Comic David Steinberg still earns quality laughter.
QUALITY BALLS - THE DAVID STEINBERG STORY (Barry Avrich). 80 minutes. Opens Friday (May 24) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. See times. Rating: NNN
Director Barry Avrich (The Last Mogul, Show Stopper) adds to his spate of competent but unremarkable entertainment-themed docs with this look at comic David Steinberg.
It's all a bit of a love-in, but then Steinberg, now 70, is immensely likeable, a trait he exuded as a nice Jewish boy growing up in Winnipeg under his rabbi father.
While in Chicago at yeshiva and university, he discovered Second City (or rather, they discovered him), which launched his career, sharpened his improv chops and helped him hone his infamous sermon bit.
That irreverent take on religion would help him rise to fame in New York City, where he played in tiny Village dives across the street from other rising stars like Richard Pryor. That routine also got him into hot water when, as a regular on the Smothers Brothers TV show, CBS yanked not just his bit but the entire show.
You didn't make fun of religion back then - or politics. He was followed by the FBI for a while because of his anti-Nixon material.
Hard to believe in the age of The Daily Show and This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
There's not much tension or emotional resonance in the film, but comics like Larry David, Dave Foley and (in a bizarre red hoodie) Jeff Garlin help put his career in perspective.
Steinberg looks spry and healthy in clips from a recent live show, which Avrich uses as a structural device. But who knew that, unibrow and all, he was considered a sex symbol in the 70s? Someone even claims he's the subject of Carly Simon's You're So Vain.
A shame we don't see the comic's response to that theory.