The actor and also director on farming up with well known comedians together parents and how his father, Jerry Stiller, witnessed his son’s career.

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“I can’t yes, really pull the end what influence my parental have had actually on mine work, since I think they’ve had actually so much,” Stiller says.Photograph from The LIFE snapshot Collection / Getty
Jerry Stiller, the legend comedian and also entertainer, died this month, in ~ the period of ninety-two. In the nineteen-sixties, Stiller perform in a comedy duo v his wife, ann Meara, appearing frequently on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and also travelling the country on comedy tours. Then, in his mid-sixties, he reached new audiences with his revolve as George Costanza’s irascible, voluble dad on “Seinfeld.” A genetic basis for comedy is yet to it is in proved, yet the couple’s two kids both joined the household business: their daughter, Amy, is a comedian, and also their son, Ben, came to be one that the greatest movie stars the the previous two decades, certification in movies such as “There’s Something around Mary,” “Meet the Parents,” and “Zoolander,” which he directed. (Tad girlfriend profiled Ben Stiller because that The brand-new Yorker, in 2012.)

I recently spoke by phone through Ben, who remained in his house in Westchester, new York, about his connection with his father and both his parents’ comedic legacies. (Meara died in 2015.) In ours conversation, which has actually been edited for length and also clarity, we additionally discussed what that was favor to grow up with famed comedians together parents, the root of his father’s “Seinfeld” character, and how his father saw Ben’s career.

Were girlfriend able to spend some time v your dad before he died?

Yeah. Mine sister and also I were able come be v him. And, just as result of the reality that the didn’t have a coronavirus-related illness, and he had actually been ailing because that a while, us were able to be with him, which ns very, an extremely grateful for.

What were the last couple of weeks like? was his feeling of feeling there at the end?

He was just slowing down a lot, and he was taking care of a many issues. And also so the critical week or 2 were tougher for him. Yet he went peacefully, and he had actually a sense of humor, for sure, till the end. Ns hesitate to call it a feeling of humor. The was simply funny, and also so the was always himself. He was practically ninety-three, and I think his human body was sort of in ~ that suggest where it to be time.

When did girlfriend realize the your parental were really funny?

Wow, that’s a an excellent question. Farming up v them, we were constantly around their process of working together, due to the fact that they operated together in ~ home. And also so ns don’t ever remember a moment of thinking, Oh, castle funny. I remember watching castle onstage and seeing them perform and get laughs, and do their act. Ns remember, together a kid, enjoying watching that and thinking, Oh, this is kind of cool that everybody think my parents room funny. And also it was exciting.

My sister and I really delighted in watching lock perform. But, as parents, they’re always your parents. Ns think we had our development of the partnership that you have actually with her parents, together you go with childhood and adolescence, and also all the different elements of it. But, honestly, when I think around it, the really as soon as I acquired a little bit older, once I was a teen-ager, the I was able to really appreciate their humor. And then, really, together I acquired much older and was able to have a perspective, I was able to really see exterior of the lens of simply being their kid.

Did you ever before feel, “I’m just a fourteen-year-old kid. I don’t want humor. I simply want parents who room normal”? to be that ever hard?

No. <Laughs.>

O.K., cool.

What that makes me think the is just that they really both had separate mindsets toward the work, and they both took it really seriously. So it wasn’t really them cracking jokes about the house. My storage is of my mommy feeling the stress of it. Mine dad really preferred to perform and do comedy an ext than mine mom. It involved her an extremely easily, but it was constantly work for her to put herself out there prefer that. Mine dad was constantly working in ~ it and thinking around things. If something pertained to him, like, “Oh, it is funny”—he was constantly writing stuff down. That was constantly keeping notes and writing journals, and somehow thinking about how he can use it. And then, eventually, my mommy wrote plays, which yes, really took a lot of her an individual experience. Ns think she used a lot of what was going top top in her partnership with my dad. I think lock were acquisition it in and then translating the themselves, on their own.

Was a huge part of your offstage relationship based on comedy? Or to be it the family organization and, as soon as you get home, you’re not necessarily talking about the shoe keep you own?

It was the towel of our lives. And I think that’s since they operated together, and there weren’t yes, really lines drawn, in terms of, like, “Oh, when we acquire home, we don’t talk around it.” because there weren’t really continual hours. Sometimes, castle were playing night clubs, or they were on the road, or they were doing a TV show. Us hardly ever sat down to have dinner together as a family. But, by the same token, i think we were a pretty close family. And also it was just not her typical, classic setup. And they had actually a room in the apartment, top top Riverside Drive, wherein we lived, where they would certainly work, even if it is they were writing together or improvising together, since they created radio commercials a lot of in the seventies.

They had a map out where castle hated each other. And also they would simply talk about how much they hated each other. And also my sister overheard, and really thought that they hated every other. And also then, another time, hearing castle arguing and thinking it to be rehearsing a sketch, and also it wasn’t. So the was part of the power in the household. Castle were really different people, but they were so, so specialized to each other. A really beautiful and also imperfect relationship, together every relationship is. And so the was our life. And also it was part of every one of it for us.

Do you have a storage of once you very first made your parents laugh, or your dad laugh?

Oh, man. Well, the very first thing ns think that is mine dad coming to watch me in a play in ~ camp. I went to this camp in Maine, called Hidden Valley. And I hated it at first, and he came up there because I obtained homesick. He is a really sensitive guy, a really loving dad. My mother would be type of like, “No, Jerry, he’s gained to number out exactly how to be on his own.” and also my dad was, like, “No, I want to walk up there and also be v him.”

And, so, he came up for a couple of days and also then left. And also I acquired acclimated, and I remember ns met a girl that i liked, and every one of a sudden i didn’t want him come come back. And also then that came back to view the play. I remember that watching the play. And I sang some tune in it, and I remember him having this big smile. It no a laugh, however it to be him simply appreciating see his son performing. I think he just loved seeing his children act, and do your thing.

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A young Ben Stiller performs for his parents. “They were always so supportive,” the says.Photograph by Joe Dombroski / Newsday / GettyDo friend think the was vital to her parents the you and your sister turned out to it is in funny?

Interesting, however I nothing think so in ~ all. As soon as they knew that we both were interested in acting, and going into present business, ns think they were both conflicted. My dad was an extremely overprotective, and I think the was most likely concerned around knowing every the rejection over there is in this business. And, at the exact same time, i think he additionally was so nurturing of us, as an imaginative people, and also he wanted to try to foster that as much as that could. It’s kind of that thing where girlfriend go, “O.K., if you’re really going to go and try to carry out this, until you actually shot to perform it, girlfriend don’t recognize how tough it can be.” My parental were very different people. So he had one means of taking care of it. Mine mom had actually a different way.