His notoriety resting with near exclusivity on the strength of one character, Bob Einstein was better known for playing the wholly fictional and thoroughly inept stuntman Super Dave Osborne than he was for being the brother of comedian-filmmaker Albert Brooks. The son of a radio comic, Einstein was working in advertising and dabbling in comedy when he was handpicked by Tommy Smothers to join the staff of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1967-69) alongside fledgling gag men Steve Martin and Rob Reiner. With the series' controversial cancellation in 1969, Einstein found himself a writer in-demand and created the character of Super Dave for the syndicated "The John Byner Comedy Hour" (1972). Perfecting the bit on the Canadian sketch comedy series "Bizarre" (CTV, 1980-85), Einstein later hosted his own variety show and voiced an animated series. A popular talk show guest and "Hollywood Squares" (1998-2004) panelist, Einstein starred in MGM's Super Dave feature film in 2000. Turning in later years to character work, he made memorable appearances on the critically lauded Fox sitcom "Arrested Development" (2003-06) and on HBO's award-winning "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (2000- ), on which he recurred as bullying retiree Marty Funkhauser. On the cusp of turning 70, Einstein donned Super Dave's star-spangled jump suit one more time for a four-part SpikeTV special in 2009, proving that neither advanced age nor the vagaries of the American comedy scene could keep a funnyman down.
Robert Kel Einstein was born on Nov. 20, 1940, in Los Angeles. Einstein was the middle of three sons born to radio comedian Harry Einstein, who performed under the names Harry Parke and Parkyakarkus, and actress Thelma Leeds, who had briefly been under contract at RKO. Growing up in a household characterized by humor and an at times scalding wit, both Einstein and his brother Albert would make careers for themselves in show business; Albert would change his surname to enjoy a long and diverse career in stand-up comedy, film and television as Albert Brooks. Along with his two brothers, Einstein attended the tony Beverly Hills High School, where he excelled at athletics and was a member of the Normans basketball team. In 1958, only four days after his 18th birthday, his father died of a heart attack while appearing at a celebrity roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at L.A.'s Friar's Club.
While working at the Los Angeles office of Grey Advertising, Einstein appeared on a local Los Angeles comedy show, affecting a deadpan manner to play a civic official in charge of assigning stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Comedian Tommy Smothers saw the broadcast and invited Einstein to appear on "The Summer Brothers Smothers Show" (1968), which ran between the second and third seasons of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1967-69). Einstein joined the latter show in its final season, sharing the writer's room with such rising talents as Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb and Beverly Hills High School alum Rob Reiner. Alternating writing with playing characters, Einstein created the character Officer Judy, a no-nonsense Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle cop who once ticketed Liberace for playing piano too fast and pepper-sprayed singer Anthony Newly for pushing the limits of decency in a comedy sketch. In 1969, Einstein shared an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy.
Following the controversial cancellation of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in 1969, Einstein worked as a writer on such revue-style programs as "Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour" (ABC, 1970), "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1971-74) and the syndicated "The John Byner Comedy Hour" (1972), on which he premiered his new character, Super Dave Osborne. The world's most inept stuntman, Super Dave combined the flat inflections of Officer Judy with a terse bravado that invariably led to grievous bodily harm. Einstein received a shot at his own weekly series playing one of three businessmen who quit Los Angeles to run a tourist hotel in "Three for Tahiti" (1970). Produced by the Smothers Brothers' manager Ken Kragen, the Screen Gems pilot went unsold and was broadcast only once, in the summer of 1970.
Einstein wrote and directed the political satire "Another Nice Mess" (1972), produced by Tommy Smothers and former Roger Corman trouper Jonathan Haze. Einstein appeared in the small role of a secret service agent, in support of headliner Rich Little as then-President Richard M. Nixon, and Herb Voland as Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Shot in the style of a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler, the film was shown as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party prior to that year's presidential election. Einstein appeared again in an LAPD uniform in Brian De Palma's "Get to Know Your Rabbit" (1972), which starred Tommy Smothers as a marketing analyst who yearns to be a magician. Shot in 1970 and disowned by Smothers, the film was released to theatres two years later.
Through the Seventies, Einstein floated through the writers' rooms of a number of primetime variety programs, including the ABC summer replacement series "The Ken Berry 'Wow" Show" (1974), Sonny Bono's Emmy-nominated "The Sonny Comedy Revue" (ABC, 1974), "The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show" (CBS, 1974-75) and Dick Van Dyke's "Van Dyke & Company" (NBC, 1975). He was a regular performer on the "The Smothers Brothers Show" (1975), which lasted for a single season on NBC and counted among its staff a pre-"Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) Chevy Chase. Einstein reprised the Officer Judy character on the pilot episode for Steve Allen's unsold "Laugh Back" (1976). He was a writer-producer for both Joey and Ray Heatherton's summer replacement series "Joey & Dad" (CBS, 1975) and the swiftly-cancelled "The Red Foxx Comedy Hour" (1977-78) alongside Allen Blye, a Canadian writer who had received his start on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."
With Allen Blye, Einstein traveled to Canada to create "Bizarre" (CTV, 1980-85), a sketch comedy program taped in Toronto and broadcast in America on the Showtime cable network. The half-hour variety show became a regular platform for Einstein's Super Dave character, the calamity-prone stuntman he had created years earlier. Super Dave became something of a cult phenomenon over the years. During this time, Einstein played a bit as a bullying sports store salesman in brother Albert's "Modern Romance" (1981) and appeared on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The 20th Reunion" (1988). He enjoyed the run of his own series, "Super Dave" (CTV, 1987-1991), which was followed by the animated "Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire" (Fox, 1992) and "The Super Dave Super Bowl of Knowledge" (Fox, 1994). The character had such credibility in the sports world that Super Dave was featured in TV spots for Nike.
As Super Dave, Einstein appeared on such talk shows as "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992) and "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993). In 2000, Super Dave was a panelist on King World Productions' reformatted "Hollywood Squares" (1998-2004). That year, Einstein co-wrote and starred in MGM's feature film "The Extreme Adventures of Super Dave," directed by Peter MacDonald and released direct-to-DVD. He contributed vocal work to several episodes of Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers" (2002-04), a comedy series created by comedians Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla in which actual crank phone calls were dramatized with hand puppets. Einstein also brought his trademark stoicism to the third season of the Fox Network's dysfunctional family sitcom "Arrested Development" (2003-2006), as the eyes and ears of imprisoned paterfamilias Jeffrey Tambor. Einstein also appeared in one episode of Tambor's subsequent CBS sitcom "Welcome to the Captain" (2008), which was axed after five episodes.
Einstein was seen as a federal agent in Steven Soderbergh's all-star heist film "Oceans 13" (2007) and enjoyed a recurring role on the award-winning HBO sitcom "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (2000- ). As Marty Funkhauser, Larry David's annoying golf buddy, Einstein departed from the criminally irresponsible but straight-laced Super Dave character to deliver startlingly inappropriate jokes and add to his limited emotional palette a new level of arthritic menace. Nearing 70, Einstein donned Super Dave's jumpsuit for the four-part "Super Dave's Spike Tacular" (SpikeTV, 2009), in which the ill-starred daredevil performed such stunts as navigating a NASCAR track mined with explosives. In 2010, Einstein provided the voice of an elephant trainer targeted for derision by animal rights activists on HBO's animated "The Life & Times of Tim" (2008- ) and appeared in Cam Archer's independent show biz comedy "Shit Year," as the brother of an aging actress (Ellen Barkin) considering retirement.
By Richard Harland Smith