable Marty Funkhouser on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm,” reads the synopsis. “The documentary explores Einstein’s unlikely discovery and enduring career, sharing the many evolving layers of his comedy from the people that knew him best.”
Tyler Treese: Congrats on the film. I thought this was a great way to really celebrate the legacy of Bob. What made you really want to Chronicle his career and dive into more than just him as a comedian?
Danny Gold: Well, it started a few years ago. I was thinking of some projects I wanted to do, and one, I was doing a bunch of interviews with comedy writers and producers from television. At that point, I met Bob and had the honor of interviewing him. We became friends after that, which was really cool. Actually what I love about Bob was when you got a phone call from Bob, it always started out with two or three jokes first. Literally right off the bat. Hello? Okay. Then it would go right into talking about the Dodgers. He was a big baseball fan and then 15-20 seconds of business, whatever we had to talk about, which was just fantastic. I just love the man. We just became friends and when he passed, it was very sad, but I knew in the back of my mind I had this great interview and through the magic of Hollywood, HBO came, and here we are.
What interested me in the documentary was that I didn’t really know that he had so much comedy in his blood and his family filled with comedians. His father was Harry Einstein. I didn’t know that Albert Brooks was actually his brother until this.
A lot of people didn’t know that.
So can you just talk about that family aspect and how it seemed like he was kind of hesitant to have a career in comedy, but he fully embraced it?
Well, I think first of all, his brother [Charles] talks about when Bob as a kid had polio and was home for school for like a year and he just got to watch his father work with his colleagues. I think that really influenced early Bob, but I don’t know because I didn’t ask that question of Bob, but it seems the story that he tells was a resistance to it. Then when he was in advertising, as a goof he went on a local L.A. TV show, and then all of a sudden fortuitously Tom Smothers sees that and the rest is history. Then he just takes off. He gets into one of the most amazing writer rooms in television and Rob Reiner, Carl Gottlieb, Steve Martin and just took off from there.
I think obviously he had the funny in him and his brother, obviously his brother Albert is a prolific director, funny guy, so the Einsteins were a funny family. So I think that served as the basis of his interest in comedy and then his natural talent took off from there. But what’s interesting, and I think it’s pointed out in the film, is in his first television appearance that I just talked about, the local L.A. TV show, you see that his demeanor, his thing was established from the get-go. Jerry Seinfeld mentions that and Letterman and Steve Martin, they all talk about, “Wow, this is Bob. This is the Bob persona,” the creative persona that he took for his whole career. And you can see it manifests itself in Super Dave and Officer Judy, and even to some extent in Marty Funkhouser.
Something that’s really remarkable about Super Dave is that he was able to use the same character and adapt to the times for decades. He did from the 1970s and he was still doing it in the 2010s. What do you think made that character such a success? And it’s a real credit to him that he was able to adapt and really just transcend because you see a lot of these comedy characters, they have their moment, but they don’t live that long.
Well, that’s true, and I think what made Super Dave work is sort of the nexus between the character, the deadpan character that he developed, and the physical comedy. I think physical comedy done well is timeless. So I think the crazier the stunt or the concept and in combination, and this is important, it’s in combination though with the character that Bob created. The deadpan kind of laconic character that Dave Osborne was, which even enhanced or supplemented or complement the physical comedy. So I think that’s why it worked, and I think that can work forever. I think it’s an evergreen kind of concept.
I love that you mentioned that because his dedication to character was just remarkable and seeing him do these late-night interviews completely in character. He was on Norm McDonald Live and did like a whole 50-minute interview as Super Dave. It is just really remarkable to see him just never really break, and it’s also a natural extension to himself to an extent, but it’s really incredible.
Also I think that’s what made him endearing and a popular guest with David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel. They loved playing with him. It just made good television and Bob or Super Dave never came on those shows not prepared. He had something prepared, whether it was touting a book or just some jokes or a clip of a Super Dave stunt that he would then say, “Oh no, don’t show it. It’s not ready,” or whatever. I think that’s what made it popular and comfortable for those hosts because what’s rare is… Look how many appearances he did on Letterman and on Kimmel, and Carson at the beginning. So if it didn’t work for the host, it wouldn’t be happening. It was just good television.
It’s just super easy, just like when Norm passed it, to go through this YouTube hole of watching appearance after appearance of him and interviews. No matter how many you watch, they’re still just as entertaining and it really speaks to him. He also had a reputation of being a comedian’s comedian as well. Can you just talk about just the reverence that his peers really had for him?
Well, I think that’s the number one thing to realize that everyone who did this movie did it either they were a peer, a colleague, or an appreciator of Bob and they all loved him and they had what to say. These guys came on to these interviews and had wonderful things to say. Now, a device that I used in making the film, is I showed them clips and was able to let the audience see the interviewee watching the clip and then commenting in real-time as to what they were seeing and what they were saying. I thought that really helped the tonality of the film that I wanted to make because I didn’t want it to be a maudlin piece. I wanted this movie to be in the spirit of Bob, that irreverence with that edge, and to go there so to speak. I think showing the clips enabled the different people I interviewed and got them in the zone. It’s okay to laugh. You can appreciate it, and let’s hear what you have to say. I think I was able to really get some really insightful comments. I think ultimately when you look at the film in the totality with all these amazing comic minds, it’s almost like a masterclass in comedy.
Yeah. I love that technique you used and having them watch it because you get to see their genuine laughter and then you see David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel breaking down like bits and pieces of the sketches and it really is insightful about the art of comedy.
Well, that was the goal. Thank you. I hope it worked.
One of the ways that you show that he was just able to connect really to culture at large was how he was referenced in so many hip hop songs, Tupac brings him up, Ice Cube. It’s kind of like crazy when you think about it, that he was able to reach everybody.
I think that it was important to show the bandwidth of Bob’s influence in comedy. When I was interviewing Money-B of Digital Underground, he said that a lot of hip hop artists had their Super Dave lyric in their basket of lyrics, they could whip out when they wanted to. I asked the question, what is it about Super Dave? And there were various answers, but one thing, in particular, was I think hip hop lyrics are of the time, what’s in the zeitgeist. Super Dave was big at that time when these songs were being recorded, so the reference made a lot of sense in terms of the cultural awareness of what was going on at the time. So it was cool.
I love that this is gonna be on HBO because I feel like Curb Your Enthusiasm also gave him a new audience and maybe an audience that didn’t even know him really as Super Dave and now they can really appreciate how much he did during his career and dive into the other aspects. So like how great was it to get HBO as a partner here?
It was incredibly great. First, it’s a very filmmaker-friendly company to really work with and help you express what you wanna express. Very grateful to that. It was my third film for HBO and every experience has been great. As far as the Curb situation, Curb Your Enthusiasm showed another part of Bob. It showed his improvisational skills. Now he came as a writer, producer, actor, and this was a whole other discipline that he excelled at. I think if you watch, and I encourage anybody to watch Curb clips now or Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes that Bob was on, as much as you watch Bob, watch the other actors in the scene. Just watch because I mean the way they do that show, they keep in the real reactions. If they’re laughing, they’re laughing and especially watch Jerry Seinfeld in that joke scene. You could see, even if that wasn’t the first take, he’s trying not to laugh. You can almost see it because Bob was just Bob and I think Bob went out there to make people laugh.
Was there anything about Bob’s life that really surprised you while doing research for this documentary?
Well, it didn’t surprise me because I knew him, but I would say that it’s important to know that Bob was a full person. So there was the funny, the edge, the deadpan, but he had a heart, he had a big heart and that’s why people loved him. It wasn’t just because he was funny. A lot of these celebrities know a lot of funny people, but they really loved him because [of who he was]. Also not a surprise, but something to call out is what a hard worker the guy was. I mean Super Dave writing, directing, producing, starring in, and coming up with all those stunts. If you look at how many episodes he did Super Dave for and just trying to keep it fresh and new and keep going. I think that I would say that hose are the elements: that he had a big heart, was a hard worker, and funny as hell.
I love that you mentioned in the film that he would bring his daughter to the set all the time and incorporate her in the sketches, which is amazing.
That was a surprise. I think not a surprise that he did that, [but] a surprise what a strong, and how important being a father was to him and how much he loved his daughter and how much he loved his wife. But his daughter was very important to him and like she said in the interview that, you know, he arranged his shooting schedule to shoot Super Dave in the summer. So she could be there all the time and then he would go home and be a dad.