Stand-up comic Robert Schimmel dies following car crash

Robert Schimmel

Comedian Robert Schimmel passed away Friday night (Sept. 3) of injuries he suffered in a car accident in Arizona last month.

Schimmel, 60, died at a Phoenix hospital where his daughter and one of his sons were also being treated for injuries sustained in the August 26 accident in which his daughter was driving and he and his son were passengers.

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From The New York Times:

Robert Schimmel, a comedian who specialized in taboo-breaking humor of the sexual and scatological variety, died on Friday at a Phoenix hospital, where he was being treated for injuries suffered in an Aug. 26 car accident. He was 60.

The death was confirmed by his manager, Lee Kernis of Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

Mr. Schimmel, who was a frequent contributor to Howard Stern’s radio programs and whose stand-up work often appeared on cable, was known for his cool delivery of routines, some of which might have made Lenny Bruce blush and Rodney Dangerfield feel well-respected.

His observations were undeniably direct. They resonated deeply with audiences when he spoke of the trivialities of life, like his distaste for using airport bathrooms. He incorporated his health problems, other hardships and personal shortcomings, including two troubled marriages, into the act.

“Robert was always the butt of his own joke,” Mr. Kernis said. “When he would talk about the failings of his marriages, his relationships or having kids, he always made the joke about his inability to ever win at the end.”

Describing the circumstances of a mild heart attack he suffered in 2000, for example, Mr. Schimmel said, “You know you’re out of shape when you have a heart attack when you’re watching television.”

Robert Schimmel was born in the Bronx on Jan. 16, 1950, one of three children of Otto and Betty Schimmel. After service in the Air Force — during which he contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion — he worked as a stereo salesman in Phoenix. Around 1980, while visiting his sister, Sandy, in Los Angeles, he went on stage at the Improv comedy club on an amateur night and was immediately offered a slot by Budd Friedman, the club’s founder, if he would relocate.

Mr. Schimmel quit his job and packed up his two young children and his first wife, Vicki, whom he had married in 1977. When he drove his family past the club to show them where he would be working, as the joke goes, he saw only its smoldering remains — it had burned down the night before.

Mr. Schimmel got a hand from Mr. Dangerfield, who appreciated his self-deprecating humor and invited him to appear on an HBO special. He later appeared on his own Showtime and HBO specials.

Fox offered Mr. Schimmel a development deal for a comedy series, but right after it was picked up in 2000, Mr. Schimmel received a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which required lengthy treatments. He wrote about the experience in a book, “Cancer on $5 a Day (Chemo Not Included),” published in 2008. In January, while appearing on Mr. Stern’s program, Mr. Schimmel disclosed that he had cirrhosis as a result of the lymphoma treatments.

In addition to his father and sister, Mr. Schimmel is survived by a brother, Jeffrey, and his second wife, Melissa, with whom he was in the process of a divorce. He is also survived by three children from his first marriage, Jessica, Aliyah and Jacob (a fourth child, Derek, died of cancer as a child), and two sons from his second marriage, Max and Sam.

His daughter Aliyah was driving the car that was involved in the accident, Mr. Kernis said. Both she and one of Mr. Schimmel’s young sons, who was also a passenger, were expected to recover, he added.

Reviewing Mr. Schimmel’s debut album in The New York Times in 1996, Ken Tucker wrote that “Mr. Schimmel isn’t so much angry as he is resigned — to the stupidity and hypocrisy of people and to his own inability to repair the same flaws in himself.”

By Eric Wilson

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