Jerry Stiller, who passed away in 2020, was an incredible Jewish dad to his two kids, Amy and Ben Stiller. There seemed to be nothing he loved more than to kvell about them and their many accomplishments.
An incredible 1996 “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” clip recently shared on Twitter by Michael Warburton shows how Stiller, along with his wife Anne Meara, were so invested in their children’s joys and successes that they were pretty much game for anything, including accompanying them to late night appearance when they were feeling sick.
In the clip, O’Brien tells his audience that Ben Stiller was going to come and chat about “Cable Guy,” the Jim Carrey film that he directed, but that “apparently he’s too ill to come and do it.”
It’s then that Jerry Stiller bursts into the studio, enraged.
He rants about how upset he is that his son, who made appearances on every other late night show — including Letterman and Charlie Rose — wasn’t going to show up for this one, and that, “As a member of the acting profession, I find this is a disgrace!”
It’s an Oscar-worthy appearance, honestly. Stiller gets verklempt, his voice thick with emotion as he apologizes on behalf of all the Stillers and says about his son, “I’m sick of him! Father’s Day, no Father’s Day, don’t send me a card, don’t give me a tie, I’m finished with you!” He goes onto share that he taught him everything, even getting him his first camera, and kvetching about this shabby “repayment” and the way that it reflects on him as a father and actor.
“This is the way you treat a guy like me at this point in my life,” he rails. “What’s left, me and George Costanza?” he says emotionally about his onscreen “Seinfeld” son, played by Jewish marvel Jason Alexander. “I’ve got a real son, I’ve got a real daughter, my daughter Amy, my son Ben, these are the people I really love, these are my connections,” he yells at the crowd, because even in a sketch like this, he still has to profess his love for his children.
“I’m getting out of here, I’ve had it! I’ve had it!” he says as he leaves the stage, and finds… Ben and Meara backstage, with the latter nursing him to health and feeding him soup — the quintessential Jewish mom move.
As Jerry continues to berate his son, Meara tells Ben, “Honey, pay no attention, your father is not a well man,” and scolds Jerry, saying to him, “Where were you when he was born? Out of town! Leave him alone.”
Jerry finally drags Ben on stage where he makes his audibly sick son talk about his movie, urging him to “get to the good part” and pretending to fall asleep when he isn’t, and admonishing him for not knowing how to tell a funny story.
Jerry, frustrated with Ben’s lackluster banter, then tells a truly delightful joke about a box of condom and dramamine, proving to the crowd that Jerry Stiller is a top-notch comedian.
Remembering JERRY STILLER as Dad shows Ben the way with a golden oldie on Late Night With Conan O'Brien in 1996.
What a funny funny talented man he was. pic.twitter.com/g2QoyTjri2
— Michael Warburton (@MichaelWarbur17) June 8, 2023
What makes this absolutely winning TV moment even better is that you know that this just isn’t the kind of father Stiller is in real life. In interviews, he often talked about how his children were more talented than him, and how working with Ben was intimidating because of how masterful he was at his craft.
So this whole kvetchy performance? It was just that — a brilliant performance from a comedic genius, trying to uplift the son he loves so much.
We miss you, Jerry Stiller. Your memory is such a blessing to us all.