Stiller Reigns Over the 'King of Queens'
Yes, he and Anne Meara, his partner in comedy and wife of 53 years, were dubbed king and queen of Brooklyn at a "Welcome Back to Brooklyn" festival in 2000. Both natives of the borough, they've been on "The Ed Sullivan Show" 36 times and starred on Broadway, in movies and on television.
Now in his 17th year of playing a loudmouth dad, Stiller is soft-spoken.
"They are blowhards," Stiller says of Frank Costanza, George's dad on "Seinfeld," and Arthur Spooner, Carrie's dad, on CBS' "The King of Queens."
The sitcom ushers in its ninth season Wednesday, Dec. 6, with two episodes. Stiller isn't in these, but in others he'll soon be yelling as Arthur.
"You find what you have been holding back all these years, and there is no better place to do it than in the theater," Stiller says of conjuring up rage. "If I did it on the street, I'd be arrested. All actors are allowed to express certain things. That's what theater is."
That's why the show about a childish deliveryman and his not-so-silent suffering wife (played by Kevin James and Leah Remini) remains popular.
"Everything in this world is based on the audience, and the audience seems to be picking up on us. And they feel comfortable with the people on the screen, and the cast is very much like the way people are today," Stiller says. "There are two people trying to make it. They're blue collar or they want to buy a summer house or go on vacation, and they are up against it.
"The people today are up against it, despite the rosy picture presented by the current administration," Stiller says. "Kevin and Leah are very much like the people up against it."
Politics figure often during a one-hour conversation with Stiller, 79. A child of the Depression, he moved 10 times during his first 12 years, all in Brooklyn, where his father was an out-of-work cabbie.
At 17, he enlisted in a special program in the Army. Just before he was to be deployed to Tokyo, the bombs were dropped. Instead, he was shipped to Italy, where his function "was to dispense VD films to soldiers to make sure they did not catch anything bad. I saved a lot of guys," he says.
And think of the material he collected. Like all comedians, Stiller finds material everywhere. He and Meara used their ethnicities, Jewish and Irish Catholic, for some of their great skits.
"On 'The King of Queens,' we said whatever was on our minds -- some of the language we used I am sure many people said we could not say that." Stiller then spells out what he said.
"We can talk about gay rights today and sexuality and we say things. The one word I used -- it was the first time used on TV -- I called someone a douche bag. It came out of an ad-lib; we did it in rehearsal. Today I have heard that many times."
Stiller's favorite Arthur moment was when he applied to become head of a pediatric unit. He's not a doctor. "He had no qualifications," Stiller says. "It's a wonderful thing if you are an actor, you can make your own rules."
And pass them down to your children, Ben and Amy. Jerry is currently filming "The Heartbreak Kid," in which he plays Ben's father.
Although he works in Los Angeles, "New York is home," he says. "As an actor I am still around, and I can still do the work. And for that alone I am glad to be going to work. The best part is the laughter."