Where Wallach devotes a few chapters to his youth and then gets into his acting career, Robert Klein takes the opposite tack. This aptly titled memoir details his life from the ages of 9 to 25, with only a few chapters toward the end on his early days as an actor and comedian.
The twin focuses of the story are Klein’s discoveries of theater and of sex, and his studies in both areas of endeavor.
Much of his Bronx upbringing has a familiar ring to it: child of Jewish immigrants, pushed toward a “respectable” career, who rebels and finds success following his dream. However, there are episodes, as when he relates the saga of a girlfriend’s illegal abortion, or introduces the German woman he’s dating to his old-fashioned parents, that are filled with revealing particulars.
Those looking for a how-to on becoming a standup should read chapter 14, aptly titled “Learning How,” in which Klein talks about working at Bud Friedman’s Improvisation Club in New York, where Danny Aiello (he’s definitely a name-dropper) was the bouncer. There Klein learned from, among others, Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor and especially Rodney Dangerfield, and he shares some of that knowledge with the reader.
Refreshingly, unapologetically smart, Klein obviously takes his work seriously. What’s missing from his story, however, is his humor. One suspects that, if the author read it, this would make a great book-on-tape.